≡ Menu

Travel Writing Suspension Served – I’m Back

Writing in the new age of travel.

Hiking in desert
Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

ASTORIA, NYC- I’ve been away for a while. Traveling around the US and a couple of jaunts in Mexico, working on documentary films, editing work, and even some ghost writing for a PR firm, passing the time and making some money for when the gates of the world re-open … or I decide to do something else.

My absence here wasn’t accidental. Essentially, I suspended myself. The reason for this comes off as reasonable, clear, and normal in our current climate … but just a year ago it would have been outrageous, farcical, unbelievable:

Sites are now evaluated by search engines and social media sites based on the topics they discuss, the ideas they share, and the sentiments they expose — and if you don’t toe the line and comply with the politics, morality, and business interests of the prevailing technocracy you’re disappeared. Sure, you can write and publish, yell and scream as much as you like but nobody will be able to hear you.

In the old world, if you wanted to attract traffic to your site it was once a simple matter of producing large amounts of relevant content, getting loads of incoming links, and having a page and site structure that was easy for search bots to read. Then it was a matter of quality — sites with what the search algos felt was thin content were wiped off the map. Then branding was the next hurdle to jump — big, brand sites would be given a boost in the rankings at the expense of smaller publishers. Now it’s all of the above, plus ideology.

If you don’t believe me ask the U.S. Right to Know Foundation. From Taibbi:

USRTK, whose reporting is mostly based on public document searches, is an organization that inspires strong opinions. They inhabit a corner of the media universe focusing on who pays for what kind of research, and to what result, around topics like food additives and Genetically Modified Organisms. The material can get very personal, and thanks to headlines like “The misleading and deceitful ways of Dr. Kevin Folta,” they’re not generally in the friend-making business.

Moreover, agencies like USRTK are particularly vulnerable in the age of algorithmic moderation, as computers don’t easily distinguish between conspiracy theory and legitimate reporting that runs counter to present accepted narratives. Any organization that swims in those waters and isn’t attached to a big name now has to keep looking over its shoulder. If such an organization does end up suspended, deleted, or de-ranked, as USRTK later would be, it has to wonder: was it something we wrote?

As a nonprofit, USRTK isn’t terribly click-conscious, and director Gary Ruskin wasn’t aware initially that its traffic went off a cliff in December, 2020, dropping nearly 60% overnight:

Last summer, the USRTK began investigating the origins of the Covid outbreak. By the end of the year they were more or less cleansed from the search landscape.

There are many other examples.

I never thought I’d see the day in the USA where arguments — or even requests for information — that counter the government narrative could be punishable. I spent many years in China, where this type of authoritarianism is normal, and I always watched it with the curiosity of a spectator — it had little to do with me, I’m an American and in America people have the right to express themselves, be they right or wrong. These days are gone. Voice support of the wrong cause and you risk losing your job, access to banking, the ability to communicate online, and other basic essentials needed to exist in the modern world. This isn’t conjecture — I know people who’ve had it happen to them. This is a new age of McCarthyism, but the ideological descendants of the ones who were purged in the 40s and 50s are now the ones gloating as their political opponents are being carted away.

And like in China, you’re probably better off believing …

This blog generates a sizable portion of my yearly income … and it’s about travel and culture, so my arguments countering a faux pandemic and the raw realities of being in a country that’s shamefully reneged on its founding principles aren’t exactly relevant.

However, there was clearly a market for these types of posts. I received more donations from readers in October and November of last year than I have in the past five or so years combined. People came out of the ether to say, “I support you, keep going.”

But I knew I couldn’t. Not here anyway. I planned to publish a column addressing current events across a network of monetizable burner sites, but that hasn’t happen yet. Honestly, I struggled with my old adage:

A traveler doesn’t fight, he leaves.

I didn’t have an answer for the potentiality of there not being anywhere left to run to. I still don’t.


Where have I been?

I’ve been busy these past few months working on documentary film projects and just-for-the-check videography jobs. As far as the former goes, if you saw it on the news there’s a good chance I was there filming — I’ll leave it at that.

 

Filed under: Blogging, New York City

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3625 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: Astoria, New York

29 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • Trevor Warman April 23, 2021, 9:59 pm

    Glad to see you back. And looking forward to more narratives.

    Am back in Oaxaca. San Cristobal soon. Life is going well.

