Is Travel Blogging Bad for the Environment?

by Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical on May 19, 2011

Zion National Park - Utah

I’ve been sitting on this post since before Earth Day last month and finally decided to post it.  It’s about the environment and our role in preserving it.  I love getting outdoors to explore, photograph and experience nature in all its beauty.  This is an incredible world we live in.  But the sad truth is we are losing her bit by bit.

Recently I read an article about Bali, a place that I’ve spent some time in and fell in love with.  The article talked about the problems of over-development on the island; development that has outpaced infrastructure improvements resulting in a drastic change in the climate and culture of the southern part of the island.  Now issues like water shortages, rolling electrical blackouts, trash, overflowing sewage plants, warnings of polluted beaches and ocean water, an increase in crime and traffic snarls; are real concerns affecting the quality of life on this island many call paradise.  The problem: too many tourists.

I was last in Bali in 2005 and I have to admit that the picture painted by this article did not match my memory of the place. But as I talked with more friends and people actually on the ground in Bali they confirmed that Bali is changing.  The sad truth is that it’s not just Bali.  It’s happening globally.  It really got me thinking about the role that travel blogging might play in all of this.  Could travel blogging actually be bad for the environment?

The other day I was driving through the town I grew up in and was amazed at how developed it had become.  Stands of forests that I remember running through after school have been replaced by rows of track houses.  A creek-side hike I enjoyed as a child is now a polluted and trashed out disaster.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. – The Lorax (Dr. Seuss)

One of my favorite kids’ books is The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.  It’s the story of the Lorax who speaks for the truffula trees which are being cut down at an alarming rate by the greedy Once-ler.  In the end all that remains is a single truffula seed.  But more than just a kid’s story it’s an open window into how our environment is being threatened by our industrialized society.  What role might travel blogging play in this?

By shining a spotlight on and glamorizing the places we travel to, are we putting those very areas at risk of over-development through increased tourism?  By writing about places that have such a profound effect on us are we condemning those locations to an ever increasing assault on local environments and cultures?

I am reminded of a few fishermen that I know.  Ask them where their favorite fishing spots are and they tighten up and become as elusive as a politician who just got caught foot tapping in an airport bathroom stall.  They don’t want anyone knowing about their secret fishing grounds because they know that if the secret gets out and more and more people start fishing it; soon there won’t be any fish in those holes.

The world is much smaller than it used to be and I don’t mean that the globe is shrinking in size but that it’s much easier, quicker and cheaper to travel to the far ends of our planet than ever before.  This makes getting to and seeing places people only dreamed of before much more accessible.

I have no idea the impact that travel bloggers have on convincing people to actually travel.  Do travel blogs get more people to travel than say National Geographic or The Travel Channel or any number of other media sources?

I’m sure many readers of travel blogs are simply armchair cowboys living vicariously through the journeys of others but I imagine there are people who are still encouraged enough to book that plane ticket and accommodations and make the journey themselves.  And really why shouldn’t they?

But I think it’s an interesting dilemma that travel bloggers face.  On the one hand we enjoy seeing incredible areas of the world and at times it can be a very cathartic experience. It’s only natural to want to share that experience with as many people as possible because it was such a powerful moment in our lives.

But should we always?

As I started thinking more about some of the issues of travel and the environment I came up with some questions and thoughts.

  • Should we feel guilty for writing about places we love and cherish, knowing that in some places an increase in tourism could have negative environmental and cultural impacts?
  • Do we have a right to condemn people for development when we ourselves through various means of promotion have directly or indirectly encouraged that?  Don’t those same people have a right to promote and benefit from tourism?
  • Shouldn’t everyone have the same rights and abilities to travel, see and experience the world?
  • Is it elitist to think that we can travel to these places and experience all they have to offer and yet want to keep others from enjoying the same experience all so that a location stays the same as we feel it should be?
  • How concerned should we be about our own environmental impact?
  • What is it we travel bloggers are really promoting?

