World traveller and columnist. Author of Travel Between Hope and Pain, co-founder and chief editor of IronShoe Travel Channel.
It’s official: travel is now paperless.
As a young traveller, my backpack always had a few types of paper items: something practical, usually a Lonely Planet; a notebook for recording things from my travels; maps that I would accumulate from various cities, carefully folded up after use; a dictionary, preferably a bilingual one, and one or two pieces of travelogue written by others that I could peruse on my journey.
Today, we have computers, smartphones and the internet, which have collectively displaced the bits of paper in our backpacks. Instead, we carry gadgets and chargers, and replace paper guides with TripAdvisor, Wikitravel, Google Maps, Google Translate, Facebook and blogs. The internet has become our most important travel companion. I also like to read different travel websites, Facebook pages and blogs. Some are purely informational, others are collections of travel writing that I can read over and over because they don’t simply fulfil a practical purpose. Even if I am not travelling to that particular place, I am curious to read about a writer’s experiences and thoughts.
During the two years that I was travelling around the world, I also started a Facebook page, sharing my experiences with the world. But as the rules of Facebook started to change, sharing has become increasingly difficult (for example if I didn’t want to pay for a sponsored post). I started to wonder whether there was a platform where I could post some of my writing, photos and videos to share with the right kind of audience.
So I came up with the idea of the IronShoe Travel Channel.
There is certainly no shortage of travel information on the internet, whether it’s newspapers, magazines or online media. But in the Chinese-speaking world, there are not many platforms hosting high quality content focused on travel. The problem wasn’t quantity, but quality—but how can one define quality? The truth is the best written pieces are not necessarily always the ones that receive the most eyeballs and clicks. In fact, sometimes it’s quite the opposite—content that is too serious drives away readers. Sometimes the content isn’t even as important as having an eye-catching headline. Indeed, one cannot be too precious when it comes to online media; a writer always has to consider what the reader wants and how to attract readers. But we definitely did not want to go to the extreme and basically create a “content farm” kind of page, full of clickbait articles with little thought or depth.
We are still trying to find a balance. It isn’t an easy path that we’ve embarked on, but it has been a pleasant journey. In the process of creating this platform, we have been able to meet many different people, such as experienced travellers, travel entrepreneurs, people about to embark on ambitious trips, and some who are figuring out whether they can take the plunge to go on the trip of their dreams. Trying to set up a platform where all these people can interact and share is an extremely interesting project.
We hope that we can showcase the different faces of travel through our platform that isn’t just an online version of those glitzy travel books you see everywhere that simply advocate consumerism. Travel is creative, challenging, reflective, ambitious, and many other things. It is never predictable and surprises you when you least expect it—just like life itself.