The Occupational Hazards Of Travel Blogging

Being a travel blogger has become a pretty popular gig these last couple years. (I won’t call it a career because it is only that to a limited percentage of us.) New travel blogs are popping up daily. The attendance at the North American TBEX, a travel writer industry convention held annually in both N.A. and Europe, went from 400 in 2012 to 1,400 in 2013. And finally more and more companies and advertisers have recognized the power bloggers of bloggers and are using them to promote their wares.

  You bloggers have it so easy. You get to travel the world and get paid for it!  

Sure, it sounds glamorous. But so does every other job before you actually start doing it.

Beachside Travel Blogger
This looks fun but good luck getting all the sand out of your laptop later.

Trust Me, It Isn’t All Fun And Games…

There Are Some Real Hazards We Must Deal With As Bloggers

Not remembering which country you are currently in.   This happens more than most bloggers are probably willing to admit. It’s especially common after having spent several months exploring a country and then suddenly finding yourself waking up in a different country where the language you’ve been focusing so hard on mastering the last few weeks is suddenly as useless as an ejector seat on a helicopter. “Tunggu, tunggu…serius? Ini Thailand, kita 20km dari perbatasan Malaysia dan lo bilang nggak ada orang yang bisa bicara bahasa Melayu? I don’t speak English. Only that one sentence and this one explaining it.” (“Wait a minute, this is Thailand…we are 20km from the Malaysia border yet you are telling me that nobody here speaks Malay? …”) For those of you who don’t know, Bahasa Indonesia and Malay are essentially the same language.

Other aspects of this problem can be a little more life threatening. Last week I was in the Philippines and I’ll be damned if I didn’t start off driving on the wrong side of the road every time I got behind the wheel or on a motorcycle. “Why are all these trikes and jeepneys driving on my side of the street yet honking at me? … OH CRAP! Sorry!”

Sleep schedule…? What’s a sleep schedule?   Usually the first few weeks in a new country most of us hardly sleep more than a few hours a night. Simply put, we just don’t want to miss anything. We want to make the absolute most of our time, especially if it is a short trip. On longer trips, once that enthusiasm starts to fade it’s easy to catch more shuteye. Whether it be in the afternoon or as the sun is rising makes absolutely no difference. Trains, planes, boats, buses, cars, and other crazy forms of transportation you can only imagine — we bloggers must learn how to sleep on all of them. And to sleep through a variety of noises — not just chickens in the morning but other things like Muslim prayer calls blasted out on loudspeakers five times a day (the first of which is at 4am).

Travel Bloggers Sleep Anywhere
This particularly glamorous shot is of my buddy Ryan (Just Chuckin’ It) fast asleep on the mean streets of Khao San Road in Bangkok at 8pm.

Work schedule…? What’s a work schedule?   Focusing on writing while on the road is unbelievably tedious. Here you are in a new country, surrounded by a different culture, strange sights, tasty foods, friendly locals and endless possibilities yet you have to ignore all of these temptations and sit inside of a hotel / hostel / coffee shop — wherever the free wifi is — and stare at a laptop screen. Yeah, let me tell you, that just screams fun. The ability to overcome this issue is what separates the hobby bloggers from the real bloggers.

View From My Office
The view from my office in Jogja. See, it’s not all bad ๐Ÿ˜‰

Personal relationships become a thing of the past.   You think working while on the road is hard? Try holding down a “normal” relationship. It just doesn’t work. I haven’t had a relationship that lasted more than three months in oh nearly four full years now. It’s been so long that part of me wants nothing more than to settle down the with the next good girl I meet. Of course the other part of me just can’t be in one place for that long, so alas, here I am still single.

The Kiss
Mayu & I caught in the moment by a cameraman. This photo is from 2008….damn, have I been single for that long?!

Don’t get me wrong, on a fairly regular basis two travel bloggers meet and get together. Some even make it work for a while. But in the end nearly all go their separate ways. I’ve seen many a blog fade into oblivion because she did all the writing and he did all the photography. I’ve also seen some try and divide things up post-relationship. “Okay, you can keep the blog but I get our Twitter handle and YouTube page.” That is then followed by the obligatory re-branding. However it never lasts. Within a few months they too inevitably crumble and then fade away.

