No need to read my entire blog eviscerating travel vlog youtubers. I’ll state my challenge up front. I’ll send 1 bitcoin to the first person that can guess where this picture was taken this week. I’ll make it easier than naming a beach. You must name the closest city to the beach. The deadline is 7 March 18 at 7pm Eastern US time. To prevent spam and an excel spreadsheet of every city in the world, type the location in the comments below. One guess per person. The first 500 guesses will be accepted and tallied and I’ll post the answer along with the 500 guesses, other pics of this beach with me on it on another blog. At the current spot price of bitcoin, this is actually a pricey gamble that might not even think beyond their home continent. Maybe they think it’s Myrtle Beach (pssst. It’s not, or is it?). I know it’s not exactly a Forrest Fenn type loot, but hey, it’s something.
What? Is it too hard? Too many choices to pick from? If you don’t know where to start, you must not like travel pictures. Maybe when you think of traveling, you think of only 10 glamorous places in the world (like some youtubers below). Traveling for most people is a form of escapism. People like to think of going to the beach, but don’t actually like sitting on the beach for more than a few hours.
Most people with a little wanderlust in them have traveled to many places for many different reasons. Some want to be inspired. Some yearn for a sense of discovery and wonder. Some do it for spiritual growth. Some are running away from a past life. Some just love doing what would be considered “illegal shit” in their home country. For most of human time, some might say, military conquest, economic opportunities, a quest for a new start in life, a sense of honor, or flight from religious persecution were primary motivating factors to travel beyond your home borders.
I’ll begin by saying the days of Arthur Frommer are over. There are simply not enough beach selfies in any Frommer guide for millennials to pay attention.
In the mid 20th century, the jet-setter crowd glamorized affluent adolescents taking quick trips to lavish locations. London. Paris. Rome. This wasn’t really for fame. It was just self indulgence and storytelling fodder for social circles. Today, with platforms like youtube, a new industry has formed around what I call “Tube-setters.”
Definition: Charlatan vloggers who travel world and create self-indulgent travel videos visiting mostly beaches and five star accommodations. Ignores where most humans actually live. Cultures and languages don’t matter. Bathing suits are near mandatory every few videos.
Today, I argue, youtube stars like Eric Conover, The Perkins, Vagabrothers, High On Life, FunForLouis, Danielle Mansutti, and Lost Leblanc travel in self indulgence for fame, self promotion, and monetization schemes. Some are better than others (I’ll name my opinion on the best below). They travel to destinations well-known. They dress fashionably and always ensure a girl in a bikini is nearby as they head to places like Monaco, New York, Thailand, Miami and Bali. If they do go to place in Africa, they label the entire trip “Africa” or “Safari” without knowing how thoughtless it sounds. It would be like a Kenyan saying, “I just saw Asia. Check out my 1 day trip.” Or maybe a Mongolian saying “I flew to Myrtle Beach. It’s official, I saw North America. Click here.” Although I know the golden rule to never argue with a Mongolian, but in this case, I’d probably ask him to consider a larger sample size.
They act as if they know the world after taking some video on a Bali beach with their GoPro. They are taking the easy path as they make clickbait titled videos in hope to monetize what is essentially their vacations (nothing is lower than a dang clickbait title um ………). For those that are fans, know that I’m really impartial. In fact, I’ve never seen a single one of their videos before today. If you do the math, you would quickly find out it is impossible to watch every minute of every video except for clicking through a large sample to hear if there was any actually anything worth learning about. In fact, anyone that does take on this Clockwork Orange-ish punishment of actually watching all the content ever produced from these youtubers, they could suffer death-by-youtube through boredom where their anus and eyeballs explode at the same time. This is punishment no human being should suffer through.
I simply did a “travel blog” search on youtube and clicked through a few pages of the top followed channels. Simple as that. You can try this, and see the same theme. Lots of beach thumbnails of girls in bikinis. Some confessional videos. Some offer some “advice.” Obviously they have the wisdom to part top 10 lists. Some are more about getting the content out there (and since there are only so many beach GoPro shots you can take), so they resort to Q&As where they obviously want to talk to their fans. I think even they don’t know. Are they fans? Are they wanderlust inspired viewers? Is it just an accountant in Dallas who put on youtube videos while he toils away in his cubicle at his firm. How many times can their freaking grandmother click on on their videos?
