Thoughts on the travel blogging ‘community’

Community.

When it comes to travel blogging, what does that even mean?

Kim Mance and Jim Benning hugging at TBEX 2010 in NYC

Is it compatible with cutting out the noise and being productive? Can you be connected to community and also appreciate the joy of quiet?

When I started as a travel blogger in 2007, I was very keen on the idea of community (how hilarious that I felt the need to explain what RSS was!). Over time, I saw something akin to a travel blogging community grow. Over the years my blogging life has been enriched through real connections with other travel bloggers. But I’m also reaching a point where I feel like I’m drowning in noise and with two eleven-month-old babies in the house, I really need to make firm decisions about where to focus my attention and energy.

Some writers are pretty hardcore about saying they are not part of a travel blogging community – they write for an audience and that’s that. Other writers seem to spend a lot of time on Twitter complaining that the first bunch of writers are “cliquey”. For some people, it’s all chat all the time, even at the expense of the actual writing and blogging. (Note, if you don’t recognise yourself in that description, then I’m probably not talking about you, so don’t take offence).

I guess I am trying to chart a middle way here. I am deeply appreciative of the connections that I have made through travel blogging. Some of my most longstanding travel blogging friends were formed on the TravelWriters.com bulletin boards and then shifted to Twitter, back in the good old days when I only followed a couple of hundred people. I’ve since made meaningful connections with more of you through reading and commenting on each other’s blogs and connecting through social media. I have found so many people have been generous  with their time and their knowledge, sharing everything from technical expertise to editor contacts. I can’t agree with Tim Leffel who advocates spending a maximum five minutes a day on Twitter  - genuine networking takes more time than that! As a freelance writer, Twitter has paid dividends for me over and over again – I have gained freelance writing work through Twitter several times and awesome travel advice more times than I can remember.

It still amazes me away that you guys paid for me to go to New York so I could meet you all at the 2010 TBEX conference! (That’s the Travel Blog Exchange set up by Kim Mance). My friends and family didn’t donate to the Kickstarter fundraising – other bloggers did. If that’s not community, I don’t know what is.  I am grateful for all of this and I have never for a minute presumed that I’m entitled to that generosity.

One of my favourite examples of community is my annual participation in Passports with Purpose. I have been involved since the very beginning when I hosted a Lonely Planet book prize and we raised over $7,000 for Heifer International. We have now well and truly outgrown those humble beginnings and it’s been such a joy to watch. The opportunity to do some good in the world is one of the best reasons to blog as far as I’m concerned.

My friend Alison Brick eating a taco from the Diamond PR taco truck at TBEX 2010

I try to give back but the truth is that my time is finite. It always was but now that I have a family I need to be even more protective of my time and my productivity. My babies are almost one and I am ramping up my freelance writing career. I still want to maintain my blog and I want to write an e-book and I still have an unfinished novel. Oh yes, and exercising and eating well and seeing my husband and friends are important too.

Social media has a role in my life but I don’t want to sink into what Chris Brogan calls the “chitty-chatty web”. I think I have been guilty of that in the past and I want to trim back. I have been inspired by Christine over at Almost Fearless to continue with my digital housekeeping. She has written a great post about how being productive means you have to cut out the noise and that can mean some pretty ruthless decisions about who to follow on Facebook and Twitter. Sing it, sister!

It blows me away that Christine is only following 77 people on Twitter. I don’t think I want to pare it back that much but I’m trying to trim a little every time I visit the site. If I unfollow you and you don’t notice then it was the right decision. If it was the wrong decision then I’ll probably add you back in time.

I’m also making judicious use of the newish ‘subscribe’ function on Facebook. Instead of leaving everyone on ‘most updates’, most people have now either been promoted to ‘all updates’ or demoted to ‘important updates only’. I’m hoping this means I see more of my family and close friends on the site. I would rather travel bloggers – at least ones I haven’t met in person and count as actual friends – connected with me on my Facebook page rather than my personal profile, but the truth is that I’m not good at saying ‘no’ or unfriending, so the ability to control the level of subscription is gold. I wish I could do the same for all the pages that I’ve ‘liked’ but for now I either get all updates or no updates.

