Written by @Lan & edited by @joehairie (Photos by curiostraveller.com team members)
There are 3 types of travelers. The first one are those who travel for fun and then sharing their beautiful photos or videos in Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms, with short or medium length captions. The second one are those who constantly write-up their experiences in their blog, so this second group are bloggers (Amateur or Professional). The third one, the professional writers, looking for materials to build up their content. Regardless of which group you belong to, travelers often re-write about their experience according to what they have seen and experienced. Beautiful landscapes are important but then writing travel experiences is not only about that alone, at times capturing the beautiful local people associated to that landmarks/places is equally important too!
We were both taking a short break from writing in the blog as we needed some time to attend to some personal matters. It’s the celebration of Hari Raya Aidiladha as well, so needed more time for ourselves. During that break, we casually talked about how professional bloggers and professional travel writers produced their write-ups using their best material, the photos. Let us give one fine example, travel to Surabaya: Indonesia. Amateur bloggers tend to write-up their experiences in absolute chronological order, what they did in the morning, what they ate for lunch and their activities in the evening.
The professional bloggers normally will include that as well but not too much as they will cleverly insert some travel tips, the do’s and the don’ts, how to get this and that. The professional travel writers tend to write in editorial style and presentation, infusing the local thoughts as well as some hints and directions towards their sponsor(s) existence. Most of travel writers are writers for magazines and major newspapers. That is why they write things differently. Basically, regardless of which group, the contents are the same, travel stories.
Most of the time, we all tend to write about the beautiful landmarks, how to get there, the fees, what to do once you get there..it’s more actually about travel advice. We both do that as well, that is what travel bloggers do. However, seldom does bloggers write about the local people, the people behind that travel industry. The people who support the industry and make a living out of it. Bloggers don’t usually go after the lady who sells the Strawberries and ask for her story. A few did but most don’t. Why?
Perhaps the best answer is…. it’s generally accepted that readers and followers do not want to read that story of the lady who is selling that fresh strawberries. Well, this is totally wrong perception. Some professional travel writers wrote about some local people/sellers in the common market, their hardship, views and life and the story is being featured in some widely distributed magazines! Our main argument in this article is that, travel writing is not only about landmarks and activities as at times it is important to include the locals into that write-ups.
Are we professional bloggers or Travel Writers?
We regard ourselves as in between the professional bloggers and professional travel writers. We are writing in both platforms, in the blog and in magazine(s) platform. We do send our pitches to magazines and we use ‘anonymous’ or John Doe when it comes to identifying /introducing ourselves to the readers of magazines. In this blog, we let the world know about us. So we are in between of that 2 categories. So, how do write about things that we both have experienced? Honestly, it’s a mixture of everything.
The dilemma: Sponsors or readers?
Most of the time we are sponsored by certain business organizations. We will be pretty honest with that fact. However, we keep informing all of our sponsors that we will write the way we want to. We will mention their names but we will go with our instinct and own style in producing the write ups. Seldom that we agree to send drafts to our sponsors, when we finished writing, we will hit that publish button, immediately. The world will read it first in the middle of the night, the sponsors will get to read that in the morning or sometimes days after (if the media personnel of that organizations is taking a long break from work).
We managed (and still hoping) to eliminate the greatest demands from sponsors. We once had to take down a post as the owner of that business entity was not satisfied with our findings in her place. That’s how far we went. However, readers are subjective. While they mostly hate sponsors being mentioned in the write ups, they however need that information. For example, they need to know where to get the best accommodation and places for their meals. That where bloggers plays an important role, a medium between the business organizations and the potential clients.
As travelers, we need that funding and perks from the sponsors to cover most of the cost in rounding the globe. We need the readers to read and become potential clients to our sponsors too! So at times, it is quite hard to determine our contents. When we started this blog, we had no idea what’s the best way to write things. We learnt from mistakes and life is indeed a circle, after some time blogging, we came back to one important issue, do we write about the sponsors, what readers mostly want to read or will we somehow include the stories from the locals, the lady who is selling that fresh strawberries that we found in Bangkok?
How we solved this mind blogging blog contents
After that casual discussion between me and my editor, we decided that we will write things for all parties, the sponsors, the readers and for both of us. While we write things about tourism related things, we will include the things that readers want to read. We know that things are changing. More bloggers emerged day to day and mostly write about travel stories. Readers do not have to worry about finding the How To Do things in Bali, London, New York and so on.. all of em’ are in google. While we write things for the sponsors and readers, at times we will include the People behind that travel chronologies, the landmarks and the places. We realized that the locals in the places we visited plays important roles in bringing up the success of the Tourism Industry in their respected location.
The people behind that best shot photos
Are they important?
My editor went to a local market in Kota Belud, a small town in Sabah, Malaysia. He was there looking for materials to be featured in our next article meant for one famous International magazine. He met this old lady at the market (in the pic above) and took one photo of her. By looking at her face, both of us knew straight away that this amazing old lady has many good stories about the small town, the market and the life of her people back in the village. My editor interviewed her and from that interview alone, he managed to compiled great stories from her. This is a very good example on how travel writers should be doing, not forgetting the locals. Instead of bragging about the beautiful landmarks, there is nothing wrong in highlighting the stories by some locals.
We made one silly mistake when we were in Jakarta not long ago (refer to above pic). We posed in front of that local food sellers, ignoring them. We took impromptu photos, without knowing the reason to do that and left. Had we sit down, consume some cold drinks and talk to that 3 ladies, we might be getting some awesome stories about Jakarta, from their perspectives. Or maybe about how they withstand the pressure being in over populated city especially as food sellers! If we are lucky, we might get the exclusive invitation to their houses and write about their daily happenings! We did not, we ignored them and missed that wonderful opportunities. What a shame…
We promised to ourselves that we will not be repeating the same mistake. In our next destinations (and we continue to do so), we will be engaging with the locals, take their beautiful photos and interview them, hoping to get some valuable stories from them! In Bali, we did the right thing. We ‘went out’ of that tourist circle and indulged in the locals way of life. We engaged with their custom, following their daily activities, listened to their stories and we end up having the best experiences. It was not about the Kecak Dance routine, it was about how they are able to maintain culture and tradition, going deep into their thoughts.