    Link Reply
    • VBJ April 23, 2021, 11:08 pm

      Sweet. That’s a good stop. Stay awhile …

      Link Reply
  • terrence walter coon April 24, 2021, 7:55 am

    I have been thinking of checking in with you somehow many times recently. Yeh, the things that you speak of have been getting worse and worse for 15 years now. I have always been out spoken, but in at least a researched way with some common sense. I knew enough to be able to argue either side. And those days are certainly gone at this point. I look forward to more posts from you. Thanks. Terry

    Link Reply
    • VBJ April 24, 2021, 8:25 am

      Yes, I agree. We’re really in the post-facts era. It doesn’t matter how perfect or validated an argument is people will refuse to believe it if it’s not what their leaders are telling them to say. Even when their leaders’ words are nonsense or contradictory they will continue to believe. It’s all about showing team spirit haha. We’d rather fight than be right.

      We’re still the same dumb ape we’ve always been.

      Link Reply
      • Bob L April 24, 2021, 11:19 am

        Just throwing feces at anything or anyone we don’t understand.

        Link Reply
  • Rob April 24, 2021, 10:54 am

    It’s good to see you back! And sad to see the world as it is today..

    Link Reply
    • VBJ April 25, 2021, 8:28 pm

      Thank you! I should be posting around three times a week from here on out. Yes, it’s crazy what’s happening … but kind of fascinating too. It’s not everyday that you can watch the process of authoritarianism happening right in front of you. But heading for the hills of Mexico is also looking pretty good too 🙂

      Link Reply
    • VBJ April 27, 2021, 5:05 pm

      Thank you, Rob! Yes, me too. Makes me realize how good we had it!

      Link Reply
  • Bob L April 24, 2021, 11:17 am

    I missed your voice of sanity. Welcome back.

    Link Reply
    • VBJ April 27, 2021, 5:06 pm

      Thanks Bob! I’ve been enjoying reading about your travels and look forward to reading your comments again as well.

      Link Reply
  • Puneet April 24, 2021, 9:14 pm

    Welcome back!

    Give a serious thought to joining politics.

    Link Reply
    • VBJ April 27, 2021, 5:07 pm

      Thanks man! Haha… man, just did a job filming a politician over six weeks. Not sure that’s my thing. Would be interesting though!

      Link Reply
  • Jack April 25, 2021, 9:57 am

    “A traveler doesn’t fight, he leaves.”

    I’ve checked your site every day for the last two months. It’s part of my daily ritual, but I failed in the last few days because I’m busy and what do you do? You drop a post when I’m not looking. 🙂

    It’s true, it’s easier for a traveler to leave. I take what I see and I deal with it because it’s all temporary and I move along. I find it hard to relate to the things I see in the US.

    I know what you mean so I mostly kept radio silence while waiting for your return. I knew where you had been and were you were going. We are in interesting times and freedom isn’t that important. We have been thrust into two camps and no matter how much we try to fight it, there is no leaving the camp we have been virtually put in. I don’t really care anymore and it’s just time to leave.

    I don’t even deal with people anymore. I’m not allowed to be a spectator. The last year has been interesting and I don’t like it but I do.

    Ok, now for the most important question of the day: Have you gotten a Mac M1 yet? Any plans?

    Link Reply
    • VBJ April 28, 2021, 2:21 pm

      Hello Jack,

      This is a pretty packed comment … lot’s to talk about here!

      “I take what I see and I deal with it because it’s all temporary and I move along. I find it hard to relate to the things I see in the US.”

      Yes, when you know that you can just leave it makes it a little difficult to take places seriously. One of the best parts of travel is the distance that you often have from politics — you automatically miss out on one of the biggest shit show that any country has to offer. It’s a much better sphere of existence when nobody around you is part of your tribe and you’re not a part of anyone else’s. Then you can just be a human — an odd wild card from far away that the only think anyone thinks they know anything about is balled up in a few easy to deflect stereotypes. Much better than the USA where everyone expects you to be a part of their group and share their points of view. It’s funny how pissed off people get by words here … probably because they’ve never experienced any real problems. They talk about being oppressed but they’re among the most privileged people on the planet.

      “We are in interesting times and freedom isn’t that important.”

      This is actually very true. I get the impression that most people around me here in NYC would gladly trade their freedom in for uniform society where everyone thought and acted like they do. This is really one of the most intolerant places that I’ve ever been on the planet. I don’t really care … I prefer listening to people talk anyway and it’s actually kind of amusing. It’s really given me an inside look at how fascism arises. Fascism is always a bottom up affair. Although it’s very confusing to me how these often intelligent and educated people can actually believe their media, corporations, and government. I thought Americans on all sides of the political spectrum were by default skeptical of these entities. “Listen to the experts” is the rallying cry here, although they don’t seem to get that questioning the experts and accessing information for themselves and drawing their own conclusions is a fundamental part of what it is to be an American.

      “We have been thrust into two camps and no matter how much we try to fight it, there is no leaving the camp we have been virtually put in. I don’t really care anymore and it’s just time to leave.”

