A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to be sent on a bloggers press trip to Valencia in Spain on behalf of vtravelled.com. It was an absolutely incredible experience which I will remember for a long time to come. Before departing I had expected to be amazed by the country, the weather, the food and the accommodation – and I wasn’t disappointed. What I hadn’t expected, was how amazed I would be by the group of twenty travel bloggers whose company I had the pleasure of sharing for a week.
As a community, we web designers have it pretty good. Generally speaking everyone gets on pretty well, generally speaking most of us are helpful and considerate to each other. But, we can get very caught up inside our little bubble sometimes. HTML5, CSS3, web standards, browser support, content management systems, hosting platforms… the list goes on. We enjoy these things and so we spend a lot of time obsessing over them.
Everyone now and then, however, we go a bit too far – getting into debates about whether or not an IE6Update script is morally wrong, or writing blog posts proclaiming the web celebs to be a bunch of talentless back-patters. Little rifts become more evident still at web design conferences, with clear ‘groups’ emerging (at least in the UK).
There are good sides and bad sides to every community. Being dropped headlong from one directly into another was a really interesting experience. Travel bloggers have many similarities to us and equally many differences. The similarities don’t warrant much discussion: they use WordPress (almost exclusively) and they use Twitter and other forms of social media (particularly StumbleUpon, weirdly). Their businesses, reputations, and livelihoods live in the online worlds – but their work does not. This is where we get into the differences.
Arriving in Spain with three fellow Brits, we meet at the hotel with travel bloggers from the US, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and of course Spain itself. It’s a pretty diverse group.
In our midst is none other than @AdventureGirl, a prolific travel blogger from the US with 1.4million followers – she is by far the most influential in the group with regular appearances on American TV and people such as Ashton Kutcher in her phone book. Prior to meeting her I expected her to have an ego the size of a small elephant and an air of superiority about her… you know… like most of the web designers with more than 20,000 followers. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
AdventureGirl, also known as Stef, is one of the sweetest and most interesting people who I’ve ever met. She’s a veritable fountain of knowledge on travel and tourism, but at the same time she makes an obvious effort to talk and listen to everyone else. It sounds obvious.. but I don’t have enough fingers on my hands to count how many times I’ve been brushed off by speakers at web design conferences.
Stef isn’t the only successful person in the group, in fact absolutely everyone on the trip has an impressive list of achievements. What strikes me most though is that none of them are boastful or superior in any way. We have a fantastic dinner on the very first evening with everyone getting along well. This continues for the entire duration of the trip.
Maybe it’s because you can’t be a “better” traveller than anyone else in the way you can be a “better” designer or developer – but there seems to be a real lack of the aggressive need for everyone to compare themselves to each other.
As web designers we typically sit at desks for thirty to sixty hours a week, that’s the job. Travel bloggers fly all over the world, often with all expenses paid, that’s their job. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this one trip has made seriously consider giving up web design and joining them. Maybe the grass really is always greener, but sitting in the Spanish sun on a Friday afternoon didn’t leave me with much doubt with regards to where I’d rather be.
The point of all this is that these people aren’t in a bubble. They go from country to country, culture to culture, first world to third world. They seem a little less concerned with the trivial and a little more concerned with the big picture.
On some level, they all want to change the world. I like that – a lot.
We techies assume we know.. well.. pretty much everything. We were Tweeting while the rest of the world was discovering Facebook. We’re now “checking in” all over the place, which most of the world will probably eventually also catch on to. We spend an overwhelming amount of time talking to each other about how to educate our clients about social media and the web.
Well – the travel bloggers already get it. They already get it, they’re already doing it and I’m sure they’re not the only ones. They understand Twitter – hell they seem to understand Twitter better than we do. The entire trip was organised by a group of people on the tourist board for Valencia who understand the value in new media marketing. None of us were asked to write any particular piece, none of us were asked to tweet, none of us were asked for stats on how many people we could reach. They did their homework, embraced the mantra of new-media customer service and let us do the rest.
They are so much further ahead of the game than I’ve personally ever given anyone outside of the tech community credit for.
What We Can Learn
I learned a tremendous amount on the trip and I really think that there are some strong points that everyone can benefit from in one way or another. What are you working on right now? Does it matter? I mean does it really matter?
- Take a step back from the internet bubble – there’s a whole world out there and life, really, is far too short. I know it’s a cliché and I know you’ve heard it so many times that it may have ceased to have any real meaning, but it remains true.
- Stop with the egos if you’re one of the big boys, and if you’re one of the rest of us then stop pandering to them. We don’t always need to rank ourselves and each other by who is “best”. We criticize our own community for back-patting, but that’s cause we’re doing it in the wrong places. Stop patting the backs of everyone who’s heard it a million times before and give some encouragement to someone who really needs it.
- There are whole communities of people out there who “get it” – and they aren’t web designers. I’ve had eight enquiries since getting back home, and you know what? People who “get it” are the people who I most enjoy working with. If you’re a freelance web designer looking for business then this really needs to sink in!
By no means am I claiming that the travel industry is flawless, and that everyone is happy all the time. A week isn’t long enough to really immerse yourself in any community and understand it fully. Indeed by the end of it a few negative similarities were showing up: For example one bitter blogger kicking up a fuss on Twitter about how worthless these trips are, purely cause she wasn't invited. That sounds like something a certain web-design-industry-diva would do.
On the whole however, I really liked what I saw.
Being so warmly welcomed into a completely different community to my normal day-to-day life was a really refreshing change of scenery. In the same way that we so often take design inspiration from obscure places, I’ve managed to take some life-inspiration here. I would encourage everyone reading this to find a community outside of the web design industry to involve yourself in, because sometimes a little diversity is exactly what we need to keep us going, to keep us inspired, to keep us motived.
Maybe, a little diversity is all we need to come up with that one idea that really will change the world.
You can find all of my photos from the trip over on Flickr.