A boy was running on the jetty in Bedugul lake, Bali and we took a photo of him. He was in jovial mood, happily running to his father to tell him that his grandma caught a fish. He ran all the way just to inform his father and returned to his grandma who was fishing at the edge of the jetty! Typical boy, any boy will do that but later when we were all seated in one gazebo, this boy was telling his father about one sad story. As usual (yes, we are curious travelers), we ‘listened’ to their conversation and from that alone, we actually wrote a 2500 words essay that gave us the Winner title in one big writing competition.
We went to Bangkok and we purposely got ourselves in the middle of a scam. We already knew about the scam long before coming!. Outside the Grand Palace, there’s this lady offering some dried corns and she will say to all people that it’s free of charge. Feed the birds! Feed the birds! She will say…continuously! People (Tourists) will come and so does the birds!. After the feeding, she will say, now you have to pay 100 Baht for the dried corns. There you go, a scam for the tourists! But, we looked at this issue differently. Since we were earlier aware of this scam we made ourselves like morons, accepting the offer. The reason? Well, we want to understand why such scams existed in a Land full of beautiful smiles. From that lady (the scammer) we learnt about hardship, about the locals way of living.
Manila is a vibrant city and same as any modern cities in the world, when it’s over populated, there are countless of homeless people and so is Manila. At the baywalk, there are many homeless people. They are good people, most of them, it is just that they have nothing in possession, no house to live in, no savings, nothing. So when we took a picture of one part of the Manila baywalk (pic above), it was not the best photo to look at actually. There are some homeless people in that picture. How would you react to this? We did it differently. We looked at this matter, positively. We became friends to some homeless people and interviewed them. We listened to their stories, how they managed to survive in this concrete jungle and sadly how they are badly (on going thing) treated by some people.
It’s a definite contrast to the modern life in Makati area for example. Not all homeless people are useless. Some of them are forced into such condition due to inability to withstand all the rapid modern values, money matters as the economists will say. Some came from the interior part hoping to look for a better life in the city but failed to do so and worst of all they have no means or sources to return to their villages. Those who have no choice, end up doing illegal things. All of these were relayed to us by some homeless people, we communicate with them, talked to them and of course giving them something, maybe not that much but at least helped them in few days.
We wrote something about this to an international magazine and yes we were paid handsomely for that article. Were we happy? Not really, especially when thinking of those homeless people that gave us the ‘materials’. This homeless people somehow actually contributed to our income, as professional travel writers! We believe that Philippines Government is seriously looking into this problem and one day they might have a solution, gradually to lighten the burden of this homeless people. Fingers crossed! We do love Manila if that is your question and we hope to come back and talk to more locals.
Any places you go, when you see some locals happily enjoying their food from that lunch boxes (as in the pic above), don’t miss out the chance mixing with them. Bring your own lunch and join in the fun. Talk to them as we normally will do. We keep doing this in order to get valuable information from our new friends. There were times when we were invited to our new friends homes, not only that we had some free meals but we learnt something from them. We talked to them and got something valuable for our write-ups, in the blog and for some magazines as well. Well, maybe at times you won’t be receiving ‘a smile’ but you will not die trying to get new local friends.
Our two cents
It does not matter if you are a traveler who shares photos in social medias or writing the whole experience in your blog or any other platforms. What matters is how you maximize your opportunities while traveling. Landmarks are important. You want to show to the world that you have been to certain places or occasionally trying to get your friends jealous for your success in scaling Mount Everest. However, the locals are equally important as well. Do insert some experiences with the locals, indulge in their lifestyle, their way of living. Talk to them and take great photos of them. The locals are the main players in the Tourism Industry, in the place you are visiting.
Talk to the lady who is selling the souvenirs (for example), if she is up to a scam, play the game too! Instead of talking about your bad experiences being cheated in a scam, why not write a caption or essays about the related photo that you took, explain to the world the reason(s) for them to do that. How would you know their game? Be friends to them. Mingle. Mix around. Understand their ‘soul’. Writing about your travel experiences is not only the beauty of the places that you visited, it is also about the people behind the beauty of such places.
When uploading photos in Instagram, try to insert some local faces, the people behind the scenes. Tell the world your version in that short caption. You are a blogger? Then write-up something about them, get information by talking to them. You never know how the write up will end up for you, there might be some values (as in $$$) to that article of yours. If you come our state, Sabah, if one of your itinerary is scaling Mount Kinabalu, make the porters as your new friends, talk to them over some hot coffee, you will get some interesting local stories from them!
A picture is worth a thousand words
Traveling soon? Take pictures of the locals and then talk to them. When you get home, look at that pictures again and recall the stories from the locals that you interviewed. That pictures will give you extensive ideas, the sky is the limit. That images will help you to write your travel stories differently from the others. It’s not only about the usual how I go through the 6 days travel, like Day 1, Day 2 or so. In another separate entry, you can actually write about the locals. That pictures might not only worth a thousand words but might give you thousand dollars in return for your beautiful write up(s). Yeah, again it is important to pose in front of the scenic Mount Fuji in Japan or you boarding that Bullet train, we admit that. BUT, please do not forget to include the local people behind that great travel of yours. We will soon publish an article about one local lady that we met during our travel and that story came from one inspiring photo, a write-up that gave us the recognition as official Travel Writers!