Saturday, September 29, 2012

Folks, We Got Trouble

I wanna be a blogger!

(Ya Got) Trouble
 -- lyrics by Meredith Willson from The Music Man (with a few changes in boldface by me) 

Folks we got Trouble--
And it starts with B and it ends with G
And its name is Blogging

Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital "T"
That rhymes with "B"
And that stands for Travel Blog,

We've surely got trouble!
Right here in River City,
Right here!
Gotta figger out a way
To keep the young ones {employed} after school!
Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble...

I recently had a conversation with a young man – 18 years old-- whose mother asked me to speak to him because he wants to quit school to become a travel blogger. Yes, apparently “travel blogger” is a now career path.

The mother was panicked about all this but at the same time curious if it was indeed a valid career pursuit. On the one hand-- they could save a bundle of money if he did not go to college. On the other hand-- they may end up paying more in the long run keeping him housed and fed while he “develops” his career from their home-- rent free.

She wanted him to be happy. And she was willing to let him skip school if this would bring him happiness.  Well this whole happiness concept makes my blood boil.

I know you want to give your kid everything and support them in any way you can. You want them to be happy and fulfilled. But happiness is not an inalienable right. The constitution says we are granted “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” —you are free to pursue it –but nowhere does it say you deserve it or will actually attain it. The pursuit of happiness is just that a pursuit—not a guarantee. But by all means go out and pursue it—on your own dime.

I went to college. I worked and paid my own way. I lived at home for one month after graduation and then left. Forever. It was more the expected pattern when I was a kid.

Things are different now--

So I spoke to Max (not his real name--his real name is Mark). And he wants to have a life of adventure and freedom and thinks school is a waste of time because he believes that when he graduates “there will be no jobs for [him] anyway.” And he feels it is beneath him to take any old job instead of a career position, and by his logic if he skipped school he would be years ahead of his peers in earning power. Those were his words “earning power”

But that was an interesting point. When I graduated from college it was in the midst of a recession and there were very few jobs available, so I took the retail and service sector jobs and kept looking for a break. Eventually I got a “real job” and made real money-- but what Mark said is true-- if you spin your wheels outside of a career track you are at a disadvantage and are set back in your “life long earning power” compared to peers that entered the job market at the same time and got career positions. But lucky for me the dot-com years came along and I more than made up for it. I made way more money than I ever imagined, but also gave away a huge hunk of my life for it. I don’t regret working in corporations and in startups – in a way it was very much like traveling to a foreign county with strange customs and language. It was wild. I saw the sights! And got paid handsomely for it.

I asked Mark why he thought travel blogging was the path to success and how he would make it work. He said it would cost him almost nothing to start up a blog and then all he had to do was “…go to conferences and meet the hotel and travel people who give out the free trips…”


“Where did you hear that?” I asked.

“I saw a post about it.” he said.

Yes, he did mention TBEX—all those sweet tweets about free hotels and tours and lavish parties got his attention. His mother told me he wants her to pay his way to TBEX in Toronto so he can launch his career. She had no idea what TBEX was and asked me if it was worth it for her to pay and send him. (DOUBLE AGGGH!!! )

I did not try to crush his dream (yet),  instead I suggested he write up some of his travel experiences. Mark said his only prior travel experience was with the family on a Carnival cruise – which he claimed,  “…was awesome.”

I suggested he go to Cuba and write about it.

“Cuba! You can help get me a trip there?”

“No. Just get in your car and drive to Calle Ocho ( 8th street in Miami) and you are essentially in Cuba. Walk around Little Havana, talk to people, eat some street food and then write about it.”

“But no one speaks English there. And I don’t drive”
AGGH-- When did this no teen driving thing happen?

“Take a bus. Real travel is all about public transportation.”

“I don’t know. That’s not the kind of travel I have in mind.”

“What kind of travel do you have in mind?”

“The kind where people pay you to go and blog about it.”

Thank you Internet for creating this monster of misinformation!

Well, the conversation deteriorated from there. Oddly, Mark felt that all he needed to do was declare what he wanted to be, and it would happen. And he wanted to be a “travel blogger”. The level of entitlement he seemed to have was astounding.  

I told him his whole idea was a fantasy. I laid out the cold hard facts that “being a travel blogger” is not a real money making career save for a handful of people out there that are more about selling advertising than writing about travel.

I told him if he really wanted to see the world and get paid for it—he should join the Marines.  Of course this pissed his mother off that I suggested the military, but hey, that’s at least a real career path. 

Now if only he wanted to be a wine blogger. Because everyone knows wine blogging is the path to fame and glory!!

Folks we got Trouble ….

