What is Travel Flexing?

All the cool influencers are doing it. Don't you just wanna be popular?

Written BY

Shabaaka

Shabz is a wanderlusty futurist who helps potential expats overcome their fears of living abroad by providing expert research coupled with real life experience.

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November 2019

We all love a good travel account. #Travelgram #SandInYourToes #TravelGoals right?

However, travel influencers can be kind of cringey, especially when they show off. And it’s kind of their jobs to be? They deal in the recycled clichés of:

⦁ Vapid solutions to actual real-life problems in their field (i.e.: “Quit your job and drop your responsibilities and taking flight!”)

⦁ Staged photos of a photographer’s disembodied hand meant to look impromptu as the influencer pulls them along a sandy beach

⦁ Exotic food with the perfectly curated bite mark while dying inside because they’d rather be eating a hamburger

Travel influencers are simultaneously aspirational on one hand, and on the other, the last people you should model your life after… Unless you’re looking into an influencer marketing career in the travel niche.

Part of that weird balance is because of Travel Flex.

(The Luxury Traveler flexin' on all them, circa forever.)

What does that even mean? To answer, I’ll start with a quote from my last Reading Roundup:

Nowadays, more people have the luxury and logistical prowess to wield travel as a tool to relieve boredom or get attention and celebrity online. […] We know these stories because we have clickbait-y vlogs and Instagram stories detailing every moment of the travelers’ journey.

There’s nothing wrong with making an extra buck with from your vacation. And most would agree that it’s OK to tell a story highlighting the good and downplaying the bad—that’s literally what marketing, advertising and branding are: Making the ordinary extraordinary.

In the blogosphere at a time when more and more people look to social media for online travel information, the travel flex is essentially marketing at its most basic and its most alluring. Which leads us to asking…

What is Travel Flexing?

For those who don’t know, flexing in this context is another way of saying that someone is showing off. But like, gratuitously showing off. Honestly, I never thought I’d write the definition of the word “flex” in this context, let alone cite an academic source non-ironically to give further context of flexing.

For those of you who prefer quick illustrations, a perfect example of general flexing is dropping your wallet and complaining that it’s sooooo heavy as you struggle to pick it up. A fashion example: Wearing Gucci flipflops with a Channel belt while securing a Prada backpack on your back with one hand and rolling around a Louis Vuitton carry-on with the other, all the while complaining that it’s too toasty because it’s the middle of summer and you’re wearing 3 YEEZY parkas.

Or whatever this is supposed to be:

Thus, it stands to reason that travel flexing is the act of showing off how amazing your life of travel is, and how amazing you are for having such a great life where you can travel so amazingly. It’s using persuasive tactics and strategies to convince audiences that you are an aspirational image.

Travel flexing lives in the matrix of showing off the frequency of your trips (#wanderlust), the quality of your accommodations (#luxurytravel), the “authenticity” of your travels (#nomadlife), the “life-changingness” of your journeys (#speechlesstravel), and the level of humility and enlightenment you’ve reached (#travelguru). Or basically, this:

Hilarious as that parody is, Hannah’s take adds a dimension of professionalism to travel flexing, specifically for those in marketing/branding/social media. And it creates a new working definition: travel flexing is the communicative process by which travel influencers (1) position their brands in the market; (2) virtue signal to their audiences, potential brand partners, and uninitiated followers; and (3) strengthen the community that supports them by generating social value (status aka “clout”) that gets imparted on everyone involved.

Hannah is right on the money when she calls out the recycled and tired travel tropes that audiences most respond to. She’s also right in implying that we literally consume the same media over and over and over again. Ironically, that familiarity in method is very good for business—at least for now.

So are you the type of of person guilty of travel flexing for no reason? Or is showing off your lavish jetset lifestyle a necessary evil that you simply must indulge in?

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Further Reading
5 Traveler types and how they flex
Every traveler is different, as is every travel influencer. So it stands to reason that every travel flex would be different too.
November 30, 2019
Reading Roundup 1: Trips through time
Travel writing doesn't have to be a stiff account of a monied Victorian's thirst to "engage the Other." We share a roundup of readings for the worldly wanderer.
December 11, 2019
"I Choose Exile" by Richard Wright
"But enough of generalizations; let me glance back and describe the last personal event which resolved me to leave America."
December 11, 2019
Dear expat, it's OK to feel lost (Pt. 1)
A letter to the expat that feels like "the prodigal child" upon returning to a home where time has crept through solid memory.
August 19, 2019