(Caution: This post is on my current grouse about the travel blogging industry. If you don’t want to continue reading it, I’d totally understand :) )

Writing about that unknown place is sacred.
Writing about that unknown place is sacred.

Late last year, I was on a phone conversation with a blogger, who gallantly boasted, ‘I have never paid for any of my travels.’ In my head, I thought, ‘Is that normal?’ My words, however, were, ‘Oh, okay.’

We’ll call her blogger 1.

I recently met another blogger (blogger 2), whose reaction to this was, ‘That is nothing to be proud of!’ Phew, I was relieved and felt lighter. So, I’m absolutely normal.

Coming back to blogger 1, she recently asked me how was my FAM trip to Mauritius and then Goa. Being one of those self-doubting individuals, I questioned myself for her lie. And then it occurred to me that she is one of those people who has never paid for any of her travels.

Everyone who has been following me either on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram knows that neither Mauritius nor Goa was a junket. And blogger 1 especially knew that because she told me that she saw the update on Facebook.

Why I am not disclosing the names of these people is because their personalities are irrelevant. It is an industry problem. Sure, people like blogger 1 influence the industry, since we all are aware of the herd behaviour, I am growing more and more weary of these unprofessional bloggers.

Neither is it a case of bad blood. I am most confident that my travel experiences are self-enriching and have more depth than any of blogger 1’s sponsored trips.

I digress.

Earlier this year, Abhishek Mande opens one of his articles with, ‘The problem with most Indian travel bloggers, a senior editor at a travel magazine groaned, is that they blog because they want to travel. “Shouldn’t it be the other way around?” she asked.’

Yes. The primary qualification of being a travel blogger is that we travel and secondly, because we can blog (basic writing skills, design, taking a photo, SEO, etc.). Ideally, our blogs should work as a medium to share our travel experiences. Not because any tourism board/brand should pay for our travels and hence, sell the experience on a non-existent or grammatical error-driven blog, as a ‘media outlet’.

And then I came across this post by Manjulika, where she spills the beans on the curious case of FAM trips and the craziness behind it. I love press trips. It is a fantastic way of meeting the people I have only interacted with online, apart from the fact that I get to see an entirely new place. Don’t get me wrong, I have been to a couple of them myself and will not devoid myself of the pleasures (or the rushed commitments) of these trips. But if you asked me whether I would I write a ‘101 Things to do in South Goa’ post because that will get me the traffic, the PR attention and hence the trips; my answer will be ‘no’.

These are my travel stats since October 2014:
12 states in India (17 cities/towns)
3 International countries
Out of these: 2 have been FAM Trips (Indian destinations), 2 blogger collaborations, 2 reviews, 1 contest win.

Do the math yourself and you’ll know how many of them are self-funded. Arunachal Pradesh was the most expensive of them all and yet, you hardly see scribbles from the 20-day travel on my blog. Because when I share my stories from there, I need it to be a whole-hearted effort; not some text I’m supposed to pen under some kind of pressure or influence.

I digress, yet again.

I must admit, I have met travel bloggers who do make a few personal trips every year. And those are the people I enjoy associating with. But this number is so shamefully low, it is disappointing.

Travel blogging isn’t about free trips. It is a lot of hard work, which may or may not reap results for a really long time.

Earlier this year, I was approached by a ‘social media manager’ or whatever, on Twitter to attend a food event at Hyatt, Kolkata, which I refused. I don’t understand food. Of course, if it was a dessert or cocktail review, I would have gladly joined in. He wasn’t the happiest and trolled me for a couple of days.

Don’t ask me for my precious time for these irrelevant ‘free’ experiences. I do not do that, even though my last name is ‘blogger’.

If I can’t get my first name (‘travel’) in place, how do I justify my work and time?

I travel hungrily until I’m broke (quite literally). I get uneasy when I have to sit in a place for too long. May and September have been the only months this year when I have stayed in my current home for an entire 20-day stretch. The condition of itchy feet is true, by the way.

When I met blogger 3, earlier this year, she shared with me how she struggles to make time to travel and manage her blog. While she loves travelling, she told me that given a choice she’d rather travel only with her family and getting everyone together around the same time can be very difficult. She was one of the first people to redefine travel blogging for me and of course, she is a living example of contentment.

Since my meeting with blogger 2, I came across Earl’s this post and found some solace in the fact that it is a popular problem within the industry (and internationally). Out of all the concerns he shares, the closest that comes to my heart is ‘Misleading People Is Not Cool’. As bloggers, when we’re taking all that information we’ve gathered to share it with readers, it is not all right to sell an unsuitable place because it was a fantastic stay for us (thanks to the well-organised junket) or setting an impression that life as a travel blogger is gorgeous.

