You Are Not Your Bubble

This blog post is a response to comments on both my post “My Beef with Travel Bloggers” and Nomadic Chick‘s recent response to that post, “Is Lifestyle Redesign Elitist?“:

One of the most common negative reactions to my blog post “My Beef with Travel/Lifestyle Bloggers” is folks saying “how can you expect someone to write about something they haven’t done themselves?”.  I have to admit, I’m always taken aback when people say this.

I think the people who ask this question may have not stopped to consider what they have just written.  Just because I’ve never sky dived, does that mean that I don’t know that you have to wear a parachute?  That you should choose a company with a good safety record and professional staff?  No, it doesn’t.

Can a grocery store clerk have wise words for a corporate cubicle-dweller?  Yes.  Can a lawyer advise a housewife?  Yes.  Can a dog owner give a few tips to a cat owner?  Yes.  If you think you can’t offer anything worthwhile to people in situations other than your own, or on paths you haven’t taken yet, you are seriously discrediting yourself.  Everyone has something to offer for everyone.

Example: A visiting friend tells you they’re looking for a good sushi restaurant in town.  There’s one problem: You don’t like sushi.  What do you do?  You can tell them to look elsewhere, that you don’t know, but how does that help your friend, who has invested their trust in you?  Instead, you can think back to try and remember if anyone you know has mentioned a sushi place before.  You can look up a couple quick reviews on Yelp.  At the very least, you can let them know what areas of town to avoid.  Just because you have no experience with sushi restaurants doesn’t mean you’re incapable of helping your friend find one.

Example 2: I’m a historical reenactor.  It’s my main hobby, and I know a lot about it and can advise people about pretty much any aspect.  Does that mean that reenacting is the only hobby I can advise people on?  Of course not!  Why? Well, for one thing, I’m not a one-dimensional person and I have other hobbies as well, which allows me to pull from a broader spectrum of experience.  I also have been just as involved in other hobbies in the past as I now am in reenacting, so I have those experiences to pull from as well.  Not only that, but there are crossover skills!  Reenacting has taught me time management, it has taught me about saving up for things I enjoy, it has taught me about priorities and sacrifice, and it has taught me about dealing with difficult or drama-ridden people and organizations, among many other things.  These are all pretty universal skills, meaning that they can be applied to almost anything.  Learning how to prioritize taught me the resolve it takes to say “no” to frivolous purchases so that I can afford my expensive equipment, but I can apply the same advice and skills to someone trying to learn to go jogging in the morning – another hobby that takes prioritizing and personal resolve.  Just because I can’t run more than 100 yards doesn’t mean I can’t help a jogger.

Maybe it’s because I was trained as a journalist and documentarian, but I have never seen much value in blogs that merely recount travels or describe a lifestyle without also providing advice and assistance for readers who may be inspired by them.  In truth, there aren’t that many of them, because the trend among travel bloggers and lifestyle design bloggers lately has been to become self-styled experts in travel or lifestyle design, doling out advice right and left.  Don’t get me wrong – I think this is actually a good trend.  But, as Nomadic Chick said and as I tried to say, if you’re going to style yourself as an expert (either through literal statements of that fact or unintentionally through writing that suggests such), you should be aware of your own advice’s limitations, or lack thereof.  You are not your own bubble or box. You are not only a family traveler.  You are not only a flashpacker.  You are not only a location-independent RVer.  And neither are your readers. You are a complex person, capable of giving advice to complex people.  You do not have to stick to your own bubble, nor should you. Step outside every once in awhile.  Perspective is good.

Here’s the part where I throw down the gauntlet.  If you read this entry and critically look at your own blog and feel that yes, you’ve been sticking to your own bubble, try one or more of the following.  In fact, I challenge everyone to do this. If you choose to do it, let me know and I’ll link back to your efforts!  Note:  There is a spectrum of difficulty available in each of these, but I do encourage you to challenge yourself and above all, be creative.

  1. Write a post in your own blog with travel advice for a place you’ve never been. If you’ve been to the Czech Republic but not its neighbors, try writing about Slovakia.  If you’ve been to Japan, try writing about India.
  2. Write a guest post for a blog in an area you don’t have experience in. If you’re a bicyclist, try submitting something to a motorcycling blog (hint: there are similar concerns).  If you’re a childfree couple, try submitting something to a parenting blog.
  3. Write a post in your own blog about your life if you had made a different choice. If you studied comparative literature and became a magazine editor, write about what might have happened if you had stuck with your initial interest in science.  If you’re a single, location independent nomad, write about what your life might be like with a house, spouse, and white picket fence.
  4. Write a post in your own blog that offers a piece of helpful, universal advice. Make sure it really can apply to a large portion of the population before you press “publish”.

