A few years back, I wrote about dancing man Matt Harding, and it occurred to me that part of Matt's success is due to his 21st-century updating of the age-old -- and dead-tired -- tradition of sharing photos from your travels.
Gone is the faded suburban parlor tradition of boring your friends to somnambulance with an endless slideshow of your family standing in front of statues, fountains and landmarks. These days the technology has changed, and the 21st-century equivalent of the long, tedious slideshow is the long, tedious travel blog in which you write about every minute of every day, or the long, tedious Facebook photo gallery that your friends have to click through for hours to find interesting images.
So how can you capture the spirit of your trip without weighing your audience down in minutiae? As the saying goes, presentation is everything, and a hook or gimmick can help bring both interest and organization to your travel memories. Take Matt's example: doing exactly the same thing in very different places, and then collecting all his video clips into a short greatest hits compilation. (Matt discards plenty of material along the way -- you can see some of his outtakes here.) You can take a similar strategy with photos if you prefer, but the important thing is to tap into the power of repetition, and provide a touchstone for your audience again and again -- one familiar thing in many very strange places.
You should also consider maintaining some level of mystery -- tell some of the story, but not the whole boring story. Here are my suggestions for finding the right balance of the familiar and the novel, the straightforward and the mysterious, the serious and the fun -- a perfect description of the best travel experiences.
This is probably the most conventional approach, but in my estimation the least likely to thrill and enthrall. If you have ever read back over your notes from the road, you know not everything is a keeper -- and if you have a few bad days in a row, your audience could turn you off like the 11 o'clock news.
However, if you have the self-control and wherewithal to take a "less is more" approach and stick to it, a travel blog can be a great way to go. Some suggestions:
- Post one snippet of overheard local conversation every day, and nothing more.
- Post the top headline of the day from the local newspaper.
- Wait until the next morning before posting, and write about the one thing from the day before that most made an impression and stuck with you overnight.
- Post the misunderstanding of the day. For example, when I was covering the Olympics in Beijing, an Iraqi athlete who had trouble getting funding for his trip to China was thought to have said, "I could not afford the bus fare," when in fact he said, "We could not afford to get there." (This is the "Excuse me while I kiss this guy" tactic.)
Photo journals are far less demanding of the reader, and can sometimes even do a better job of conveying the extreme variety you can encounter in a day's travels. A prose recounting of where you went and what you did tells your audience what to think; a picture lets them see and think for themselves.
But a gimmick, whether thematic or organizational, still serves an essential function here. Some possible approaches:
- The "photo a day" blog is somewhat overdone at this point, but there's a reason for that; it's easy to do and easy to follow, and doesn't ask too much of anyone involved. Post only one photo per day, without exception. This forces you to pick the best and most essential photo from each day, and spares your audience from having to be your virtual sidekick.
- Post a photo at the same time each day, whether it be at breakfast, sundown, high noon, midnight, etc. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, take and post the photo.
- Post photos with no explanation. Pick a photo that provides just enough information to make your readers wonder what you were doing that day, but not so little that they can't figure it out at all.
- The Mobile Gnome: Many people have opted for variations on Web-based gnome projects. Take a gnome from your neighbor's lawn, and post or send them pictures of it from all the attractions and cities you visit. The same can work for other objects such as stuffed animals.
- Take a single, distinctive hat -- maybe a Vancouver Canucks beanie or a Phillies cap -- and wear it in every photo you post or share.
- Post a photo of the entry ticket for whatever attraction you visited that day -- and nothing more.
The possibilities are endless, so long as you follow the cardinal rule: Don't bore anyone!
This is probably the most popular spot to share trip memories these days, whether you're filtering your favorite snaps on Instagram or making your Facebook friends jealous with status updates from the beach. While it's easy enough to dump every one of your vacation photos into a big album on Facebook, we'd encourage you to consider some of the strategies above to avoid overwhelming your followers with a huge wall of pictures to wade through. Same goes for your status updates; less is more.