Want a relationship to last on the road? Start it long before traveling. I’ve encountered tons of couples who have been traveling for extended periods of time and none of them just randomly “hooked up” along the way. They all had stable beginnings. These stable beginnings are why there are so many successful and influential husband and wife travel bloggers out there.

Read More:   How To Find Romance On The Road

Growing weary of meeting new people.   Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting new people. Short of trying new foods that is my biggest hobby while living life on the road. But when doing that day after day and year after year it is easy to grow numb to it all.

Clubbing In Jakarta
Out clubbing in Jakarta with some new friends and one of the owners of Six Degrees Hostel.

As professional travelers we all have many a great night with new-found friends from our hostel or our tour groups, even locals we meet on the street corner or readers who recognize us around town. But when the time comes to say goodbye we all make those same promises too, the ones we secretly know we’ll never keep but maybe, just maybe, by saying it aloud then the universe will somehow be on our side. “I’ll see you again in __________” or “when I get to __________ I’m going to look you up bro!” It never happens. Strangely enough it’s the people whom I think that I’ll never see again which I happen to randomly run into in other countries. A few months ago while I was in Kuala Lumpur‘s Chinatown trying to find James of Pursue Excitement I instead ran into this guy John for the third time! He and I had first met in Jogja, Indonesia and later crossed paths again in Singapore before finally having this third encounter in Malaysia — all completely unplanned. By this point I had finally joined Facebook so we connected there, figuring that for some reason the universe wants us to know each other. What that reason is I have no idea…

That brings up another point, Facebook. Now that I have it every person I meet on the road wants to friend me. Usually I accept most of them but now when I look at my friend list I have no idea who any of them are or where we met. “Hmmmm Scott…was he the engineer in Dubai or the artist in Thailand? Oh wait he’s the dive master from Hawaii! Or is he…” Hell if I know. I got locked out of my account a few days ago and it asked me to identify the names of six friends based on photos. Long story short I’m still locked out. (The alternative was for FB to send an SMS to my phone but my number changes every few weeks with each country I visit so yeah, no luck there either.)

Beer @ Lucifer In Jogja
I could not tell you a single person’s name but I do believe we’re all friends on Facebook.

Yes, despite our most noble intentions, the friends we make on the road are unfortunately just temporary friends. At the end of it all they go back to their normal, mundane life and whatever job it was they wished they could quit to be like us. And what do we do? Well we keep on traveling.

You would think all of this would make goodbyes easier but in reality it’s just the opposite. As such sometimes we travel bloggers find it easier just to not even say hello. At least then we don’t have to worry about saying goodbye.

Growing numb to it all and succumbing to the repetition.   Traveling for a living means that you are not only going to see 500 of everything (“oh wow this temple looks like the last 499”) but you are also going to have to answer the same stereotypical questions over and over. This ranges from simple ones like Where are you from? (“Well I have an American passport and a flat in Indonesia but half my possessions are still in Singapore and I live out of this backpack so…take your pick.”) and How many countries have you been to? to less stereotypical….ehhh whom I kidding. No one asks the truly oddball questions that they should be asking us.

  If you ever strike up a conversation with a professional travel blogger in real life, please try your damnedest to have something unique to say or to ask. Examples of decent questions: “Have you ever lived with any local tribes in remote regions?” or “What’s the coolest injury you have ever gotten while on the road?” or even “So…have you ever entered any countries illegally or done any smuggling?” I will gladly respond to those type of questions with surprisingly honest and detailed answers. Do not ask me if I know Nomadic Matt or what country has the best food. Please, for the love of God, just don’t.

Negative encounters with immigration officials.   Most regular tourists don’t have any immigration issues but we travel bloggers are not so lucky. When dealing with immigration on a semi-weekly or monthly basis invariably some things will go wrong. And although the immigration officials will always be “in the right” this is not an easy thing to remember in the heat of the moment.

For starters being a professional travel blogger usually involves a fair amount of lying to immigration officials. This involves both small and big lies, depending on the country. First off you NEVER want to tell an immigration agent that you are a travel writer. Just make that mistake once and I promise you, you’ll learn fast. I did. We all did. Mentioning that you are a travel writer will always result in a mini-interrogation: What are you doing here? Where will you be going? What are you writing about? Who are you writing for? The list goes on and on. Sometimes they even like to repeat the questions.

