Telling It Like It Is

by Gray Cargill on April 1, 2011


Sometimes, the sun will shine on your travels....

Two days ago, I was reading a post by Matt Long of LandLopers called “Travel Isn’t Pretty”. I started to comment on his post and realized I had so much I wanted to say in response to his opening paragraphs that perhaps I should just write my own post in response. So, thanks Matt, for the inspiration for today’s post!

In response to a post Matt wrote a couple of months ago, venting about an aspect of travel he really dislikes, a reader bemoaned the fact that Matt was complaining about a minor negative aspect of travel, when he should instead be focusing on all of the positive aspects of travel. The implication being that Matt (or any travel blogger?) is not allowed to complain about travel. Now, I’ll admit the post being referenced was a bit controversial and ruffled some feathers. But I bet there were just as many people who read it and thought “Oh thank God someone else feels the same way I do.” And sometimes, that’s all you need–to know that someone else feels the same way. Isn’t that part of what we do as bloggers? Serve as a representative voice for others?

Anyway, his post reminded me of something I saw online a couple of months ago. I can’t remember who said it or where I saw it (sorry, my memory isn’t what it used to be), but essentially, it was a comment about how we travel bloggers have an obligation to only write positive things about the travel experience, because we are in the business of “selling” travel. I nearly fell off my chair when I read that. I couldn’t disagree more.


...and sometimes, it will rain on your travel parade

I’m not in the business of “selling” travel. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. I’m a travel blogger, not a hotelier, tour operator, or tourism council. I will cop to promoting the concept of solo travel, because I’m an enthusiast about it. But if you poke around this blog long enough, you’ll see that I’m not just a solo travel cheerleader.  I also write about the not-so-great things about solo travel, like how sometimes it can be lonely, and sometimes dining alone is uncomfortable, and how much single supplements suck.

Does that make me a negative person?  Or does it make me a realist?

I’m sure we’ve all been around a Negative Nellie before. Listening to someone do nothing but complain is not much fun. On the flip side, I used to know a guy who refused to let anyone say anything negative in his presence. He was a devotee of The Secret and its “power of positive thinking”. Believe me, that was just as annoying. I believe in positive thinking as well. . .but only up to a point. Not to the exclusion of  truth and of reality.

When I complain about the things I dislike about travel, I don’t do it because I hate travel or to scare others away from traveling. I do it because I’m human and we all need to vent sometimes about the things that bug us. Keeping your feelings bottled up inside is not healthy.  I love travel. If I didn’t, I certainly wouldn’t devote all my “free” time to this blog. But inevitably, if you travel enough, you will run across difficult situations, scary encounters, and things that just plain annoy you about the travel experience. What might happen if nobody ever discussed the negative aspects of travel?

  • We wouldn’t learn from the experiences of others how to avoid unpleasant situations;
  • Traumatized newbies who expect a Disney-like experience, only to find themselves ripped off and stranded somewhere, might decide never to travel again;
  • The travel industry might never be motivated to improve things for travelers (hey, if people aren’t complaining, they must be happy, right?); and
  • Some of us might develop health problems from keeping those negative feelings bottled up.

For instance, if all I said about solo travel was

“Oh my God, you will have so much fun traveling solo, and you’ll meet all sorts of great people who will become your new besties and there’s nothing to be afraid of because everything’s wonderful!”

that wouldn’t properly prepare you for the experience. Because while all of those things can be true, there are other things you need to know, like to beware of con men and pickpockets and not to go off with strangers and that you probably shouldn’t drink too much because you’ve got no one to watch your back.

Knowledge is power. This is cliche, but it’s also true. The more we know, the better prepared we are, and the more resilient we can be when bad things happen.  I think there needs to be room for the good, the bad, and even the ugly in travel writing. Airlines, hoteliers, and tour operators might not thank us when we’re complaining about a bad experience, but I feel it’s our duty as nonfiction writers to tell it like it is.

But that’s just me. What do you think? Would you rather read a blog that has nothing but positive articles about travel, or are you okay reading a rant now and again? Would how it’s written make a difference to you?

Alison Sandilands October 8, 2012 at 6:40 am

I think it’s important to be honest and not say something is great when it’s not. I have wrote about the good and the bad aspects of my solo trip in Canada.

Gray October 8, 2012 at 11:43 am

Good for you, Alison!

Frances April 13, 2011 at 12:20 am

Call me a cynic but anything that is too fluffy and cute and perfect instantly raises up warning flags. In this world nothing is perfect and like you said, knowledge is power and knowing what to expect and what to be aware of only makes the experience better. I don’t think you are here to sell travel but to discuss travel. That is why there is a comment section, right? Because it is a discussion and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Great post by the way!

