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Myths of Diversity – A Travel Rant

As of lately, there have been quite a few articles that deal with the downsides of life as a travel writer. They address issues such as loneliness, exhaustion, instability, angst and overworking. I think those are very very important points to bring to everyone’s awareness. Even having been out there just once for a relatively short amount of time, I had to deal with some of the issues and did not enjoy coming back and having to explain to people that I did not just return from a five-month wellness trip. But the articles also made me think about some more uncomfortable things. And for the first time in my travel blogging life, I really wanted to rant about some stuff.

The first thing that came to my mind is that these articles serve a very specific function – and that is, they ask for sympathy. I do not think that the main purpose is to inform people who do not know about the issues raised. It is to be reassured by like-minded people that it is okay to sometimes feel bad in this very privileged lifestyle. Why do I think this is the first reason for these articles? Because, if we’re honest, the travel blogosphere is for the most part a self-sustaining microcosm. Especially when it comes to the vast amount of smaller blogs, we write for each other and reproduce the lifestyle we love for one another, justifying our belief system to a crowd of people who support it anyway.

Usually, I do not have a problem with any of that. I am part of this system and I think each of us still has enough wisdom to share that there is a justification for all of our writing. But sometimes I miss the reflective side of it. And while it is important to speak about the downsides of travel and the hard times, I think it is equally as important that we understand what an extremely privileged life it is.

In this context, there are a few myths that persist and that no one touches. One in particular. And this is where my rant starts. Here it is:

Travel does not bring together people from „all kinds of different backgrounds“. It is by and large a community of quite privileged people.

Just like travel blogs are not read by „regular“ people but by a specific travel crowd, the people you meet travelling are not all different from one another. This is nothing but a lie. Travel brings together a very specific clientele of people. And what is more unsettling: Usually they are well-educated and from privileged backgrounds. Think about your couchsurfing hosts, your hostel roommates or the people on that boat trip you booked around the islands of any given country. I would be very surprised if the majority in any of these scenarios was not something we would call privileged.

To me the most significant thing is this: Go to any twitter travel chat and see what people say to the question what inspired them to travel. 95% of them will say that they are from families where travel was valued and that they have been travelling with their families since they were children. How many families with children can afford extensive travel? Even if it’s camping, hitchhiking and couchsurfing! If you talk to people who are actually not privileged at all, they will laugh in your face when you tell them about travel inspite of a low budget, especially with a family. Who will work their two jobs? Who will give them more than a few days in a row off work?

I am not saying that travel cannot be strenuous. By all means I am not saying that professional travel bloggers are not very very hard workers or don’t deserve the life style they have created for themselves by putting in the effort. But as we seek comfort in each other when we feel that it is all too much, let’s remember that to a great number of people those complaints must sound like sheer mockery. Because they never even had the chance to leave the country – even when the next border isn’t far away. They never had a chance to act upon their curiosity for the world and their wanderlust, because they weren’t taught that it might actually be possible and because their finances barely cover the cost of living.

Everyone who grew up travelling or discovered travel as a grown-up and had the means, chances and luck to include it in their life extensively should thank their lucky stars that it all came together for them. I consider myself undeservedly privileged in that sense. I have no idea why I should be one of the chosen ones who can afford travel, but I am, and for this grace of fate I am grateful every day.

12 Comments

  1. Excellent.

    • bridgekeeper

      September 22, 2013 at 8:13 pm

      Couldn’t have written it without you and our insightful and sometimes heated discussions 🙂

  2. Very true. I don’t really consider myself a travel blogger in that sense and I guess most of my readers are my family and friends – though I am happy to be read by whoever is interested, of course. But in these seven weeks I met some long term travellers and while I never envied them (and quite often felt awkward about my opportunities when meeting people who don’t have these oportunities, even inspite of education and relative privilegation) I actually sometimes do envy carpenters on their three years trip that in its traditional rules and organization obviuosly is so very German that there is no translation.

    For the non-Germans: It’s called Walz and basically after you finished your three years of training you put on your traditional carpenter’s outfit including a hat, take the stick you made, put on it a bundle with some clothes, a mat and your instruments in it and leave, on foot to not come closer than 50km to your hometown for the next three years. You should mainly walk or take public transport and look for work with other carpenters in other places to learn from them and broaden your repertoire.
    So there is a reason beyond travelling for this travelling and it is sustained by something else, too.