Purpose of visit? We always say holiday. It’s a harmless white lie but every once in a while the agent might have a question or two about this. Most of us have learned to have our silver tongue ready to spit out whatever answer will result in the least number of subsequent questions.

Customs & Immigration
Ahhh, the ol’ cat and mouse game…

Finally there is the departure issue. Most countries are fairly lax when it comes to proving you will be departing on time but not all. A few insist on seeing a plane ticket to prove that you will be leaving the country. In this case you have to “creatively fib” and do so without making it obvious that you are completely BS’ing them. On an island nation? Tell them you plan on taking the ferry to __________. In the middle of a continent? “Well sir after I’m done here I plan to take the bus to __________ and save some money.” In a few cases I’ve even had to sign an additional form to get a VOA promising that I will be departing before X date by X means of transportation. Other bloggers will pretend to purchase a ticket online and just show immigration the confirmation page without actually clicking confirm and having to pay for the ticket.

Yes, with every lie we tell at immigration we run the risk of being caught. I’ve only been taken to one interrogation room and interestingly enough it was as I was trying to depart the country, not enter. After rounds of repetitive questions I was finally held until just after my flight departed and then released and forced to purchase a new flight on a subsequent flight later in the day.

Read More:   Strange Customs Regulations Around The World

So there you have it. While these are by no means all the downsides to being a professional travel blogger, they are certainly some of the biggest ones. If you are debating whether or not to try and make a career out of travel blogging, just make sure you are willing to make the sacrifices.

What are your thoughts?

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel." ย  Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

34 thoughts on “The Occupational Hazards Of Travel Blogging”

    • I could never forget you Mike, you are one cool cat ๐Ÿ™‚ And yes, I hope so too. I’m also hoping that you get your butt back to Asia again ASAP! Good friends and great food is here waiting for you ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Very true. Well then, got to ask: have I been making it look easy so far?

      I’ll be passing back through Malaysia again at some point this year, just not sure when. Would definitely love to cross paths when I do ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. Dear god, the mundane conversations! I find that any hostel I stay in for an extended period, as soon as my first round of friends leave I start avoiding the common areas just to avoid having to start over chatting about the basics. “American, photographer, Kyrgyzstan, its just west of China” and so on.

    Anyways get yourself to Bishkek and I’ll show you where all the cafes with fast wifi are!

    • Yes, totally! Those get SO f’in old! Don’t get me wrong, I love making the occasional communal dinner at the hostel with some new friends but all too often the conversations can get so stereotypical. I try my best to steer the chatter in directions I prefer, such as stuff pertaining to whatever town we are currently in, however that doesn’t always work. In these types of situations now I rarely mention what I do.

      Sounds good brother, I cannot finally wait to make it out that way! ๐Ÿ˜€

    • And that is totally fine bro! I enjoy helping out newer bloggers and sharing the wisdom I’ve learned. It’s just the silly questions that drive me crazy. Anyway, keep up the good work bro!

  2. To have relationships while traveling is difficult and most people are too egoistic/scared/inflexible to change their plans.
    If you really want that girl, ditch your plans and be with her. If you’re willing to adapt and change, you can make it work. I met my boyfriend 2 years ago in Istanbul after being on the road for more than 3 years. I met him on my third day in Istanbul and a week later we moved together. In an instant I ditched all my plans and decided to stay with him in Turkey. A few months later I started to miss traveling so much. Luckily, he gave me all the freedom to go alone. I did and I came back to him because he’s an amazing human being. But I’m done with Istanbul and he agreed to move with me to the Philippines for a while now <3 If both people just want each other enough – more than anything else – it will work. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Very well-put Sabrina! My ex (the only woman I’ve ever loved) is Filipina and I spent the better part of two years of my life traveling back and forth to the Phils to be with her. But in the end it didn’t work out…we just wanted different things in life. I wanted to travel (and to take her with me) but she wanted a simple, quiet life in the Philippines. I’m still hoping I find a good girl that can hang with my travelin’ lifestyle…the hunt goes on!