I’m going to go out of my way and meet more people like blogger 2 because I know she is a traveller. She is the one who has backpacked for 10 months across the country by herself and yet I see little or no signs of it on her blog. Because when I meet her, she shares experiences and asks interesting questions, rather slyly finding out who sponsored my previous trip. Because she knows, travel bloggers are travellers first.

Really, why don’t travel bloggers travel?

Note: This is not a personal attack on anyone. It is a self-reflective rant and a question every travel blogger aspirant should ask themselves.

Amrita Das

I have been a travel and culture independent journalist. My bylines have appeared in many publications worldwide including National Geographic Traveller India, Lonely Planet Magazine India, The Indian Express and World Travel Magazine. A fellow of Media Ambassadors India-Germany 2019 program by Robert Bosch Stiftung and Centre for Media Competence, University of Tübingen. Currently, I am the photo editor for RoundGlass Sustain, a wildlife and conservation e-publication. I live in India.

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51 thoughts on “Why Don’t Travel Bloggers Travel?”

  1. I’m the first to comment this very interesting article. Really, Amrita, I love it a lot and totally agree with you ! Even if I’m interested in press trip, I don’t like pressure and want to enjoy my time as I choose. If I hadn’t travel by my own, I would have never been able to spend two weeks with the burmese monks in Thailand, or to travel with a khmer family in a remote province, or… or… or… So many examples I can give…
    Actually, I have always been afraid to do my trips as the source of my income, even for paid conferences or writing articles. Ten years ago, I was in a big travel event in Paris. During the lunch, I heard the two guys close to our table speaking about their trips. About their trips ? Not really ! They were talking about the most paid conferences and destinations. No more passion, nothing. I’m grateful for having heard these guys as it was the beginning of my solo trips careeer, and I exactly knew who I didn’t want to look like !!!

    1. Wow Stephanie, I wish I got a reality check like that. It is essential to know where we are going. If I were one of those men and I wanted to experience free conferences all my life, I wouldn’t have complained. But I got into this industry assuming we all are travellers. Unfortunately, I’ve learnt it the hard way. Travelling with a Khmer family? WOW! Incredible!

  2. Nice post, Amrita. Totally agree with you… and as someone who makes time, and balances budgets to travel, I think both are things which make you appreciate the travel itself, and relish it a lot more. I wonder where we are going, with so many hopping on the bandwagon these days. Time alone will tell, i guess.

    1. I agree Anu. I think investing time, money and effort all contribute to a good travel. I wonder too and then I realise it’s okay not to have all the answers :) It means a lot to hear from you in this matter.

  3. Hey Amrita , thanks for this nice write up . Whether this will be a pebble in a pond to create small ripples or a tornado – that time will only tell . Was happy to know that you rejected the Hyatt invitation – some people need to to say no to bring out the real picture .

    Happy Travelling .

    1. I don’t know if I was trying to make a point by rejecting that invitation but unlike you, I don’t have a knack or skills for food. Thanks Anindya and I’m glad you shared your thoughts.

  4. I’m totally with you, here. I’m not at all above accepting a trip, but it needs to be a trip that I would otherwise consider on my own – not just a free trip for the sake of a free trip that I then have to come up with some sort of passionless content about!

  5. Totally agree with you . First thing is passion… We all do the same thing living life for us and belongings but our passion makes us apart from all that. A new and different thing as I have travelling. Whenever I get time in weekends or else I travel according to my savings. As a student I earn only 5000₹ but every month I use to go out of station only for travel purpose. Sometimes alone. And this passion will last with me lifetime.

    1. Glad to meet you Arjun. The idea of life is to make time and money for all those people/things we love. And you’re living life! :)

  6. Very relevant post and I would say it gives us all wholesome food for thought. Its time to introspect and see are we really doing what we started our blog for.

    I would not refrain in saying that everybody I meet wants a free trip. I understand if friends/family from different industries ask but I feel ashamed when travel bloggers ask this. ‘How do you manage to travel all free? I wanna give them back and say, go to my blog and see how much I have spent in traveling on my own and the rest that I have gone for some big trips is by winning blogging contests.

    Do the good work and the blog will bring in awesome opportunities on its own. Enjoy the perks of blogging, go for the FAM trips but that should not be the aim of your life if you are a travel blogger.