    A good way to avoid meeting the same privileged hippies that we more or less are all over the world btw is moving by your own physical strength, be it hiking or by boat, mainly outside the bigger cities. Gets even more exhausting because you will be confronted with many things you wrote by people who don’t necessarily understand and if you’re abroad you probably need to know the local or at least a regional language. Coming close to the real life in the country might give you culture shock, but also has the potential to really broaden your horizons. I really enjoyed meeting an old farmer when my father and I kayaked the Uecker and had to carry the boats for some 100m, she told us in some short sentences about land collectivization and decollectivization and the current harvest and get an inside view on things I just new by numbers on paper…

    • bridgekeeper

      September 22, 2013 at 8:16 pm

      Oh yeah, the „Walz“ is an excellent tradition. I would be a horrific carpenter, but that I would have really liked to do!! Love the story about the kayaking trip at the Uecker. You are right, travel by foot, bike or boat is different in many ways, and I take it quite a few people out there do that too, but they are so outside of everything that they don’t make it into the travel blogosphere – and if they did, they probably wouldn’t be outside of everything anymore. It’s a vicious cycle.

  3. Amen! I totally agree; these posts about how „hard“ things are due to the fact that they are traveling. How hard it is to have bugs in a hotel in a tropical country, how hard it is because there is no wifi, how hard it is to find a particular commodity common in Western Country X, and so on. I sometimes come across these posts (or even tweets or FB status updates) from long-term travelers and the first thing that occurs to my head is that they aren’t putting things in perspective. Like you said, to be able to travel is already such a privilege, all these moaning and complaining just come out as first-world problems that the third-world couldn’t care less.

    As you accurately described, I travel because I am used to traveling from a young age. Having a diplomat father who gets constantly posted in several cities around the world will ultimately rub travel into your veins. But yes, this is a very privileged position I am extremely grateful for. So whenever I find a post from a travel blogger complaining about some trivial first-world problem, as you said, I feel that they are just asking for sympathy and it just leaves a sour taste on my mouth. I even was urged to write this post explaining why I am NOT a travel blogger. Most of the time, the impression I get from these travel bloggers is that they are just a bunch of spoiled rich adults needing some sense of self-validation, having an identity crisis. For that, I stopped following several blogs as I was just getting annoyed whenever I read their articles.

    Ok, that was a long post, and it’s supposed to be your rant, not mine. But great post nonetheless. And I still hope you don’t stop traveling just because the crowd you meet on the road is less diverse than what most of us want to think.

    • bridgekeeper

      September 22, 2013 at 8:17 pm

      Hehe, I appreciate your ranting with me. And don’t worry, I won’t stop travelling. I just wish others showed some awareness and perspective sometimes, and I am thinking about coming up with new ways of travelling. Like, I used to love hostels – you meet so many people there. Maybe that’s not what I need anymore. Maybe I need peace and quiet.

  4. Mariella, this is such and excellent, important post that I would hesitate to call it a rant. You are absolute correct in everything from the travel blogosphere being a self-sustaining microcosm to the sheer privilege of it all. One of my fellow blogging friends once took a stand against accepting PR offers that he could never afford in his own right. I’m reminded of my privilege all the time when my readers let me know that they couldn’t even afford the museums and stately homes that I visit. I think that’s why I try as much as possible to focus on what is accessible and affordable.

    I’m loving the comments on this post too! Great discussion.

    • bridgekeeper

      September 22, 2013 at 8:19 pm

      You have good readers then, Mandy, who keep you grounded. Thank you for your comment. I would love it if there was more of a discussion about this in the travel blogging world…

  5. Great piece Mariella, and a very apt description of this strange little travel blogging microcosm. We should take more time to appreciate how privileged we are and spend less time complaining about our luxury problems!

    • bridgekeeper

      September 22, 2013 at 8:20 pm

      I couldn’t agree more. To be honest, I think it makes us better bloggers too. I mean, part of our self image is that travel keeps us humble and down to earth, no? So why do people tend to forget that a lot of our issues are such first-world-problems? #sigh Thank you for your comment, Julika!

  6. Well said. So many travel blogs are about creating a lifestyle for the blogger rather than contributing information for the reader. And that’s fair enough. But for the professional travel writer and photographer our whole focus is the reader and that means we’re working all the time, not necessarily doing things we’d choose to do.. I recently found two hours to sit by the sea at a resort and read – the first time I’ve managed that in a couple of years. However, I would never make the mistake of complaining about it. We ARE privileged to be able to use our skills this way and to have education and skills in the first place. I think those bloggers who talk about the hardships of the gig are simply embarrassed by the number of people who say ‚I wish I had your job.‘

    • bridgekeeper

      Oktober 6, 2013 at 9:30 pm

      Thank you, Lee, for this affirmative comment. I do agree that it probably has a lot to do with embarrassment. But why? Just be thankful you get to do it, for crying out loud! And stay humble. I think that is important.

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