A long time ago, on my first long trip to Europe, I found myself staying in the youth hostel in Florence. At the end of an afternoon during that time of day when everyone would take a break from their wanderings and check back in, clean up, and get ready to head back into town for the evening meal and passeggiata, during all that I would find people gathered in the courtyard, sharing their travel stories – travels past, present, and potential future.
I loved sharing my stories and adventures. I loved hearing the stories of others. One afternoon I shared some fantastic story, I’m not sure which one, maybe the one about when I was traveling through France with a group of Congolese musicians and dancers, and I noticed that one woman was looking a little forlorn and sad. I turned to the woman next to me and asked her if she knew what was wrong with her and she said to me, and I won’t quote it because it was a long time ago, but this is what she said – not everyone has a good time when they travel and your story made her feel like her travels aren’t good enough.
And here I thought it was all about one-up-manship.
That moment taught me something – about being observant and sensitive to others.
Ever since then I’ve been really sensitive about bragging. Yes, maybe I do like myself a little too much, but I work very hard at making sure that I am either teaching something or sharing some deeper meaning of my life, something inspirational rather than a hey look at me I’m so self absorbed tidbit.
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Down time is not something that I enjoy, or something that I do well. I like being in constant motion and if I can’t be in constant physical motion, I like to at least be in constant mental motion. That’s just how I live life.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve been out of the San Francisco Bay Area – which, admittedly is a pretty groovy place to be stuck if one is looking at life as being stuck somewhere. Many factors have led to my inability to travel, the primary one being that I haven’t had a budget to travel.
To assuage this feeling of self-inflicted depravity, I keep up with Other’s travels on twitter and facebook, checking out where they’ve been, what they’ve been up to. As time has gone on, I find it appalling at how much of what is considered to be travel “writing” – yes there is an argument that travel blogging is not writing, but for the sake of this post, let’s just leave it – is in fact just travel bragging. It’s nauseating. Twitter and facebook are full of links to posts that are all about look at me.
I find that I can now put myself into the shoes of the woman who was sitting in that group in Florence that day, almost thirty years ago. I can’t tell you her name, it’s long forgotten, and I can’t tell you what she looked like, as those details are long forgotten too, but I can tell you how she felt.
And I hope I never tell a story that way again. Go deeper, people. Savor the experience and tell us what it feels like inside. Tell us how the experience changed you. It’s not enough to just tell us that you went ziplining through a jungle canopy. Tell us about the colors, the sounds, the wonder of feeling like you are flying. Consider being something other than a bore.
The art of travel bragging is not an art that anyone should strive to master.
Like your post – I was at the youth hostel in Florence a long time ago, too (about 35 years ago)
Kimberly Kradel says
I don’t know what it’s like now, but I loved staying at that hostel when I was in Florence.
Couldn’t agree more. For months and months I’ve been struggling with the concept of where writing about where one has been/what one has done becomes simply bragging/or boring even. It’s stopped me from writing when I wanted to, to be honest. Odd, for me, that I should read your post right now, because I had something of a revelation just last week. I was vaguely following a particular travel blog, when the owner announced that they were making a trip which was one that would be top of my bucket list, so obviously I began to follow more closely. At first I followed avidly, then my interet began to wane. The journey is now ended, and I’d practically stopped following weeks back. The reason was exactly what you outline above. Whilst it was a brave journey, the line on bragging was crossed, and I simply got bored with the list of “exploits” rather than any real insight into the places. What exactly IS travel blogging? I read blogs to learn about different cultures, peoples, landscapes, and, yes, sure, if a place offers diving or something I would like do, then I like to know, but from the point of view of how is was and felt, not “how wonderful am I for doing this!”
Kimberly Kradel says
You and I seem to be riding the same wave, Linda.
I’ve always been very experimental over the years with artist-at-large as a web site/blog. I’ve slipped into posting nonsense at times, but I always hope that my stories – even the foodie ones – share something of being human, of living. It’s natural to be excited about going to a particular place, or doing a particular thing that one has always wanted to do. It’s natural to want to share that excitement. I always encourage writers to take a step back and let the experiences sink in a bit before writing about them – to go a little deeper. I think that’s a scary place for some people, but with practice it makes better writers.
Roy Scarbrough says
Personally, I would never take that kind of story telling as bragging. If a traveler’s story was something that was beyond what I had experienced, I would try to take that as inspiration for trying something new. I would hope anything I might share would be taken as encouragement to venture out and experience something like I might be describing. I’d feel bad if someone took my story as anything other than that, and I would like to say “Yes, you can!”
Kimberly Kradel says
Ah, Roy, but you write and tell your stories on a deeper level. I would not think of your stories as bragging at all – because you are sharing your experiences.
No, I’m talking about another breed of travel blogger/writer altogether. There are a lot of them out there that are obviously writing for the “look at me” factor, and then there are also others that are clueless – thinking that the “look at me” factor is what it’s all about. If you’re following about 2,000 travel “writers” on twitter you’d find them rather quickly.
It’s kind of like the reality tv of travel writing.
Sharing experiences is on a completely different level.