Five well-written, on-the-road travel blogs

Remember these blogs?

How Conor is Spending All His Money (later called Conor’s Mildly Thrilling Tales)

No Place As Home

The Great Wallnut

I remember them fondly. They were the first travel blogs I read, way back during travel blogging’s Bronze Age (2003-06).

I started this blog in February 2006. It was originally called “Every Notable Patch of Grass in Romania,” my account of being a new Lonely Planet author setting out on my first guidebook research gig in Romania (and Moldova). Since then, it has staggered, weaved and passed out on the couch in its underwear over the years before settling into its current incarnation: a largely aimless outlet for creativity, personal amusement, occasional shameless self-promotion and documenting the copious injustices I routinely suffer.

Before this blog, while I was feverishly traveling from 2003-05, using a rudimentary HTML template, I kept what can now only be described as a lavishly self-indulgent travelogue that covered 30 countries, the entirety of which galloped on for a cumulative 315,000 words – the equivalent of a 1,260 page book.

(In my humble defense, the absurd length and detail was largely for my personal recollection and, I fancied, to someday use as a source for writing what I was sure would be several dozen award-winning newspaper articles. This was before I realized that newspapers have no interest in award-winning travel articles if they aren’t about four-day weekend getaways within a three hour drive.)

Now as my 17 or so regular readers will confirm, I’m a bit of a curmudgeon, if by ‘curmudgeon’ you mean judgy, opinionated, impatient, easily irritated, sometimes unfair, and only remorseful during epic hangovers. However, I’m also nostalgic, and lately I’ve been increasingly wistful for the early days of on-the-road travel blogging.

Far be it from me to tell people how they should blog, as there’s a place for every kind of blogging and blogger (even if it’s Hell), but I ache for the era, a mere five years ago, when the actual craft of writing not only meant something but was a deciding factor for a blog’s success or failure.

There were no podcasts, ebooks, newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Digg, SEO manipulation, videos or even an overabundance of pictures back in those days. Bloggers drew their audiences purely on the strength of their writing, because, well, there was little else to judge. But the fact remains that as travel blogging turned into a multimedia, often vacuous, commentary-driven, deluge of hastily written link bait, the desire to write (or read) more than a few hundred well-crafted words disappeared with it. This is understandable as blogs and bloggers are now largely judged on page views, subscribers, Twitter Klout and other tedious criteria that has almost nothing to do with quality of content, so why mis-allocate the effort?

Much like Andrew Mueller’s grousing over the devolving of print travel writing, it feels like the blame for the stupidification of travel blogging can be partly assigned to the readers. Agonizingly crafted, lilting, evocative text (i.e. paragraphs that exceed four lines) is all too often disregarded by over-caffeinated readers with chronic, left-click finger spasms who drift toward slap-dash lists, how-to drivel and single-celled generalizations that can be absorbed in no more than a minute or two. Much of this material is written in a hurry, without regard for creativity, voice, structure, grammar or even spelling. With a few notable exceptions, the evocative narrative is all but dead and too many bloggers are trying to jump the shark too quickly from proper travel blogging to personal branding, marketing, monetization and insta-fame.

Of the independent blogs that one can name off the top of their head, precious few are readable, and fewer still are genuine, on-the-road travel blogs. So, I’ve taken a few indulgent days to solicit, read and appraise those that are and I’d like to share a few of my favorites. This list is not remotely comprehensive and is in fact largely based on suggestions from people over Twitter and Facebook (ironically). I wholeheartedly welcome you to contribute additional suggestions for blogs – worthy of reading – in the comments.

•    Legal Nomads – Jodi has achieved the increasingly difficult trick of cultivating a strong following using only sharp, articulate essays and pictures. Hot topics include the 2010 Bangkok protests, her exhaustive travels in Burma and how her head has an invisible bull’s-eye that can only be detected by birds with overflowing colons.

•    Uncornered Market – Audrey and Daniel have been prolifically blogging their world travels since December 2006. They do an excellent job of balancing engrossing narrative, travel tips, practicalities, slideshows and the occasional, forgivable list, all done in admirably digestible posts.

•    The Big Africa Cycle – Peter Gostelow is valiantly documenting his bike journey from England to South Africa, while raising money for the Against Malaria Foundation. He shares dependably great pictures and intimate details of the adventure. The archive of his previous adventure, The Long Ride Home, his 50,000km bike journey from Japan to England, though not too pretty to gaze upon, is still available.

•    Nerd’s Eye View – Pam Mandel is not currently on the road, though she was when she started blogging back in December 2004 and still travels frequently, so I’m grandfathering her in. With consistently strong writing and all the “contrarian”, oddball fun stuff to keep a loyal following, she encapsulates exactly what old school travel blogging was about. Her recent post Eight Bad Habits of (This) Highly Unsuccessful Blogger(s) spoke to me as I’m committing virtually all the same errors, but she still somehow has 3,248,642 more readers than I do, so she must be doing something right.

•    Trail of Ants – Ant Stone has been documenting his start-stop backpacking since April 2007. Though he dabbles with a variety of multi-media, he’s been careful to maintain a high level of engaging writing. I’ll be inviting Ant to join my crack team of vigilantes, the Legion of Pissed-Off Bloggers Against Lazy Writing (cape and boots not provided), based on his post Ten of the Most Misused Words on Travel Blogs.