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An Open Letter to My Fellow Travel Bloggers

Dear Fellow Travel Bloggers,

In my list of daily chores to do, one task remained unfinished for the past four months: it says, “Japan, at least 1000 words, for god’s sake, Jona.” I am referring to my sponsored week-long trip to Onomichi City, Hiroshima, Japan last November. I have written about it twice already: one for BWAB and another one for my travel column Down South on TV5’s interaksyon.com. These two articles are long, about 1500-2000 in words.

But can they be considered a travel essay? Hell, no. They are informative, with several, and I would say lousy, attempts on creativity here and there. But I wrote them with a target market in mind: people whose attention span depends on the number of photos and subheadings involved. I wrote them wearing the persona I am now quite comfortable with: a travel blogger.

When we feel there is a need for a story to be shared—beautiful, painful, ugly, or what-have-you in the wide spectrum of human emotion—may we not hesitate to use our blog as a platform to tell our story.

The hardest to write is an in-depth narrative on places, which I have been trying to achieve with this one. I have not written a long-form narrative since “We Are Called Langitnon,” an essay about Dinagat Group of Islands. Despite writing travel opinions, like my Rappler essay “Traveling to Misunderstood Mindanao” and my 1000-experiential essays on Down South, I find place essays the most daunting to write. This type of travel writing demands a lot of attention. It puts the place in focus; the place is the major character. The I, who is the protagonist in experiential essays, takes a backseat and becomes an observer, not a change-maker.

Five years ago, I started BWAB because I felt poetry left me for good. Those were the drought years: not writing a single poem for a year was gut-churning. So I started this online abode and filled it with road trip photos, other people’s poems, and passages from books I have read.

I blog-hopped. I found Rain’s Rakistang Nars. I found Monette in FlipNtravel. I fell in love with their writing style. I became hopeful. Perhaps blogging is a platform to tell a story—personal or otherwise. So I started writing entries that were either too mushy or too grammatically atrocious. But I tried nonetheless.

The period of listicles and short attention span arrived. But my hope remained intact.

I admired Marky for defying this popular form. Rain has transferred to Words and Wanderlust. Monette made her own home on Flight and Pursuit. But their kind is rather scarce. Most of us, including BWAB, already gave in to subheadings, travel memes, and a lot of inspirational porn.

Is there something wrong with those? I do not really think so. They exist because there is a demand for them. But Elizabeth Gilbert kind of writing can get mushy and become cliché overtime.

5Blogging is the Internet’s chameleon—it changes its color and mood depending on its surrounding. It is a constant circus of top-something.

Estan—who hated travel listicles to the core, especially those who write “The Familia Sagrada in the Philippines”—said, “Jona, can you conduct a writing workshop for travel bloggers.” I laughed and ironically defended these people whom I myself found annoying.

Travel blogging—as a platform and a new media kind of writing—is different from long-form narratives that can be found both in digital and traditional media. I should know, because when I accepted the travel content writing job (Yeah, it is the regular Hipmunk articles you can find here), one of the requirements is “should understand that content writing is different from creative writing.” No room for anaphoras. For metaphors. They are considered nuisance, and yes, they get me in trouble with my editors. And least I forget, the monsters named prepositions and collocations! (People who write both in their mother tongue and in their second language would understand this.)

Now. I am not confident with my writing at all, and I am very open about it with friends and even here on BWAB. Every f*cking day is a learning process.

But what I am trying to do is to compartmentalize my many lives. I embraced listicles. For work and for traffic. For the blogger self to leave a dent in the massive blogosphere. I am not embarrassed to admit that.

Brennan—must be one of the three humans who looked forward to reading my 3000-word travel narratives on Sun.Star (Hi, Jessrel!; hi, Mike!)—asked if I would abandon long-form, after I proclaimed myself a full-time travel blogger. He asking me about it was heartwarming. So there is a tiny, like ant-like tiny, circle that reads lengthy pieces, which many considered boring. For this circle and many other reasons, there is no way I would abandon the most time-consuming genre I have encountered so far: creative nonfiction—travel writing to be accurate.