Stepping outside your box is important for expanding your horizons and providing perspective.  In fact, that’s one of the major reasons I encourage people to travel.  In writing some of the challenges I have listed above, you’re putting stamps from outside your native realm onto your passport as a blogger, and broadening your own sphere of experience in the process.


10 Comments


  1. Kudos for this post. I like it a lot. You’ve got it right! I think there’s something to learn from everyone. I’m a corporate worker/drone, but I also am a sewer, photographer, a wife, and pround owner of a three-legged cat.

    Do I know any thing about traveling? No, but I do know that it can be tiring, stressful and expensive, just like any other lifestyle out there. We all bleed red…

    Great post! I enjoyed this.

  2. This is a great post. The best people, the nexuses of social and networking circles, are often people who not only able to offer advice on what they do best but those people who can somehow answer any sort of question. And if they can’t deal with it they can easily send you to something who can. It seems from what you’re saying that the travel blogging circle doesn’t have enough diversity in it yet for the latter to happen, though.

  3. @Alissa: Yes, exactly! Even though you work in the corporate world and I don’t, I still read your blog because it has advice that I’m sure will come in handy some day. You read mine for similar reasons, I would assume. Many people stick too close to their own niche, and as a result, their ability to help others outside it declines.

    @Wing: Yes, that’s my general sentiment. The travel blogging circle and lifestyle design circle are both great groups of people, but they are both a bit guilty of having a lack of diversity. For something to truly catch on and be able to help the general populace, you need to have diversity.

  4. This challenge seems like an interesting intellectual exercise. But to be honest, as a reader I’m more interested in what people have experienced. Challenge #1 sounds like you’re advocating armchair travel writing. I’d rather read about someone’s actual travels in the Czech Republic than their research on Slovakia. If I want to read a nonfiction account of India, I’ll go to the library. What I want from a blog is that personal touch.

    Same with challenge #2: If I had kids, I would much rather read advice from another parent who has experienced what I’m dealing with. Could a childfree friend offer me advice? Sure. But do I want to read whole blog post with their advice on parenting? Not really. (I’m childfree myself, by the way.)

    I’m confused about your point about “experts.” You seem to be criticizing bloggers for styling themselves as experts when they write about their experiences, then recommending that they write about things they don’t know. Who does that benefit? Of course “stepping outside the box” is valuable in life, and it’s good to put yourself in other’s shoes. But I still think you should write about the area you know best. It sounds like you’re saying that “travel memoir” type blogs are somehow incomplete because they focus on the writer’s own experience. But isn’t that the point? To focus on your own experience? Maybe the narrative blogs aren’t your cup of tea, but there’s a large population of people who do enjoy them.

    This reminds me of the so-called “hedgehog concept” in the book “Good to Great.” (Yes, this is a “corporate world” book, but if a blog is your business then I think it applies.) The idea is that to really succeed in a business (and YOU define success), you should do what 1.) You are deeply passionate about, 2.) Drives your economic engine, and 3.) You can be the best at. Trying to serve everyone in a blog makes #3 tough, if not impossible. Pick a niche, become an expert, and stick to it.

    Your argument is like saying the author of a diet book should also write for people who have never had a weight problem. Many people are interested in healthy eating, but that doesn’t mean one book should cover everyone. I think blogs are the same. If you see a hole in the travel blogging world, fill it. Write another “book.” Don’t reprimand other blogs for not writing what they don’t know.

    • @Beth: And that’s fine; you’re interested in what other people have experienced, and so that’s what you look for in a blog.

      In each of the challenges, I was actually trying to encourage folks to think creatively about the unique perspectives they can provide. Let me explain:

      Challenge #1: You can go about this any number of ways, but what I was hoping to see people do was to write about another country from their own perspective. For instance, I could write about North Korea as seen through the eyes of an expat living in South Korea. Someone could write about how they imagine India to be in their dreams, without having ever been there. Both are ways to answer challenge #1, and they’re both more what I was going for. I was not looking for armchair travel writing, I was trying to get people to write creatively.