Imagine a place that you’ve traveled to that has just totally captured your soul.  This place is your slice of paradise.  Now imagine that over-development was causing severe environmental damage.  Would you consider not traveling to your slice of heaven if it meant that the environment would be spared and the place you knew and loved would remain intact and free from development for the future enjoyment of others?

Recently CNN wrote about 10 Natural Wonders to See before They Disappear.  They make the point that while tourism can stress an already distressed area it can also bring in money that could be used for preservation.

When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves.  ~David Orr

I love reading travel blogs.  To me they are inspirational and offer hope of adventure from what can at times seem to be a mundane world.  And I think travel is great.  In fact I think travel is crucial to personal development.  By putting ourselves in unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations we grow.  When we travel we evolve into being more empathetic, tolerant and informed and that is exactly what we need more of in this world.

Don’t blow it – good planets are hard to find.  ~Quoted in Time

But I also think that we who are fortunate enough to be able to travel have a responsibility and dare I say obligation to give back and work hard to make a positive difference in the environment and local cultures. If we can report on locations that we are enamored with we can certainly bring awareness to the plight of locations that are in trouble.  We can shine a light on over-development and environmental degradation.  We can make calls to action.  And we can live by example by reducing our own global footprint as much as possible.

And in my book that makes travel blogging a potential worthy ally in the battle to help protect and preserve the environment.  I think we have an incredible opportunity to reach a large audience and bring about more awareness of the plight of the environment and people around the world.  How about you?

Is travel blogging bad for the environment?  What’s your take?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Matthew Bailey May 19, 2011 at 12:45 am

Tough to say but I’m sure it doesn’t help. It’s a scary though that the world is growing by population very quickly without enough resources to make up the greedy appetites.
If a place I loved was falling victim, then I would either stop going (because it’s going to not as good anymore anyways) or I would find a way to help make it better.
This is tough though because unless corporations get better, little tasks done by us little humans are not seen as much.
Though, our voice can be loud if we all get together!
Matthew Bailey recently posted..How I Became a Movie Star and How You Can too

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 19, 2011 at 10:22 am

Hey Matt! I think the voice of a few determined people with a passion for a cause is under-rated. There is a lot we can do on a daily basis to pressure corporations into more sustainable and environmentally conscious business practices. We hold the keys to their profits based on our decisions on what we choose to consume on a daily basis. It’s difficult to change though. Over time though I believe it is possible. For example, the supermarket I shop at for years didn’t have any organic produce. But as more people started requesting it and purchasing it (even though it cost more money) they store now has over half their produce not only organic but locally grown as well. And now the price differentiation between organic and conventional is almost negligible. And I think the same can be true for the travel industry. It may cost us more to begin with but eventually the price differentiation between conventional travel and green travel (whatever that may be) will be negligible as well but also have th added benefit of saving and preserving the environment. Cheers man!

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Gillian @OneGiantStep May 19, 2011 at 8:35 am

Bali definitely is a sad example of the environment being a victim of their economic success in tourism. The Balinese seem to be very close to nature and yet there is garbage everywhere – it clearly is not something they would do on their own. It’s b/c the tourists have come in droves and the infrastructure is not in place to manage the impact. I’m not sure that travel blogging can be to blame but certainly we have a voice that encourages more people to visit these places so must have an impact. That, coupled with greater affluence to afford travel, and it’s clear that more people are traveling to these places and having an impact. I think articles such as this (and others if we all get going on it) can pressure tourism boards and governments to recognize the impact on us as travelers and maybe push toward some sort of resolution. Let’s hope it happens before it’s too late!!

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 20, 2011 at 12:29 am

Good points Gillian. I’m not sure what the answers are but we all have to start doing more if we want to continue to enjoy these special areas of the world. I guess each of us must decide for ourselves what we can and are willing to do to bring to light environmental concerns and adjust our own lifestyles to be more environmentally friendly. We certainly hold the power to change.

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Mark Powers May 20, 2011 at 2:38 am

Wow, Matt- great topic to cover here. This is something that I’ve thought about several times in the past. Along similar lines, I struggle with the realization that my process of researching and preserving traditional musics and rhythms around the globe is yet another cause of their continued disappearance. Everything about what I bring to those areas and cultures- including that almighty American dollar- is making them less of what they once were.

