The fake world of a travel blogger
Her bright yellow dress twirls. Her shiny hair flicks. She runs through the narrow alleyway but we can’t see her face. Somehow we know she’s smiling anyway. The windows of the charming shop fronts reflect her glowing skin in the golden sunshine. All sense of reality is lost. Because Instagram is not reality. Travel blogs are not reality.
As I scroll through endless Instagram pictures on my phone I feel empty. But I keep scrolling anyway.
Where is the line between reflecting the beauty and wonder of this world through art, and that of self-indulgence and fakery? Pictures on Instagram and travel blogs are edited to perfection. A well-crafted image has the power to lift you up, and inspire wonder and awe. But when does “inspirational” start to fuel unrealistic expectations? Today I’m not feeling inspired… Today I’m feeling a deep sense of conflict.
I keep scrolling. Just the process feels like a drug that I’m not getting quite enough of. My anger simmers.
There’s an endless stream of beautiful people and I’m helping them parade in front of my eyes as my fingers compulsively scroll downwards. The best travel blogging “influencers” are attractive people. The money-making model is “be beautiful” and then promote products. My own self-loathing rears its ugly head… I will never be thin enough, pretty enough, sexy enough, to take pictures that look like that. But it’s not just that. It’s worry, a sense of shame… by having my travel blog am I part of a world that I don’t even like? Does travel blogging do more harm than good?
Does the constant exposure to airbrushed version of reality undermine our satisfaction with our own lives? Just like airbrushed models in fashion magazines, these crafted versions of reality can cause real harm. Teenage girls starve themselves when they fail to live up to magazine standards. Putting models in fields of sunflowers or in front of mountain vistas in far away lands only intensifies this.
When we project only happiness and perfection, our collective mental health suffers. Nobody is posting pictures of the tears in their eyes or the kilograms they gained. I conveniently forgot to blog about all the times I’ve been terrified, lost or lonely while travelling. We can remind ourselves that we’re not seeing the whole picture, but sometimes I don’t think my own subconscious believes it.
There was a time when travel blogs were trusted because they were genuine, but in a saturated market it’s easy to drown in the flow of narcissism and click bait. Today it’s easy for the middle class to travel – it’s not unique – so why should anybody follow a travel blog? Who wants to condemn themselves to a constant stream of images of other peoples “perfect lives”? Constantly comparing our lives with others fuels resentment, envy and anxiety. I post my own travel photos, but sometimes, in times of stress and monotony in my own life, other peoples travel pictures make me want to punch them in the face. Really hard. I tell myself I’m happy for other people, but that’s just cognitive dissonance at play… I can’t possibly hate travel pictures when I spam so many people with my own.
I don’t truly believe that all travel bloggers are simply after Instagram followers and stardom.
Go to school. Get a good job. Work. Die. A central theme of many travel blogs is that you don’t have to live this life that we’ve been conditioned to see as normal. Bloggers encourage others to take control of their lives and break free from the daily grind. They make you realize that maybe you don’t “hate Mondays” but hate the capitalist society that chains you to a desk for five days a week. This message resonates with me, and after a bout of depression working full time after graduation, it was travel blogs that stopped me from sleepwalking through the rest of my life.
But increasingly travel blogs make travel feel like a pathetic competition. Who will win in the game show of “who has the better life?” or “who has visited the most countries?” Blog titles like “Places to visit that aren’t cliché” pass judgment on other peoples travel decisions. If you go to Paris or New York you’re not original enough. Titles like “Meet the girl who has been to 30 countries and she’s not even 30” scream out that you are losing the competition of life. Country collecting is the new stamp collecting. This isn’t inspiring people to live exciting lives; it’s shaming them for not living your version of the perfect life. Not everybody even wants to travel. And that’s fine.
And the message that always insidiously creeps in is that travel makes you a superior person. It’s a mindset that blissfully ignores that travel is a privilege. “Quit your job and travel the world” is great advice for some but blatantly insulting for others. I could travel for ten months straight because I was born in Australia, could access university without paying upfront and then was able to get a decent paying job. I had strong Australian dollars, I am not caring for elderly or sick relatives, I have no children, and didn’t even need to apply for a visa for many of the countries I visited.
But for much of the world travel is simply out of reach. Tell somebody living in a slum struggling to afford food that travel will “enlighten” them. Tell a refugee who has just lost their entire family that they should travel to “escape” from their life in the detention center. Tell somebody who has no access to any form of education that “travel is the worlds greatest teacher”.
We can learn important things about the world and other cultures through travel blogs. Travel helps conquer racism, spurring the fundamental realisation that we’re all the same. Some bloggers have a flair for writing that can teleport you to another world and help you understand cultures you may never otherwise experience. I believe there is value in this, and value in giving useful advice that helps people on the road.
But with more and more people trying to earn some sort of living through travel blogging it’s harder to find well written engaging content, and instead we float around in a sea of pretty manufactured images, boasting and content designed for maximum clicks. Many travel blogs look more like fashion magazines. I don’t want pictures of beautiful faces looking with wanderlust into the horizon. I hate these unrealistic ideals about how women should look while travelling. If I’m travelling in the tropics I am not beautiful. I have frizzy hair and am taking a shower in my own sweat. If I’m climbing a mountain the only reason I’m taking a picture is to give myself a minute to stop and catch my breath without looking too pathetic.
I love to write, but I don’t want to be this. I don’t aspire to be an “influencer”, I just want a hobby. And I want to share the beauty I see in the world. So I guess I will keep on going, and just be me. The real me… Frizzy hair, chubby belly, anxiety, sunburn, tears and all. Flawed. Because that’s reality.