      It’s wild. People actually ask each other “what side are you on?” here. The more modern we get the more tribal we get.

      “The last year has been interesting and I don’t like it but I do.”

      Hahas I don’t like it either … but, yes, I do.

      I have not gotten a Mac with the M1 chip yet. After three years of heavy use and being dropped on pavement multiple times (leaving dents) my 2015 model MacBook is still running fine. Although it is tempting to upgrade … and I’m probably due to anyway. Have you?

      Link Reply
      • Jack April 30, 2021, 11:17 am

        Not yet. I am waiting until I hit the road the next time which will be soon. I can’t decide which I will go with but I’m leaning towards the Mac Mini since I already have an iPad Pro. I don’t need something mobile, just portable. Those sound like the same but they aren’t. I don’t need an expensive laptop to work on while I’m at some coffee shop. I have a Chromebook for that. I don’t even need it for video editing. My iPad Pro works great for that and my daughter is becoming an expert at video editing using Lumafusion. I need something that I can toss in suitcase along with a monitor so when I set up in some apartment in some foreign town, I can get some serious work done.

        Guess what? I’m not a one bag traveler.

        Which brings up a question? If I sent you some travel type articles, would you be willing to publish them?

        Link Reply
        • VBJ April 30, 2021, 11:36 am

          That sounds like a good set up. You’re starting to sell me on the iPad Pro. I may get one soon. Going to take a travel writing trip soon — packing light, only one camera. May be good to upgrade.

          Yes, I’d love to publish some travel articles from you!

          Link Reply
        • VBJ May 2, 2021, 6:14 pm

          On the Mac Mini — I highly recommend them. I use the 2018 model as I was able to cram it with 64gb of RAM. I don’t know how this would compare with the ones with the M1 chip … although I wish they left the box openable so adding additional RAM would be easy. Why not let people enhance their own machines?

          Link Reply
  • Jeffrey April 26, 2021, 12:29 am

    Nice to see you back, Wade.

    I have a lot to say, but let me start by rolling a grenade into the room.

    I loathe smartphones. Ten years ago, before leaving the US, I had finally switched from a landline phone to a cellphone because the monthly bill was cheaper. The cellphone sat on the same stand where the landline phone had once stood. If you wanted to talk to me, you had to leave a message, just like with the old answering machine. I didn’t want people bothering me anytime they felt like it. It could wait until the end of the day when I got home.

    Since then, from country to country, I’ve only used a smartphone once here in China. Last summer, gritting my teeth, I had to buy a cheap one to get a green health code to travel to Shanghai for a new passport. Since returning from Shanghai, it’s been on a shelf collecting dust. If, on my flight back to the US, I could drop that Xiaomi smartphone into the Pacific, I’d do it.

    Maybe some of you reading this can’t imagine leaving home without that effing smartphone in your hand or pocket. But when I see men walking and holding a smartphone, I can only shake my head. You look like a woman holding a purse. Very cringe.

    You look like pussies. C’mon, men, have some self-respect! Ditch the smartphone.

    Link Reply
    • Trevor Warman April 26, 2021, 9:25 am

      Hi Jeffrey

      I wrote this last summer.. https://www.nomadicbackpacker.com/how-we-used-to-travel-in-the-days-before-smart-phones.html

      Yes now i have a smartphone but not a local sim. Sometimes i need to get verification codes for various websites so i can log in. The bank for example.

      I still only use wifi. Other than that, i am off the grid. Despite having a TZ 70 LUMIX, my phone takes better pics!

      ;))

      Link Reply
      • Jeffrey April 26, 2021, 11:38 am

        Trevor,

        That is a great piece. Absolutely spot on. I go back even a bit further and can remember traveling in Europe in the 80s when those of us bumming around the Continent ripped out big chunks of chapters in those massive Let’s Go cheap paperbacks. Finished with Italy? Just rip out that chapter and toss it in the nearest trash bin. Gotta travel light.

        It’s true, though, as you say, that some of those smartphone cameras take damn good photos.

        Here in China, people no longer even use cash. They all use either a QR code on their smartphone or facial recognition. I only use cash, of course, and even the local chicken shack has to scramble for change every time I hand them paper currency. It’s completely nuts. Chinese are sleep-walking right into a totalitarian nightmare. Smiling and whistling right into the gulag.

        Link Reply
        • Trevor Warman April 26, 2021, 1:23 pm

          China has changed lots i guess since 2015.
          Even in Kenya they use Mpesa . Load up credit at a kiosk and pay for everything via a phone. Very easy.

          I just cant getta hold of my camera. Though best option for a zoom.

          I miss the old days.