Here’s what community doesn’t mean to me. It doesn’t mean that I am obligated to follow every travel blogger on Twitter. There are too many of us and I find the whole prospect somewhat enervating. I already only follow a fraction of the travel bloggers out there and it’s too many already! I am looking for meaningful connections and good stuff to read, not just a reciprocal numbers game.

I am not a snob and it’s not about whether you’re big or small – I won’t follow ‘big name’ bloggers out of any sense of duty either. I hope you’ll always find me approachable and open to conversation – the @reply function still works regardless of whether I’m following you or not. If you ask, I am happy to add you to my ‘travel’ list instead and occasionally dip into that.

Community doesn’t mean endless chit-chat. I treat Twitter as a cocktail party and I will dip in and have conversations with people while I am there. But I won’t put a Twitter travel chat event in my diary and turn up at the same time of week to take part. I don’t judge you if that’s what you want to do but I don’t have time. I feel weary even thinking about it. I have wasted too much time getting sucked into pointless stuff as it is.

Community doesn’t mean that I want to engage in reciprocal pimping of each other’s work or reciprocal link exchanges. I had to stop using StumbleUpon because I just felt as if I were being spammed by other travel bloggers every time I went on there. I didn’t have any sense that people were actually reading my blog – they were just wanting their own content promoted in return. Here’s the deal: If I like your post, I will promote it of my own accord, in the social media channels of my choice. If I like your entire blog, I might even recommend it to my readers or nominate it for the Bloggies. Or I might ask you to guest post - it was a big help when the babies were first born – or find the time to do the same for you.

Linda and Craig Martin, Christine and Drew Gilbert and baby Cole at a TBEX 2010 party

Community doesn’t mean that we travel bloggers are a monolithic bunch who think the same on every issue. Please don’t presume to speak for me when talking about how PR people should deal with travel bloggers, or (groan) what makes a travel blogger different to a “traditional journalist”. Also, disagreeing on any given issue isn’t a sign of some great schism in the “community”. It’s not our job to be cheerleaders for each other – it’s far more productive to challenge each other. I find unthinking consensus far more troubling than debate. Pam at Nerd’s Eye View says we should all learn to take criticism and I quite agree. But we’re not very good at it.

I guess what I am looking for from other travel bloggers is not so much community as friendship – and inspiration. It’s time to sort the wheat from the chaff.

What does ‘online community’ mean to you? If you are a travel blogger, do you feel part of a community? How do you balance social media with getting stuff done?

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Comments

  1. I can tell you’ve been thinking about this a lot. I don’t have any answers for you, but it’s a truth that this is still a relatively new medium. Everybody has to find their own path to satisfaction regarding how to use it.
    Jennifer´s last [type] ..Los Angeles Travel Shows

  2. Some good points, Caitlin. As Jennifer alluded, bloggers are the new social media pioneers. I have enjoyed the TBEX conferences that I attended because I was able to put a name with a face and get to know personally some of my online community – including you!

    On a personal note, it is so true that your sense of community changes focus when babies are added into the mix. Enjoy your time with the twins. As a mom of two teenagers I look back and say, “where did the time go?” It is a good thing to be protective of your time.
    Nancy D. Brown´s last [type] ..San Francisco 2012 Fancy Food Show – Food Entrepreneurs

    • I enjoyed them too. I am trying to figure out how I can have the best of both worlds. Maybe I’m just trying to have my cake and eat it too?!

  3. Well put, Caitlin. For the record, I’ve always found you challenging, in a good way. I liked that about you even if your mannerisms got under my skin at times. And it was nice to actually meet you in SF before you shipped off for the land down under. I will visit sometime, really. And I’ll bring my daughter when she’s a good baby sitting age. :)

  4. Good piece, thx for the ref to Tnooz RT @niltiac Enjoying the comments on this post on #travel blogging and community. http://t.co/qRhxA8sN

  5. This is a genuinely insightful and thoughtful piece. Nice one, Caitlin. I like the phrase “chitty chatty web”. Subtly scathing.