      Glad to hear that you have found someone spectacular and a way to make it work. I’ll be back to the Phils again soon (I saw my ex while there a few weeks ago and we’ve been talking again ever since) and hope to cross paths with you two there ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. No time to sleep and enjoy the scenery! So true on my latest assignment writing for Frommer’s. You should have seen the travel itinerary. One of the reasons I like covering the Caribbean is diving and snorkeling – I didn’t get to do any on the trip! Because the one day I had the sea was choppy!

    • Wow, I’d love to write for Frommer’s one day. I’ve done my fair share of press trips and they always have a crazy busy itinerary booked! Don’t get me wrong, they’re fun, but sometimes I like having the freedom to do what I want, when I want. (And by ‘sometimes’ I mean most of the time LOL.)

      But yeah, you’re right, sleep is often hard to come by depending on our schedules. Readers see our glamorous photos and think that we live an amazing, stress-free life, but they would be amazed if they knew some of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Enjoyed your article, Derek. “Sure, it sounds glamorous. But so does every other job before you actually start doing it.” is so true. People think that all I do is go one luxury holiday after another. If only they could also see the days when I’m regularly working until 2am to achieve visibility for the blog… because, if you’re going to make it, in this industry, you really do have to graft and not just enjoy the “holidays”…

    • Thanks Paul…you are so very right! I’ve spent many a night slaving over my laptop until the sun comes up. Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling and wouldn’t go back to my old life in a cubicle unless my life depended on it — even though I made a helluva of a lot more money there. Traveling just makes me happy, despite the fact that I — we all — have to deal with a lot of pressure than our readers would ever believe.

      At the end of the day you just have to do what makes you happy, regardless of the behind-the-scenes stress associated with it. After all when you do have those priceless, picture-perfect days relaxing on a beach or enjoying a mountaintop view, well that’s when you know it’s all worth it ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Good points on all fronts, Derek. Reading between the lines, general apathy is certainly a hazard – apathy towards destinations, meeting people, and sometimes blogging as well. When you travel alone for a long time, you kind of lose any contextual grounding in your life, and that can cause a lot of the problems that you observe. (And even if you travel with somebody, it’s not always a bowl of cherries either, especially if they don’t blog – or understand your need to sit on your computer for hours each day).

    • I completely agree Nora. Look at what happened to Anita last year. That was heartbreaking news that shocked the travel blogging world. The road not only takes a physical toll on you but also an emotional one, especially when traveling it alone. Some days I love it — the freedom to do/see/eat what I want and go wherever I please without having to compromise. Other days it’s a struggle to get out of bed and I there is nothing more I want than to just lay there and cuddle with someone. But at the end of the day we all just have to stay strong and keep on keepin’ on, for better or worse. After all I’m not saying that travel blogging isn’t fun, just that it is not the glamorous, stress-free lifestyle as so many of our readers envision it.

  6. I used to love flying on airplanes and now I consider trips based on how long it will take me to get there. Flying and getting from one place to another has become so monotonous that I’ve cut down on the amount of trips I take each year. Not to mention, sometimes it feels like I spend more time with my suitcase than I do with my other half. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I do feel lucky to be able to come home so I can catch up on sleep and the blog, edit photos, not live out of a suitcase for a few days, exercise regularly and eat healthy. haha

    • Whew, I know that feeling. Luckily I have yet to get sick of airplanes — it’s the airports and the security hassles there which I loathe! Part of this is why over the last couple years I have embraced slow travel more. Even land travel is not always the most comfortable (in fact sometimes it’s horribly uncomfortable, especially in developing nations) but at least we don’t have to be gate-raped by the TSA to take a train somewhere.

      Part of me envies you having the downtime at home and opportunity to play catch up. That is what I used to do, take a few weeks off every few months. I would use that opportunity to get the bulk of my work done. Especially video editing! Oh that was so much easier on a desktop with 3 23″ monitors to work on. Trying to do that on my 17″ laptop, oh crap, please just kill me now. And exercise…yeah, unfortunately I’ve completely forgotten all about that.

  7. Tell me about it! I’ve been home – at my parents’ house that is – for about a month now and it’s kind of a relief. Now I actually have the time to write and do some serious blogging, without the ‘distractions’ of actually traveling and seeing stuff! Haha.

