26th July 2018
If you’ve landed on this page chances are that you’re a blogger applying for Kerala Blog Express and want to know more about it. While I was going through the application process I found there was a lot of strong opinions and criticism around this trip in the blogging world, and I remember wishing someone could give me an honest review about it. Which is why now, after having attended Kerala Blog Express Season 5, I’m putting together this article together with some of the awesome bloggers I met during KBE5 to share with you our experiences and honest reviews about Kerala Blog Express. Before we jump into our experiences, let’s start with the basics.
From left to right; Maria (Travelling Buzz), Karla (Karla Around The World) and me (Greta’s Travels) in front of the famous KBE bus
What is Kerala Blog Express?
Kerala Blog Express is an annual press trip organised by the Kerala Tourism Board. Every year they host 30 bloggers from all over the world for 15 days and take them around the region in a luxury coach to discover all of the highlights of Kerala. The trip is part of Kerala’s marketing efforts to make the region more known to the world.
Exploring the tea plantations of Munnar, India, with our 4WD
How does the application process work?
The application process is what stirs the most criticism every year. Bloggers have to apply and participate in a voting contest in order to have a chance to be selected for the trip. Some bloggers criticise this because they say they don’t want to promote a destination without the guarantee of actually visiting while others have a bug with the voting itself and how easy it is to cheat it. On the Kerala Blog Express website they state that “Country of origin, number of votes received, social media reach, quality of the blog and how the blog ranks in search engines will be taken into account. Voting is only one of the criteria. More votes will increase your chance of getting selected.” A lot of people don’t seem to understand that the voting is not the only criteria for selection. I had a meagre 200 votes and was somewhere half way down the second page of the applicants list and I still got selected, since my blog and social media channels back up my credibility and work.
The Kerala Blog Express season 5 bloggers in the tea plantations of Munnar, India
Some people cheat. As a blogger, unless you’ve been living in your own bubble this whole time, I’m sure you will have realised there are plenty of cheaters in this industry. There are people that buy Instagram followers, people that buy likes, people that lie in their media kits about their traffic and plenty more. Sadly in an industry where numbers “validate” our work, there are plenty of people willing to cheat the system and lots of ways to do so. The voting of Kerala Blog Express is one of those; with people buying votes to get them in the top positions of the ranking. Let me reiterate that votes aren’t the only thing that matters in this selection process, but even if they did, the organisers have a system to identify who is buying votes and they will automatically disqualify those people. If someone wants to waste their money on fake votes, let them do it, focus on building your own blog and your work will speak for you.
Me and Karla from @karlaroundtheworld quad biking in Kannur. Photo by Jinson Abraham @jinsabraham @keralatourism
My opinion on Kerala Blog Express
Having covered the basics of what KBE is and how the selection works, it’s time to jump into my thoughts on the trip itself. If I had to summarise it in one sentence I would say; it was exhausting but I loved it. Let’s go into some more detail about what I mean and what you can expect from the trip.
You will spend a lot of time on the bus
Kerala is a pretty big region (39,000 km squared) and covering it all in 15 days obviously requires a lot of travelling and moving around. You will become very well acquainted with the KBE bus. Obviously you won’t be driving every day, on a couple occasions where we stayed in the same hotel for more than one night we didn’t even get on the bus. But there were also days where we drove for 10 hours, with the only stops being other hotels for lunch or home stays for a tea and biscuits break. As bloggers we should all be used to long travel times (I’m currently writing this article from Heathrow Airport, after a 50-hour journey from New Zealand to Italy and I’m still not at my final destination yet!) but people can get grumpy when they have to spend too long sat on a bus. My advice; stay away from the bad vibes and negativity. People will complain, don’t let it dampen your mood. Find the positive tribe and sit with them, play games, chat, dance and entertain yourself. Long journeys on the bus are also a good place to catch up on sleep! I personally found it hard to work on the bus as some of the roads could be quite winding with lots of curves and I got car sick, but if you don’t have that issue then the bus is also the perfect place to start editing all the epic photos you will be taking!
Selfie time at Lockhart Tea Factory in Munnar
The itinerary is decided for you
This is a press trip, not your own Kerala holiday. As such, you don’t get to decide where to go, what to do, what to see or where to eat. The itinerary is optimised to show you as much as possible of Kerala in only 15 days and includes a bit of everything in terms of activities. Your days will vary from adventurous hikes to chilling on a beach, from quad biking on a beach to exploring tea plantations. If you want to spend more time in one place unfortunately you won’t be able to do so, guess it’ll have to be for a second Kerala trip!