      Challenge #2: Just because you’re childfree, does that mean you have nothing to say on the subject of parenting? You yourself were raised by parents, presumably, and thus have experience with parenting. You can write about that. I am childfree, but I regularly write blog posts for a friend of mine’s blog on child rearing. I gave the example of a bicyclist writing for a motorcycling magazine, because it’s an excellent example of how two communities can provide perspective for eachother. A bicyclist could write about how bicycling forces you to slow down and become more aware of your surroundings, requiring you to live more fully in your environment, and could compare that to the similar side effects of motorcycling. I never said the person had to give advice, merely that they should try writing about an area they usually don’t. Again, it’s a creative exercise, meant to get people out of their boxes, as I said in the paragraph at the bottom.

      3. I never said that they should *always* write about what they don’t know. In fact, they shouldn’t. A person’s best advice is on things they have direct experience with. But, what I was encouraging people to do was to occasionally step outside their box and write something for their blog (or someone else’s) that is outside their usual domain, as a character building exercise and also to provide others with a unique perspective. If I were a motorcyclist reading a motorcycle blog, I might be interested in the perspective of a bicyclist, since they’re similar and it may teach me something new that I didn’t know, while still making me feel a connection with the writer, due to some similarities.

      I’ve never been a niche person. I was a triple major in college (journalism, photojournalism, documentary filmmaking) because I didn’t feel that just one would adequately educate me in what I wanted to do. Even on this blog, I refuse to eliminate posts about “unrelated” interests of mine, because I feel that to understand me you have to see the full me. I also don’t feel you need to stick to a niche to become an expert. My dad, for instance, is a professional private plane pilot, a professional graphic designer of 30 years, a professional glider instructor, a professional jeweler, and a professional art director. He is considered by various people and organizations to be an expert in each, and he most definitely did not stick to a niche.

      For your diet book analogy, I would ask you: so someone who writes about dieting would have nothing useful to say to folks who never had a weight problem? You seem to be thinking that I’m saying that everyone should always cater to everyone. That’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that occasionally people should step outside their bubbles.

  5. There’s some interesting tidbits of challenge in this post, and I think everyone can benefit from thinking outside their perspectives from time to time. I shall take these considerations to heart, and make sure we stay the course of presenting for a wider audience (which we strive to do in our non-journey specific posts).

    But I do have to admit, your post has put me in a defensive stance that I’m actively trying to see through (I can only assume you are including ‘Tales from Technomadia’ as part of your specific complaint about ‘location independent RVers’ being too narrowly focused).

    So, I’m going to attempt to write my response from a couple different considerations:

    1) There are many different styles of blogging. In threads on the aforementioned posts, you’ve come to your own admissions that you’re viewing this from your documentary/journalist view point. Blogging is not necessarily journalism – it’s a more emergent form of sharing that crosses personal journaling with journalism. From my perspective, blogging gives ample room for people to share how they most feel called to without having to fit any model. We’re not all driven by having the highest RSS readership, highest rankings, monetizing, etc. Sometimes, people just like to share.

    Blogs can range from sharing of one’s experience all the way to advice columns to journalistic view points. In response, I challenge you to think outside your own journalism background and perhaps try to view other blogs in the intention they are presented instead of from your expectations. Perhaps you will find greater appreciation in the way others choose to share, instead of feeling the need to reprimand others for not writing to your preferred style. And if you don’t like a style.. move on and find one that does.

    For us- our blog is not specifically a travel blog, or a lifestyle design blog – it is intentionally ‘Tales from Technomadia’. A sharing of our journey, which sometimes happens to include sharing the research and inspiration we’ve gone through to journey on our unique path. We seem to cross into multiple genres – small house living, fiberglass trailers, life simplification, mobile tech, travel, RVing, location independent professions, digital nomadism, etc. – and get classed into those niches. While we can try to write for specific niches from time to time, overall – our blog is a collection of who we are, not aimed at a singular audience or even a wide audience. We started it mostly for us and our friends/family – and we keep that core intention. Our readers range from people who’ve followed us as individuals for over a decade – to people who stumbled on us because we reviewed a campground.

    2) There’s a difference between sharing one’s experience, sharing one’s research, sharing one’s informed opinion and giving advice as an ‘expert’. Your language around encouraging bloggers to share advice can be seen as flirting with a dangerous line that could leave folks liable. As a consumer of advice – I am not at all interested in reading skydiving advice from someone who has only read other blogs and knows only common sense knowledge like ‘use a parachute.’ (to use your opening example). I’ll go to the experts in that field – people who have walked the walk. I want to understand their background, their motivation, their challenges and their journey to exploring their passion before considering how their advice might apply to me.

