There's a thing you would have noticed that most travel bloggers have in common. It's something that travel influencers on social media share, and that even those of us in the more traditional travel print media have to own up to.
It's not the boundless, smiley enthusiasm of the perennial holidaymaker, or the #humblebrag social media posts, or the whinging about money that no one really wants to listen to. It's something more superficial.
The thing pretty much everyone in the travel media industry has in common is that they're white.
Think about it: the vast majority of successful travel bloggers and influencers out there, the ones you probably follow on social media and draw inspiration from on a daily basis are skinny, good-looking white people. The travel presenters you see on TV are skinny, good-looking white people. And even the vast majority of successful writers in traditional media are also – well, white people.
There's a noticeable homogeneity to the voices of travel throughout the world. The majority of the people who document and analyse the globe from a travellers' perspective are white, and privileged. They see the planet from a certain standpoint. They move through the world in a certain way.
All those smiley, happy bloggers and influencers who are so fond of encouraging their followers to "quit your job and just travel the world", to "live location-independent just like me" – they're incredibly privileged. They're selling a dream, but the ability to live that dream has nothing to do with their hard work or brave decision-making. It's the good fortune of the incredibly privileged.
The consumers of this media are also, of course, overwhelmingly fortunate. In fact, all of us who travel for leisure are privileged – a privilege that often seems to fall into the lap of those born white in the Western world – and so I suppose it stands to reason that the people writing about this pursuit, blogging about it, presenting it, posing for photos while doing it, would come from similar circumstances.
Hence most travel writers – me included – are white and privileged. Hence most Instagrammers and bloggers – the faces that travel brands like to attach themselves to – are white and privileged. There's little chance of this changing, either. It was, it is, and it will be.
I was forced to think about this a few weeks ago when I read a post by the American travel blogger Elizabeth Aldrich, an opinion piece titled "Why I'm boycotting travel bloggers, and you should too" that called out the travel industry for being "so white".
"Why are nearly all the popular travel bloggers also models?" Aldrich wrote. "Since when is being thin and able-bodied and conventionally beautiful a prerequisite for being a badass traveller? Where are all the fat travel bloggers? Where are the travellers with disabilities?"
She went on to point out the obvious double standard among travellers and writers that comes with white privilege: "Why is it a crazy, funny story when a white person overstays their visa in Central America, or super-awesome when a white person finds random under-the-table jobs to fund their travels, but an outrage when a Mexican comes to the US undocumented?"
These are excellent questions, excellent points. Travel, as an industry, often feels like it's set up for white people. The spokespeople for travel brands are white. Travel advertising features people who are white. Back when the blog "Stuff White People Like" began many years ago, "travelling", was one of the original entries. Travel has always been "so white".
That's not to say, however, that the whitewashing of travel media is inherently wrong, or always a bad thing. I'm all for more diversity in the opinions and observations we consume. I look around the Australian industry and I see white face after white face. It would be nice if that could change.
However, Aldrich goes on to bemoan what she sees as the biggest issue with travel blogging: "Why are white people and people from the Global North the loudest voice and most prominent authority on brown countries and cultures from the Global South? Why don't we ever read about a Nicaraguan's perspective on Nicaragua? Why are the people who are living in the destination you're writing about totally erased?"
This is where I disagree just slightly. More diversity would be great, but I'm not so sure that local voices are the answer. I would love to read a Nicaraguan's opinion of Nicaragua – but I'd be just as interested to read what an outsider has to say. The best travel writing captures the experience of a place as a foreigner. It allows the opportunity to identify quirks and eccentricities that a local would probably dismiss as uninteresting or irrelevant.
The best travel writing also captures local voices, it presents them faithfully while being able to pad them out with the perspective that comes from viewing a destination from the outside. Great travel writing can be a critique rather than just a description, and often you need an outsider to do that. Could an Australian have written Bill Bryson's bitingly funny book "Down Under"? I doubt it.
So we don't necessarily need locals to tell the world's stories. But we do need a few more travellers who aren't skinny, good-looking white people.
Do you think travel writing is "so white"? Do we need more diversity? Or is the media an accurate reflection of the industry as a whole?
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