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.
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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.
READ: Poor, But Want to Travel? There Is Only One Thing You Have to Do
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.
READ: What’s Wrong with Leave Everything Behind and Travel the World
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.
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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.
READ: Wanna Make Your Blog Popular? Travel the Philippines and Praise or Bitch It
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.
Punch-in-the-gut type of realization. I really admire how you place sanity in a world where everyone comforms. Thanks for this, Jona. I know I followed the right path when I started a new blog domain that will focus on the behind the scenes of adventure, people, nature and society.
But there is nothing wrong with being a travel blogger. I now made listicles, JL! What we need is balance. We must admit that there are certain things that readers want to read. There are things we love, but they do not get hits at all. Haha! Muah!
Hi Jona. I just wanted to tell you that this article is beautiful. So gorgeously unadulterated and true. I do not really read blogs as much as accidentally stumbling across them, and today’s stumble is definitely one of the most refreshing ones I’ve had in a while.
Ah, thank you, G. I just hope I won’t lose friends from both sides: the bloggers and poets. I respect both, especially now I realized how hard it is to take blogging seriously. Thank you, thank you for your sweet thoughts.
When I started blogging, I used to be proud to have a blog and be called a travel blogger. But later on, when everyone jumped on the bandwagon, that’s when I started to realize I don’t want to be associated with the ‘blogger wannabes’ – those who started a blog because it’s the ‘in’ thing but later on faded away in the blogosphere. I guess it was my ego fighting back and I slowly sunk in confusion as to what I truly want.
Looking back, I’m still unsure about everything. What’s clear is I know what I want to write. I put myself first before my readers. I will write anything under the sun that pleases me, which is probably the reason why my blog’s contents are all over the place. It may be listicles, narratives, how-to guides, or whatever. And if those who visit my ‘personal’ travel blog doesn’t like what they read, they are free to click the exit button, no hard feelings.
Being a ‘travel blogger’ means different things to different people depending on how they perceive the phrase. It could mean having a blog, a journal, a diary narrating your travel experiences or it could mean putting up a website to fund your travels in the hopes of attracting free deals and that sort. The sad truth is that nowadays a travel blogger is associated with the latter. But what truly matters is me. I shouldn’t have to justify my blog’s existence. So long as you know your blog’s purpose, you’ll just be fine. Stick to your own gut, I say, and everything else will fall into place.
Uuuuyyy Mam Jona! Travel Blogger na siya! hahaha
Aaaah, this warms my igat heart, Thank you, thank you, Doi! Just so you know, after taking my blog seriously, I patterned my travel guides from your Hale Manna post, but yeah, just like what Edwin said, maka-insecure ang ka-detailed sa imong entry! Haha!
Yeah, I’m now a proud travel blogger! (And then flip my hair!) Hahaha! See you soon! Muah!
I’ve been following you now for… I’m not sure how long but it’s been a while… And your entry today? Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! This sounds more like the you I’ve come to love! If I wanted to follow the standard Travel Blogger? There are so many out there… But you! Your style is refreshing… You don’t pull punches and you tell it like it is… And you truly make me feel like i am there with you! It’s almost like we are sitting together… Having a coffee together… And your telling me what a place is really like…
I could go on and on but I think Doi said it all… I may miss an article or two when i’m buried under my own writing but I always come back… Because you fill that need that I and many others need to truly discover the Philippines…
I think you are my only regular reader here, Bob! Haha! Thank you, thank you!
I am so happy to read the perspective of a non-Westerner, so eloquently stated. I am always very happy when we get SE Asians in my area, Central Asia. Yes, you are the Westernised ones, but still, you have a different take on things, not bringing the neocolonial perspective with you.
Keep doing what you are doing!
I once was in SE Asia, and although I enjoyed the places I visited, I could not handle being another rich farang among the millions of paradise seekers. I never did return.
Hi there, Steven! Thank you for reading it. Are you by any means, referring to this: backpackingwithabook.com/leave-everything-behind-and-travel-the-world?
“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” hindi na pwede maging gem yon nagsusulat para lang sa “seo” “page ranking” etc.?
hindi kaya iba iba klase lang sila at di pwedeng pagkumparahin? kung sa music, iba ibang genre sila ng tinutugtog… mahirap din kasi ikumpara kung sino yon mas magaling na rock singer sa rnb singer.