  6. An insightful, thoughtful post Caitlin. A reply as promised :)

    A short caveat to begin with; I’m not sure what others perceive to be the ‘travel blogging community’. Definitions will differ, we’re not all exposed to the same content or individuals. The are tens of thousands of travel blogs, nobody reads or is even aware of them all, plenty don’t involve themselves in the business of others. When I talk about the ‘community’ I’m referring to the couple of hundred travel bloggers I’ve been exposed to over the past few years; it includes most of those individual considered successful, lots of people who shout loudly, some heavy drinkers and some outstanding writers. Your experience will be different, milage will vary etc.

    I stepped back from the travel blogging community last year, to the point of ceasing altogether. There were a few reasons, some of them entirely unrelated – the demands of being the sole breadwinner in a family, having to focus and put my energies into non-travel work that paid the bills etc. I still travel plenty, I share photos wherever I go, I still share tips and links through Twitter and Facebook. I still blog about travel, but only in a professional capacity.

    I didn’t want be part of the gang anymore is because of the attitude and behaviour of others. Not all travel bloggers, certainly, but enough that I’d rather stay away than be associated.

    I despise a community that owes so much to circlejerking; to liking, following, friending, retweeting and commenting in the hope the favour will be returned. If you’re not relentlessly cheerleading the efforts of others to the point of exhaustion, nobody will support you. That’s exactly what happened to me. I still read blogs and if I like something, I’ll still share it. If I’m moved to comment, I will. I won’t follow people blindly or indulge somebody purely through fear of loss or sense of duty. I don’t want to be part of a clique that’s dominated by mutual appreciation.

    It’s a dangerous path to follow, because it creates a problem. People care less about quality. I’m not a fan of a community where analytics are king, where quality and quantity are values that somewhere along the line became interchangeable. I have an issue with people who are poor writers but are held up as shining examples of the genre because they have five or six figures of Twitter followers.

    I can’t comprehend a community that won’t entertain criticism. The non-existant ‘travel bloggers vs journalists’ debate is proof alone – that if you don’t agree with a point of view, you’re dismissed as an old-school newspaper hack who’s threatened by the internet. I’m apparently one of the latter, by the way, because I’ve dared to suggest that quantity doesn’t equate to quality or ability, and that it’s quantity of the quality that matters most of all.

    I’m unimpressed by travel bloggers who take advantage of others by selling the dream of earning a living from their blogs, a very different discipline to working remotely and happening to blog along the way.

    I don’t like going to events like TravelMassive and attempting conversation with a blogger who continually scans the room for PRs from the moment you meet. You can call it networking if it makes you feel less of a douche.

    I don’t understand the mindset that dictates that travel bloggers are owed anything from the travel industry, that they should be paid to take PR trips, or that travel bloggers can automatically deliver a far higher ROI than any other form of advertising or promotional activities.

    So for all those reasons and a few others, I decided to step away. I’m delighted and incredibly proud to still blog for RoundTheWorldFlights.com, and the quality of the site’s other writers continuously pushes me to up my game. I’m still a travel blogger, then? No, I’m a writer who blogs about travel. It’s a subtle but important difference.

    Travel bloggers I like as people, and whose writing I enjoy, are those who are mature – not necessarily in terms of age or life experience, since neither quality guarantees the former – but in their outlook, demeanour and manner towards others. I’ve plenty of friends in the travel blogging community, I read plenty of good articles produced by it but I’ve no desire to be part of it anymore.

    • Thanks for drawing my attention to this thoughtful post of yours. I’m going to pop my comment here because I agree 100% with everything Paul has said above, and if he hadn’t have written it first, this is exactly what I would have written.

