How to Score Free Travel
OK, now that I have your attention: there is no such thing as ‘free travel’ in the travel writing and blogging world, not really. Whatever trips, tours, hotel stays or products you receive, you will need to write about honestly, and that takes hard work and time. But if you love both writing and traveling, and would be doing these things whether someone was paying you/offering you free travel or not, then travel writing can be an awesome job. And yes, you may be able to score some freebies along the way.
I’ve been writing for many years, and traveling for longer than my memory stretches. But it’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve seriously turned towards travel writing. I have managed to pick up several freebies along the way, in exchange for my writing, that have allowed me to generate content for articles and my own blog.
In the past year, I’ve received free accommodation in Montreal, a 10-day all-expenses paid trip to Nepal, numerous nights’ accommodation in various places throughout Nepal, and a 9-day white-water rafting trip through Nepal.
Here are my tips for how to score ‘free stuff’ in exchange for writing about travel.
How to Score Free Travel
Have a niche
This is the most important thing that any writer or blogger should do. I was selected for my first major press trip to Nepal in 2015 not because I have been published extremely widely or because my blog has thousands of followers, but because I could demonstrate that I was an expert in the country/region. My niche is South Asia (especially Nepal and India), both on my blog and in my freelance writing.
My interest in the region came out of my academic studies, and I have spent years studying India, and later Nepal, and travelling through these beautiful countries.
Not everybody will have a deep interest in a single region, but it’s important to identify what you feel passionate about and focus on that: food, traveling with certain dietary requirements or with an illness, fashion, family travel and specific age niches are all areas that can be tapped, if you can think outside the box.
Develop good editorial relationships
Working with editors is not always easy (I know, I am one!) Every editor is different, with different knowledge, expectations, workloads and requirements for their publications. Some will give you detailed feedback on why your pitch is or is not a good fit for their publication. Others won’t even respond unless they like your idea. And even if they do, your work is likely going to need some editing to fit the requirements of the publication. Writers can be very sensitive about their work, and can take criticism—even of the constructive sort—personally.
That is understandable, but if you want to get to the point in your writing career where editors are offering you ‘freebies’ such as accommodation or press trips, you need to have a good relationship with them. Even if you don’t like the fact that their emails to you are one-liners filled with typos, that simply say “cut 500 words and I’ll consider your article again”, it doesn’t pay to get snooty.
I know an editor who doesn’t respond to emails if they’re riddled with typos, even though her own often are. Be professional, accommodating but willing to stand by the integrity of your work, and opportunities for further writing and maybe even freebies are more likely to come your way.
Be flexible with your time
If you have a full-time, location-dependent job, it may be difficult for you to make the most of opportunities for ‘free’ travel. The biggest break of my travel writing career so far was when I was selected by Matador to go on a press trip to Nepal. As the flights were being paid for already, I decided to extend the trip by a few weeks. In that time I travelled further around the country, staying for free in several hotels, and going on a white-water rafting trip, in exchange for writing honestly about my experiences.
This whole trip would not have been possible if I had a 9-5 office job that didn’t allow me the time off. My ‘day job’ is as an editor, and I can work wherever I can carry my laptop. I didn’t do very much editorial work in that month, but I had the option to carry my office with me.
If you are restricted by a day job, or don’t feel that you’re ready to quit it just yet, it may still be possible for you to pick up freebies in the form of hotel stays at the weekends, or other local tours and attractions. Again, it comes down to your niche, and how the ‘freebies’ you are trying to get fit with your overall body of work.
When you’re starting out, it’s also important to realise that many of these ‘freebies’ won’t be paying you. It sounds great to get a free trip to an exotic destination, but depending on your work circumstances, can you afford to take the time away from your regular work? Will you need to use all your annual leave to take a free trip? And if so, does that fit with your lifestyle and other commitments? The answer to these questions will depend on your goals, financial situation and the kind of content you think you will be able to produce after the trip.
Of course, a great alternative is to have location-independent work that you can take with you wherever you go. There are opportunities for this in many types of careers.
How to Score Free Travel
Join some kind of online community of travel writers/bloggers
There are all sorts of writers’ and bloggers’ groups on the internet, and if you’re serious about taking your writing career to the next level (and thus maybe scoring some free travel), it would be wise to join one or two. Some of these require you to pay to join. As well as the Pink Pangea Facebook group for writers, I am a member of the Matador U community and Travel Blog Success.
These both cost quite a bit to join (in the region of a few hundred dollars), but they’ve been worth the investment (I’m not being paid to write this!) They provide opportunity/job boards for their members, through which you can apply for press trips and other writing opportunities.
They also have member’s only Facebook groups where you can ask questions related to writing and blogging and get advice from others in the industry. There are also a number of Facebook groups that are free to join, and you can share your writing and questions there, but they usually do not provide as many opportunities in the form of access to ‘freebies’.
All of this takes a lot of hard work. But really, there is nothing more satisfying for writers who are passionate about travel than being offered free opportunities to explore the world!
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