The eyes of the girl sitting beside me had tear marks. Before I entered the immigration office, I saw her through the glass window, answering the questions of the immigration officer. When I sat beside her to fill up the form, I heard her asking the immigration officer if the travel tax would be refunded.
READ MORE: About Me, Jona, the Witch
It was my first trip abroad. My arrogance got the better of me: I skewered five countries in five weeks. I did not declare my full-time job and just presented myself as a freelance travel writer and photographer. Out of paranoia, I printed some published works and a certificate of being a paid content writer—tangible matters that would somehow prove my validity, my existence as a writer. On top of that, I made a very detailed itinerary as advised by travel blogger friends, an itinerary I completely ditched afterwards.
“So, blogger ka?” (So you are a blogger?) asked the bob-haired officer. She was not the one assigned to interview me but overheard my own sentiments. I wanted to say no.
“Y-y-yeah?” My tongue wanted to revolt. No, you’re not. You’re a writer! Writer! Poet! Manunuwat! Balakera! The saner side of the mind, the ever cynical saner side, Why? Did you earn from writing poetry? But I do have a blog, this very blog—a hopscotch of beloved poetry, books, photos, and draft and published travel essays, whose quality I found unsatisfactory and whose payment is not even enough to buy a sack of cat food.
A travel blog does not care about storytelling, it does not care about the links between travel, privileges, and races, it does not care about issues, because its very essence in the first place is to forget all issues.
My blog’s niche is as confused, as confusing as the owner. It dabbles in a lot of things: Backpacking with a Book. Anything that concerns good books and traveling. Last year, it started housing travel guides on hotels and cities that I have never been to: a job that allowed me to fund my trips in Southeast Asia.
But that does not make me a travel blogger, does it? The label sounds so superficial and shallow that any moment I want to disown my own creation.
Being a travel blogger means knowing as many synonyms of blue as possible: cerulean, turquoise, aqua-marine, azure, teal, sapphire, beryl, ultramarine. Or of orange: apricot, cantaloupe, salmon, papaya, carrot, coral, peach. These adjectives come handy once you start describing the stunningly beautiful cerulean sea and marvelously bright blue sky and amazing, stunning, splendid, marvelous, breathtaking, extraordinary, gorgeous, spectacular sunset and sunrise. Being a travel blogger means breathing adjectives. Forget about the right dances of verbs and nouns.
Being a travel blogger means writing about paradise.
But the world is not. The world is beautiful. But it is not a paradise. If it is, it sure is wounded.
I was checking travel guides on Coron, and I, a naïve backpacker, was so mesmerized by the photos that I almost believed in paradise. But when I arrived there, the cheapest accommodation I could find was in the slums. No, I was not shocked by the slum’s existence. As a Filipino, a developing country citizen, I am so used to it.
That’s why I felt betrayed, not by the place but by the blogs I have read. Why did they never talk about this? Why did they never mention the slums and the stilt houses? Why did they never mention poverty? Why did they only write about the beautiful lagoons, beaches, and lakes?
Of course, I know the answer.
Travel blogs package places that would appeal to the escapist, those who desire to momentarily forget the doldrums of their everyday life, those who want to escape from deadlines and 8-5 jobs, those who have two or three days to spare or more before coming back to their so-called boring realities, or those who want beautiful backgrounds for their selfies to validate that indeed they are living the life.
READ: A Travel Guide to Malapascua Island, Cebu, Philippines. My love up north. 😉
Being a travel blogger means breaking down the complexities of places, of traveling into neat itineraries and must-dos: What to do in the Philippines in 2 Weeks? 3-Week Itinerary to Thailand. A Travel Guide to Malapascua, Cebu. 30 Tips on How to Conquer the World!
It is a platform where sad truths are hidden, where good vibes is the ultimate goal, where photos should look well-composed, well-framed, and IG-worthy. Because if not, your blog would not be fun to read, your blog would die a sad death, and then your readers moved on with their lives.
When I started BWAB, which was more than five years ago, I noticed some bloggers hopped and scanned through long posts and left comments such as “stunning” and “lovely!” and if you do not visit their blogs and do not return the favor, do not expect to hear from them again. I could not stomach the superficial exchanges. There are blogs that I genuinely love and regularly check, and 95% of the time, I do not leave a virtual footprint of such visit. But I should, may be, like me, these bloggers will appreciate my little thought on their posts that I enjoy.
But please, if you have something to say (more than “stunning”), leave a footprint, argue with me, question me, do make yourself known here. It actually makes me happy to see reactions on my posts.
