Enter the word “travel blog” in Google’s search bar, and you’ll be met with over 260,000,000 results. Travel truly is everywhere. From influencers on Instagram to trailblazers vlogging about their adventures on YouTube, the concept of travel has become a substantial part of our everyday digital lives. But even travel blogs had to start somewhere. Haven’t you ever wondered who wrote the first ever travel blog? How did it all even start?
To get to the bottom of these two pressing questions, I’ve been trawling through the history books on a mission to find out more about the world’s first travel blog. My avid internet searching led me to a man named Jeff Greenwald. Hailing from the Bronx, New York, Jeff is a seasoned writer and journalist. His writing career is an unbelievably rich one spanning a range of different media, whether it be written or digital.
But as impressive as his literary background may be, it’s his unique connection with travel and blogging that really captured my imagination. Jeff Greenwald is essentially the grandfather of the travel blog as we know it today. He was travelling around the world and sending dispatches at a time when we were grappling with dodgy dial-up connections and navigating an Internet that was essentially in its infancy. A true pioneer – and a fantastic storyteller to boot.
I was lucky enough to be able to have a quick chat with Jeff Greenwald to kick-start season 2 of my podcast.
The world’s first travel blogger – how it all started
We have one man to thank for the modern-day travel blog as we know it – Jeff Greenwald. Yet interestingly enough, he didn’t actually come from a family that travelled often. It was books such as the Sierra Club’s travel guide to the landscapes of Arizona and epic films such as Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey that sparked his appetite to go out into the world. And I can totally understand that – I remember watching Lawrence of Arabia for the first time and being amazed at how it managed to capture that brilliant sense of adventure. You just want to hop on a plane and fly your way around the world, Indiana Jones-style!
It was ultimately a fateful holiday to Thailand that would mark the beginning of a life-long career of travel and writing.
While he was travelling the country with a friend, a civil war broke out in neighbouring Cambodia. After having volunteered at the refugee camps, he eventually returned to the US and penned an account of his experiences as a volunteer in the camp. His piece was picked up by a local news outlet in California – and the positive response it garnered ended up landing Jeff a job as a features editor. The rest, as they say, is history!
But how on earth did the transition from print to digital even happen, especially at a time when the Internet was still so new? The answer lies in Jeff’s incredible idea to circumnavigate the globe – without stepping foot on a plane. He drew inspiration from something called kora, a religious practice in Asia where pilgrims would quite literally walk around (or circumnavigate) a sacred site or shrine. Jeff saw his circumnavigation of the globe as a sort of super-sized kora. His ambitious endeavours would earn him a book deal – and got him in touch with O’Reilly, a company behind the world’s first web browser, Mosaic. During the course of his travels, Jeff would send dispatches to O’Reilly as he went, and in turn they would upload his texts and place them on an interactive map. The world’s first travel blog, essentially.
Nowadays we can throw together an interactive map complete with custom way points in the space of a few minutes, but it’s just amazing to think that this was actually a huge technical and logistical challenge at the time. It took three days to send the first dispatch from Oaxaca, Mexico, and it took an hour to simply upload the 2-page document onto the website itself. It really does blow my mind a little bit to think that Jeff has seen and experienced the rapid change and developments in the digital world, especially in the context of travel writing and blogging.
Being the world’s first travel blogger isn’t the only legacy to Jeff Greenwald’s name. He’s also been a big name in activism thanks to his project, Ethical Traveler. A non-profit organisation, the Ethical Traveler is a means of bringing together the community of world travellers and uniting them as a force for change. Whether it’s environmental problems such as deforestation and over-development, or humanitarian issues such as refugees or human trafficking, the Ethical Traveler keeps a beady eye on what’s going on in our world – and really brings with it that feeling of being in a global community.
One example was the illegal shark fin trade in Costa Rica. This practice would see the fins of live sharks sliced off and sent to China, where the fins themselves would be processed into shark fin soup and the sharks simply placed back in the ocean, essentially left for dead. After teaming up with PRETOMA, a non-profit NGO based in Costa Rica which promotes marine conservation and research, Ethical Traveler were able to bring about massive change in the country. A private port was closed down, customs controls were strengthened and even a new Marine Protection Area was established around the shores of Cocos Island National Park. An incredible feat that just goes to show that being engaged in the issues and problems our world face really can make a change!
The world’s most ethical destinations in 2018:
St. Kitts & Nevis
One thing that I personally love about Ethical Traveler is the list of the world’s most ethical destinations which is published each year. There’s a ton of research that goes into creating this list – and a lot of strict criteria which fall into three categories: environmental protection, social welfare and human rights. Issues such as shark finning may see a country lose its accolade, but there’s always the opportunity to bounce back. Costa Rica has gone from grappling with the issues of illegal shark finning to ushering fantastic social, human rights and environmental reforms, earning it a spot on this year’s list. If you’re quite the politically-minded person – or simply love a good read – I recommend checking out the 2018 edition of the world’s most ethical destinations over at their website.
Gurutip: From one podcaster to another, I can only recommend giving the Ethical Traveler podcast a listen to as well! It’s released every 3 – 4 weeks and each episode is packed with eye-opening interviews, stories and even showcases of music from all over the world.
For someone so well-travelled and well-versed in the wider world as a whole, it’s sometimes easy to forget that even Jeff has a lot of places left on his bucket list!
I was delighted to hear that Ireland is a country that’s been high up on his list of must-see countries for a while. The stories that this man has… I can easily imagine being sat down in a pub somewhere, enjoying a nice pint and simply listing to all the countless tales he has!
Africa is also another must-see part of the world for Jeff as well. The countries of South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya were three countries he’s mentioned specifically, and I can’t blame him – all three countries excellently showcase the beauty and majesty of Africa. Exploring those huge, seemingly endless nature reserves and seeing the Big 5 up close is one of the most iconic travel experiences you can have.
Interestingly enough Antarctica was also on Jeff’s bucket-list. I think this is actually a very interesting choice. With Jeff’s focus on ethical travel and the pressing issue of climate change making the headlines more and more, I can see why he would be drawn to these icy lands. There’s a lot we can learn from the unique ecosystems here. It’s now more than ever that we have to raise awareness to protect and preserve what is very delicate and fragile part of the world.
Listen to the interview over at the Gurucast!
Jeff Greenwald is a fascinating person with so many fantastic stories to share. If you’d like to listen to our interview with him, then simply give our Gurucast a little listen to below! You can also listen to it on iTunes.