August 2014-- Our wannabe travel blogger, Mark, is enrolled in an on-line course to study animation and currently has a job at Starbucks. He never did make it to a TBEX. He still lives at home. (sigh)


  1. I dunno, seems to be working for me. Perhaps I should teach seminars on it...then I could make some money! (p.s. JUST KIDDING)

    1. Ha! Yes, but you are not 18 and your success is due to a variety of factors, the primary ones being; 1. You are a good writer. 2. You work hard, have work experience and know how to make things happen.

      But Mark could probably persuade his mom to pay you for the seminar!!

  2. Dude needs to get laid. Oh wait. That's probably the real reason he wants to be a T blogger...

    1. Maybe--but if getting laid was his goal, I college would be the fast track to that end.

  3. I don't know this kid or his situation. But here's the thing. I actually did bug out to go travel, repeated. I went to travel, let's be clear, not because I thought I was going to make a killing blogging, but there are worse things a kid who's disillusioned about college can do than jetting off to see the world.

    But it troubles me, this overall message does. Does he have tech skills? Does he know how to write? How's his photography? SEO chops? I imagine there's some filtering going on where he's seeing just want he wants to see, but I do think that this is the logical conclusion of a focus on "lifestyle" or a focus on WORK.

    1. Yes, there are worse things, but who paid for you to jet off and see the world? I bet you did. You probably worked at whatever job it was and saved up your money and then jetted off. He is 18 and never held a paying job. Ever. The issue is bigger than disillusionment. It’s plain ol’ delusional.

      I agree his focus seemed to be on lifestyle not actual work. I tired to explain when it comes down to it, work is work is work. It’s far eaiser to work for someone else than be self-employed and make it all happen.

    2. I got a scholarship for a summer as an exchange student (I was good at languages). My folks paid for my ticket to Israel (kibbutz volunteer) but when I headed off to India, that was on money I'd earned while doing farm work. So, yeah, mostly, I paid for my travels with one bail out at the end. (Hey, I was young, I'd picked up a bad case of something in India, and a plane ticket was still cheaper than college.)

      The lifestyle snake oil salespeople are feeding on the livers of guys like this. Tasty young naive livers. Yum.

    3. The use of lyrics to the Music Man are of course not lost on you! Harold Hill was selling the sanke oil! But I think band instruments could actually lead somewhere.

  4. This is hysterical! And also the exact reason that travel blogging conferences turn me off. I hate all those people just in it for the freebies. UGH.

    I worked for a study abroad program last year and sadly met so many other students with the same attitude (about jobs in general, not blogging specifically). I fear the millennials are in for a reality check very soon as Daddy stops paying the credit card bill, that is.

    1. EXACTLY! It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens. I think part of the problem is the extended adolescence in our country that’s been creeping towards age 30. He is 18 so in terms of "40 is the new 20” he is an embryo.

      I’m sure he would envy your job and blog, but would be shocked and awed to find out how much hard, hard, work it is. You make it look easy.

      As to conferences... well it’s good to be in the conference business these days. But I think many young bloggers think getting a freebie means they have achievied some level of status. But paying work...actual assignments are not freebies.

    2. I'm speaking to four different college groups of journalism students (about 2,000 kids total) next month about the magazine industry, travel writing and blogging, and I'm quite nervous as I'm not really sure how to tell any "aspiring journalist" to make it in this day and age, as there's really no clear path anymore.

  5. This is the real downside of the whole "Degrees are a scam" nonsense going around. It's like everyone bought into one giant pyramid scheme. Only the pyramid scheme isn't University. It's get rich quick schemes, the false allure of start up culture via books like the 4HWW, and the lie that most of these potential grads would be better off without a college degree under their belt. It's a real shame.

    1. Yep-- He certainly had the idea that college was a scam to get you in debt. (even though his parents would be footing the bill) and he was more swayed by the promise of internet riches than the long term gain of a degree. It’s so outside of my realm of experience I could hardly make sense of it. I also got the feeling he was worried that he would not be “special” at University, and he wanted to be different from his peers and doing something cool.

      When I was 18 I could not wait to go off to University, get my degree, get out in the world, and get the heck on with it all.

      There are obviously many dynamics in play for young people today that did not exist 20 years ago.

  6. It's good to have a few dreams crushed along the way. Not fun, mind you, but useful in the long run. It's equally useful to have a dream come true only to realize it's moonshine.

    It's just sad that there are people selling this dream, and that people are buying it. I just hope his mom puts her checkbook away - or, rather, that she keeps it out and sends the boy off to school. On public transportation. Go away to school, now there's some valuable travel experience.

    1. I’m adding that job title to my resume--Dream Crusher. Call now operators are standing by. First five callers get a free muni bus pass.