Or, maybe people are truly memorized by this stuff. Like the whole subculture going to sleep, or doing something else entirely, to ASMR videos. You don’t feel out of touch until you are suggested by Google to watch a ASMR video with 9.4M videos of a woman whispering. It’s like culture taking a perfume-laden fart.
*Note: Upon further review, FunForLouis gets 3 bonus points for visiting and vlogging on North Korea and Somalia, but lost 3 points in authenticity for the countless videos dedicated to his dreadlock styling decisions, “surprised looks,” and clickbait titles such as “Caught by Mexican Police” (where less than 10 seconds of a 12 minute video shows a mexican copy car pulling them over).
I know, maybe I’m totally delusional. Maybe not everyone wants to travel to Chennai (population 4.5 million), Ahmedabad (population 5.6 million), Surabaya (population 2.8 million), Medan (population 2.1 million), Dhaka (population 14 million), Chengdu (population 14 million), Suzhou (population 11 million), Accra (population 1.7 million), Kisumu (population 1.1 million), Fes (population 1.1 million), and Belo Horizonte (population 4.4 million). Maybe royalty-free music tracks don’t go quite well in these locations.
There are still knowledgeable travelers. The ones who monetize through books and maybe some affiliate marketing with resorts seem to be more knowledgeable than the ones who focus more on their appearances and well-lit selfie shots. None can compare to professionals like Rick Steves on PBS who can actually tell culturally significant stories, albeit in more of a dry presentation to an older crowd (aka those who no longer are entertained by beaches/beach selfies). And yes, instead of the beach, he is probably guilty of focusing a lot of attention on European locales, but he works for PBS and not Vice.
As for the youtubers above, no travel vlog can be perfect. I surfed a few videos and reviewed many of the clickbait titles. From what I can see, Eric Conover really really loves himself and might or might not have accidentally proposed to himself in a mirror at one time or another. The Perkins really love going to events and taking selfies. Solutions for Syrian Genocide, they do not have. FunForLouis has the most interesting channel as he jams the most diverse set of activities, friends, and hairstyles in his series. Danielle Mansutti, well, has discovered something else beautiful makeup tutorial youtubers with beautiful boyfriends can do (along with Kane and Pia, Emitaz, Angelica Blick) … she just needs to remember content creation goes beyond visuals (pssst say something interesting). High on Life parlayed a “Titty Pec Dance,” “Epic Backflip Fail,” and “Straddle Jump to the Balls” around 6 years ago into the party travel blogger channel to today. This is like a modern day youtube fairytale. Who could have imagined that? Lost Leblanc was the most basic of the channels, but oddly enough, was the one who chose to add a series on “How to make money on Youtube.” This sort of puts the channel in its own class and probably deserves its own unique word. It’s not the blind leading the blind … but maybe the tube-setter leading the tube-setter.
Out of all the channels I watched, only the Vagabrothers seemed to actually mix diverse locations, food, activities, while remaining authentic with their personalities. A lot of it is focused squarely on travel, and based on the range of videos, if I was a space alien and wanted to know more about Earth, Vagabrothers is what I would watch out of this sample.
It is clear that people watch for part wanderlust and part aspirational life since most of these tube-setters are under 35. For more credibility long term, I think the tube-setting crowd should at least explore the parts less known. Eventually, there will be other 20-somethings who will steal the views and attention space if you remain one-dimensional. First youtuber advantage won’t save you against people younger, and more cooler than you as you get older and less relatable. Ask any actress over 35 what happens in Hollywood. It’s a shallow world. Diversify your content. Take a leap of faith. Let us actually learn something. Give us interesting facts you learned that we can’t find anywhere else. Go to cities that people have not vlogged about. Try speaking the local language and learn about local customs. Try to eat their foods. I’ve actually watched many of the youtube videos of The Food Ranger, due my love of Asian food. This was an accident, again, from the damn Google search suggestion algorithm. I never realized there was so much weird stuff to eat in India and China.
But stay off the beach. The world doesn’t need more beach selfies and GoPro videos uploaded on youtube.
And wear sunscreen.
Or, win my 1 bitcoin.
Follow me on Twitter @Matt_M_Leonard