    Now, if you yourself were exploring getting your AFF licensing, I would be an interested peer in sharing your journey towards exploring a new passion. But frankly, unless you were already a skydiver – you’re not a resource I would seek out for advice related to that topic.

    And I don’t expect my reader’s to seek my advice on topics that I have no experience with. Sure, I can use google and learn (and probably will), but I’d much rather point them to better resources than regurgitate stuff I read. Being a nexus point between awesome inspiring people doing things differently than me is so much more fulfilling than trying to have everyone come to me for advice on all topics. As a blogger with a voice – I feel I have a responsibility to only issue advice that I feel I can confidently offer from experience. And I don’t *want* the responsibility on my head of giving “advice” to people for topics that I’ve only read about. I don’t have kids – I don’t want kids – I don’t travel with kids … I don’t need to try to hold myself up as an advice giver in that well represented niche, where there are people actively succeeding with traveling with kids. Sure, I can tell them all about RV construction points – but ultimately, people traveling with kids have unique challenges that I can’t even begin to grasp from my experience.

    I can still be inspiring to those on different paths without having to present myself as an expert in their fields. And I am regularly inspired by others exploring their own paths without trying to tell me how to apply it to my life.

    Now.. share with others what I’m inspired by or what I’ve learned recently? Heck yeah! I’m all over that. That’s different than issuing advice.

    Also please consider, that advice on topics is not only given via what is posted on a blog. I know a lot of the advice we give is via private e-mails from our readers and never seen publicly. We don’t shy away from addressing topics outside our own experience if we feel we have something to legitimately add. So please don’t judge and reprimand from what is only publicly posted.

    I think you have some very valid and strong points, and even inspiration in this post. I hope others can see through the tone of reprimanding, and get to the kernels of goodness here. I’m honestly trying to get past my defensiveness.

    • @Cherie: “There’s some interesting tidbits of challenge in this post, and I think everyone can benefit from thinking outside their perspectives from time to time. I shall take these considerations to heart, and make sure we stay the course of presenting for a wider audience (which we strive to do in our non-journey specific posts). ”

      That, right there, was the entire point of this post. Congratulations for understanding it and wanting to put it into practice!

      “(I can only assume you are including ‘Tales from Technomadia’ as part of your specific complaint about ‘location independent RVers’ being too narrowly focused).

      I was choosing generic terms, as there are many folks of each category in my RSS reader (which has over 600 blogs in it at the moment), so no, you were not being singled out. Also, you will note that I never necessarily said that there’s anything inherently bad in being narrowly focused. Hell, this blog is a lot more narrow than it could be (and used to be). What I was trying to get people to see is that sometimes they depict themselves a little narrowly, only giving readers a glimpse at a sliver of their life, of their personality, and it might be a good thing to give folks a glimpse of the broader picture (or even just another sliver) every once in awhile. Everyone likes perspective. By the way, I think your blog is a very good example of crossing multiple boundaries and helping a wide range of folks with varying interests.

      “There’s a difference between sharing one’s experience, sharing one’s research, sharing one’s informed opinion and giving advice as an ‘expert’. Your language around encouraging bloggers to share advice can be seen as flirting with a dangerous line that could leave folks liable.”

      I think perhaps what people are misunderstanding is my use of the word “advice”. Does perspective make more sense? See my above comment to Beth about how people in different situations can often give a unique perspective on a situation. I read many blogs that are outside my various arenas because on occasion someone writes something that, while it doesn’t directly apply to me, I find helpful or inspiring in some way. Their different perspective allows me/encourages me to look at a problem/aspect of my life/etc in a different light. That’s what I was hoping to get folks to do with these challenges, and with my proverbial gauntlet.

      I think you have some very valid and strong points, and even inspiration in this post. I hope others can see through the tone of reprimanding, and get to the kernels of goodness here. I’m honestly trying to get past my defensiveness.

      I appreciate that. I am a rather abrasive person at times (both online and in person) due to my general misanthropic nature, and I think that I often write in a much more aggressive way than I intend to come off as. What to me sounds like a good-natured jab in the ribs and challenge can often sound like a mean-spirited reprimand to others. It’s something I’m working on in my writing, as well as my daily life.