Epic views after our hike in Wayanad, India
If you can, don’t skip activities
If you’re a blogger you should see press trips as work, not holiday. You can’t (or shouldn’t anyway) bail on preplanned activities to tan on the beach or have a lie in just because you don’t like the activity, don’t feel like going or are tired. It looks bad on you and the trip organisers when a local activity organiser is expecting 30 people to only have half of that show up. Of course if you have a valid reason for not being able to do something (eg. you have a broken leg and they want you to hike for 10km) don’t worry about it, people will understand. You will also have a better and more complete experience if you participate in everything.
Exploring the street markets of Kerala. Photo by Jinson Abraham @jinsabraham @keralatourism
Be ready for IST (Indian Stretchable Time)
I’m Italian and stereotypically as a population we are known for always being late. After spending 15 days in India, I can comfortably say the same applies to Indian people. If the meet up is at 8AM, you probably won’t actually leave the hotel till 8:30AM. However I always made sure to be ready to go at the scheduled time because if for once everybody was actually ready to go on time, I didn’t want 30 people to be waiting for me! Which meant I spent a fair bit of time in hotel lobbies browsing Instagram waiting for others. As we say in Italian “The life of a punctual person is a continuous hell of undeserved solitudes”. Just kidding by the way, it’s not that bad, most people will be ready on time so you can continue your socialising while having an easy ice-breaker conversation starter about how other people are late.
Driving a 4WD in the tea plantations of Munnar, India
You will make lifelong friends
When you spend 15 days with the same group of people, doing almost everything together you’re bound to make at least some friends. You will spend so much time together that there are plenty of opportunities to socialise and get to know each other. Since I haven’t been blogging for that long compared to others in the industry (I celebrated my first blog anniversary just a few months ago!) for me it’s also been a great opportunity to meet other bloggers and make friends with people that understand the blogging world. My family and close friends are great and supportive, but they don’t always “get it”. Now I have an amazing group of blogger friends with which I can regularly talk about blogging, travelling, every day life and that I will hopefully see again somewhere around the world!
From top left to bottom right; Neeharika (Map In My Pocket), Tianna (The Passport Chronicles), Sara (Sara In Dubai), Veronica (Sinicilya), Amandine (Les Berlinettes), Maria (Travelling Buzz), Teresa (Brogan Abroad), Karla (Karla Around The World) and me (Greta’s Travels). Photo by Jinson Abraham; @jinsabraham @keralatourism
If a local says the curry is a “little bit” hot, it will be very hot
I guess this one depends on personal preferences and your own individual spicy food tolerance, but as a general rule of thumb, Indian tolerance to spice is much higher than a European one. I often found myself not being able to eat even things that were supposed to be only a “little bit” spicy. Although I have to say after 15 days I think my tolerance increased and can now take on (almost) any hot curry.
Me enjoying a traditional banana leaf meal in Kerala, India
There will be lots of early starts and late nights
As I said in my first point of this review, Kerala is a big region and you will be seeing as much of it as possible. Combine the long travel times to the activity packed days, that means you will have a lot of early mornings and late nights to be able to fit in everything. Who needs sleep anyway right? Whether it’s because dinner ran late, because you’re trying to get some work done in the evening, because you’re having a photo swap and editing session with other bloggers, or because you’re partying and drinking in one of the rooms, you will most likely be up late. That’s when long bus journeys become your best friends and you can catch up on sleep on the bus.
Photo editing party in one of our hotel rooms one evening with Karla (Karla Around The World), Tasha (Backpackers Wanderlust) and Maria (Travelling Buzz)
Be ready the have lots of photos of you taken
As a blogger you might already be used at being in front of the camera and having lots of photos of yourself taken. At Kerala Blog Express even more than on an ordinary trip. On top of photos you might be taking for your own blog and Instagram account there will be a crew of photographers and videographers travelling with you and capturing the whole trip. It’s pretty handy when you want nice photos of you taken without having to ask other bloggers if they will take them for you, but it can get tiring when after a 10-hour bus journey you need to get 30 people together for a group photo. Just keep up a smile for the camera and whatever pose you do, hold it a little longer after the shutter clicks as someone is probably taking a second photo and you’ll be fine!
The Kerala Blog Express season 5 blogger participants with our famous KBE bus
KBE review by Amandine of Les Berlinettes
“I am so happy to have been part of the Kerala Blog express number 5. Not only I discovered more of India, I also made some great friends along the way. I already fell in love with India while traveling in the North, but the many palm trees, beautiful landscapes and amazing people I have met in Kerala made me love India even more. My favorite experience of the Kerala blog express was definitely the cultural experiences of the Chathakudam pooram and the Sri Muthappan’s Theyyam. Also I loved the landscape of Munnar and the backwaters. But what I will remember most of this trip is the people I have met. So many good times and great laughter, some of them will be lifetime friends I dare to say!”
