Free Travel For Travel Bloggers: The Ins & Outs of Press Trips


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The Travel Blog Pro Series is designed to give you the tools, advice and honest reality of what it takes to make it as a professional travel blogger.

In part one you learned blog strategy plus how to get set up online. If you missed that article you can read it here – How To Start A Travel Blog: An Honest Guide.


Ready to learn how to utilize your travel blog in an honest and ethical way to earn free travel and other travel perks?

Enter expert travel blogger Nikki Vargas. 

Today she is going to teach you how to earn free travel as a blogger by getting on Press Trips (don’t worry if you’ve never heard that term, by the end of this article you’ll be a pro).

Nikki is an NYC-based travel journalist with published work in VICE, FOOD & WINE, Roads & Kingdoms, Matador Network and more.

She is also the Founder and Editor of The Pin the Map Project–an online destination as part of Mode Media–where she oversees a team of writers and writes frequently on the topic of travel. She has spoken at the New York Travel Fest 2015 and the Women’s Travel Fest 2016.

As a professional travel blogger she has taken many incredible FREE trips around the world. Now she’s here to help you do the same.

Take it away Nikki…

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Two years ago, my life looked very different–I was very different. I was living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and working at a global advertising firm, slowly climbing my way up the corporate ladder. I had all the trappings of a seemingly successful adult life–a 401 K, company benefits, a good job, a promising career, a ring on my finger and a circus-sized wedding on the horizon–then I did the unthinkable and left everything to become a full time travel writer and blogger.

I started my website, The Pin the Map Project, as an answer to my attempts to find the allusive “dream job” after having sped date my way through the industries of advertising, marketing and public relations. My travel blog became my field of dreams; in that world I wasn’t relegated to the constricting titles of “fiance” or “employee,” I was Nikki The Travel Writer–a more adventurous, exciting version of myself.

As The Pin the Map Project started to blossom, so too did the pressures it put on my career and personal life. My day-to-day job began to be overshadowed by my travel writing and desire to globetrot; while my relationship started to falter under the mounting realizations that our futures were headed in entirely opposite directions.

A mere month before my wedding, I accepted an assignment to Argentina on behalf of The Daily Meal, where I finally was able to ask myself the hard-hitting questions I had actively been avoiding back in New York.

Am I happy?
Do I like my career?
Do I want to get married?

The answers hit me like a tidal wave; unable to be ignored. I didn’t want to get married, I didn’t want the career I had chosen and I wasn’t happy. I was north of 25 and living my life for everyone but myself and I wasn’t getting any younger nor richer.

I flew back to New York armed with the strength I had found while solo traveling in Argentina and called off my wedding a mere two weeks before it was set to take place. Hearts were broken, people were disappointed, friends were lost and lives were forever changed but I had taken back my life. It was a hefty price to pay and so I vowed to earn the pain I had caused in the name of chasing my dream.

Today, The Pin the Map Project has grown into an online destination with a team of talented writers. My writing has taken me around the world–from Morocco to Mexico–as my foray into the world of travel continues to teach me priceless lessons about the business of travel blogging and what it means to be successful.

I am often inundated with questions from readers about blogging and travel writing as this career path can often seem unattainable to many. I remember being in those shoes, remember writing emails to travel bloggers I admired and hoped to emulate; and today I realize one simple truth: anyone with a passion for travel and knack for writing can become a travel blogger. The dream job is not beyond your reach, Dear Reader, in fact it is very much attainable and here’s how.

Unlike the corporate world, travel blogging comes without a roadmap, without a clear projectory to success or even the promise of financial gain–it is the wild west where being smart is paramount and passion reigns supreme. Yet, if savvy to the ways of building relationships, avoiding the dreaded PR Blacklists and knowing how to pitch brands; you can not only grow a successful site but can also snag some free travel to boot!