      The only additional comment I’ll make is in relation to the reason that you drew me here… in response to Travelling Anna’s tweet to me: “I’ve always found this community very warm and friendly. Sorry you dont feel that way! :) ” Hmmm, well, those sentences don’t even make sense together, but my anger wasn’t directed at a “community”, my anger was directed at Anna for publicly sharing on Twitter a comment I made in a private email to Kelley Ferro of TripFilms. I’m still astonished that Kelley shared the contents of that email with Anna and appalled Anna felt she could share it on Twitter, but that issue aside, I’m not sure what “community” Anna was talking about when she said *this* community. New York bloggers perhaps? Well as I have nothing to do with New York, I’m not part of that one. HuffPo bloggers? Well, I’m most definitely not associated with that one either, thankfully. Baffling.

      And here’s where I’ll quote Pam, below, who says “I think that community constantly redefines itself around specific issues and initiatives.” I totally agree, but I’ll also add geography and interests, because that’s primarily how community is defined for me. My husband Terry and I tend to become part of, and build, communities around the places we visit and the people and things there that interest us, and these communities tend to form as we travel. On any one day, I might engage with people in Dubai and the Middle East, chefs and foodies in Australia, tweeps in Bangkok, slow/sustainable travellers around the world, pro travel writers in the UK (where my main source of income is), etc. You get my drift.

      For me, there are many different kinds of communities out there that I participate in, or, like Paul, choose not to get involved in, due to time or interest. I take exception when I’m lumped with a particular community, but I’m more annoyed by the notion that there’s only one community, because that’s just arrogance. Those people need to get out a bit more.

      • I didn’t mean to suggest that you were angry with a particular community or community in general. It was just that I recalled Anna trying to imply some sort of amorphous community (at least that was the inference I drew). The exchange came at a time when I was already refining my ideas about community. And yes, I think I’d agree with you and Pam that online community can be a fluid thing that we move in and out of. I like that – it gives you the upside without it being a beast that needs constant feeding.

  7. Thoughtful post on community re: travel bloggers, but could be re: anyone online. http://t.co/3VuFdQjs (via @niltiac)

  8. Nice, thoughtful discussion. Thanks. And this: “Community doesn’t mean that we travel bloggers are a monolithic bunch who think the same on every issue — is spot on.

    in fact, I think that community constantly redefines itself around specific issues and initiatives. Passports with Purpose is a short term, annual thing and we have a community while it happens and then, it kind of dissolves til the following year. TBEX? Same deal, for me — though I think there are more long term active participants on the TBEX site and forums. This cohesive travelblogging community, though, I think that’s something that just doesn’t exist. Not really. There are folks who make this implication from time to time, and I think it’s simply not true.

    Good stuff, thanks.
    pam´s last [type] ..Guest Post: The Figs on the Train from Vienna

  9. Great comments on this post on “community” in #travel blogging. Come join in. http://t.co/aa586ebN

  10. The longer I write about travel and capture travel photographs, the less I associate myself with this supposed community of travel bloggers in the sense that I spend less and less time only talking to them and more time actually working, traveling, taking photographs, teaching people outside the travel blog circle and hopefully having some form of an offline life… It’s wonderful when you’re new to the travel community to have support and advice but overtime the dark side of the “community of travel people” really begins to take a negative toll. There’s simply, as has been said, too much navel-gazing, backstabbing and falsity :( I also agree that there is a pervasive feeling of entitlement that I have no desire to feel myself so it helps to step outside the “community” and realize none of us are owed anything. Hard work is all that matters.

    That being said, some of the people I love most in this world and do have an offline friendship with are people I met through my work in travel. I will always be thankful for that and hope to never take it for granted. I just try now to be more guarded and more grounded. Life must have balance. And so must the job of travel reporting/writing/blogging/video/photography/etc.
    Kirsten Alana´s last [type] ..NYE, Art & Technology in Berlin: Part 2

  11. Some thoughts on blogging and community from @niltiac features a photo of yours truly – http://t.co/ylbA8d4Q

  12. Hey Caitlin,
    Great site! Keep it up,

    Let us know if you ever feel like doing some pro-bono writing work. We’re always looking for new writers.
    http://www.thisboundlessworld.com

    Thanks!
    D
    Dan´s last [type] ..One-Day Gastronomic Tour of Colombia