Now, what I am really trying to say to my fellow travel bloggers?

Traveling is not a goal. It never was. It is a medium. To share our conflicting yet beautiful stories. To tell the world that stories come in plurality.

When Berniemack said, that it is an interesting case study to see traveling through the lens of a third world traveler (after he saw the pop-up newsletter on my blog, I guess), I got curious. Why? Is it not always the case? I am a Filipino, a developing country citizen; and there is no way I would see the world through the lens of an American or any citizen from a developed country. On my trip to Japan, I marveled at and got impatient (yeah, haha) of how orderly things were. I do understand the privileges of being able to travel; but I would never have the privileges attached to being white and to being a citizen of a developed country. They too have their own burden—racial and personal.

I love the highlights of my trips that often find their ways to Instagram. I love #ootds! Happy photographs can be a source of energy.

But we must not forget that there are a lot of issues involved in traveling. Gender and racial politics would always be there. I am not saying, we must sound wounded, sad, and distressed in our respective blogs all the time.

Cameron Highlands Itinerary, Budget, and Accommodation

When we feel there is a need for a story to be shared—beautiful, painful, ugly, or what-have-you in the wide spectrum of human emotion—may we not hesitate to use our blog as a platform to tell our story.

These stories might not add value to our respective bank accounts, but they can nourish a community of readers and storytellers—consider this as food for our soul. We have to go beyond listicles and how-tos.

Storytelling is a powerful tool.

But I hope we would not stop there. I hope we are humble enough to let the self take a back seat and let the place take centerstage . Less selfies. More observations. Less staring at our phones. More at the places surrounding us.

We owe it to the places we have been to. Traveling is not a goal. Traveling is a medium. To share our conflicting yet beautiful stories. To tell the world that stories come in plurality.

Sincerely,

Jona

Filipina | Developing Country Citizen | Insecure Travel Writer | Full-time Travel Blogger

Jona | Backpacking with a Book

Hi, I'm Jona! I write stories and poetry and take a lot of photos, which I'm too lazy to upload. If you want to receive some photos that I don't share here on the blog, please leave your email here. I'm crazy about cats too. Feel free to browse through BWAB, and I would love it if you say hi! For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com For more stories about BWAB, check here. Connect with us through

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8 Comments

  1. Hey Jona. I feel you. When I started my blog, I wrote whatever the hell I wanted. I had very few readers, but those that did leave comments, I felt had a genuine interest in what I wrote about. There was a connection. Now, I see myself selling out to top 10 listicles, neatly packaged travel guides and sharing links I know will grab the attention of the millennial crowd looking for the next big Instagram-worthy location. There are more readers, but they really don’t care about the stories. They just want everything spelled out for them. I sometimes feel like a slave to readers, researching rates, routes and Itineraries to reply to their inquiries. A lot of my writing has become soulless. Thanks for the reminder not to forget why we started blogging in the first place.

  2. Angel says:

    Thank you for this one Jona! Beautifully written beautiful reminders. I agree with Estan, you should conduct a writing workshop for travel bloggers. Haha! Please reserve a seat for me. :))

  3. Monette says:

    Dearest Jona,
    Thank you for the generous mention! I didn’t know about it until Gretchen of filipinaxplorer commented that she found my blog through you! Please know that I’ve always admired your writing, despite not commenting so often >_<
    While there is nothing wrong in catering to the type of readers today, I really feel that we owe ourselves to write narratives that reflect our truths. It takes true grit to be raw and honest, and you are one of the most honest writers I know.
    Looking forward to meeting you someday!

  4. Great post Jona. As new bloggers we will remember this. Today we are writing about our experience in the Bornean jungle. Not a list of tips but our story 🙂

  5. Thank you for the mention, Jona.

    I read you, too! and Monette. Nicole. Celine. Gretchen.
    Kaon ta’g pasil ig uli nako nah, storyahan ta ni kay pareha kaau ta’g gibati. Apir too, kay I’m giving in to listicles na pud. Paet 🙂

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