  7. I absolutely agree that there is a fundamental problem with a mindset of something for nothing, but this has nothing to do with travel blogging. You can replace "travel blogging" with almost any other profession (and yes, it is a profession) and hold the same argument. Your article centers on Mark's ignorance as to what travel blogging actually is. That problem could hold true for anything. What's the difference between Mark wanting to be a travel blogger versus a professional basketball player, concert pianist, rocket scientist, etc? All of these things have a specific set of skills necessary that require hard work to achieve. The difference is in his assumption that travel blogging doesn't take hard work and the development of a core set of essential skills.

    I think this situation could have been handled very differently, with a more constructive outcome. Instead of telling him:

    "... his whole idea was a fantasy. I laid out the cold hard facts that “being a travel blogger” is not a real money making career save for a handful of people out there that are more about selling advertising than writing about travel."

    You COULD have said,

    "That's great that you're showing interest in this. Let's take a look at what travel bloggers actually do, and the skills that you'll need to become one. Travel bloggers need to be great writers, photographers, and understand web development and design. They run their own businesses, so not only will you need to learn business acumen, but you'll need great personal marketing skills to create a personal brand." And so forth.

    I know several very successful travel bloggers who have created amazing, sustainable lives for themselves. They provide a valuable service for which they are compensated for. Last time I checked that is a "real money making career." Yes, your chances of becoming a successful travel blogger are small, but so are your chances at playing for the LA Lakers. I don't hear you complaining that professional basketball is ruining a generation of young adults.

    As far as college goes, it CAN be just as dangerous with the same "something for nothing" mindset. There has been a mindset that if you go to college and graduate, you immediately get a high paying job, pay off your debt, and live happily ever after. This isn't the case anymore. A college degree isn't a guarantee that you'll get a great job out of college. We continue to tell kids that the only path to a "real career" is through college, but are then surprised when they complain about working at McDonalds when they graduate while trying to pay off the debt we said they NEED to accrue.

    People have always grasped for shortcuts to the lives they dream of in an effort to avoid hard work. This is why the lottery can exist. In this case, Mark holds a misconception that travel blogging is that shortcut. I guess what I'm (finally) saying is, don't blame travel blogging. It's far from the root cause of this issue.

    1. My post here is hardly an article --it's merely my condensed retelling of the conversation with Mark. I'm not blaming travel blogging --it is merely the centerpiece of the conversation because that's what Mark wants to be and it’s an example/symptom of a larger problem.

      I am not a career counselor. I told Mark the truth of the matter as I see it. I did mention the skill set necessary to write about travel and the enormous amount of work involved—and I gave him tips on how to go out and start writing about travel.

      I appreciate you viewpoint, and I think Mark would especially appreciate your view as well. But as far as I know you can't be a professional basketball player, concert pianist, or rocket scientist and work from your bedroom--Well maybe the piano player can lie down and have performances on Skype.

      When the bureau of Labor and Statistics collects enough data to add Travel Blogger to it's list of jobs and occupations I’ll agree it's a profession, but as of this moment in time- only a very rare few are professionals-- meaning their sole income and livelihood comes from blogging.

    2. Understood, definitely an example of the larger problem. Apologies for misconstruing your overall message! After thinking about this more, I realized that the people who I have deemed successful travel bloggers have used this route as an avenue for larger pursuits outside simply blogging.

    3. No apology necessary. Thanks for your comments.

  8. I attended TBEX, and was more than a little surprised by the notion of so many people attending in the hope of building a sustainable career. The pyramid-selling of the interwebz has a lot to answer for...

    1. I followed the tweets coming out of TBEX and sounded like two entirely different conferences going on at once depending on who was doing the tweeting.

  9. Two words: Gap year. Something structured, maybe an internship in the travel/tourism industry or a paid program that includes travel. Not sure what the budget is, but there are some lovely but albeit pricey gap year programs out there. He can blog about the experience, and see if he's got blogger chops.

    He actually doesn't sound ready for college, and waiting might be the smartest thing he could do.

    I don't think he's the only person who thinks they can wake up one morning, start a blog and start getting sponsored trips!

    1. Yes, that’s a good idea. He definitely needs something structured. I suggested he look to be an intern or work in tourism field that involves travel. But the idea that you just wake up and can draw a paycheck as a blogger seems to be persistent these days.

  10. A couple thoughts:

    1) Nothing is new here. For decades people have aspired to be travel writers or travel photographers. They view it as a glamorous job and the only thing stopping most people has been the small number of jobs actually available. There is no barrier to entry in blogging so it is understandable that, that is now where people are focusing their attention.

    2) The sad thing is, the way most PR companies hand out press trips, this kid probably could get free stuff. I've seen bloggers who have been blogging for 3 months get invited on trips. Most PR companies just want people they can call bloggers to make their clients happy.

