“You can skip this, it's stupid and bullshit anyway.” This is a direct quote that I furiously scribbled down in the notes section in my phone. It was said aloud so that others could hear while touring a restaurant and hotel in rural Romania. Maybe she's just tired, I thought to myself. We all were. Piling 50 bloggers, photographers, and influencers on a bus and driving for hours isn't easy for anyone. But watching the face fall of one of the organizers, then make a conscious effort to resume a smile, made me realize that she had truly offended her. Unfortunately, this story is not uncommon. On every press trip there is always someone there who doesn't want to be. Someone who will find Paris boring, Austria's landscape uninviting, or Rome's history uninspiring. Are these people simply jaded by too much travel?
I think, for many of the other travel bloggers on the press trip, we were shocked by some peoples actions. From complaining about WiFi to downright screaming about rearrangements, it felt strange and wrong. We were INVITED to be here. It’s safe to say not everyone on the trip fit the bill. But there was a staggering number of people that slept while the guide talked, didn’t take a single tour, or brushed off learning about the place we were in.
Travel bloggers, or so I thought, are go-getters. They could probably make more money sticking to the fashion scene (posting pretty photos of their clothes in picturesque places) but instead they wanted to focus on the actual experience. What I've found, unfortunately, is that not everyone is there for travel. It's hard for me to figure out their reasoning for travel at all, other than to simply put a check next to a country or place or maybe just get a free place to stay and meal.
This post is bound to be controversial because it's an opinion, and one that I feel is necessary to write about. A bit of my background here: I've worked on both sides of the industry. As a marketer and social media strategiest I often worked with influencers on a variety of projects. I've been blogging for six years on this blog, professionally for three. I categorize myself as a lifestyle and travel blogger though, my travel side of blogging started only about a year and a half ago. Before moving to Europe my travel was limited or focused on the quick trips I took. Now that I live abroad and travel 3/4ths of my time it was natural to write about travel. And also attend some travel events.
Over the past two months I've attended many press and sponsored trips, a travel blog conference, and am scheduled to work with a few more tourism boards this year. This kind of travel is very different from what I'm typically used to. In some incredibly awesome ways, and some a bit more challenging. For example, I get to eat some of the best meals I've ever had in my life and stay in some really luxurious places. I've also gone to places I might not have thought of, had I not been on the press trip. Some things are harder. I'm on a more rigid schedule and might have less time to explore a museum or try a restaurant recommended to me. All of those things are merely relative. What I didn't expect was that the hardest part would be the people. And by people I mean travel bloggers.
I've learned two things since joining in on these press trips:
1. Press trips are work. I always imagine travel to be me skipping through cobblestone streets gazing up at magnificent architecture. It is that. But it's also: taking notes, scoping out where to take photographs, and being flexible with your time.
2. As a travel blogger I find it not only compulsory but also important to join in on tours, events, and excursions. Not just because it's part of the program, but because how else can you write about it?
My trip through Romania for two weeks was arguably one of the most eye opening for me. One of the first days on the trip we went on a tour of a Neamt Citadel, a medieval fortress that was once occupied by Stephen the Great and is steeped in rich history as a symbol of power for Moldavia at the time. Despite being a group of 50 to tour the fortress, only three people went on the tour. What were the others doing you might be wondering? Of course, some were strictly photographers and I understand skipping that portion to focus on photos, but many others just brushed it off. Most were too busy to take photographs to learn anything about the place we were in. Some just milled around or chatted in small groups, indifferent to where we were. When I inquired to some as to why, they responded with, “Oh, I'll just look this up online.” Yes, you can look some of this information up online. But having a live guide tell you about the hidden rooms and seeing them right before your eyes is a totally different experience. And one that I feel you need to be present, in order to write about it. I was completely shocked, but this became the norm.
These are not the only stories I have from the trip, of course. Not paying attention is seemingly much better than what unfolded. I'm talking about people audibly complaining on the bus about nearly everything. From accommodation, free time (not having enough of it), WiFi connections, food, to almost anything in between. After two weeks of getting to know the organizers of Experience Romania (that was the name of the tour I was on), many of them revealed just how closely they remembered times of communism. From 1947 all the way up to 1989 there was extreme communism in Romania which meant lack of food, rights, and freedom. I heard stories of waking up at 4 am to stand in line for a half loaf of bread which was to feed the family for the week. I heard much more gruesome tales of a father who literally helped pull people away from the tanks that were bulldozing people over in protest in the late 80s. They remember these stories vividly because it wasn't that long ago. Their times of heartache are not that far off and yet they had to listen to a bus full of people constantly complain about WiFi signal. Not to mention, the organizers volunteered their time, taking months off of work to prepare and be there.
Listen, I'm no saint. I want to get my work done too and I'm a sucker for good WiFi. But we were given the program ahead of time. I made sure I had posts and social media scheduled in the event that working just wouldn't be accessible. And as true “travel bloggers” we have to know that while on the road things don't always go as planned, things come up, weather changes, or you might not have ample time to answer emails.
But having empty seats at dinner while the mayor of a town comes to speak because you're too tired is just unacceptable.
I think what I loved about travel blogging is sharing your experience in a way that helps people plan trips or see different parts of the world through your lens and words. What I’ve found are people simply “in it” for a free meal and ride with sincere lack of interest in the place, people, and culture of where they are. I understand that not everyone can be absolutely interested in everything. But when you’re being sent on a trip and just can’t be bothered with the history there you’ve got a problem.
Maybe having 50 people on a bus was a recipe for catastrophe. As bloggers, it's often necessary to talk about our stats, followers, and frankly why someone should work with us. Perhaps having that many people in one contained space meant that egos exploded and chaos ensued. Negativity breeds negativity. So one person's bad experience can snowball into a miserable time for many.
I feel very fortunate and privileged to go on press and sponsored trips. I know not everyone gets to do these and I have absolutely loved my time. Through a lot of them I've made some truly wonderful friends and learned so much along the way. We all have our strengths and bloggers can teach each other so much. I've also loved the organizers of these trips as well. Many of them are volunteers or just have such an innate love for a location they want you to see and share the best of it. That passion is electric.
Through many of the press trips bloggers are not being paid. In fact, often we lose money since we are losing time that could be spent working. That's not to say that I don't gain from writing about these experiences, I definitely do. But they are work. And that means acting professional. It's a travel blogger's job to make working with you all the more easy so that they want to work with you in the future. Maybe even on a paid trip.
And let's not forget the fact that tourism boards and organizers invest thousands to make sure bloggers are well fed, have a place to sleep, and are seeing the best their city has to offer. Complaining about getting up early for a once-in-a-lifetime experience (that bloggers signed up for) or telling everyone that you are a “VIP” isn't going to make the experience any better.
The last thought I'll leave you with is this: I write on my blog because I hope that it will impact someone reading it. Yes, I’d like to monetize my site because I believe I provide value and have something to offer that can help others. But I believe all writers hope to record what they see and experience. I’m not sure you can do that when you show complete indifference to the culture and its stories. Or when you act like you're better than anyone else. There are plenty of great people in the travel blogging industry. So that's not to say that everyone is like this. But it doesn't hurt to realize that not everyone is in it for the travel.