The Ins & Outs of Press Trips

When I had arrived in Mexico City solo, I was eager to meet my fellow trip mates who would quickly become my makeshift family on the road. Over the course of eight days together, we met with a local Mexican shaman, hiked the trails at Hierve el Agua, sunbathed on the beaches of Zipolite and huddled by the campfire in the mountains of San Jose del Pacifico. I ate barbacoa tacos from the streets of the famed Mercado Tlacolula, I stayed in charming hotels in Oaxaca City and I even saw pods of frolicking dolphins jump in the sun-soaked waters off the coast; and what did this cost me? Nothing but social media and editorial exposure.

When starting out as a travel blogger, the idea of landing a press trip is the dream. Free airfare and complimentary accommodations in exchange for exposure rings out like a siren’s call in the traveler community. Many bloggers–new and established–adore press trips and will line up back-to-back opportunities; while others grow weary of the packed itineraries that often rob travel of its spontaneity.

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Of course, press trips are more than just a means to free travel; they are a business transaction—a promise of exposure in exchange for travel. In this section, we’ll cover the basics of a press trip, how to land one and how to ensure you’ll be invited for more!

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What is a Press Trip?

Press trips are tours organized by tourism boards, hotel chains or public relations agencies representing brands that are interested in securing earned publicity.

For example, I was invited down by the Jamaica Tourism board for a few days to explore the many activities and sights offered in and around Ochos Rios. As part of the press trip, I stayed at beautiful resorts, experienced world class spa treatments and ate farm-to-table dining so I could then come back to New York and write a story for my readers about that destination.

The reason for press trips then is simple–it allows brands to invite influential writers and bloggers to experience their destination, hotel or tours. first hand so they can then create content. More often than not, press trips are unpaid for that reason although some bloggers allege they are able to earn money on top of the complimentary flights and accommodations.. A press trip can range in focus from epicurean to architecture to yoga to adventure travel in order to appeal to a wide variety of writers and the topics that they cover.

How To Land Your First Press Trip

A press trip is an investment where a tourism board or public relations firm will pay for the airfare, hotels, meals and activities of a visiting journalist or blogger in hopes of securing high impact, media coverage in their outlets. Keeping this in mind, those invited on press trips are expected to offer more than a passion for writing, they need to have the scale and reach to make the investment of paying for their travel worthwhile.

So what do you do if you’re a new blogger with minimal following? First focus on building up your traffic quickly. One way to do this is by writing for other larger publications and blogs that you’re a fan of. Elite Daily, Thought Catalog and Matador Network are examples of popular online publications that frequently accept guest submissions and are a great way to build up your credentials and drive traffic back to your site.

When I landed my first press trip, The Pin the Map Project was still a fledgling blog so the exposure I provided in exchange for my trip was on both The Pin the Map Project and another publication I was freelance writing for. Ideally–after patience and ample effort in building traffic—you will get to the point where you can then secure press trips on the merits of your own blog; but until then, having you name attached to a larger scale print or online publication will allow you to approach public relations contacts and have a better chance at joining future press tours.

Quick Tip: If looking to land a press trip, Media Kitty is a great resource where PR contacts list upcoming press trips for journalists and bloggers to apply for. Another good resource is MatadorU (as part of Matador Network) which offers a marketplace that lists press trip opportunities and other freelance assignments.

Press Trip Etiquette: Beware of the PR Blacklist

Ask any PR professional about their worst experience with a blogger or journalist and chances are they’ll have a slew of stories to choose from. One blogger may have abused their room service stipend, another might have had too many cocktails, while one may have not delivered on exposure at all; what all of them have in common is they’ll undeniably end up on the dreaded PR Blacklist.

The world of public relations is a small one and to piss off one agency can very well mean you’ve blacklisted yourself from all of them. Remaining professional during press trips is paramount. I’ll discuss the importance of ethics shortly, but for now let’s focus on a few ways to ensure you impress during your press trip and are asked back for more.

