Guest post: Drawing a line in the travel blogging sand
Rob Boffard is not only a fan of deep fried turkey legs, he is also an incredibly talented music and technology journalist with an arsenal of wit when it comes to the written word. Having put up with my mild badgering,Rob has written our inaugural Moving Sushi Guest Blog *cue fireworks,baby kissing and ribbon cutting* , looking at an issue that I think is very pertinent to any currant or wannabe travel writer, ethics,sponsorships and where you draw the line.........It's wonderful,read it now.
He also lives in London. We will forgive him that.
I’d be lying if I said we started the blog because we wanted an audience. We just did it to keep our families in the loop and to let them know that we hadn’t been eaten by bears or sodomised by hillbillies - or if that had happened, to keep them abreast of our hospital treatment and psychiatric counselling. It would certainly be a lot easier than making repeated Skype calls from Middleofnowhere, Montanabraska. The four of us took turns blogging about what we’d seen and where we’d gone, posting every day of the trip.
Thing is, our blog got popular. Not in the oh-my-god-Huffington-Post-wants-to-buy-us sense, but we definitely had plenty of readers outside of our immediate families. Comments started to pop up. People we’d never heard of dropped by to say hello. 11,000 miles and 63 days later, it became clear that what we had on our hands wasn’t just a travel blog; it was A Travel Blog.
Blogging about travel - or indeed, writing about it in any sort of capacity, anywhere - comes with a whole host of ethical dilemmas. It might seem obvious, but if you make your living out of writing about travel, then chances are you ain’t paying for most of the miles you cover. Travel writers are - or were - notorious for accepting freebies from travel companies eager to promote certain destinations. It used to be one of the biggest in-jokes in the trade.
This, predictably, spread to bloggers as well. A little while back, there was a pernicious little program called iAmbassador which, essentially, paid for bloggers to go to exotic destinations and write about them. A large sponsor of this scheme was the Jordanian Tourist Board, and they had some successes getting bloggers over there (which was about the only coverage they got - because, really, who the fuck goes to Jordan on holiday?)
You’re guessing: big sponsored blogs bad, little homebrew blogs good, right? Well: no.
Thing is, I wouldn’t have trusted the ethics of our American trip blog anymore than I would trust some berk who was sponsored to write about Jordan. We were no more ethically sound than they were. Admittedly, we weren’t getting paid for our work - quite the opposite, in fact - but beyond a morbid fascination with how four South Africans handle deep-fried turkey at the Texas State Fair, I can’t think of why anyone would actually use our blog for travel recommendations. We were just…doing stuff. And then writing about it, in a slightly haphazard way. If you’re planning a serious trip to the US, our blog is about as useful to your travels as my teeth were to that deep-fried turkey.
Seriously - that stuff is like hardened superglue.
The one thing we did learn - and this is about the only lesson you can take from our trip - is that there are a zillion ways to do things. Travel can be approached in so many different ways that trying to give advice is completely futile. The only exception is a list of camping dos and don’ts my friend Rayne compiled as the final blog of our trip.
Trust us: when your groundsheet is soaking in torrential downpours, you’ll thank us.
So don’t trust the slick, sponsored blog. And don’t trust the DIY mates-on-a-trip blog either. Read them, enjoy them, make up your own damn mind. And then buy your ticket, because these places aren’t going to travel themselves.
Rob Boffard is a journalist living in London. He was born in South Africa, and has spent the past decade blowing every cent he has on plane tickets, car rentals, dodgy hotel rooms and deep-fried turkey legs. When not stuck in airports, he writes about music and technology for The Guardian, Wired Magazine, Huck Magazine and more.
Find his work at www.robboffard.com
And on twitter at @robboffard