Can’t express how awesome I feel it is that you brought this up . . . kudos, bro!
Mark Powers recently posted..Who Wants To Jump Off A Bridge With Me

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 23, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Hey Mark! Thanks for your comment and relating it to your own travels and cultural adventures. I’d like to think that the almighty American dollar can go a long way toward saving the environment but along with that also has to be a changing mindset. I do think that eliminating poverty would go a long way toward environmental preservation. When one lives day to day not knowing where the next meal is coming from environmental issues are probably the last thing on your mind.

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Michael Figueiredo May 20, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Very interesting perspective, Matt. I never really thought about it that way. I would really hope that our travel blogs don’t have a negative impact, but you never know.
Michael Figueiredo recently posted..7 Tips For International Travel This Summer

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 23, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Hi Michael! I think it would be interesting to do a study to see the impact that travel blogs may have. I’m not sure how one would go about doing that but I would be interested in seeing the results. Regardless travel blogs do reach a large audience so I think environmental issues could really be addressed in the travel community with positive results.

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Andrew May 21, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Hey Matt,

This is sort of a modern age take on ‘is Lonely Planet any good, or do you just end up going to the same places as everyone else’?..

I think the two things that weigh in here are that firstly the bloggers are ‘travellers’ which implies a certain mindset/attitude, second that they’ve started a blog and are into the community/sharing thing. It’s probably a good thing, you get up to date travel info, recommendations etc. and we’re all trying to push it a bit and explore new places.

I wouldn’t say blogging is a part of it, probably travel in general is going to be bad for the environment! 😛 Oh to be born 50 years ago, when most of the Bali’s of today would have been untapped..

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 23, 2011 at 10:10 pm

Hey Andrew! I agree with your last statement. Travel in general, especially International travel, is probably not the greatest thing for the environment. But I do think there are things we can do to travel lightly and more environmentally friendly. Can you imagine going back in time and being able to see some of these areas before being overtaken by tourism? I bet you wouldn’t recognize many of them. Cheers man!

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Erica May 23, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Interesting argument but should the concept of overpopulation be brought into this? People are visiting more places because there are more… people than every before. The world is going to get much smaller over the next 20 years as more people are brought into this world and wanderlust infects more. 🙂

Also, I think it is important to leave some locations to yourself instead of blogging everything to the world.
Erica recently posted..Getting a Bit More Intimate with Puebla- Mexico

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 23, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Hi Erica! I think population growth is definitely something we should all be thinking about and I’m sure you are right that it plays a role in all this. I’m a part of the problem as well as I travel with my family thousands of miles around the planet. It’s definitely not a problem with simple answers. It will be interesting to see what direction we go over the next 20 years. Global warming is definitely something that is going to have an affect on all of us, some more than others.

I’m glad that you said you think it’s important to leave some locations to yourself and not blog about them. I’ve been to a few places that I will probably never tell anyone about.

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Micamyx|Senyorita June 14, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Hello Matt! This reminded me of one incident that happen to me and the rest of my travel blogger friends when we went to this province here in the Philippines. The place has a secret cave that when you go inside, there is a surprising flow of clear water. It is owned by a private individual now and when we went there, the owner got mad when she saw us holding our cameras. She said that she is pissed off with the number of people going to the place. Some visitors don’t clean up their own mess when they leave the place and even complain about the minimal entrance fee. She said that she doesn’t want to promote the place anymore because maintaining it gives her the headache. I guess change in a certain place is not really for everyone especially in the province, where most people are used to the quiet way of living. Sometimes, the fact that they know that strangers are wandering in the place scares them. Oh well. The lesson i learned there is to just understand where the locals are coming from when they complain regarding this matter. It won’t stop me from blogging still 😛

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical June 16, 2011 at 12:59 am

How sad! I think we all have the responsibility when we travel to show respect and not leave a “footprint” that we have been there. You also bring up a good point that not all the locals appreciate tourism and we need to be sensitive to that as well. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Cheers!

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