  1.  Following a press trip, reach out to all the contacts made to both thank them for sponsoring your visit and follow up with details of your upcoming story. It is bad form to attend a press trip and not write up a piece, so make sure to keep your PR contact posted about any published work that comes out of your press tour visit. When writing for a publication, your story is ultimately subject to the editorial team’s calendar and approval so just make sure to keep your PR contact abreast of changes.
  2. When attending a press tour, spend within your given budget (i.e. if given a $30 stipend for breakfast, don’t spend $50) and remember that this is a professional outing that reflects both on you and the publication you represent.
  3. During the trip, be polite and be engaged during the planned activities. Too many bloggers and journalists will often bury themselves in their phones or cameras while out on a press trip; which can come off as disconnected and at times, rude. It’s important to strike a balance between capturing the moment and enjoying it as well.
  4. Remember that a press trip is not a leisure vacation. As amazing as it is to be flown to a Caribbean island to review a hotel or experience the culture; you are there to work. Remain professional, make sure to take good photos, ask questions and get what you need in order to create a stellar story afterwards. Think in terms of the coverage you’ll be providing.

Sample Press Trip Itinerary Snapshot

Saturday, September 27
[11:45] AM- Please be on time to meet GMCVB rep
[12:25] PM- Check-in for Little Havana food tour
[3:00] PM- Meet in front of Maximo Gomez (Domino) Park at 801 SW 15th Ave. to depart for…
[3:30] PM- Miami Beach Art Deco Walking Tour
[5:00] PM- Return to hotel to freshen up for dinner
[7:30] PM- Meet GMCVB rep
[8:00] PM- Dinner at Larios on the Beach
[10:00] PM- Return to hotel with GMCVB rep

Sunday, September 28
[10:30] AM- Hotel check-out must be complete; meet driver in front of hotel to depart for Miami International Airport
[12:00] PM- Nicole Vargas depart MIAMI – MIA on DELTA, flight #408
[2:55] PM- Arrive in NYC-KENNEDY

A Guide to Landing Travel Perks

I must have danced around the room for five minutes when I first checked into the charming Relais Christie Hotel during a past assignment in Paris. That spiral staircase, that swoon-worthy view of the Latin Quarter’s rooftops, the huge hotel bed and spacious room made my New York apartment look like a basement water closet. While living in the concrete jungle has cost me an exorbitant amount, that Parisian paradise was free.

Welcome to the world of travel perks. I am often greeted by eyebrow raises from friends and family when I travel as they can (understandably so) see the disconnect between my diatribes about the cost of New York living clash with Instagram photos of me sipping cocktails at a beachfront hotel or enjoying four course meals in London. These perks are not compliments of a bursting savings account, trust fund or a rich suitor but rather are the result of one thing: my writing. From getting published to approaching brands, below I share tips on how to land travel perks of your very own.

What are Travel Perks?

A ‘travel perk’ can be anything from a complimentary walking tour to a reservation at a nice restaurant, a hotel stay or even a full trip all offered up to you in exchange for editorial coverage and social media exposure. In the past, I have received guide books, hotel stays, trips to Morocco, Mexico, Jamaica and more; and all of them cost me nothing more than a few articles about my experiences. Travel perks are usually offered by brands or PR agencies representing brands in the hopes of securing press coverage for their client.

More often than not, the world of travel blogging divides into two buckets: those who travel blog for the love of writing and travel; and those who do it for the love of freebies. It’s important to note that travel perks should not define your work as passion is paramount in churning out memorable content. That said, travel perks are a lovely benefit to travel writing and here we’ll explore how to get them.

How to Approach PR Contacts & Brands

The first thing to know when approaching brands and PR contacts as a writer is to be okay with rejection! For a past trip to Cartagena, I had sent many e-mails to various hotels to see if they would be interested in having me write up a review on their behalf–some responded, others didn’t and that is simply the way it goes. Always know that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by simply reaching out and asking for an opportunity.