On Instagram, be sure to tag your photos with a location or hashtag so it's easy for your followers (and for you!) to sort through the images from a particular trip. Again, don't post every shot you take -- focus on one or two a day that will wow your followers or tell a story. If you just can't choose, consider waiting a few weeks after your trip to post a few more under the #tbt (Throwback Thursday) hashtag.
Twitter is a platform that lends itself to more frequent posts, though the 140-character limit will keep you from getting too verbose. Fight the temptation to post every little detail about your day. Instead, Twitter is the perfect place for quick insights, snapshots and humorous takes on what you're seeing and doing.
On a recent hike in the Cascade Mountains, a friend took along a GPS system for very practical reasons -- that is, so as not to get completely lost. What he did when he was finished hiking each day, however, was pure high-tech travel blog: he uploaded the record of where he had hiked that day to a Web application that mapped out the entire route, and then sent the link to the map to his friends. It worked like a charm; he had his entire office tracking the hike on a daily basis, and it became the water cooler topic of the week back home.
If you are not GPS'd to the hilt like this guy was, you can simply post the GPS coordinates of the attraction or place you most enjoyed that day, and let folks dial it up on a map to figure out what you were up to. I did this on a trip that went from Bordeaux through Biarritz into Bilbao and back. Folks followed the progress of the trip routinely and quietly, but when we stopped in a tiny fishing village for three days, our email boxes exploded with questions -- where are you, why did you stop, should I visit there too? (Even beyond the topic of this article, this was a great example of the power of simply stopping amidst so much moving, and a completely unexpected highlight of sharing our travels.)
You can do something similar for free at Travellerspoint.com without even needing GPS coordinates; just put in the names of the cities and towns you're visiting, and it'll create your customized map. You can attach photos and blog entries as well.
Matt Harding isn't the only one with a novel approach to sharing his travel videos. On a hitchhiking trip across the U.S. a few years ago, a guy named Benjamin Jenks asked locals to pose behind him as he took selfies in each of his various pit stops, then knitted them all together into a five-minute video. (Check out the video on YouTube.)
Another approach I have seen is to video a long walk in silence, replicating the experience of arriving alone as a stranger in a strange town. An Indian visitor to my folks' home town on the New Jersey coast turned on his video camera when he got off the train into town, and wordlessly videoed the bus ride and walk to the house of the friends he was visiting. He turned off the video as the front door opened; while you had to be able to endure a very mundane video absolutely lacking a punchline, the effect was an experience much like that of arriving in a small town in Europe for the first time, where everything is strange and new, despite seeming utterly familiar.
You don't have to become a YouTube sensation to share your travels with your friends. Here are some choice venues for your travel dispatches:
Trip Reports: When your trip is over, compile your best memories and tips into an IndependentTraveler.com trip review to share with family and friends. (And don't forget to email your accompanying photos to firstname.lastname@example.org; we'll add them to your report.)
Blogging Sites: The most popular all-purpose blogging sites include Wordpress.com, Blogger.com and Tumblr.com. These can accommodate almost any of the approaches above. You may also want to try sites designed specifically for travel blogs, such as TravelPod.com or TravelBlog.com.
Photography Sites: In addition to Instagram, you can easily turn your travel photojournal into an online gallery at any of the big photo hosting sites, such as Flickr.com, Snapfish.com, Shutterfly.com, SmugMug.com and more. Many of these sites also provide photo printing services in case your mom wants a photo of you running with the bulls in Pamplona for the fridge.
Video: YouTube is the obvious choice, but Vimeo and Vid.me are among many other sites that also provide video hosting services.
Your Own Website: This can be a lot more work, but the upside of this approach is that folks always know where to find you, they don't need a login (as they might at some photo sites), and very few other people will see your videos if you prefer not to become a YouTube sensation like Matt. Not everyone is looking for global fame and sponsored trips; some of us just want to show our friends our vacation pictures.
Editor's Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc., which also owns TravelPod.com.