Sponsored Travel – The Myth of Free

Sponsored Travel - The Myth of Free

When you look at the Holy Grail of travel blogging, the vast majority of bloggers who have sprung up since around 2012 or so will quote one thing as their primary reason for attempting to work in this profession: sponsored travel. But what many of them fail to realize is that earning sponsored travel is a process that takes several years to build up to, and at no point along the way does “free” ever enter into the picture.

First and foremost, if you are just coming into the game, you are nobody. Get ready to work your ass off and build up over the next two to three years until you reach the point where you have enough traffic + expertise to offer potential sponsors to earn press trips and related opportunities. Don’t forget to check out the 3,000+ word overview post on sponsored travel here.

Secondly, understand that at no point in the journey will you ever receive “free travel”. That’s a myth. And in some cases, an outright lie. You will work every second of every press trip you take, and when working with sponsors your goal is just that: to actually dance for your meals. You will be putting in ten times the amount of work for a press tour and sponsored trip than you would ever do for your own blog posts.

The reason for that? Because your blog is just your personal platform. The moment you turn it into real estate for potential sponsors, you enter into the world of professional blogging. Which means giving significantly more than you receive in turn and proving your worth to sponsors, going above and beyond to deliver more than their expectations, so that you can turn around and earn the next sponsorship.

And thirdly is the simple fact that starting a blog for the sole purpose of earning free travel is the worst possible reason to start a blog in the first place. If this was your reason for starting yours, you’ve been duped, just as anyone who has ever read a book regarding the mythical four-hour-work-week and actually thinks that it’s possible to manage a multi-million-dollar company with just a handful of hours per week.

When you look at the big dogs in the industry, folks like Wandering Earl or Gary Arndt or Deb and Dave from Planet D, these people have been out there for years with their nose to the grindstone. And they still work. Hard. At far more than just blogging. They are out there going to conventions, making connections, networking, doing interviews on television, radio, other blogs and beyond.

They didn’t just come along and magically start earning sponsorships. They earned them. Worked for them. Built up their blogs through blood, sweat and tears. I personally didn’t earn my first sponsored trip until I was two years into the blog. It took us that long to have enough traffic and and, more importantly, enough influence with our readers to inspire them to take action on what it is that the sponsor needed.

You won’t have that influence with a six month or year-old blog, as a general rule. There are exceptions. But most people need a couple of years or so of building up until they have enough influence within their blogging community to inspire people to take actions on a grand enough scale to compensate a sponsor for giving you something in exchange for your publicity.

Because until that point, you are just empty traffic without any actual effect.

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About T.W. Anderson

T.W. Anderson is the founder of the Marginal Boundaries brand. He is the writer, editor, videographer, photographer, and social media guru alongside Cristina Barrios, the other half of the brand. In his spare time, he is the creative director of the Saga of Lucimia, a forthcoming MMORPG from Stormhaven Studios, LLC.

8 Comments

  • It’s not contradictory at all in my mind, Caitlin. I have the choice to work with a sponsor or not, but when I’m working with a sponsor I also have to be honest, regardless of how hard I am working for them.

    If they want me to bring them hotel bookings, than I’ll do so…but I do so with an honest overview of the accommodations/etc. not with fluff.

    Writing reviews for sponsors isn’t about lying to your readers or sugar-coating facts; it’s about providing an honest, journalistic (neither good nor bad) write-up.

  • Caitlin says:

    Don’t you feel that there is an inherent contradiction between this quote in the post:

    “You will work every second of every press trip you take, and when working with sponsors your goal is just that: to actually dance for your meals. You will be putting in ten times the amount of work for a press tour and sponsored trip than you would ever do for your own blog posts… Which means giving significantly more than you receive in turn and proving your worth to sponsors, going above and beyond to deliver more than their expectations, so that you can turn around and earn the next sponsorship.”

    and your reply to Katie:
    “A professionally-written sponsored post writes both the positive and the negative and just lays out the facts in a journalistic style, regardless of the sponsor.”

    My goal whether I’m taking trips for my blog or for publications I write for as a journalist is never to dance for my meals or to meet or exceed the sponsor’s expectations. I would regard that as unprofessional. The sponsor is there to facilitate, I am entitled to say no and to choose how I spend my time and how much I write. It’s not just about being entitled to write negative things, it’s also about being entitled to choose my strategic direction and most effective use of my time.

  • @Katie A professionally-written sponsored post writes both the positive and the negative and just lays out the facts in a journalistic style, regardless of the sponsor :)

  • To be honest I really have no interest in sponsored trips. I can’t imagine anywhere that would pay for me to stay would exactly fit in with the super-budget theme of my blog and I would feel too awkward to write about a place that was watching my every word. I agree with what you’re saying, but some newbie travel blogs are genuinely just trying to put interesting and inspiring information out there.

  • Spot on, Gary.

    That’s something the newbies of today completely don’t “get”. I think part of it is the entitlement mentality of the generation coming up presently; they want first place medals for simply existing and don’t want to have to work to earn the awards, much less understand the amount of work the rest of us put in, or the time, to get where we are today.

  • Gary Arndt says:

    I had been on the road for 3 years before I was ever contacted by someone in the travel and tourism industry.

    Three years.

    I didn’t really make any money until I had been doing it for 5 years.

    Most bloggers now are asking for free trips before they even launch their site and are expecting to make money in the first year.

    Yet, they have absolutely nothing to offer. No audience, no traffic, no attention, no authority. Nothing.

    This isn’t any different than any other field of human endeavor. It takes time and work to do it successfully.

  • Cheers, Jessica :) Yeah, that’s just one of the many aspects that people don’t take into consideration. It’s work, not “free”!

  • Since my blog is 50% food focused, I get a lot of invitations to restaurants and it’s the same with “sponsored eating”. There is a lot of, interviewing, writing, promoting, photos, instagramming. It’s not just sitting down and getting a free meal (contrary to popular belief). It’s people sitting next to you looking at you as if you are crazy for pulling out a big lens in front of you plate! Again, another on the spot post. I’m a fan!

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