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In my example of reaching out to hotels for Cartagena, I did some research and was able to find (usually on the hotel website) the press contact or PR agency to get in touch with for media inquiries. When reaching out for travel perks then, choose the hotel, company, brand you want to work with and then do some research to find who the appropriate person is to contact. When approaching PR contacts and brands you should always be professional and put your best foot forward, which is to say that your initial e-mail should make the best impression of your work and credentials.

Subject: Press Opportunity for XXX

Hi X,

I will be visiting X and will be working on a story to serve as a guide to your destination. I would love the opportunity to review your (INSERT HOTEL BRAND, DESTINATION, ETC. YOU ARE PITCHING) in exchange for editorial and social media coverage as well as inclusion in my story. This will be in exchange for:

List social media coverage you can provide and associated following
List blog posts you can provide (share previous examples)
List any additional exposure you can provide (i.e. freelance stories, YouTube videos, etc.)

A little more about myself–

(ENTER YOUR CREDENTIALS)

I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Pin the Map Project voted a top 100 travel site of 2015. I am an NYC-based travel journalist with published work in FOOD & WINE, The Daily Meal, VICE, Matador Network, Roads & Kingdoms and more; as well as an accredited member of the International Travel Writers Association (ITWA) and Professional Travel Bloggers Association (PTBA). I was also a speaker as at the New York Travel Festival 2015 and the Women’s Travel Fest 2016. You may find samples of my published work here: (INCLUDE LINK).

Cheers,

Your Name

The things to note in the above example are the clear subject line, the prominent calling out of exposure offered and the listing of your credentials. Whether reaching out to a hotel you’re keen on reviewing, a company whose tours you’d like to write about or a brand whose products you want to try; it’s important to tailor your e-mail to each recipient and make it clear why it would benefit their brand to work with you.

Deciding What to Write

I’m often asked one simple question when it comes to travel perks: Do I have to write a flattering review or can I write the truth? It’s a good question and to understand it, it is important to know the difference between public relations and advertising. As someone that has worked in advertising for years and worked in public relations, the main difference between the two is earned vs. paid media.

Public relations is about getting earned media while advertising will buy publicity or sponsored posts. When it comes to writing your review, you are expected to write the truth–whatever that may be–and as a writer it is important to you and your readers that you maintain your integrity by being honest about your hotel visit, tour or restaurant experience.

A Beginning Guide to Brand Partnerships

From landing press trips to gaining travel perks, the final piece of the puzzle here is securing brand partnerships. Brand partnerships are beneficial for bloggers as they allow the opportunity to align with a prominent company, earn money on a consistent basis and grow exposure significantly. Whether you’re creating video content on behalf a brand each month, are writing for their website or are playing brand ambassador for them in the blogosphere, the benefits of brand partnerships are endless and coveted by most.

Part 1: How Brands Choose Influencers

Brands Look at your Reach

While in advertising, it was my job to help select influencers on behalf of global brands and their media campaigns. One of the first things we’d look for are people who had strong reach. There are two types of reach we’d consider: traffic and total reach. Traffic, of course, is how many visitors a blogger has to their website (often determined either by requesting Google Analytics or looking at a webpage’s pagerank); total reach is a cumulative reach that takes an influencer’s social following, subscriber base and traffic into account.

Looking at your Engagement

If your blog has a moderate following, this does not necessarily mean you are out of the running in being looked at by brands. Engagement is something that brands look at when selecting a blogger to work with; often times engagement can outrank reach since having a blogger whose readers comment and share posts can be more impacting than a blogger with thousands of readers who don’t care to react to the articles being shared. As you can guess, engagement is the measure of people reacting to your content–be it comments, likes, shares, retweets and pins.

Having Relevant Content

Brands interested in working with The Pin the Map Project tend to be guidebook companies, cruise liners, hotel brands, tour agencies and more–but all of these have one thing in common: they are related to travel. To work with an auto or finance brand, for example, wouldn’t make sense for my website or relate to my content.

When brands are looking for bloggers to work with, they will look for blogs that have relevant content so that there is a synergy between the brand and the content the blogger is creating. It is also up to each blogger to screen brands that approach them and maintain a strong website environment.