  6. I have to say I agree with both Cherie and Beth here in that I believe it’s best to take advice from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. Not only is it not safe to give advice about a topic you know nothing about, it’s… well…. kind of annoying. When I started training for my first marathon last year, I got a lot of advice: some from people who had run marathons or had trained for similar events… but I also got a lot of advice from people who “knew a friend of a friend who had done a marathon”. I know these people were just trying to be helpful by telling me something they “had heard,” but frankly it was kind of annoying… here I had done the research and had a running coach and was running 2, 3, 4 hours in a day, and someone who hadn’t even run a 5K was telling me how I could run “better.” I also get annoyed when people who don’t date give me dating advice (I’m single) when people with kids tell me I’ll “change my mind about kids” (I don’t plan to have kids) or when people who don’t travel give me advice on how to travel. Granted, it’s possible I’m just one of those people that’s easily annoyed (I have been given advice on that too!).
    I also agree with Cherie in that we all blog for different reasons. There’s a lot of advice out there about how people should blog… but I think the great thing about blogging is it allows everyone the chance to write to an audience, whether that audience be 10,000 readers or just, say, your mom. I don’t follow any of the blog rules: my blog posts are way too long, way too personal, irregularly posted & punctuated and full of advice no one in their right mind should actually take. I don’t have 10,000 readers (not by a long shot!), but my mom, a woman who up until three years ago was scared to even turn on a computer, reads it and loves it… and, you know what, that’s cool with me.

  7. So much going on here, where to begin? I’ll try.

    From reading the comments, a few people are put off or misinterpreting the intent of this post.

    Creative exercises are important for any writer. Take Challenge #1, the technique you’re suggesting is similar to False Documents, when a fictional character is introduced into a larger fictional piece – in other words, imagining yourself in a destination you’ve never visited.

    I was always taught to “write what I know”, however, many fictional writers will tackle a historical novel instead of the modern fare he or she is use to producing.

    Challenge #1 is excellent as a whimsical exercise, but may not be practical. Perhaps you’re not saying it should be practical, but as long as it’s framed as such, there’s no room to mislead or offer false information on a place you’ve never been to.

    There’s also a huge diff between advice, opinion, and general information. Advice usually comes from a place of firsthand knowledge. “I’ve gone through it, here ya go.” Opinion can be what I think you should do, not always what I did before, so have at er’. And general info aligns with that sushi example. Thank god for the internet or friends, because if sushi isn’t someone’s thing, it’s easy enough to pass that info on.

    My post meant to emphasize a mix of advice and opinion. Maybe I’m not in person A’s shoes, but I can offer an opinion and some advice from my personal experience. The main point of my article was to say that lifestyle redesign shouldn’t be sold as the ideal and as you said here, people are complex, so when giving an opinion or advice, consider the person’s backstory.

    A lot of your suggestions can basically be called journalism or literary technique. Let’s face it, tons of journalists write on subjects they don’t have intimate knowledge with, and tons of fictional writers invoke places or events they’ve never been to or witnessed.

    I see the benefit to most of your challenges, except:

    * When writing about an unfamiliar subject the article or story can convey the *information*, but what’s usually lacking are the personal touches and insights – which many readers want to see. Hell, I do as a reader.

    * Not sure if all these ideas fit in confluence to certain forms of blogging. As an independent blogger (not a journalist or fiction writer), a creative exercise can come off phony or insincere. Just something to think about when tackling these challenges.

    I also agree one can be conversant in many areas, or to use that lame term again, “expert”. It’s a whole new ball game if someone has a lot of knowledge on a subject, but is also a narrow thinker. To me, that’s always a bad combo.

    Wonder if you’ll get some takers on this? Good luck with it!

  8. I like this post specifically for what it does to point out some flaws I find in the blogging world.

    I enjoy blogs of varying topics and I have dozens in my reader. There are a few that I enjoy reading specifically for their style of writing but I find myself skipping over a lot of their articles because it’s the same old thing they wrote a few months, weeks or even days ago.

    Too many bloggers are under the assumption that in order to be successful, one must have a specific niche. It’s not true. In order to be successful one must have a captivating style of media, whether its videos, photos, or writing and show a variety in subjects.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it. I enjoy your blog most because of it’s variety and writing. I’m not interested at all in reenacting, but I am interested in how you show why its important in your life and how you incorporate a time-consuming and expensive hobby into a lifestyle of your choosing.

    When I’m finished dealing with the stuff from my school and the office of education in Korea, I’m going to bring my blog back up and actually take it seriously. I’ll move from a format of sharing stories with family to one that is actually meaningful for a larger audience. And I’ll definitely be taking your challenge!

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