    1. Absolutely Manjulika. I think you summed it up beautifully in your post on FAM trips. Someday I’ll hope to write with such objectivity :)

  7. Good post!

    I know of a blogger who sneers at me when I go on a holiday [paying out of my pocket] when 99.99% of her trips are all sponsored.. I don’t understand the attitude… And frankly couldn’t care less..

    1. Don’t we all know a few like those, Aarti? I don’t mind them actually. As long as we know why we’re here and how honestly we can do our jobs, I feel we’re good. I’d just request them not to consider me one of them.

  8. Interesting point! Enjoyed the read, and I’d say I have to agree, it bugs me when travel bloggers’ opinions can be purchased for the price of a free trip. As much as I like free, I think I enjoy the trips I pay for out of pocket the most. There’s something about doing everything yourself which makes the experience that much more rewarding :)

    1. Absolutely, Nathan. It is an industry problem where people assume travel bloggers are given free trips and hence draft a positive review. No one even pays us! And then our readers are supposed to believe in us. It is a little bizarre.

  9. What a post Amrita! I remember when we first spoke, we discussed the same travel blogger phenomenon that seems to involve very less “travel”. Pity. As someone who sees travel blogging from both point of views (blogger and brand), I agree that FAM trips does not a travel blogger make. I get at least 4 mails very working day of the week, asking for FAM trips for a brand I’m associated with. It’s insane. I also get equal number of queries asking how to get a FAM trip. Crazy!
    Loved this rant. Makes so much sense. Just do your thing, like you do. :)

    1. Your experience as a blogger and a brand must be so difficult and yet evolving, nah? I remember the conversation too. I think brand associations are also about relevance, which both bloggers and brands tend to miss. I mean what is the point of inviting a food blogger for a mountain expedition? We both need to understand each other’s stance. And working with people like you is a relief!

  10. I am always hungry for travel and to satiate this hunger I have to like many other avid travellers, maintain a balance between travel,work, family, social commitments and such.Each journey is well thought out,planned in terms of finances well in advance and I know what ‘being broke ‘ means. Loved ,loved reading this post !

    1. Thanks Sharmila. I think travellers inspire travel, just not the idea or the aspiration but the action. And happy to meet another traveller :)

  11. With low entry barrier, every body is a travel blogger ( including me jee ). I to am so much in travelin g and blogging that I have started calling myself MBBS MD traveler…. ( you may want to Google that jee ). But if you think Travel bloggers are looking for a free trip try Gastronomy experts jee who know everything from Jheenga Fry to Tappas …and literally work for a meal.. But we also have some wonderful traveler who go to remote places and teach kids for 2 months every year. Respect for them jee :)

    1. Of course I’m aware of MBBS Traveller :D On a serious note, I cannot comment about an industry I don’t work in, even though I may be aware of a few facts. Who is this traveller Prasad? Voluntourism must be propagated. If you’ve read the post till the end, I’ve said I’ll go out of my way to meet such people (and I do) who are travellers first.

  12. I have been traveling non-stop for 8.5 years.

    During the first 3-4 years, there were no press trips. The first contact I received from anyone in the travel industry was after I had been on the road, paying for everything, for 3 years, and that was about speaking at a conference.

    If you never pay for anything, you will not be successful. No one will care about your story and no one will find your travels interesting.

    1. Firstly, I am honoured that you’ve stopped by my blog. Your travels have inspired me for many years now.

      And don’t we value our travels more when we’re invested in it? We look far away to find those stories and allow them to become sacred lessons, as we grow. Or so I’ve felt.

  13. Before reading your this blog, I didn’t know such ‘Periscope Technology’ existed in blogging, whereby someone looks over the shoulder of a genuine travel blogger, adds some tit bits from here and there and posts a blog as one’s own without ever having traveled actually. Thanks for making me aware of it. By the way, how to distinguish a genuine blogger from a fake one, and save time in reading third rate blog?
    And finally, hope you remember a promise.

    1. There are no fake bloggers though some of them are misleading. And there are certainly no rules there. It is a matter of experience, perhaps. Or just intuition. As an avid reader, you’ll be the best judge of the content :)

  14. Excellent post Amrita. Really enjoyed reading the post as well as the comments below.

    I guess I am still in the learning phase as far as travel blogging goes and often try and balance these out. Personal travels are the most fulfilling ones for me and also make for the best stories. Though frankly, I think I am also getting better at collecting stories just by myself even on press trips/ FAMs :)

    But as you rightly say – travel must come first, blogging can follow after :)

    1. Thanks Siddhartha :) Having travelled with you, I have to agree that you’re making time for your own stories and at a level, teaching many of us how to do so also. Like you had once told me,’Introducing grey areas in life is important.’ And when press and personal trips can meet at a point, why not?