*buti na lang at hindi ako writer o travel blogger. lol. pero labels lang din naman lahat ng to
Hi, Photographer! My own gems, my own preferences. And I admitted naman towards the end na there is a need to balance things out: the informative and the creative. And I now openly write the so-called listicles. And yes, I’m relearning SEO, but it is not my main aim, my aim is to write stories. Yes, these are labels. And it depends on one, which one he/she takes. Between a writer and a blogger, I choose both. And in both labels, I do not claim any credentials. I’m a newbie blogger. I’m an insecure writer.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jona. One of my main concerns is this: most people find places through blogs, and when blogs are merely focused on the cool and the beautiful, akala ng ibang tao, yun na yun. So napapasa rin ang mentalidad na”ah yung maganda lang yung ipapakita ko”.Ni madalang nga may nagsusulat tungkol sa responsableng travel eh, oh yung experiential travel.
May kutob nga ako na dahil sa travel blogs eh maraming nananahimik na lugar na nagagambala nating mga tao- at nasisira pa. Sa totoo lang, di naman tayo nagsi-stay sa mga lugar to really live there; to really immerse sa communities… experience tayo konti, picture-picture,iroromanticize at i-idealize, then balik sa kung saan tayo naka-base. Minsan magko-compete pa kung sino ang mas tunay na “traveler”.HAHAHA.
Ang ibang mga tao sa aming barrio, di naman nakakatravel dati,pero malalim ang pananaw sa buhay- dahil hindi naman yan sa dami ng napuntahan o sa layo, it’s still how we give our heart away to life- whether sa buhay-pamilya yan, spiritwalidad, pakikibaka, in staying, introspection.
At mabuti naman you mention na you like being photographed, yan ata pinakananotice ko sa blog mo,you like photos of yourself. Which is okay lang naman.
Thank for your article, It’s so true and it’s help my passion more motivated.
Currently, I’ve a website about Vietnam, a middle of Vietnam call :” Thành Phố Quy Nhơn” and I’m a website developer but I like travel, like meet a new friends. I scared lonely.
I was very intrigued when I read the title of your post. May points ka sa mga sinabi mo. Being a travel blogger means different things to differenet people. There are those who are in it for the money and stardom. Marami kasing sumikat sa blogging. There are those who blog at walang pakialam kung sumikat man sila or hindi. They just want to share their story to the people. Of course, there are the superficial ones.
It is the same with being a Filipino. Many says that they are ashamed of being a Pinoy because of the many bad things that some of our kababayan did. Unfortunately, they cannot remove their identity as Filipino.
Anyways, nice seeing your blog and reading a good post. 😀
A refreshing, honest read. A friend and I were talking about objectivity recently. We were in an island in Balabac, Palawan, and it was a trip that took weeks in planning. The shores of the island has various trashes. Don’t get mistaken, Balabac is beautiful but at least two of the islands we visited have a garbage issue. My friend, knowing that I have a blog, asked me why she never read anything about the garbage problem when we were researching online.
As much as I would love to promote local tourism, I also want my blog to be as honest as possible and not just highlight the good qualities of a place and leave off others because by then I’d be giving an untruthful picture.
As a Filipino American whose family is from Cebu, I really enjoy reading your blog posts and understanding more about traveling from your perspective. Traveling is incredibly privileged experience that unfortunately not everyone has equal access to and reading your blog is a refreshing reminder as to the realities of travel. It can be beautiful, meaning and a version of success for some but there is much fantasy that needs to be dissolved about it. To be honest, in the age of the social media of 2021 I find that I’ve strayed from traditional Instagram and have been reinvigorated to explore travel blogs. It doesn’t take long to get sick and tired of the singular voice/perspective of white western travelers. that’s all too often (and I quote from Berna Anat, self titled financial hype woman and fellow Filipina American on Instagram) “hella male, stale and pale.” I sincerely appreciate interesting perspectives that are grounded in reality, honesty and breathe life into the exploration of stories and travel. Thank you for sharing your story and for all that you do!