Gray April 13, 2011 at 1:43 am

You got it, Frances–we’re all here to discuss travel. The good and the bad. And thank you!

GRRRL TRAVELER April 12, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Travel hardships are important to articulate and voice. The occasional rant can be helpful to the writer and the reader.

If you want to read positive things, then go read Conde Naste or a tourism website. Lonely Planet gives good recommendations too… These things sell travel. But travel bloggers are also “bloggers” — they sell their own reality and it has human emotions and opinions.

Gray April 12, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Well said. Thank you, Christine.

Matt April 3, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Thanks for the nod, I appreciate it. I obviously couldn’t agree more. 🙂 The truth is, I usually enjoy myself on trips, but I am certainly not shy about pointing out bad experiences or mistakes. Nothing in life is perfect and by sharing both the good and the bad, we are all showing that travel is indeed a well rounded experience.

Gray April 3, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Well said, Matt. Again! 🙂

Jack and Jill April 2, 2011 at 5:38 pm

I prefer honesty — I enjoy a personal touch on travel writing and that means telling both the negative and the positive side of things. At least that’s what I try to do even though I still need to learn how to write about the unpleasant parts of traveling without coming out as ‘whiny’ 🙂 So yes, how it’s written is very important to me.

Gray April 2, 2011 at 5:49 pm

I know what you mean about the whiny part. I struggle with that as well. I think it’s okay once in awhile, but you wouldn’t want to make a habit of being whiny. 🙂

Jodi Ettenberg April 2, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I agree with you completely, Gray. As a travel blogger, you are not only writing about your experiences, but you are also building a brand for yourself and one built on trust. People who read your site want to know what you thought about a place honestly, not the rose-tinted version. And they should be able to go to you for information that is both realistic and accurate.

Travel has upsides and downsides and I’m sure you will agree that the good parts win out – but that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to bury the things that were difficult for you. If I read something on your site, I know you didn’t make it sound better than it was. If you say ‘this was a great experience’, I don’t need to second guess that. And ultimately, that’s a great thing because it ensures both loyalty in your readers and a multi-faceted site.

Besides, we both know that the best travel stories are when things go awry 😉

Keep up the great work!

Gray April 2, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Thank you, Jodi. LOL, yes, nothing makes for a better story than when things go wrong. So at least something good comes out of those experiences. 🙂

Alouise April 1, 2011 at 11:02 pm

I’m with you on this one. No one want to be around someone who’s always complaining, but you can’t gloss over the truth and pretend everything is sunshine and roses, when it’s not. It’d get pretty boring if every travel blog was all “I went here and it was great. And nothing went wrong, and it’s always wonderful.” As travel bloggers I think we have a right to tell the truth, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. I always appreciate reading honest accounts of travel, instead of something that sounds like it was copy and pasted from a tourism brochure.

Gray April 1, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Oh, I’m so with you on the tourism brochure thing, Alouise.

Tracyantonioli April 1, 2011 at 10:53 pm

i love this post. on my europe trip last summer, i was painfully honest about my experience–and it wasn’t good. i felt that sharing it had to be helping SOMEONE, somewhere. your list of ‘what will happen if we are not honest’ is spot-on. well said!

Gray April 1, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Yes, Tracy, that’s how I feel–no matter what we express, there’s got to be someone out there who will be helped by it or relate to it in some way.

Bluegreen Kirk April 1, 2011 at 6:07 pm

I actually read that post and was quite moved by it. Yeah sure traveling is great but realistically bad things are going to happen. I love honesty give me the good and bad so I know what to expect.

Gray April 1, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Thanks, Kirk. Yes, I’d rather know what to expect, too.

Jeannie April 1, 2011 at 4:38 pm

I prefer honesty. Negativity or perceived negativity is generally the brain and soul emptying out. I think it’s important to show the reality, but also separate that from the emptying process. There is a difference and as writers, it is up to us to distinguish that for our audience. What is written on the web can be so polarized.

For instance, you’ve done that nicely here.

And hi! It’s been a while. 🙂

Gray April 1, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Hiya, Jeannie! Good to see you here. And thank you for your insightful comment. 🙂

suzanne April 1, 2011 at 12:35 pm

I like to read a writeup that is truly honest and its up to me to decide if I go fro it or not. Moreso, I would truly respect the writer more.

Gray April 1, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Yeah, I’m with you, Suzanne. It’s best to go into a travel situation with your eyes wide open.

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