Part 2: The Ethics of Working with a Brand

Disclosing a Brand Partnership

The key to avoiding sticky ethical areas in brand partnerships and loyalty to your readers is honesty. If you are writing a post on behalf of Skyscanner, reviewing a tour to Vietnam on behalf of Contiki or promoting GoPro’s newest video camera; you should be upfront about that partnership in your posts and social media.

Landing a brand partnership is an exciting endeavor that is both profitable for your site and beneficial to your readers (who may enjoy giveaways and other brand sponsored contests as a result). Most bloggers are avid fans of the brands they are working with and have no problem disclosing their ties to the company; if you feel otherwise than perhaps the brand you are working with is not the perfect fit for your site.

Being Transparent with your Readers

A website is only as strong as its readers. Each of my readers help keep The Pin the Map Project running–with their comments and emails, questions and social shares. For any blogger working with brands, maintaining the integrity of your website and loyalty to your readers is crucial because being branded a “sell-out” whose blog is inundated with sponsored content and advertising sends your site into cyber Siberia.

When it comes to navigating the ethics of working with a brand, the key is to remember being transparent about your affiliations with the company and letting your readers know when they are reading a sponsored post.

Part 3: How to Form a Brand Partnership

How I Select a Brand to Approach

The Pin the Map Project is a travel website with a focus on destination guides and solo travel, so when selecting a brand to work with or pitch a potential partnership to, it is imperative that the brand makes sense for my website. Make sure the brand you partner with is one that you feel passionate about and are not ashamed to align your website with.

Pitching a Brand Partnership or Proposal

Pitching a brand to partner with is similar to the “travel perk” e-mail pitch shared in the previous section. Your email should be concise, explain why you are hoping to partner with that specific brand, why it makes sense for your site, how you can benefit the company and lastly your qualifications.

Hi X,

I am reaching out as I am an avid fan of (INSERT COMPANY OR BRAND) and would love to explore opportunities to collaborate and partner in 2016. (INSERT WHY THIS BRAND WOULD BE A GOOD FIT FOR YOUR WEBSITE AND READERSHIP).

A little about myself–

(ENTER YOUR CREDENTIALS). I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Pin the Map Project voted a top 100 travel site of 2015. I am an NYC-based travel journalist with published work in FOOD & WINE, The Daily Meal, VICE, Matador Network, Roads & Kingdoms and more; as well as an accredited member of the International Travel Writers Association (ITWA) and Professional Travel Bloggers Association (PTBA). I was also a speaker as at the New York Travel Festival 2015 and the Women’s Travel Fest 2016. You may find samples of my published work here: (INCLUDE LINK).

Below I’ve included some ways in which we can partner–I am more than happy to discuss any of them!

ENTER PARTNERSHIP IDEAS IN BULLET POINTS (GIVEAWAYS, CUSTOM PROGRAMS, ETC.)

Thank you for your consideration,

Cheers,

YOUR NAME

What this e-mail does is ultimately shows the brand I’m interested in partnering with what I can offer them in terms of my blog and travel writing; as well as why I think their brand would resonate well with my blog readers.

Landing the Brand Partnership

Brand partnerships can vary, so when forming a brand partnership it is important to be realistic with what you can and cannot provide. For example, I can guarantee coverage on The Pin the Map Project for brands I partner with, but can only pitch and hope to publish a story on another publication such as The Huffington Post or VICE.

Likewise, some brands may expect social media coverage, interviews and other additional elements–so make sure to deliver on what’s expected and be honest about what you can provide the brand with.

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The final takeaway is this–while the world of travel blogging may seem fantastical, the reality of becoming a travel blogger is attainable. As I often tell my readers, when it comes to starting a travel blog the answer is always devastatingly simple: Just do it! There will never be a perfect time in life to pursue your dreams and make them a reality; but rest assured that the path of successful travel blogging has been paved and if you heed the advice of others and are smart about approaching blogging like a business, you too can find yourself living the dream.


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