Amandine author of Les Berlinettes in the tea plantations of Munnar
Amandine (Les Berlinettes) and Maria (Travelling Buzz) quad biking on the beach in Kannur
KBE review by Nicola of All About Rosa Lilla
“My blog started a little differently to everyone else. It grew because of an illness and a desperate need to get better, reconnect with the world and get back to doing what I love most travelling! So you can imagine how excited I was to be invited along on the Kerala Blog Express. Excited but also terrified! I had spent the majority of the past 5 years bedbound with the only social interaction I had on social media. My husband also did everything for me. So here I was travelling solo and throwing myself into the mix of 29 other bloggers. Before getting sick I was a sassy, independent traveller and I desperately wanted to see if I could get back to that.
Packing for the Kerala Blog Express was a nightmare for me. I had lost all my previous packing know how and literally brought everything! I was the only eejit lugging around a case of 28kg and I cringed with embarrassment every time a porter went to lift my bag for me. So my advice for future Kerala Express Bloggers is pack light. All you will need is sunscreen, light cotton clothes, a swimsuit and a pretty instagram dress. Oh! and if you are like me Frizz Ease for your humidity hair.
Nicola, author of All About Rosa Lilla, wandering the streets of Kerala, India
The best thing about the Kerala Blog Express was without a doubt meeting my fellow bloggers. Like I said, having become completely desocialised, I wondered about being intimidated meeting every one. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer group of people and I can honestly say that I learned something from each and every one of them and they will be friends for life. Spending so much time together in the confines of a bus we became a little family. Thank you Greta for easing the bus boredom by teaching me the lyrics to Chainsmoker’s Closer.
My advice to future Kerala Blog Express bloggers is to be prepared for the trip of a lifetime because you will love every second of it.”
Nicola, author of All About Rosa Lilla, wandering the streets of Kerala, India
KBE review by Patrick of German Backpacker
“My time on the Kerala Blog Express was absolutely incredible and an unforgettable experience! The best part was meeting so many lovely people from all over the world and spending these two weeks together. I feel like we were super lucky with our group, since we had a great atmosphere and everyone got along very well with each other. And since we basically spent every minute together, we had plenty of time to bond and actually to become close friends with each other.
If there’s one advice I can give you for the Kerala Blog Express, than it’s that you should not plan to get any work done during the trip – our schedule was packed with activities, so you won’t have time for anything! Also, don’t make any plans for the days after the trip, since you will certainly need some time to relax after these two busy but absolutely rewarding weeks! The Kerala Blog Express was certainly a trip of a lifetime and an experience that I’ll never forget!”
Patrick, author of the blog German Backpacker, while cruising the backwaters of Kerala, India
KBE review by Sara of Sara in Dubai
“You keep hearing “trip of a lifetime”, and if you’re like me, someone who’s seen it all, you’d think you should be wary. I can definitely say that this trip has indeed been one! I was cautious, hesitant, and even scared. Prior to KBE 5, I’ve never traveled with more than four people, let alone 29.
Sara, author of Sara in Dubai, cruising the backwaters of Kerala
In the initial days I was taking up every opportunity to socialize and get to know the other bloggers, but after a few days I realized that the trip is jam-packed with activities and time spent on the bus. Hence, I made sure I listened to my body after that; when we were given free time I realized sometimes it’s better to get over FOMO and get a few hours of shut eye time instead. Being with so many people around at times invaded my sacred time of solitude, so it’s OK to disconnect. Bring books to read on the bus, take a nap, listen to your favorite podcast or music- being constantly connected and chatty may get you grumpy or drained by the end of the day.
Sara, author of Sara in Dubai, in Kerala
Another tip would be to pack wisely. I thought I did but boy was I wrong! I am not usually a backpacker so I brought way too many beauty products and makeup for my own good. By day 2 I was over the whole full face of makeup shebang, the weather will get you to want to be as makeup free as possible! I also packed culturally appropriate clothes, but I didn’t realize the weather would be so humid (and I come from Dubai so I’m well acquainted with that!) make sure you take breathable clothes and stay away from polyester and denim. Lastly, have patience! Yes, you want the perfect shot at the new place you guys just got to, but so do 29 other bloggers and the camera crew.”
Sara, author of Sara in Dubai, in Kerala
If you’re a blogger applying for Kerala Blog Express don’t hesitate to get in touch, I’m more than happy to answer any other questions you may have. I hope you have found this post useful in learning more about what Kerala Blog Express is really like. Like every trip there are some moments you will love and others you will love less. KBE is advertised as the trip of a lifetime and I can say that despite the down moments, for me it really was an incredible trip and the opportunity of a lifetime.