    3) As one of the few people making a living from a travel blog, I can say without hesitation that it is a lot of work. I easily work put it more time than any travel writer. I travel much more and have to do every job at a publication. I can't just submit a story and have someone else worry about the rest of the publication. It took me five years of blogging before I made any money at it. You can't survive on free trips even if you could get them.

    4) The people who are selling the "travel blogging" lifestyle are, for the most part, people who sell ebooks and courses about travel blogging. Those people also happen to be the ones who don't actually make any money outside of telling people how to be travel bloggers. I have always told people that this is not a realistic option for a career. I had a savings I used to get started, I had a first mover advantage and I got some lucky breaks. Not easy to replicate that.

    1. Thanks Gary for weighing in here-- It’s no suprise that your name came up in my conversation with Mark. He brought your name up. And I mentioned that you personally financed your initial travels and what a tremendous amount of work it was and that your achievment as a Travel Blogger and photographer is entirely due to your own initiative and pure sweat equity.

    2. "I easily work put it more time than any travel writer."

      Are you serious? You can't be. It's this sort of remark that makes travel writers think, um .... uncharitably of Travel Bloggers.


    3. Good point-- Would be interesting if Gary could elaborate on how and why he belileves that statement "I easily work put it more time than any travel writer.”--is justifiable and not contentious.

  11. WOW. That is mindblowing. I graduated from college 11 years ago and I feel a) really old and b) like that was a completely different world from the one this guys lives in.

    I started travel blogging earlier this year, though I've been blogging for over a decade. And while I just went on my first sponsored trip, I'm under no illusions about actually making a living out of it.

    I think Barbara had a good suggestion about the gap year. Alternatively, Will Peach is offering a paid internship: (you might want to read it before forwarding it to him, and perhaps not show his mom)

    It could be just the thing to scare him straight! ;)

    1. HA!--Love this-- Thanks for the link. God Bless Will Peach. It’s Lock-down time!
      I will certainly pass this along to Mark and to his mother. She suffers from helicopter parent syndrome and I’m sure she may want to apply first to check it out for Mark.

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  13. Hello Marcy, greetings from Jakarta! I found this post through Twitter and had a good laugh reading it. I take great interest in observing the travel blogging community, more within the last year since I quit to take on a sabbatical to spend time writing and travelling. Did I aspire to be a travel blogger? It crossed my mind, but I don't think that's where I am heading, by that I mean being a professional travel blogger and make money out of such profession.

    It's funny when I meet people from my old office work and they say "wow, you get paid to travel!" and I said, "no, I don't, I pay on my own, and I got lucky that someone wants to pay me for the stories from those travel". And when I go on Press Trips (have only been to one), it's a complimentary trip that comes with certain obligations and expectations. One doesn't *get paid* to travel.

    I think I read someone said on Twitter that the only people who gets paid to travel are cab and bus drivers - something along that line anyway.

    Mark needs a reality check. If I were him, I'd definitely take a gap year. I wish I took a gap year back then, instead of now after the 10+ years in corporate world. Mind you, at least after working and saving, I get to pay my own way these days, and the parents don't have so much to say as to what I should or should do ;)

    Thanks for this post, I had a good laugh,and there are some great comments and advices there.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for stopping by to add to the comments. I do believe you can create whatever life and lifestyle you desire --but it’s not instant and it’s not without effort and sometimes there is grand failure along the way. I think Mark and many others believe just wanting something is enough. And that idea alone is laughable. As you say, anyone who has been on a press trip knows it is NOT free travel.

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  15. Great article, Marcy!

    Oh yes! I love it when I tell people I'm a wine blogger and they say: 1) how much do you get paid? or 2) I want that job!

    Writers write because we have to, we're called to. Anything else--fame, fortune, wine samples, readers!--that come along are a bonus.

    As a college writing teacher, students are always shocked by how hard and time consuming writing is to get it good. I am frequently shocked, especially by my younger students, at their entitlement and their addiction to their cell phones.

    PS I agree on the gap year suggestions--I think students need to give 2 years of service, learn skills, then get their college tuition and basic expenses covered.

    1. Hi Gwen-- Thanks for your comment. I’m sure you’ve heard it all in your classes! If only Mark knew that many wine bloggers get sent wine samples, I bet he’d want to be a wine blogger too. But since he is only 18 that dream will have to wait! Then I can tell him the harsh reality of wine blogging--tastings that start at 9 am and days filled with winery tours, ending with dinner way past midnight. It may sound fun, and it can be, but as you and many serious wine bloggers know--it is extremerly hard work to taste sometimes 80 or more wines in a day and take detailed notes, find a story angle and then do it all again the next day. Someday I must write up a post about the differences between wine based trips and destination/tourism based press trips. That should start a lively comment thread between travel bloggers and wine bloggers, and spin the heads of those like Mark out there! -- Cheers!



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