Why Travel Writing Should be More than Destination Marketing

Why Travel Writing Should be More than Destination Marketing

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You are correct in assuming that this is not a travel destination-y photo essay about sunflowers in July. I’m not hating on those types of posts but after a bit of thinking, I’m having a crisis of faith and need to call some things out. I’ve decided that my writing needs to do more, due to a rut caused by factors I can’t determine. Regardless, a brilliantly worded piece of writing and some other artistic expressions have woken me up to a degree. I think travel writing should be more than destinations and other topics that lead us to consume for the sake of consuming, and this is my way of working through those thoughts.

Why Travel Writing Should be More than Destination Marketing

Products of Consumption

Here’s to being more than a typical travel writer and hoping that I can climb that wall someday, if ever. Now before I seem all preachy about how we travel writers should be doing more to expose the world’s ills, please keep in mind that I’m just as guilty of not doing that and mean this with the best intentions. I’m simply the product of my own consumption and today is the perfect example worth using. A friend shared an article about the emerging “anti-travel blogger” that spoke to me in much more ways than most other Sunday morning reads have.

My nerves are still stinging from its words and I just can’t let it go. That reading came a few minutes after listening to P.J. Harvey’s The Wheel—a song that touches upon revolving tragedies throughout the world—in the car on the way back from Kroger. The resulting crisis of faith has hit me hard and I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve been doing as a writer. Honestly, it started many months before when I was reflecting upon and writing about our struggle to readapt to the US after years abroad.

Dealing with “Normal” Life

During the past few years, we’d visited a suicide bridge, a killing field, and played with rescued elephants in order to understand just what has been going on in a faraway part of the globe. Now that it was time to renew the “American” way of life I’d previously forgotten, my writing started to suffer because its message was getting muddy against a slew of craft beer and locally-sourced food thrown my way. Reverse culture shock is real, even if I’m back home enjoying life in this relatively new place.

At the Durham Food Truck Rodeo Winter 2016

Anyone who meets me now will attest to my love for North Carolina in so many ways. It’s a beautiful state and full of wonderful people, even though the local government’s sanity is questionable (see House Bill 2). Once again, I’m thankful to live in Durham, a city full of voices that speak out against such injustices. From restaurants offering gender-free restrooms to online and print publications providing regular commentary on things that matter, I couldn’t feel more at home in this cozy bubble.

Life Through Travel Writing Kampot Cambodia

The Typical Travel Writer

There are tons of things to do and see here and I always rave about the mountains and sea both being day trip-doable. Unfortunately, the politics and noise are always fighting for my attention. When I lived abroad, it was much easier to focus on travel writing against the ever-noisy and negative world. Bad stuff is happening everywhere and I desperately want to ignore it, get outside, and stay active to avoid negativity. I write posts about spreading the love today and forever but I feel like it’s imperative to continue denouncing hate and join in with the struggle. How do I find balance with all this?

Nusa Lembongan Suspension Bridge

I don’t want to be the typical travel writer who promotes destinations over awareness and principle. While I’ve abandoned those mores and become scarily typical, my focus has been instead to promote a message of spreading the love. Instead of digging deep into a beach that revealed a near assassination, I’d merely started writing first-person love fests about landscapes and the drive towards point B. While I’ve enjoyed that transition into writing about the here and now, my writing and focus feel complacent to a worrying degree.

Raleigh Neuse River Trail Happy Sunflower

Sunflowers and Destinations are still fine!

It’s never too late for one to transform and with regards to my travel writing, the same logic applies. I can make it into something more than destinations, products, hotels, and everything in between that goes to you. I also want it to raise awareness to the fact that more bad things continue to happen because not enough people are paying attention in the right places. Why are we driven by the hatred that we consume, instead of “contributing to making things better,” as RFK once said?

Chiang Mai Libarista Cafe

I’ll still write about sunflowers, travel destinations, and other things that might not seem important in the grand scheme because they are quite consequential, actually. We need to spend moments outside and search out otherwise meaningless things in order to make sense of this complex existence we call life. That doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the bigger issues happening in this world but instead, we’re hoping to outshout it with images and thoughts of positivity that will hopefully spread around the table. Am I a typical travel writer in the sense that I’m not bringing about enough awareness to the issues affecting us all today?

Right now, yes, but I’m looking for the right venue to shout from.

What do you think?

Do you think there’s more I could do to expose the bigger issues facing this earth? Is that better left to people who focus on that every day?

