I’m admittedly a late comer to the party when it comes to travel blogging. I’ve lived abroad since 2004 and started writing long before that, though I mostly kept what I wrote about my experiences to myself. I had long since fallen in love with travel writing before coming across travel blogs, mostly through the books of Robert Kaplan, and tried my hand at it with a travel journal when I hitchhiked from Frankfurt to Istanbul back in 2009. I still keep that old black notebook and take a look at it from time to time to reminisce about the trip through my notes in ink of different colors (because I kept losing my pens), the names, email addresses, and phone numbers of people I met in their own handwriting, and the names of cities I hitchhiked to written with black marker.
I first came into contact with travel blogs a few years ago and figured I could also start my own. Back then I had just completed my Master’s in Eastern European History in Heidelberg, and thought that a blog would be a nice creative outlet. I thus created Between Distances. At first I tried to see how to go about the whole thing: Getting a domain, setting up a page, etc… I had no idea how to do all that, so I turned to google. I found a lot of articles on how to get a blog going—however, to my dismay, they all included the phrase “…and make money” in the headline. I didn’t care about the business side of the articles and just used whatever information was relevant to set up a page—but also saw what motivates a lot of travel bloggers out there.
I myself follow blogs primarily for one reason: To continue discovering the world. I want to be transported to places I haven’t been to through pictures and words, and I want to learn new things about them as well as rediscover cities and countries I’ve been to—especially if looking at them from another perspective. I want good writing, not just stuff that’s SEO-friendly and easy to market. I want educated opinions, raw adventures, and solid information on the country the article is about—for example its history, culture, language, or traditions. I want to know what it’s like there. It’s not just writing skills that matter but also knowledge, cultural sensibility, and especially perspective—and that’s exactly what makes travel writing interesting.
Just recently I came across a guy named Harry A. Franck. When it comes to travel writing, Harry is the real deal. He was OG, and traveled the fuck out of this planet on foot almost 100 years ago! He traveled with little money at a time when getting around was not as easy as it is today and seeing the world was truly a privilege and an adventure. Imagine traveling around in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, or hitchhiking in Mexico in the years after the Revolution. Harry Franck did it and wrote raw and colorful accounts of what he saw, and his observations are still relevant today. The book I’m currently reading is called “Vagabonding through changing Germany.” It was published in 1920 and is about Franck’s experience traveling in unoccupied Germany immediately after World War 1. He started his trip in Metz, in Lorraine—a part of the German Empire that was ceded to France after the War. He then spent some time in Koblenz and traveled North to the Netherlands. From Rotterdam he traveled to Berlin, which then was experiencing widespread hunger. From Berlin he traveled to Bromberg (Bydgoszcz) in the part of Germany that was to be ceded to Poland, and then to Posen (Poznan), the province that the Germans had to cede to the Poles. I’m in the part of the book when our friend Franck just arrived to Munich, a city that was still feeling the ripples from the Spartacist Uprising. His descriptions of everyday life are vivid and he wrote extensively on the politics of the time. Harry A. Franck was a true travel writer.
Now back to travel blogs. We live in an age of mass tourism and traveling has become cheaper than ever. With the increasing number of tourists traveling abroad, and the potential of creating a successful travel blog (at least in monetary terms), the number of travel blogs will continue to grow—which, at the same time, will make it more difficult to pick out the best ones. And that being the case, will anybody remember any of us down the line?
Whatever happened to travel writing? Shouldn’t travel blogging be synonymous with travel writing? Unfortunately, travel blogging is nowadays an industry, which means that content creation can easily be motivated, manipulated, and conditioned by money. Likewise, there are many shortcuts to growing an audience, whether that’s buying followers, stealing other people’s content, manipulating Instagram, etc—but what about the originality and the quality of the content? Don’t get me wrong: If someone sets out to blog and constantly publishes informative, uncompromising, and high-quality content that eventually ends up earning him or her a living (as in the case of Harry Franck) that’s fine; I’ll want to support that blog like I support a good and authentic band if I like their music. But blogs created as a business? Not for me, sorry.
I for one will simply continue to travel and write because it makes me happy. Luckily, I’ve found and befriended more than a few bloggers who think the same, though there are definitely many more amazing travel blogs out there than I know of, so if you have any recommendations for me leave me a comment with some names!
Finally, let’s make the hashtag #bringbacktravelwriting a thing.
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