Travel Influencers: It was a new terminology to me, I had no idea there was this breed of professional ‘travellers’ on Instagram, who post photoshopped pictures of their beautiful selves, their backs to various exotic sites. This is done in order that their multitude of followers actually follow them to the picture-perfect place to replicate their glorified and influencing photo. The influencers make a living by doing this. I have, in the last 12 months become shockingly aware of just how narcissist the smart phone generation have become. The point of travel for the selfie obsessed generation seems solely to get ‘likes’ by standing in front of a ‘likable’ site. Thus, reassuring themselves that their vacuous existence has worth, purpose and meaning.
The ‘followers’ become the ‘influenced’ who offer their virtual support, acceptance and admiration for the two minutes the influencer spent with their back to a prestigious site, whilst posing into the lens. Just below that lens is a screen which is actually capable of informing, with a comprehensive history, the reason and significance of the place they have infested. Further research will reveal the struggling infrastructure in the area, the locals’ concern at being over stretched and over run by tourists. But none of that matters, as long as the same device has photo enhancement capabilities, because aesthetics attracts followers. When their virtual bag of followers overflows, they then market themselves to tour operators and the obedient masses follow.
Thus they make a living, leaving a trail of overpopulated irresponsible tourism behind them. Causing overcrowding within the cities, insufficient accommodation and services. The Air B&B crowd come in, and there is less affordable accommodation for the people who actually live in the place, people who are needed within the service industry that has sprung up to meet the needs the selfie obsessed require when they find they can’t live on likes alone.
Previous epiphanies, when I’ve seen the writing on the wall, at least stay there for a few seasons, and didn’t dissolve into the unscrollable depths of a past posting.
I’ve seen this in Aspen Colorado, a place where no waitress or retailer can afford to live, million dollar houses are bought, levelled and replaced with ten million dollar houses, the twisty mountain access road is permanently crowded not only with visitors and construction trucks but the commute of the permanent shift changes for the 24 hour service industry, that the people of ten million dollar homes demand.
What a wholly horrendous situation and it makes me fear for the planet’s very limited future.
It kept me awake at night and in the darkest hours I saw the bigger picture. Obscene this latest trend may be, it is not new by any means.
I think I’m going to start by blaming Marko Polo who back in the mid 1200’s travelled Asia extensively over 24 years and wrote several accounts of this experience of his. This in turn influenced Christopher Columbus, and the rest is history, he invaded America and the immigrants virtually annihilated the peaceful natives who lived in harmony with their environment. I’ll let off the other travel terrorisers of the following 500 years and go straight to someone whose publications I have personal experience of; Tony Wheeler and his Lonely Planet guide books. An ethical guide which turned into a gap year bible and from the view of the traveller who likes seclusion and authenticity, ruined respected places in just about every country on the planet.
Admittedly locals profit from the influx of the zombie fun seeking hordes. I’ve always said it’s a book that can be used two ways and I still carry one, I see where the popular places are and avoid them, as wherever a zip line has been stretched so has the stay of the vapid masses.
In his defence, Tony Wheeler has some wonderful foundations and does a lot of good with his earnings.
Then even closer to home is Horizons Unlimited and its worldwide advice leaving you anything but isolated on any part of the planet. There are podcasts and internet adventure TV productions all of which help to promote travel.
Oh, and there’s another thing isn’t there? The travel book writer? OMFG I'm a travel influencer, aren’t I? I know I am from the emails I get telling me how my books have done their job to inform, encourage, and inspire. I am solely responsible for a few inspired readers to do exactly what I did and ride to Alaska, Mongolia, the Caspian Sea etc. I even post photos on social media, I have likes, followers and shares and I shamefully have to admit that ‘likes’ is what sells books. And that’s important, my writing is my sole source of income. I am a self justified manifestation of what I utterly despise. Admittedly my writing is honest, and my photos are never photoshopped, well maybe the book covers are pimped up a bit, but you know, people judge books on their covers.
So I suppose that makes me by definition a professional, and as such I think that demands integrity and a genuine responsibility for honesty, as has any job I’ve done. Facebook doesn’t have those qualities and it leaves me questioning how much I need that medium, it’s weaselled itself into our lives, like the mobile phone, sat-navs, we can live without them but so many things are easier with it.
So, to a degree I have an element of ethics and accountability in my tales but fight it as I may, I can see how I could be called a travel influencer, and that is a very sad hashtag indeed. That’s why my t-shirt and sticker slogan is ‘Ride the dream and don’t read fiction’, it’s aimed at the writers whose imaginations are bigger than their adventures.
Our planet is over crowed (at least the inhabitable bits are) its population has increased from 1 billion to over 6 billion in the last 100 years. Let’s face it, we’re fucked. It’s full, it’s photographed and infested and geotagged. It’s written about but bares little resemblance to the world of Marko Pole visited. So, with this exponential population increase come tourists, tourist destinations, tour operators and travel informers, in many forms, one of which is travel books. That was until the millennials came and saw and selfied and shared and shuffled on, face in phone, to the next vacuous experience that passes as travel and still apparently influences. I suppose you see what you choose to, however I despair of who and what will follow. But it will only be worse, it always is.
This isn’t the first realisation that’s hit me like a crashed laptop, but it leaves me as unsure as a drunken finger hovering over the send button of a heat of the moment email response. I’ve deactivated my Facebook account, I'm virtually non-existent and I think it may be liberating, I'm ignorant of the unimportant, distorted and banal and it doesn’t seem to leave me lacking. The torment, the torture, the indecision, should I embrace, merely accept or totally ignore, do I get left behind or should I reluctantly come along for a ride I don’t want to take, to destination that was better before. Cynicism overrides curiosity, past experience seems to be purer than current trends. I’ve always ridden solo, then solo with a following, now when I ride past a flowering hedgerow or white topped mountain vista, I habitually put my bike on the side stand and take a photo, but it’s for me. Well it was until I wrote this article. I certainly question instantly spreading it over social media for confirmation that what I am doing and seeing is likable.
So, what can I do, what can we do? I like to think as independent motorcycle travelers we are firstly more aware and hopefully more responsible in our habits, leaving only tyre tracks and taking only memories, and maybe one selfie, just for the mantel piece, that’s good for your mental peace.
Discovering people, cultures, religions, and getting a clearer view, clearer than any agender driven news item will give you. Proper travel, with purpose, it’s fulfilling and infectious.
We surely are not going to follow the herds to the place where the beautiful people Instagram their staged photos to their million followers, take payment from the tourist industry in said province for their publicity stunt, and thoughtlessly go on to the next. The travel aspect seems irreverent to them, it’s simply a by-product of the income they have the ability to make with their manipulation of social media. Perhaps prior to owning a smartphone and having an Instagram account, they were stuck in a dead end job with no prospect of release until their miserable lives continue to their asymptotic retirement date. By comparison their new ‘career’ is a dream come true, even if they leave a nightmare in their wake.
Well that’s what I think, but don’t let me influence you. I want to be a travel informer; this is where I’ve been. A travel encourager, this is what I liked about it. A travel inspirer, if I managed it on a cheap bike and small budget you can too. In fact you don’t even have to go now, maybe you know enough, or maybe by my mistakes you can go in a more organised and responsible manner. Informed, not following.
Thanks for reading
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