Do You “Explore”? Not Likely.

The guy in the white suit definitely earned the right to call himself an explorer. What about you?

I have this little eccentricity about travel writing: I gag whenever someone casually uses "explore" in any form. For example, "I explored Sweden this summer." Or Twitter bios that say stuff like "I’m an explorer who is determined to visit every country in the world."

OK, I’ll admit that these are legitimate uses of the word, according to the dictionary. But to my ear, casual use of "explore" is self-aggrandizing travel writing ego inflation. I reserve "explore" for those who are the for-real first-timers, those who assume big risks and go places where no signs point the way. Neil Armstrong stepping off the LEM – that’s an explorer. Not a kid backpacking in France after graduating high school. The badasses who made it to the North and South Poles first? Explorers. Some dude eating "street food" in Chiang Mai? Not.

This is what real explorers look like, (Roald Amundsen og Helmer Hanssen gjør observasjoner pÃ¥ Sydpolen, 1911 – Photo credit: National Library of Norway)

It’s like being a professional musician. People have paid me to haul my gear to venues, set it up and play. But I never tell anyone that I’m a professional musician. I don’t make my living that way, and just about every studio musician on the planet could hand me my ass on a platter, musically. I’m a decent local musician. I can do stuff on a guitar that most people on the planet will never be able to master – I know this from the small number of people I’ve tried to instruct, and the mind-boggling frustration of watching them flail at riffs I can nail at will. For all that, I’m a hack compared to working pro musicians. I know it, and I respect their abilities and knowledge too much to equate my meager abilities to theirs.

Someone died at the marker to the left during a freak summer snowstorm. But that doesn’t make us explorers.

For the exact same reasons, I never call myself an explorer. I go to remote places, sure. I’ve been to many places where other people died through bad decisions or rotten luck. But signs generally point the way. Someone got there first and did the heavy lifting for us all.

Likewise, I never say that I "discovered" anything during my travels.

Feel free to explore possibilities in your travels. Write all you want about what you discover about yourself. But think twice before calling yourself an explorer, or saying you are discovering Southeast Asia or wherever your next trip takes you. Challenge yourself to find a better word, to accurately represent what you do.

You’ll be a better writer for it.

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Blogging Thoughts – Some Re-evaluation

I didn’t post anything on this week – no travel tips, no lists of cool places to go, not so much as a snarky list about the odd courtship rituals of my mountain bike brethren.

That’s because I’m having a blogging crisis. I’m angst-ridden over the disconnect between the real me and the me. For the most part, my writing here doesn’t sound – at least to me – like the guy my friends know.

There are some reasons why I’ve allowed this to happen:

  • I discovered search engine optimization. And I’ve let it run amok. I respect the benefits of SEO and I’ll still employ some of its practices. But I have to write for people. I think this happens to a lot of people in the continuum of their blogging experience.
  • I’ve tried to be too -- correct. When my blog started gathering steam, sites like and The Chicago Tribune would sometimes scoop up my content. That sort of thing is great for traffic and advertising. I wanted it to happen more often, so I started to censor myself. I became very unlike the guy who is the subject of this quote: "It’s not a party until Justin tells a story about his balls."
  • I’ve been lazy. It’s easy to be informative. It’s not so easy to entertain. It takes effort to summon the same energy of a spur-of-the-moment quip into a blog post. I rarely see the same phrasing and rhythm here that I’ll unleash verbally on someone who’s known me a long time. I have to put more energy into blogging. At least, on a post-by-post basis.

There. The upshot is that for awhile I’ll likely post less until I practice being the real me a bit more. I’m aiming for one super-good post every week. In recent months, I was at two – down considerably from the random days when anything could happen.

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A Quick Note to Any Mutual Readers

This is a quick update for fellow bloggers – you might notice my Links page doesn’t list you. That’s not because I’m not feeling the love anymore, rest assured! I just have some construction going on. This is mostly the result of upgrading (or “Upgrayding,” as they might’ve said in the movie Idiocracy) to the latest version of the Primepress theme.

I plan to restore normal linkage as soon as my meager HTML and CSS skills allow.