  15. All good work will always be talked about in a positive way or a negative . It is about what our conscious permits us to do. Because you have potential and substance in your writing and travel. There will be a lot of people who will try to tell you that they are better in some way or the other but at the end it is your blog and your way, they have there’s to bost and always remember we are answerable to our selves by the end of the day. If at all anyone disagrees with your way of travel and your way to write remember that you chose this part of your journey for your own satisfaction and I know that you are really happy with what you do. Take care of your self and stay precious always. Do what you love and overlook and walk faster from the Negative or judgemental thoughts of certain people who do so.

    1. Yup, Rashmi, at the end of the day it is about contentment for me. Glad to have people like you in my life :)

  16. I have been traveling all my life. I have parents who are avid travellers as well. I never started travel blogging till 3 months Back . I wouldn’t have if people hadn’t insisted. I write only for myself, my friends and my family. So this is completely new to me. Shouldn’t we travel for the love of traveling? Aren’t we supposed to be travellers first and then storytellers?
    Like Ibn Batuta said: Traveling- it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.
    Anyway don’t bother about the rude comments.

    1. I understand, Soumya, especially since I have travelled all my life too. But the permutations change when we become professional travel bloggers. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you are earning or hope to earn from your blog? As someone who makes money from her blog, I find it extremely challenging to put up with these irrelevant requests and constant comparisons of/in the industry. (I’m learning to ignore the unnecessary :) )

  17. I’m with Gary on this one, and also, like him, I’m an old-time blogger, too. I traveled for years and years before I was ever offered a press trip or paid for anything, except writing freelance articles for publication.

    I became a blogger because I am a freelance writer in Canada, and our markets have dried up to the point of non-existence over the years. Blogging seemed like a good platform to practise my art — writing — and also be a showcase for my writing and portfolio. To me, it’s always been about the writing. Like an aging ball player, I just want to stay in the game.

    I’m sad that blogging has garnered a tarnished reputation, and that bloggers feel compelled to write articles like this one.

    In the end, as Gary said, the proof is in the pudding. The quality blogs — well written, and well travelled — will rise to the the top. And some bloggers may need to learn this the hard way.

    My response is really simple: if you like a blog, read it. If you don’t, don’t. Cheers.

    1. I understand where you come from, Mariellen and it is quite sad when my profession makes me pen thoughts like this. But you and I come from different places in this matter–you from your love for writing and I from my habit of travelling. For me, blogging is connecting with my readers, first; then making money. I try and bring in the monies from the freelance writing I do, which is when I do not have any control on the edit, the pitch, etc. But here on my blog, I don’t put content (or at least try not to) that are irrelevant to my readers and me.

      This brings me to the point of travelling, because, for me, blogging doesn’t exist independent of travel. My life is about creating stories with the people I meet–from journalists on press trips to the tea vendor in a remote village. If I do not allow myself the pleasure of making these stories, of seeing great landscapes, etc. I will never be a writer.

      Some bloggers are learning it the hard way for sure and that’s all right. But it comes as a rude shock when my quality of work is being compared to/by a colleague, whose priorities are rather different, perhaps.

      As Anuradha has said it in the comments above, only time will tell, I guess.

  18. Quite a relevant piece in the times that we live in. I remember the very first ‘travel blog’ that I had read was way back on Yahoo, it was more of personal diary of this guy who called himself Hobo Traveller or something. It was just his travel experiences on the road and it introduced me to the concept of ‘always travelling’ for the first time. It used to be quite an interesting read. Clearly the landscape has changed since.

    But yes, bloggers doing activities or going on FAM trips that are completely irrelevant from the positioning of their blogs, is just sad. And don’t even get me started on “Food Bloggers”:P There are so many contest addicts on Twitter who keep spamming timelines with travel contests and one look at their blog shows the fluff that it is.

    Sure, if it is a networking opportunity or some such thing, one should go by all means. But the problem arises when you put up shit on your blog when you don’t know jack about the industry or the product, just because you got a free trip. Coming from a tech journalism background, I can point you to 100s of so called ‘product reviews’ written by people who clearly don’t know anything about technology.

    Charting out your own path and writing at your own pace after you have assimilated your experiences really adds a lot of value to the copy. And it clearly shows on the blog. If your creative juices flow only when you are on a FAM trip, then there’s clearly a problem. That Experiences and not ‘no.of tweets with a hashtag’ or instagram and facebook updates, make for compelling copy is a foregone conclusion. Yet there are many instances where I have seen otherwise.