Being a travel blogger means becoming a voice of authority. It takes arrogance and authority to say “15 Things to Do in the Philippines that Will Change Your Life Forever, #5 Is Extra Special,” or “Ten Things to Eat in Thailand. Pad Thai Is the Yummiest!” as if these are the only things that can be done in these places. Some blogs sound so imposing that I feel being dictated on what to do, which in many ways, breaks the beauty of the unexpected.
If ever I write a blog on the incident in the immigration, it would sound like this: “How to Pass through Immigration as a Freelance Writer.” The crying girl in the immigration office, my own nervousness, the painful separation hug (she made it, her friend did not) would not be mentioned in the entry at all, because a travel blog does not care about storytelling, it does not care about the links between travel, privileges, and races, it does not care about issues, because its very essence in the first place is to forget all issues.
This medium, as I said in the conversation between some Filipino travel bloggers, is a platform to highlight the beauty and the fun and hide the struggle. It is a platform where sad truths are hidden, where good vibes is the ultimate goal, where photos should look well-composed, well-framed, and IG-worthy. Because if not, your blog would not be fun to read, your blog would die a sad death, and then your readers moved on with their lives.
I would not be surprised the ones reading this, if not scanning through, are travel bloggers who felt offended by the title.
There was a conversation between poet friends over beer in the dead of the night on how I managed to compartmentalize my life into: money-writing and real writing—the punch-in-the-gut kind of writing. When they mentioned my being a blogger, I instantly dismissed it—nah, it is just work—because I feel that some of them viewed bloggers as less humans than poets.
Like, the travel blogger’s concerns are not as deep, not as life-changing as the poet’s. Tongue-in-cheek. I used to think this way, by the way. The loudness of blog titles like mine “Poor? Want to Travel Abroad? There Is Only One Thing You Have to Do” will break my writing professors’ heart. Too much vulgarity in words while I was taught that good writing lies in subtlety.
But the thing is, I myself, even though I have been betrayed by travel blogs, I still consume them, I still look for ship schedules, bus schedules, and how-tos, with the predisposition that what I read is not going to be true all throughout. These information, at the least, are the only semblance of sanity in the randomness called travel.
Nobody can fully dictate the course of one’s trip.
It did not take me long to understand that blogging, just like traveling nowadays, is an industry. A business industry. SEO ranking. Page Ranking. More traffic means more possibilities. But there are still gems out there, blogs I visit for their truthfulness and nuanced, poignant words. And I wanted Backpacking with a Book to be like that.
After coming back from the full-of-realizations, I-do-not-know-if-it-is-really-a-life-changing five-week-trip, I decided to take my blog seriously. I stopped making it as a dumping site and drafting board. I take it as a job. An ethical job. A profession. A kind of night job whose complexities are softened by beautiful photos. There is still so much to write about: be it beauty or pain on places that I have trodden on.
A week ago, Glenn, a poet friend who deleted his Facebook and migrated to IG, posted this photo and captioned it with “Choose!”
I chose both and commented, how can you breathe without going shallow?
If taking #ootds is shallow, so be it. Although, I know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and even Ursula Le Guin will understand. If writing listicles is as horrendous as Pacquiao’s saying the homosexuals are worse than animals, so be it. I now write how-to entries with photos of me in bikini and what-not. I write about beaches with the absence of dubious adjectives, but I know there are no decent narratives that I can write out of them. I know too I can sell the photos and write them on my column and earn from their beachiness.
Beaches, the unpeopled ones, are my own definition of escapist travel. We all need one.
But I do not stop there.
I included why travelers should not visit the sharks in Oslob. Or why people should reconsider their trip to Boracay. Or why trees must exist in cities.
I still go to touristy places like Moalboal and Malapascua and write the concerns surrounding them. I write about people. They are the ones that make a place true, nuanced, and breathing. Once in a while, I am going to write travel guides, if I find the ones online lacking.
It is one thing to be a traveler. It is another thing to be a blogger. I will swim in both seas: the shallow and the deep.
Because my issues as a traveler are real.
Because I love modeling in front of T’s camera.
Because my issues as a woman traveler are real.
Because I giggle a lot and laugh like a hyena.
Because my issues as a dark-skinned traveler are real.
Because I love #ootds and long skirts.
Because my issues as a traveler from a developing country are real.
Because I love mushy things like self-timed photos of kisses and holding hands.
Because my issues as a woman with a foreign boyfriend are real.
Because I love low tides as much as high tides.
These, on top of the issues bugging the world.
And if travel blogging is not the right platform for these, then I’m going to stretch its limitations and challenge its very own definition.
So yeah, during my recent trip, the Immigration officer asked if it was my job, I answered,
“Yes, I’m a travel blogger” without any hesitation.