Why I’m Quitting the Internet: Travel Blogging’s Dark Side

You know that “How would you live your life differently if you had 10 million dollars” question?

My answer hasn’t wavered for six years.

Until yesterday.

I used to answer, “I would do what I’m doing right now.

And it was true. I’ve tenaciously stayed the course on a lifestyle I know is right for me. I live below the (American) poverty line, but I have all the time in the world for my friends and family.

Because, pardon the f-bomb, but time is worth way-fucking-more than money.

You can’t get real about time’s value without saying “Howdy” to death. People often treat death like the ex they wished they’d never met. Mentally compartmentalize. Do not acknowledge. Heart leaps into throat when you see them in public.

Why?

Feelings. Terrifying, uncomfortable feelings.

And so it goes with time.

Time, thanks to death, is the most finite resource on the planet.

As such, time is the queen of my life. Staying constantly aware of time racing by is intense but worth it. Why? Because a life lived inside your comfort zone is a life filled with deathbed disappointment.

The Insidious Creep of Sheeple Life

Okaaaaay…,” you’re thinking. “So you’re quitting the internet because it takes up too much of your time?

Nope.

I’m quitting the internet because time is too damn precious to spend on anything that doesn’t pass the “10 Million Dollar” test.

The last three months of my life do not pass.

What have I been doing?

Slowly becoming beholden to bullshit.

Bullshit that dulls my generally keen sense of time’s value.

Let’s Rewind

It all started with an innocent, but erroneous, “What should I do now?” conclusion last October.

I’d spent several months house sitting while piecing my identity back together after a life change that was obviously more traumatic than I thought. I was on my way to aerial and acrobatic school, and needing to decide how much time I’d spend and which priorities I’d tackle on my travel site.

The conclusion?

“Well, I think I can squeeze in 20 hours a week between physical training and my work exchange hours. I want to help people. And I know a lot about budget travel. Since my “how-to” posts are the most popular, I should write more of those.”

The mental chaos of restructuring my world made it awfully hard to hear that little voice whispering in the back of my head. The one that said,

Yeah, but you don’t care about budget travel. You just care about the transformational, community building experiences unique to budget travel. You definitely don’t care about helping consumptive travelers get their kicks. Aren’t you a tiny bit worried that your site says very little about the thing that’s probably most important to you?
Aren’t you worried it doesn’t deter selfie-seeking travelers who care more about filling their Facebook friends with jealousy than learning about negative impacts of tourism on communities they visit? Aren’t you worried that you’re making it easier for entitled, cashed-up, first world citizens to go crashing around the globe? “

Becoming a Cog

Asking “What does the world seem to think I should do?” instead of “What do I think I should do” was the beginning of the end.

If I was going to write how-to posts that weren’t my zealous passion, it made sense to start with the ones that might also produce income.

As a result, I cranked out:

Travel Insurance 101: Do I Need It?
Travel Insurance 202: Don’t Get Duped
How to Travel Free with House Sitting
Badass Book Recommendations
Who Wins the Endless “Best Travel Backpack” War?

Want proof that I was only kind of selling my soul?

That “Don’t Get Duped” travel insurance post didn’t make my affiliate account managers very happy, but I didn’t back down on my often-anti-insurance stance. I never wrote anything I wouldn’t have typed up for a friend or reader. But I was like a fish choosing to swim in a murky pond instead of pristine river.

Your Humble Servant

Next I moved on to stuff readers seemed to care about, sticking with the theme of ignoring my internal compass. For them I wrote many things like:

I survived the drudgery by sprinkling in things I actually wanted to write, like:

Cherry Poppin’ Benevolence

The more I wrote things I was “supposed” to write, the more I felt compelled to do the things I was “supposed” to do.

Ironically it was my altruism that launched me off the deep end.

I’d earned airport lounge passes I couldn’t use and hated to see go to waste. Nobody I knew needed them. Lightbulb moment: give them away to a traveler!

Doing a giveaway requires promoting the giveaway.

Promotion sucks for a person who hates being all, “Me, me, me, me!!!” And who hates being inauthentic.

To avoid tweeting and updating repeatedly about myself, I had to find other relevant shareables. To get others to share the giveaway with their friends, fans, and followers, I had to join reciprocal sharing groups. (i.e. you share my thing, I’ll share yours.)

The combination of slogging through tons of mediocre articles and being forced to promote others’ self-serving content put me face to face with the total bullshit that is much of the travel blog world.

What’s “the bullshit?”

Let me tell you about the dark side of travel blogging.

I thought travel blogs were supposed to be full of helpful insight gained by respectfully looking through the lens of other cultures. I thought travel blogs were supposed to highlight the power of human connection.

You know what many top travel blogs highlight these days? The hotels, restaurants, and tour operators who have allowed the blogger to stay, eat, and participate for free.

Of course all these reviews come with the standard disclaimer: 
Me getting free shit in no way affects my opinions.

Uh, yeah.

Dear reader, I hope you just joined me in a giant eye-roll.