17 thoughts on “Why Travel Writing Should be More than Destination Marketing

  1. Christine Beebe says:

    Excellent thoughts, Duke. I think travel can play an important role in overcoming some of nation’s issues. The more we travel, the more we can experience different cultures and places. With experience comes the ability to understand and value those expressions of life that are different from our own. It helps to break down the walls that can so easily divide us.

    I hope you can find the balance in your writing that feels right and reflects your convictions.

    • Duke Stewart says:

      Thank you so much, Christine! I agree on the “travel to understanding” point that you make. If only more people had the means to travel as much as we all do, I think that’d be a great beacon of change. My passions are certainly adjusted, due to these noisy times that we live in. We’ll see how far this goes. In the meantime, I want to thank you again for coming by and leaving your thoughts. Take care.

  2. Peter says:

    Very well put. I was just telling my wife that while its fun to go places and enjoy the luxurious resorts and airlines using points, that I want some of our trips to be more purposeful. It would be great to have a balance of both fun travel spots and diving into deeper issues.

  3. Jub says:

    Yea, slightly guilty here too. The amount of travel related blog posts that are obviously written for SEO is starting to get out of hand. The creativity is being removed from travel writing. Given Google is getting cleverer (I’ve decided that’s a word), I hope the writing tends towards more stories etc. again soon.

    • Duke Stewart says:

      Cleverer is so a word. Lol. I don’t care what Merriam says! Anyway, I totally agree with your thoughts here and hope this is the first step in less SEO, more story.

      Thank you, Jub.

  4. Charles McCool says:

    It is all about authenticity, my friend. Some people are all about luxury, some are all about “what’s in my bag,” some are all about seeing the most dangerous places in the world. Your voice and message will shine when you write about what tugs on your heart strings, what keeps you awake, what excites you.

    Carry on!

    • Duke Stewart says:

      I guess it really does come down to what excites, huh Charles? Maybe it’s these noisy times that are pulling me towards a different approach but yeah, I’m torn. Thanks for stopping by and telling me your thoughts on this. Hasta Mamajuana, Mi Amigo!

  5. Jo says:

    I completely get your message and I think it is important to get others onboard. However I do feel a bit alienated seeing all your links to other blog posts and a Pinterest-optimized graphic which detracts from this message of authenticity. This behavior is worthy of being “exposed” too. It only serves the idea that you have your own agenda too.

    • Duke Stewart says:

      To each is own. I appreciate you stopping by and saying your piece. Not sure how links to other blog posts and a Pinterest-ready image is alienating, but I empathize with you there. Thanks for leaving your thoughts, Jo. Cheers.

  6. Jeri says:

    There’s travel writing that is all about the destination, and that’s great I suppose, but like you point out good travel writing gets out deeper issues. To me that is what travel is all about, understanding how we are at once connected and yet different in our cultures. I think of people like Rick Bayless and Anthony Bourdain who take a more anthropological to their food and travel endeavors. There’s an audience for either approach.

    • Duke Stewart says:

      I try to focus on the destinations but it’s too hard when people are out there hurting and/or struggling at the same time. Or maybe it can be introspective, like your writing about Yosemite. I feel like my privilege needs to go towards something more meaningful than happy landscapes and all the like. Thank you for stopping by, Jeri. I love hearing from you on things like and even the sunflower posts:)

  7. Betty says:

    What a great post. Thanks for sharing. I feel the same way, especially when living abroad. The culture shock and seeing through a photographer’s eye can be more than just roses and sunflowers. There’s got to be a balance.

    • Duke Stewart says:

      Thank you, Betty! I totally agree that it’s way more than that happy, hunky dory stuff we see when traveling. I’m guilty of it, as I mentioned, but hope that I can do more to bring about awareness and something more meaningful that afternoon jaunts to see sunflowers, lol.

      I really appreciate you stopping by and hope to stay in touch. Thanks again!

  8. Jeromy Slaby says:

    I love where you’re going with this because I’m in a similar boat. I’ve started messing around with combining travel writing with investigative reporting and journalism in order to provide a sense of place but also to raise awareness of issues that exist in the places I explore.

    • Duke Stewart says:

      Shew, Jeremy. I should be looking up to you in the regard of doing more meaningful writing. You’re always out there looking for a good cause to support and promote. I actually have something in mind that you might want to help with, and will put it out there in due time. Stay tuned!

      I appreciate you taking a moment to stop by and lend your thoughts on this. It means a whole lot to me.

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