“Is Flora your real name?”
I peered at the terse email on my computer screen, where an unknown reader named Brian was asking a rather strange question of me.
“I’ve heard that it’s not your name – so for the sake of a blogging presentation I’m giving next week, could you please tell me?”
My first reaction was to laugh outright. Whoever would christen their blog ‘Flora the Explorer’ if their name was actually Charlotte or Poppy or Gertrude?! But aside from his blunt attitude, Brian did actually have a point.
If he had reason to doubt my real name, what else was debatable? What is the reality of this double life lived both online and off?
Who am I online?
Writing about your life on the internet means it’s sometimes hard to see a line. When I first started this site I had no clue it was even possible for people I hadn’t met to read about me – but nowadays I can’t really help being personal in my writing, knowing full well that it invites strangers to draw their own conclusions.
Yet it still feels like something’s not quite authentic. In trying to put my finger on it, I wanted to investigate what kind of person I think I come across as.
I’m definitely a traveller.
The last two months have been extensively travel-filled, and I’ve barely stopped moving.
I hitched a ride in a tour van through Europe with a Chilean band; explored Menorca alongside dozens of bloggers, vloggers and social media ‘influencers’; headed into the Scottish highlands for a music festival and some offline life beside the lochs; and somehow found myself traversing the length of Queensland, Australia for nearly a fortnight.
Yet before May began I hadn’t left the country in 2017 – and if I’m honest, I hadn’t really wanted to.
I’m also a writer.
As ever, I try to write about these experiences with carefully thought-out language, colourfully suitable photos and an overall sense of narrative and purpose. I edit and proof-read and edit again, taking the time to decide exactly how I want to tell these stories.
But precisely because of that delay in the retelling, something gets lost along the way. The reality of these trips goes a little differently.
I’m often a disorganised mess.
At 6am I wake to a mess of a bedroom. There’s a half-opened suitcase on the floor, spilling over with clothes and shoes still to be packed. Our adopted cat is meowing plaintively from the garden outside because I haven’t fed her yet.
I’ve woken up multiple times already, of course: the night preceding any kind of travel usually makes my subconscious go into anxious overdrive. How many alarms have I set to snooze in my half-slumbering state? Am I going to miss my flight/train/bus?
Spoiler: in almost thirty years I don’t think I ever have. But I panic nevertheless.
Over years of travel I’ve established a routine amongst the mess – but now that travelling has actually become part of my profession, it’s harder to make space for the writing I want to produce.
As a result I have to admit that recently I’ve become a bit burnt-out with blogging. Well, that’s not true exactly. It’s not the writing of blog posts which tires me.
It’s social media.
I market the version of myself which social media wants.
Maintaining a travel blog means covering all your bases in real-time on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and a myriad of other places too. The bigger your audience grows, the more demanding and more pressurised these channels become.
It’s not just posting pretty photos and interesting captions: you have to consider how this information will be absorbed, and decide how best to commandeer more readers, fans and followers.
Do you ever dream in colour? 🌈❤️ I’ve never been good at asking for photos of myself – – something to do with self-consciousness, along with my stubbornly British ‘I don’t want to inconvenience anybody’ streak – – but I’m slowly learning to challenge that part of myself. The doorway I’m standing in here, down a little sidestreet close to the sea in Menorca, was too colourful an opportunity to pass up 😍
I’m absolutely not complaining about this. I’m so absurdly grateful that tourism boards and companies appreciate my writing enough that they want me to tell stories about their destinations. And I’m more than happy to market myself as some kind of brand – even if it feels a little bizarre.
It’s just that more often than not, I feel like the expectations of social media don’t align with the way I want to communicate. I cringe when I have to ask someone to take my photo as I pose – but those are the images which do best on Instagram. I can feel my stories bubbling over into the generic, because round-up articles and top ten lists get more traffic and SEO and all the other bits and pieces for online success.
Trying to mix it all together amongst an ever-changing reality
My parents both worked in the theatre, so I’ve grown up with an acute awareness of what it means to don a costume, or slip into a new character. Essentially, I know how to disguise particular parts of myself.
I’ve talked about the concept of an alter-ego in blogging before, and that alter-ego can take multiple different forms. In travel I often feel like a chameleon: because depending where I’m travelling to, my own version of reality changes.
