If you’re reading his blog, you have probably heard of (and voted for me for) the Kerala Blog Express, a first of its kind travel blogging trip through the Indian state of Kerala, sponsored by Kerala Tourism. In case you haven’t, or if you’re curious about what’s happened since voting ended, here’s the whole story. Or at least, the whole story up until I go to India. This post got long quick, so it is part 1 of 3. You can read part 2 and part 3 by clicking the links.
On Christmas morning I woke up to an email inviting me to enter a contest for one of 25 spots on The Kerala Blog Express. I get emails about travel contests often enough, but to be honest some seem scammy and others just seem unrealistic for me to win. I’m a hobbyist travel blogger with a small (but wonderful and extremely attractive) following, as well as unorthodox content areas and article types. I rarely post listicles or reviews of hotels and attractions, instead writing longer essays (with relatively few photos) on less-fun topics like the harmful effects of travel, inequality, and political turmoil within the countries I visit. I also have one of the few blogs written by someone who is explicitly a feminist and an activist, someone who chooses to attend rallies and pretests, someone who loves to talk about the three cardinal sins of polite conversation: religion, politics and sex.
But this contest would have twenty-five winners, not just one. There also were only a few people signed up already, and I thought I could keep pace with them. After all, I had been approached to enter, and others (I would soon learn) were not, so what was the harm in entering? I filled out my application and was accepted into the contest, and started soliciting votes. I started by posting in all the Facebook communities I was part of–various clubs and trips–and did quite well. I eventually moved on to messaging people directly, after I felt my generic posts on my news feed had reached just about everyone they could. I also posted requests to twitter, although that never yielded much, and wrote about the contest in my blog. I tracked my progress both by obsessively checking the contest website and with bit.ly’s stats on my link. Several times the voting website crashed, and people frequently got in touch to express they had trouble voting. It was frustrating to see I had almost twice as many clicks as I did links, meaning there were some serious problems with voting.
Asking for votes was definitely hard, and I felt like a pushy jerk most of the time. But I felt like voting wax only supposed to take a minute or two, and the reward was pretty huge. I have also always been the kind I person who shares the articles and triumphs if my friends, who fills out your qualtrics surveys for class, who votes on your band for contests, who answers questions about Northeastern and travel more fit for an advisor or travel agent. What’s the point of a vast network of amazing friends if you can never call on them for help? It was pretty amazing to see the votes come in. Unfortunately the contest website doesn’t reveal who the voters are, but I got texts, facebook posts, emails and messages from all over the world, from friends and family, people I travelled with or know from high school. It was pretty great to hear from people from every segment of my life who were voting and re-posting the link, including folks who work with my mom or my future-sister-in-law’s family who have never even met me yet. It was a humbling experience, both to see how intense the other bloggers are, but even more to see so many people lend me their time and support.
Unfortunately, the contest, always a bit vague on the criteria to win and the closing time, was extended an additional 5 days. That doesn’t sound like much, but it allowed bloggers with bigger followings time to register and blow most of us who had been in the top 25 out of the water. It kind of freaked me out how there were people able to get more votes in a day or two than I had in weeks, especially when I clicked on some entrants’ social media networks and saw little to no publicity of their voting link. This made it even harder to swallow that the data on how often my link was clicked and how many votes I had were so far apart. I also didn’t even realize when the contest ended, because Kerala Tourism never specified a time or a time zone, just a date. I also hadn’t been able to campaign for votes too effectively the last 2 or 3 days because I had sent too many messages from my facebook account. Whoops. Though I assumed I had lost, I checked in on the Kerala Tourism twitter account and #KeralaBlogExpress hashtag every so often, out of curiosity. It seemed everyone was a bit confused, and the judges were tight-lipped.
A couple of weeks after the contest ended (and I was in a so-close-I-can-almost-taste-it 30th place) I was informed that I was in the short list, and asked if I was still interested. I was shocked I was still in contension, but several people who watched the contest closely suggested some of the contestants who amassed so many votes so quickly (seemingly without having to ask for them) may have been disqualified. My plan was to stay in the running as long as I could until I had to put money in, and make a real decision then. I’m guessing they widened the short list in case people couldn’t attend the changed dates of the trip, and also to reflect that blog content and blog audience were factors in the contest, not just votes. My content is definitely different, and I understand why they wanted a diversity if audiences. If they just had the typical top 25 travel bloggers, their audience would be quite small because of the reader overlap, in spite of their sizeable numbers overall. Having diverse blog subjects also means a diversity if posts (and potentially diverse publications picking up stories written about/during the trip.) A food blogger brings in a whole new audience not usually reached by, say, the solo female traveler audience.
I feel like my voice is a valuable one to have in travel blogging and aboard the Kerala Blog Express. I do my best to peel back the layers of a people and a place in order to see he complicated and longstanding interactions between race, class and gender, to see how their history has lead them to where they are now, the fissures in their national dialogue, and the origins and importance if culture beyond their superficial expressions. I plan on commenting quite openly on how my status as a sponsored travel blogger affects my trip in order to b transparent, but also because I know he world if travel writers is fascinating to outsiders. I also feel that if we value the examined life, that means examining our leisure as well as our work. Travel has an impact on an area, and to ignore that is to burrow into our privilege in a most unpleasant way. We can’t lament how tourism destroys environments, mindlessly siphons off local culture, and perverts the local economy without looking inward at our own behavior. I am not perfect by any means, but at least I’m trying to learn and improve.
Early on the morning of February 26th, Kerala Tourism tweeted the image above and the confirmation that I would be part of the Kerala Blog Express. But what happened between everyone thinking I lost and that victory tweet? When do I leave? Where am I actually going? What’s this other big news you may have heard about? Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3!