Six years of travel blogging

In February, Killing Batteries celebrated its sixth birthday. It occurred to me that I should post something back then, but I didn’t because, while I had many things to say, I couldn’t ignore the fact that ultimately I had no point. And “What’s Your Point?” is high on my top 10 list of travel blogging pet peeves, right below “Obvious Shilling” and “Are You Really Too Busy to Proof Read?”

“This Is Unspeakably Stupid” is up there too, but it jumps around depending on my mood.

Also, regrettably, no matter how I arrange the words, this post makes me sound like a narcissist, even though I’m about to spend several paragraphs tuning up lesser deserving narcissists. But hey, if knowing beyond a doubt that I’m better than other narcissists makes me seem like a narcissist, then I don’t care what you think.

[Pause for you to enjoy the exquisite phrasing of the previous sentence.]

At best, six years is a middling length of time in real life. If I hear someone has been doing something for six years, I might raise an eyebrow. I’m especially loath to give people credit for longevity these days as everyone’s idea of noteworthy experience has shrunk to the length of a beer fart and job intervals on résumés are measured in months instead of years.

That said, six years in travel blogging looks and feels like several dynasties. The evolution from occasional journaling with maybe a few pictures to the 24/7 multimedia, multi-channel deluge has been dazzling. I’ve watched people that started out as commenters at Killing Batteries become travel blogging all-stars. And I’ve watched people who started commenting on their blogs become huge as well.

By these standards, I kinda feel like one of the granddads of travel blogging. And if, like me, you include the exhaustive HTML-based travelogue I maintained from 2003-2006 in my travel blogging resume, I’m elevated to being one of travel blogging’s great granddads.

(For you timeline fans, I know of at least two people who are still around that pre-date me by several years, making them the Methuselahs of online travel publishing.)

So, while Killing Batteries may have peaked around 2008/2009 and, due to my focus on paying work (or laziness, you pick), slowly faded from relevance since, I nevertheless often feel like one of the old folks sitting in a rocking chair on the perimeter of the travel blogging town carnival, watching the swarm of young and energized bloggers – some doing hand stands and back flips, while others are hitting each other with plastic bats and accidentaly detonating firecrackers in their hands.

With that self-indulgent vision established, here are the impressions/wisdom I’ve collected over nine years of online travel publishing.

Presentation and outreach have gotten way better, which is a relief since content and self-promotion have generally gotten worse. As I’ve moaned before, the quality of the actual writing part of travel blogging appears to have peaked early. Whether this is due to the staggering increase in travel blogger numbers and the crappy writers are proportionately more noticeable or if content has suffered due to the longstanding SEO cultivation versus quality debate I don’t know. All I know is that, even with my judiciously maintained blog subscriptions and Twitter feed, I am still routinely faced with noteworthy awfulness.

Then there’s the exasperating false sense of entitlement (“I’ve been blogging for six months! Where’s my book deal?”), which heartbreakingly transitions into the blind and unearned solicitations for credibility and ‘likes’, skewered recently in brilliantly timed fashion by The Oatmeal.

Admittedly, I’m feeling extra dour, having read an unusual number of craptastic blog posts in recent months. Even with so many people volunteering so much blogging advice (which we didn’t have when I was your age, kids), many posts still have that grade school “What I Did for Summer Vacation” whiff about them. Tedious, babbling, starved for evocative language, and riddled with typos. And not the little, forgivable typos that we’re all guilty of. I’m talking the whiplash, ankle-spraining, nose-breaking typos that a 9-year-old would notice from across a room while simultaneously playing Wii Tennis.

Another plague to the current state of travel blogging, indeed perhaps the greatest myth propagated by self-appointed travel blogging experts, is that posting frequently is one of the main keys to success. If you legitimately have strong, thoughtful topics two or three times a week, then by all means, post away. But you’d be the first in the history of travel blogging. Instead, what we get is deliberate, wearying gratuitousness.

A well-regarded, popular blogger recently reiterated this fallacy to my dismay. Someone who, coincidentally, I unsubscribed from a while back due to the fact that 2/3 of their posts felt forced and unrewarding. The bloggers that wake up and think “Oh shit, it’s Thursday, I have to write a blog post,” are doing their readers a huge disservice. If you have nothing inspired or compelling to say, then please, for the love of Buddha, don’t go to your desk out of some misplaced sense of obligation, look around the room and proceed to write an “I Love Lamp” blog post. That’s how readers become skimmers and in some cases then become ex-readers.

I Love Lamp on Vimeo.

Having vented all that, I have to grudgingly admit that I’m apparently wrong. People guilty of these infractions still somehow manage success. Notorious tone-deaf, grammar-spazs and halfwits; gratuitous posters, shills and poseurs; people that have shamelessly embraced their narcissism (rather than only tolerating it, like I do) have won baffling acclaim and lucrative collaborations.

While opining on this mind-screw, an observant colleague pointed out that part of the wide ranging discrepancy about who thinks what is best for travel blogging is that travel bloggers (and their readers) can kinda-sorta be dropped into two categories:

1.    The people that started out as writers
2.    Everyone else

Both categories have produced great travel bloggers (and terrible travel bloggers), but the people that inspire the most severe garment rending are usually from the ‘everyone else’ category. For whatever reason, this group is heavy on the ex-marketing types, corporate escapees, self-styled entrepreneurs and folks under the impression that they’ve collected an entire lifetime of wisdom by age 26, then feel compelled to don their Captain Profundity helmets and advise others with dangerously misplaced authority. For the same reason that I don’t recognize or understand the nuances from their perspectives, they seem oblivious or dismissive of tone, structure and/or even a passing attempt at creativity – failings that scream out at me every time I (don’t) see them.

Then there are the ones who won’t (or can’t) proof for basic grammar. I don’t even know what to say here. One hesitates to disparage people who genuinely, for whatever brain-wiring reason, can’t recognize proper grammar. But it seems that the people guilty of this are more often than not brazen SEO whores looking to pad page views rather than write something readable that might earn and keep a dedicated audience, making it difficult to summon any sympathy.

And I should remind people here, I’ve never taken a writing class. I don’t really know any of this stuff myself – at least not well enough to explain or teach it. That I’m simply writing by ear and these writer shortcomings are still so painful to my eyes means that properly trained writers (and, more importantly, editors) must be routinely reduced to tears when trolling travel blogs.

So, who should existing and new travel bloggers listen to? The disappointed, wistful great granddad or the easily impressed, circle-jerk kids?