    Maybe I am not making a lot of sense, since I haven’t really travel blogged in that sense:P But yes, if ever I do get to take the plunge, I know for a fact that it’s the travel that will always come first.


    1. It does make a lot of sense actually, Nimish. You have rightly it summed it up a many levels where you’ve said “But the problem arises when you put up shit on your blog when you don’t know jack about the industry” or “If your creative juices flow only when you are on a FAM trip, then there’s clearly a problem” and of course, you’re closing lines.

      As I have said previously, if sponsored trips are someone’s reasons to enter this industry then so be it. But confusing it as a medium of being called a ‘traveller’ is incorrect, in my opinion. At the end of the day, I think it is about ethics, honesty and priorities. And for me travel is above priorities, it is a habit. It only seems natural I take this part and be true to it.

  19. Such a wise and insightful post Amrita …. I have been travelling all my life , in last 25 years have seen so many places in India that I have lost count of …. For me blogging is always secondary and will always be. For me travelling, taking pictures and sharing endless stories matters the most….

    1. Good to know your thoughts, Swati! And I appreciate you stopping by my blog :) I have met very few travel bloggers who’d say otherwise and I guess that’s when we know, we’re meant to be here. Because life is about loving what we do, right? :)

  20. Thank God I finally read something that didn’t have the underpinnings of promotion, influencing, marketing, self aggrandisement. It feels like a breath of fresh air not to read about the glossed up hyper promoted INDUSTRY of travel. This was real and complex, with a balance of the pros and cons – just like how real life, real travel and real relationships with yourself and the world is. This post was much needed. It’s reached a saturation point, this trend of industry promotion to an extent that the real voice and spirit of travel is being drowned out. Even travel and experiences have been reduced to a form of intangible consumerism meant only to be ticked off in bucket lists. It’s the next stage of consumerism masquerading behind the facade of experience and exploration. That is why it’s important that the ones who do travel for the right reasons of heart and spirit be distinguished from the peddlers of intangible consumerism.

    What I found interesting were the comments where it was said —> “the proof is in the pudding. The quality blogs — well written, and well traveled — will rise to the the top. Such articles are not really needed by a member of the blogging fraternity” This is a very valid blogger and industry insider’s point of view. But from from a reader and lay traveler’s point of view the reason your addressing this issue was so needed is because for most “consumers of blog articles” we don’t necessarily trawl through volumes of blogs and content generated online to be able to sift on what’s quality and what’s not like what industry insider’s might do to check on competition or merely to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s going on. Most of the time we just get drawn into the hype of which article is trending or blogger mentioned the most. Articles such as yours TRAIN us to be more aware and thus really help promote the “quality good bloggers” from the rest. It’s precisely these type of articles that benefit the good writers and good content generated.

    1. Wow, thank you Anne for sharing your ideas so articulately. In fact, you introduced me to questions and thoughts in this comment of yours. Sure as a blogger myself I may have an understanding of which blogs is more honest than the other, but I failed to see this distinction as a reader. And you’re right when you say we don’t have the time to sift through the multitude of blogs in the market today.

      Travel industry being badgered by consumerism is not new to any of us. But as a traveller what hurts me to see is that none of us feel responsible enough to the place or the idea of travel anymore. And it is in moments like these I question the intent of the traveller, which brings me to share rants like these. As you have rightfully summed it,’That is why it’s important that the ones who do travel for the right reasons of heart and spirit be distinguished from the peddlers of intangible consumerism.’

  21. You’ve hit the right spot! Also something that most bloggers would like to discuss about!
    I share the same thoughts! While there is nothing wrong when someone invites a blogger to experience and write a posts, but landing on a blog with long list of sponsored post is a put down! It does create some pressure for blogger to return the favor and largely the reviews are biased because of this reason. which also pops up the question, will it take too long for readers to figure that out?
    I guess most of bloggers blog because of their keen interest to share, and this keeps them going! While there are no regulations or code of conduct, it would be good idea to have one!

    1. Thanks for stopping by again :) Though I do know of bloggers who write candidly about their sponsored experiences since many of us do believe in constructive feedback. But yes, the readers are most important. Code of conduct is perhaps at everyone’s own discretion but ethical practices are not.

  22. I had read this article of yours before and for some reason I am reading it today. So I am going to say- thank you so much Amrita for sharing these thoughts. As a relatively inexperienced blogger- it is a good reminder. Travel and blog. Not the other way around. :)

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Deepika. This is an old rant that I continue to nag about :p In all honesty, I hope the industry matures to better clients and professionalism. It would be great community service :D

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