It’s not that I have a problem with anyone getting free stuff. I have a problem with people using the envy of their followers to gain access to travel that doesn’t even make the world a better place. More on travel styles later.

It would be ridiculous for these freebie gorging bloggers to claim they have their readers’ best interests in mind. Seeing as maybe a tiny percentage of their followers will ever go to the blogger’s destination, I call bullshit.

What’s really going on?

The travel blogger is essentially paying the hotel, restaurant, or tour operator in reader envy and SEO link juice. And tricking the freebie provider into believing they’ve got ‘audience engagement’ by comment swapping with a bunch of other travel bloggers.

The SEO link juice is fair. That’s just straight-up capitalism. But using one’s captive audience to travel in less-than-awesome ways which encourages readers to go out and travel is the same non-awesome way is straight-up disappointing.

What do I mean by “not-awesome travel?”

You know that Mark Twain quote about travel being fatal to bigotry, prejudice, etc? The operative word is travel. Not “vacation.” The kind of travel that has the potential to change the world for the better involves lots of slow, thoughtful, careful interactions with people outside one’s own world. It can happen in your hometown just as easily as the Peruvian highlands or a Tuscan village.

Vacation — or “going on holiday” — isn’t connection-building travel. It’s getting messy drunk while inner-tubing down a river where locals have never heard of such a thing. It’s wearing a crop-top to religious temples because, “Um, it’s like wayyy too hot to wear a whole shirt.” It’s getting angry at the “asshole waiter” who didn’t know you failed to educate yourself about the local custom of delivering bread to every table and charging if you consume it. “Like, hello?! We obvi aren’t from here!”

Vacation is packing your days with sights, museums, restaurants, and activities and then getting bent out of shape when things don’t go your way.

For the record, I have been on vacation many times.

But I expect more from travel bloggers.

I expect that those with the privilege of first-hand international experience wield their power responsibly. Any globetrotter can tell you staying 48 hours in one place barely leaves any time to actually listen and watch. By the time you check-in, get oriented, shower, eat, sleep, transit, snap Facebook-Instagram-envy selfies, and walk around in herds ticking off all the guidebook “must dos,” your days are spent.

The only locals you hold conversations with are standing on the other end of a paycheck.

As someone who has done it, I feel qualified to declare that fast, self-absorbed travel is bad travel.

The Gateway Drug

I witnessed more and more bad travel as I participated more and more in blog “supposed to” activities.

The giveaway I did got me comfortable with “successful blogging” tactics I’d shunned for years as inauthentic bullshit. I began tweeting on a schedule, strategically updating my facebook, regularly participating in social media shares where we all comment, like, tweet, pin, and stumble each other’s URLs so algorithms will be tricked into delivering us more followers whose envy is then traded for self-serving travel.

The more I did what I was “supposed” to do, the more stressed and miserable I became.

The tension between a gross to-do list and the massive internal resistance to actually doing it sucked my energy, attention, and focus.

At the same time my inbox was filling with internet success gurus admonishing me to email readers weekly, encouraging me to make shit for them to buy, and proselytizing about the importance of setting up sales-funnel sequences that manipulate readers into opening their wallets.

The distaste for what I was doing seeped into my subconscious.

I mistook it for a lack of clarity.

I went on a search to find my new passion, since travel blogging was obviously no longer “it.”

Pop-Quiz

I went round and round in circles in my mind. I listened to webinars, masterclasses, and podcasts. I did worksheets and exercises and email courses. I called friends. I journaled.

Finally, frustrated by lack of answer, I put my swirling thoughts in front a Facebook entrepreneur group.

In response, one woman posed the ten million dollar test.

As I clicked into the reply box to explain what I’d be doing if I “didn’t already have this awesome travel site, didn’t have commitments, didn’t already have an established life,” the answer slipping from my subconscious hit me like a ton of bricks.

The words coming out of my fingers were about being off-the-grid somewhere; on a sailboat, on a farm in some mountain valley, hiking on a trail in New Zealand, teaching English in South America.

Those things are a far cry from “I’d keep doing what I’m doing right now.

My locations are fixed for the next few months, so sailing, mountain farming, New Zealand, and South America will have to wait. But the off-the-grid part I can do. I will do.

It’s like sober October, only instead of booze I’m giving up internet dopamine that ultimately undermines happiness.

Here’s what it takes to shutdown the internet part of your life.

If you need me, call me on my Nokia.

I’ll catch y’all in November.

A version of this post first appeared on HalfTheClothes.com.

p.s. It feels necessary to remind my travel blogging peers who may rush to the defense of envy-funded travel that this is just a subjective little ditty about how one silly woman experiences the world. While it may feel like this missive basically says ‘Dear everyone, it is an objective fact that all travel bloggers are sell-outs who disrespect their followers for their own personal gain,’ it does not actually say that. And while other travel bloggers like this guy are also frustrated about these issues, these are still just my late-adopter opinions and thoughts about what I see going down in the world. Happy travels! ♣