Even as I left the Slovenian Alps with a heavy heart, I was thrilled to set foot in Croatia, a country that has been been on my travel radar for a long time. I knew that June, the time of my visit, would be a busy month even if not as crowded as August and September. So I did some last minute research, and decided to start my journey in the Istrian Peninsula, assured by several travel blogs that it was “offbeat” and I’d be sure to beat the crowds. Maybe at their time of writing, it was.
I was delighted that first evening, for I spent the first three hours in a hilltop village in inland Istria, chatting with my hosts over tea and wine. Their home was over 300 years old, traditional stone walls and a rustic slate roof on the outside, beautifully refurbished from within. That night, I walked along the cobblestoned streets to the top of the town, past old stone homes adorned with colorful flowers. Under the moonlit sky, in the silence of the night, breathing air that smelt like jasmine, I indeed fell in love with Istrian Croatia.
Unfortunately, its reality hit me the next morning. I slept past the chirping of birds, but was woken up by loud voices crossing my window every now and then. When I went to the kitchen to make myself some tea, a couple of tourists were peeping in through the glass door. Day trippers!
The old-world charm of this village, with only 305 residents, was drowned by the callousness of visitors who only seemed to care about their photos and getting drunk, almost running over the locals in their rental cars, never realizing that they were intruding into someone’s sleepy neighborhood and life. My hosts assured me that the number of daytrippers now was not nearly as bad as in the peak summer season, and joked about how the village residents, their homes and their kitchens must be curious, unfamiliar sights for tourists.
Is travel blogging ruining “offbeat” places?
Where does travel blogging picture in all of this, you might ask. So let me paint you a scenario, a very plausible one, one that is possibly playing out in many places around the world. Blogger X visits a charming village, the one with only 305 residents, and writes about it in the hope that a few more people will experience it, and the locals in turn, will benefit from tourism. Convinced by blogger X, blogger Y lands up there with a few more discerning travelers, and reiterates its worthiness of a visit. Some content creator out there, scouting the web for an SEO-driven list of offbeat places in Europe, stumbles upon the blogs of X and Y. His well-researched list is ripped off by other lists, as often happens. A tour company notices the growing interest in the village, and puts it on their bus tour itinerary. Bam, the hordes of tourists arrive…
Perhaps I’m being too presumptuous in thinking that a travel blog can trigger a chain reaction over the years, or am I? After all, a quick search for offbeat Croatia (as opposed to picking a place that next to nothing is written about online, as I usually do) is what led me to the village of 305 people in Istria.
So what’s the point of travel blogging?
If you’re on the same page, you’re probably thinking that an easy solution is that travel bloggers like me should never write about their “offbeat” finds. But as my social media followers often remind me, isn’t it part of my job to disclose the exact location of my stories and photos, so others can choose to experience my finds over ‘tourist traps’?
I’ve dwelt on this dilemma for a long time. But walking on those cobblestoned streets in Istria (mostly at sunrise and late at night), it occurred to me that no, perhaps that isn’t the role a travel blogger is supposed to play. The way I see it now, my work as a travel blogger should inspire my readers to think of travel differently – to reconsider their travel choices, to seek local encounters, to carve out their own journey. It’s the reason I never have, and never will, give you a three day itinerary to “do” a destination. That’s not how I aspire for my readers to experience somewhere I’ve been and loved.
Is writing about responsible travel ideas enough?
On the flip side of my dilemma, I’ve often found solace in knowing that when I recommend specific locations, they are usually accompanied by suggestions of environmentally and socially conscious accommodations. Yet, I often get messages from my readers and followers who visited a location based on my recommendation – but chose to experience it in a way that makes me cringe and regret writing about it at all. The point is, I, or another responsible travel blogger, can only plant ideas. We can’t stop the callousness of those who travel just to get the right selfie or drink themselves silly or don’t care about building any real connections with a place and its people.
How can a travel blogger strike the right balance?
The truth is, I don’t know. It’s the reason why I’ve struggled to write a word on this blog in almost a month. The reason why I’ve consciously limited my social media posts about my current (annual) monsoon escapade in Goa, because as much as I’d love for my conscious, aware, nature-loving readers to experience my finds, I’m wary, very wary, of how much Goa has changed in the span of the four monsoons I’ve spent here – and would hate to unintentionally accelerate that negative change.
Maybe this is the travel blogger’s version of a mid-life crisis. And I intend to deal with it by focusing more on inspiring stories from the road…
Got any words of wisdom for this conflicted travel blogger?
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