For instance, throughout my journeys in Menorca and Scotland and Australia I could see myself in abruptly different bubbles of life. As the kinds of people around me changed, I duly altered how I behaved too.
Being one of sixty ‘social media influencers’ in Menorca
For a week, I explored the Spanish island of Menorca with a group of YouTubers and Instagrammers, fashion bloggers and travel writers, Pinterest queens and drone experts, comedians and dancers. One woman has her own lipstick range; another wrote a book on the history of sex; a third has cornered the Instagram market in paper cutouts.
Everyone was at the top of their game, and I had to step up accordingly.
Moreover, everyone was part of an environment I’ve spent the last seven years learning and understanding. Conversations revolved around Instagram, Facebook and social media tactics, and most of our explorations were documented via drones and expensive camera gear. I was active, sociable, always networking, and always online.
Being an offline hippy in Scotland
A day later I was at a music festival in Scotland, where I had no wifi and barely touched my camera. Surrounded by people who wash in rivers, live in vans and favour camping and hiking over makeup tutorials and website traffic statistics, I changed my behaviour completely.
I was the quiet one, the observer, taking in everything that was happening instead of being loud, chatty and ‘on’. I stopped posting on social media, and immediately felt like I was suffering internet withdrawal.
Being a professional blogger in Australia
When I set out for a press trip to Australia a few days later, I threw myself into full-on work mode.
It was my job to be exploring Queensland alongside other bloggers, and I was constantly primed to be professional: taking notes, making recordings, diligently posting to every one of my social media channels and pushing my boundaries constantly so I’d have good content to utilise afterwards.
Being myself in East London
And then I came back to London, to a quiet flat and the glass-topped desk which I can see straight through to the floor. Suddenly my days were quiet: an open balcony door, the birds chirping outside, and so much space and time to write and to think.
I sometimes feel like we collect different versions of ourselves – and in an effort to fit amongst a particular crowd we pull one of those selves from the pack, like a magician mid-card trick.
So what links these selves together? What’s the linchpin – the backbone – of who we are?
Writing is my backbone
It’s easiest to recognise that link during the in-between moments. When there’s nothing expected from you, how do you regain your energy again?
I find myself taking space from the journeys. I tap out keyboard strokes on trains, glancing apologetically at the woman opposite who thinks I’m encroaching on her table space. I scribble jolted words in a little notebook while crammed inside a van amongst guitar cases and slumbering musicians. I scroll through Evernote on my phone at 30,000 feet while the plane’s cabin lights dim. My eyes ache, and I really should be sleeping.
And more often than not, I repeat phrases silently in my head, waiting for the moment when I can eventually record them somewhere.
Because as ever, writing is my safe space. It’s where I come to decompress, to re-evaluate, and to re-energise. Writing is the way I connect my experiences together, be they travel related or purely personal or somewhere in between.
Why do we live out our lives online?
I guess the point I’m struggling to make is the importance of questioning why we do what we do.
Why do I write this blog? What is my reasoning for publishing my words online? I don’t think I’m actively trying to ‘influence’ anyone. That’s not the point for me. The reason I do it is because travel and writing, hand in hand, make me inordinately happy.
It’s about the world: a seemingly unquenchable thirst to explore every nook and cranny of it, to hunt out the fascinating details which someone else might not have seen, and to
It’s about people: the ones who fascinate me enough to write about, and the ones whose reactions inspire me to keep writing.
It’s about telling stories: re-constructing a world on paper, and giving shape to the way I interpret that space.
In Menorca I had a conversation with fellow ‘online influencers’ (a term I’d never give myself, by the way!) about this topic: about the challenges of representing our real selves in an increasingly commercial online world.
Our collective conclusion was that we all do this because we have passion. We have a constant need to push our creative boundaries – and simply to create in general – but I still maintain that conveying what’s real is still a crucial part of that.
Authenticity is probably the most valued part of publishing your life online, so although I don’t think I have to justify my online identity (and particularly not to Brian!), perhaps my aim now is to be more honest in the content I produce, regardless of what platform it appears on.
And perhaps to produce it quicker, before the impetus disappears.
Have you ever doubted your online self, or wondered who you appear to be in this internet world? Does it matter to you?
NB: This article is part of a new series called ‘Behind The Blog’ — where I delve into all the bizarre elements of living out your life online. Keep an eye out for further articles on this topic!