If you’re a longtime reader of this site, and I hope are, then by now you will have heard my so-called origin story a number of times and in a number of different ways. So, without being too repetitive, let me just say that 6 years ago this month, alongside a quiet riverbank in France, my former full-time career and I decided to part ways. I had already been blogging at that time for 2 years, I was happy with the growth and thought that fate had sent me a clear sign about what to do next in life. To read more about this weird time in my life, please be sure to check out this post. In the intervening years my life has changed in any number of ways, none of which I could have predicted in 2012. There’s no doubt that I’ve been a much happier person in nearly every way, from health to relationships and beyond. It truly was a psychic realignment, a way for me to pursue what has always been my one true passion in life – exploring and learning about the beautiful world around us. LandLopers is 8 years old now, which is ancient by Internet standards, and being self-employed for six years is also a healthy amount of time. With that in mind, I want to once again step back and survey my life and where I’m going. To see if my one goal in making this change has really been accomplished or not, am I truly happy?
It’s funny, every year since leaving my traditional job I’ve written a post like this, and reading back through them is eye opening. One theme though which is constant is an optimistic hope that more than just make the right decision in life, is that the consequences of that decision are positive. It’s a harder nut to crack than one might suppose, because everything we do affects those around us in ways we could never imagine. But travel blogging is also an industry, just like any other, and it changes over time. What it was like to be in this job 6 years ago is very different from today, and I think it’s important to evaluate whether or not it’s something I still enjoy doing. Towards that goal, here are some evolving thoughts on the travel industry, blogging and where I see myself going in the next few years.
Let’s be clear, traveling blogging exists thanks entirely to certain technological innovations. I’m not going to sit here wizened and gray and lecture people on, “Back in my day…” because that’s ridiculous. No, although the digital environment has naturally continued to grow and evolve, the basic building blocks of the profession are still in place. However, that environment has become a lot more chaotic in recent years, which is having a variety of negative impacts. One of the great aspects of working in the digital world is that it is egalitarian and there are few barriers to entry. That means just about anyone, with the inclination, can sit in front of their laptop and within minutes start their very own web site. Naturally, the problem with this is that anyone can start their very own web site. It doesn’t impact others or me in terms of competition. This isn’t a zero-sum game. If another travel blogger does well, that does not mean that I fail. No, rather when others succeed it actually lifts the entire community. The problem with the incredible rise of bloggers and influencers isn’t that I lose work, it’s that many of them are in fact terrible at what they do.
It’s not something that can be quantitatively defined or analyzed, but a good travel blog is just something you know almost right away. It starts with the design of the site itself and parlays into the photography and written word contained within. The Internet has an uncanny ability to detect BS, and within seconds you should be able to know whether or not you’ve surreptitiously landed on a good travel blog or not. You’ll know immediately if the writer is there with a clear goal in mind and that goal is ultimately providing a service not to themselves, but to the greater world. It takes a certain personality to put yourself out there, to place your very identity on display for everyone to critique and judge. Those of us who do this professionally don’t do so for the perks, although they’re certainly nice. No, we do it because we have no other choice. This is our passion and our calling and to NOT write these posts, to not own a travel blog would mean depriving our very souls of the oxygen needed to survive. That, my friends, is how you know a truly great travel blog. Whether or not they have that passion for travel, whether or not it’s their true calling and whether or not they could imagine no other way of life.
Worried about the impact of social media on travel
I’m not one of those people who thinks we should travel without our iPhones or who gets angry when people take selfies. Just as in every other aspect of life, technology has dramatically improved the travel experience in nearly every way. It’s easier, it’s cheaper, it’s more egalitarian and I think it’s more fun. I look to others to help me discover fun new experiences in places I visit, and social media is the vehicle for that discovery. That being said, it does have some drawbacks. At issue is the fact that most photographers and influencers on Instagram sometimes show only the cheeriest side to destinations, they fail to mention either the drawbacks or qualities which may diminish the travel experience. I don’t think this is a new phenomenon. If a National Geographic photographer shoots the Sphinx, they will probably look for the best way to showcase that impressive world monument and not the Pizza Hut across the street. Yes, there is a large fast food restaurant next to the Sphinx, but the Giza Plateau is next to modern day Cairo and it’s one of the most important tourist spots on the planet, so the fact that there are restaurants shouldn’t shock anyone. That being said, I’ve become more worried about these omissions because I’ve realized how very much people now depend on social media to shape their travel itineraries. Travelers are booking entire trips to replicate photos I share. While I think this is bizarre, it exists and it’s another level of pressure on others and me in this job to be as honest about the travel experience as possible. I frequently joke with people that it’s my job to make it seem as if I’m on a permanent vacation, which naturally couldn’t be further from the truth. But in so doing, I have failed to call out many of the more negative aspects of the travel experience, from disappointments to places that should never be visited in the first place. While I may be alone in this worry, I do feel a great sense of responsibility to be more transparent about the realities of travel and not just the more cheerful side.
Life is a constant evolution. Each and every one of us learns and grows until the day we shuffle off this mortal coil. I have tried to be a good and honest person, usually to my detriment actually. While I have many faults, I also have many strengths and the real task has been learning how to balance those traits. This web site and my non-job job have been at the center of my life for a long time now and while I don’t know what’s next in life, I do think that I made the right decision 6 years ago. Looking back at these “year in review” posts has been an interesting exercise. In Year Two I made the discovery that I was an entrepreneur. In Year Three I better understood the impermanence of life. Year Four was another introspective year while Year Five was all about the profession. Year Six is a mix of all of these and more, as it reflects where I am in life today, at this moment in time. I’m 42 years old, I have two dogs and live in the suburbs. I go to Safeway every Saturday afternoon and Costco every other Sunday morning. I also spend about 150 days a year living in hotel rooms and exploring some of the world’s most amazing destinations. It’s a weird balance and fairly unique in the world of location independent professionals. I’ve made it work until this point in time but, like all things, I have no doubt that it will change and evolve over the next year or two. I think that this year in particular will see a great many changes to my life, both personal and professional, which is probably why I’ve been a little hesitant about even thinking about it. The reason why I stayed in a job I hated for 12 years was that it was comfortable. I thought I’d learned my lesson, but here I am again, six years into this new job and again, I’m resistant to making changes because this too has become comfortable. While I have no intention whatsoever of leaving the world of travel blogging, I also recognize that I need a cosmic change in the way I’ve been working to this point. I need an epic disruption, just like I did in 2012, in order to continue along that path of self-discovery and change. I don’t know what that looks like or how it will be realized, but I know it’s coming and rather than dreading it this time, I am instead looking forward to the next evolution in my life.