    I’ve never had immigration issues though. Although, I’m always a bit nervous when entering the US, because I go there like four times a, my passport is FULL of US stamps and that may be suspicious ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I love this post Derek. I totally agree with the “tired of meeting new people” part. I mean, I agree with you that it’s always fun to meet and hang out with new friends, but sometimes it can just be exhausting. I miss the days of being able to just dive over to a friends house and veg on the couch with them, idly chatting about nothing. The other crazy hard part, it actually working when you are on the road. Most people don’t realize how much effort goes into actually writing and publishing a blog. It’s one thing to visit a temple or historical site, it’s a whole other when you are trying to mentally catalog and photograph the whole thing so you can recreate the experience on your blog later. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve spent and extra hour or two somewhere just to get good lighting or waiting for the weather to break just to get a decent photograph. Thanks for a fun and thoughtful post.

    • Words of wisdom Kenin — you are so very correct. I too sometimes miss the days of lounging around at friends’ houses, BS’ing about this and that or even firing up the BBQ pit and making a feast while enjoying a few ice cold beers. Those simple pleasures in life that people often take for granted become one of the things you don’t really realize how enjoyable they are until, well, you don’t have those opportunities anymore. And hell, I’m still trying to figure out how to balance work on the road. Luckily I think I am starting to finally grasp how to manage — as you no doubt have noticed from the sharp increase in the frequency of my posts these last few weeks. As a matter of fact I just wrote my first post in Bahasa Indonesia (and English) which is something I have been wanting to do since new years. Granted I am still not perfectly fluent in the language but that initial post brings me one step closer to it. Woo-hooooooo! ๐Ÿ˜€

  9. Hah, these are pretty much the same issues anyone with a nomadic lifestyle or point-of-view (and really, almost all of us have had a travel blog at least once in our lives) has. Settling down somewhere certainly has its plus points (being able to forge more stable relationships and friendships, being able to establish a routine) but it’s still not perfect. ๐Ÿ˜›

    • Very true, Ren, there are lots of benefits to settling down for a bit — even if only briefly. I used to get the bulk of my work done when I was back in the States on breaks in between trips. However as you know all too well, I’m still trying to get used to living life permanently out of a backpack and juggling work. Like all other careers, there are upsides and downsides. But man oh man, if our readers had any idea of how much went on behind the scenes and how much we struggle with….wow, they would be amazed! And probably not quite as eager to have our lifestyle ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Wow, I only see this post now :)! All very recognizable Derek! Especially the part about meeting other people. At times you’re just not in mood for another ‘hey, where you’re from, how long ‘ve been on the road, where you off to next’ conversation ;)! Cheers! Manouk

  11. Really great post.

    I think people should be made to read this if they ever utter the words “I wanna be a travel blogger.” So many don’t realize that the people they are following jealously do many other things besides blogging in regards to making actual money. I think being a pro-blogger (actually getting paid to travel, and making money solely off your blog) should be equated with being a pro-insert a sport here-player. In that – as you already said – only a small percentage will make it to that level. Not to crush dreams, but to bring folks back to reality.

    • Forgive my late response but YES I completely agree: every person who wants to be a travel blogger should read this first to get a better idea of the arduous road ahead of them. Many people get into this business with lofty goals and nothing but exotic locations in their eyes only to realize it’s not the easy path to success they think. I’ve put in an immeasurable amount of work to not only this blog but my brand as a whole in order to fund my travels but no matter how many hours I put in the job is never done and there is always room for improvement.

      Anyway Devlin I know you are no longer with Marginal Boundaries but I hear from Tim you are a badass and hope that all your future endeavors treat you well. Best wishes!

  12. So true! Being a professional travel writer actually is a lot of hard work, but if we’re good at our jobs it will appear to our readers as though we’re on one marvelous holiday after another. And the immigration issues, oy! I have the worst time going to the UK and ironically entering the US anytime I go back there. I’m apparently suspicious with 3 sets of extra pages added to my passport and a collection of stamps.

  13. Awesome post.. I can so relate to the full time ‘traveller/bloggers life’ as I sit here and supposed to be writing and I’m reading instead!


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