          Link Reply
    • VBJ April 28, 2021, 2:32 pm

      Hello Jeffery,

      Haha, yes, I resisted cellphones … until Blackberries came out. I viewed it as the ultimate blogging device, and I was pretty much right. However, I don’t really use my phone like a normal person. I don’t check chatting apps for days, I’m not active on social media beyond checking LinkedIn once a week. I deleted Facebook years ago — one of the best things I’ve ever done. Twitter was interesting until they began purging anyone who shares viewpoints that differ from their management team, whereupon I set my account to private and found no reason to ever go back. Why do I care who the illiberal mob is lynching next?

      I do agree that there is something oddly un-manly about being tied to a smartphone. It’s just the complete lack of situational awareness and meekness that comes from hiding behind a screen. I remember when people looking at their phones during conversations first became normal. It was crazy to me that it wasn’t considered rude and we didn’t develop social etiquette parameters to warn against it. I guess this was because most people would rather be scrolling FB than interacting with the person in front of them. It’s also an addiction, I suppose.

      Don’t know how you manage without a smartphone in China though. Wow! That’s impressive. You should do a post about it!

      Link Reply
      • VBJ April 29, 2021, 11:42 am

        I just checked out Stefan Molyneux’s podcast. His deplatforming is a case in point. There is nothing that violates anything there … only original thought and ideas. It’s crazy, man, the phrase “think for yourself” now has negative overtones here in the USA.

        Link Reply
        • Jeffrey May 1, 2021, 9:37 pm

          Wade,

          Yeah, the strange thing is that they never even went through the 3-strikes protocol. They simply deleted over 15 years of videos with a single click. No warnings, no reasons given.

          Link Reply
          • VBJ May 2, 2021, 6:11 pm

            Someone there just must not have liked him. It’s crazy that they have this power. They are a private company, yes, but people are making serious investments of time and money into their platform on the expectation that they company will follow their own rules — or at least be clear about what those rules are. These companies have become way too brazen and it will be interesting if they could keep functioning like that into the future. For some reason, I doubt it.

            Link Reply
  • Georgiy Romanov April 26, 2021, 7:40 am

    On last week I was thinking “What Wade is doing now?” and here is the new article, LOL. Was missed your posts and glad to hear your voice again.

    The pandemic has changed our lives. I took a break to change it the same way. Seven months later, I do not know what will happen tomorrow and I live from check to check, but this is a real freedom for me.

    Link Reply
    • VBJ April 28, 2021, 8:27 am

      Hello Georgiy, Excellent to hear from you! Yes, their “pandemic” did disrupt life as we knew it. Hopefully the tides will change from here on out!

      Link Reply
  • Jeffrey April 29, 2021, 6:51 am

    Wade,

    Voice support of the wrong cause and you risk losing your job, access to banking, the ability to communicate online, and other basic essentials needed to exist in the modern world. This isn’t conjecture — I know people who’ve had it happen to them. This is a new age of McCarthyism, but the ideological descendants of the ones who were purged in the 40s and 50s are now the ones gloating as their political opponents are being carted away.

    Four or five months ago, a friend of mine said I should check out Stefan Molyneux’s YouTube channel, so I stopped by and found Molyneux to be a very articulate, reasonable critic on a wide range of issues. I’d stop by a few times a week to see what he was talking about, but then one evening his channel was completely gone.

    I remembered that he said he also had a BitChute channel, so I went over there and discovered that his channel had been removed from YouTube. No warning, no strikes against him, and no reasons given. I later learned that he had started one of the first YouTube channels. He had over a million subscribers, built up over around fifteen years or so. Didn’t matter. Gone with the click of a mouse.

    I can’t even figure out why his channel was shut down. I had been listening to him probably the last month or so that it was up on YouTube and nothing he had said was inflammatory in any way. I don’t get it.

    Anyway, now I listen to his podcasts on his Freedomain website:

    Freedomain Podcasts.

    As you suggest, this new feverish intolerance of heterodoxy is the gravest challenge, in many decades, to the core American values that begin with freedom of speech and association.

    Link Reply
    • VBJ April 29, 2021, 11:38 am

      I agree completely. There is this ugly element in human social behavior that can be clicked when our tribes get too well defined. Since the end of WW2 Americans began scattering everywhere — the traditional immigrant neighborhoods began breaking up, communities became incredibly hetrodoxed, and we lived pretty peacefully. Now, our communities are still incredibly hetrodoxed but our online lives have become anything but, and it’s having that ugly old tribalistic impact. This has become extremely relevant as these tribal divides and moralities have not only infiltrated politics but have become politics. And it’s become so easy for the corporations and the war mongers to rise to the top. Science and logical thought are irrelevant — individual, original thought is dangerous — and the only thing that matters is that we’re saying the opposite of our enemies. Fascism always enters with a parade.

      Link Reply