Real travel blogging is not easy.
Great content released at a constant and competitive pace with extreme attention to accuracy and detail requires a great business and great people behind it. Shocker alert: these people aren’t easy to come by and getting these great people to continue doing so requires money, and money requires an audience and support.
We approach trust as something we can lose in a single blog post, and it’s why we got to great lengths to pay for our travels, and only review things we’ve been able to achieve without extraordinary wealth or connections. If you see something, it’s because we’ve turned a dream into a reality with savvy deal skills or clever points skills.
For many people wanting to become travel bloggers the easiest route to support seems to come from soliciting free travel, sponsorships and things like that. I get it, it seems attractive in the beginning and I’d be lying if I didn’t think that would be cool when I first started this blog many years ago, but it’s far from why I did start.
Be honest: who wouldn’t love free upgrades, free hotels and continuous travel? It’s so easy to criticise this, but I think deep down, on some level, many people who get into the blogging world start off with this as the goal, or at least part of it.
My advice to anyone starting out in travel blogging is to learn how to turn your travel dreams into realities, because that will involve learning skill sets which make you valuable. It may mean flying in the back and staying at hostels for a while, but if one day you can do it on your own, others will want to learn how. If someone just gives it to you because you write a persuasive PR pitch, you’re just another “blogger” asking for things you didn’t pay for. Why trust you?
This is where the term “be careful what you wish for” really comes into play. I got into travel blogging because I believed I could explain complex travel subjects simply and I really enjoyed talking about it.
That’s still the one and only case.
Oh, and you might be wondering how we make money. It goes as follows…
- Display ads. We have lots of traffic, so those 1 cents add up.
- Affiliate links. When you click something and then perhaps buy something, we may make money. I like this method, because you only buy what you actually want, and we only get money if we recommend something worth buying, or getting like a credit card or airline ticket.
- Sponsored posts. There’s never been a month where we’ve had more than three of these, and we average more than 150 articles per month. Basically, you’ll know them when you see them at the top of the page and we only take ones we find valuable, like this one.
- That’s it really. We, and by we I mean Spencer, Laura or I have never been paid to go somewhere, would never ask to be paid and think that it’s all a bit silly at that point.
Once you reach a certain point, freebies are everywhere and as one of the largest travel blogs in the world, the opportunities are never ending, which is all the more reason not to take them. Why? You need an audience to not need freebies, and you won’t have an audience for long if you use it promote nonsense that sucks, or mask the truth.
I never want to write an article about Marriott and then have to take it down because they paid six figures for me to throw a vanity party and expect some quid pro quo in exchange. Even children learn that you can’t bite the hand that feeds, so it’s best to figure out how to feed yourself.
If you want great, unbiased and unsponsored content, those clicks, shares and kind words over the dinner table with your friends are essential to our growth and financial stability. I’m extremely grateful for them because they allow me to just buy the travel experiences I want without having to solicit help, whenever humanly possible.
I spend almost half my income every year on travel, specifically to be able to say what I want, when I want. It can be a lot of fun, like when you have experiences that make you want to pull your hair out. Like this one, or this one.
I want to be totally clear here though. I’m not above a “freebie” entirely, but it’s something I’ll only take up if it’s something I cannot get on my own and if it also comes with no strings whatsoever. Here’s what I mean…
I love “new” things and fascinating people. Generally, these are experiences or grants of access money cannot buy, so therefore a “freebie” is necessary. If I get the chance to meet Richard Branson in Barbados, I’m going. It’s not like I can call the guy up, and if that’s an opportunity, I’d feel remiss not to get the chance to ask him about his favourite places on earth. I mean, it’s Branson!
If I can see a new airplane seat before virtually anyone else, I’m down – let’s go. I can’t get myself a pass into the restricted areas of the Airbus factory no matter how much I’d love to, so I’m grateful that I’ve built a platform where people want me to be excited about their products and want people like you to see it first.
That’s what’s so cool. We’ve built such a real community of passionate travellers who love to see the world, love to learn about great deals, loyalty programs and the best things to do wherever they go that it’s ultimately you who make me sought after. It’s something I never take for granted.
I approach every article with the notion of “if someone reads this and it’s not true, accurate or helpful I don’t ever expect them to come back”. Obviously, I want you to come back – often.
When it comes to my actual travels, or basically anything I’d want to be doing as a normal tourist just like anyone else, I try my very best to pay for the cabin, hotel or Airbnb I want, and then blend into the walls. I may be paying with points, I may be paying with cash, but I want to control what I say and how I say it. And I do!
If I’m tired and don’t feel like taking photos of my seats, meal, drinks and entertainment, I want to be able to enjoy my flight by not documenting it. This is actually about 80% of my travels haha, and a reason I don’t burn out constantly. I may fly Cathay Pacific business class 15 times and do one flight review. I can, because it’s just my money or my points being burned.
If I have a terrible experience at a hotel, I want to be able to rant like a lunatic and warn travelers why they may want to steer clear. Shout out to the Hudson NYC there. If I see a city which makes me want to up and move, I want to be able to shout from the rooftops on my own terms when I feel like it. I do.
There are PR people who I engage with really well and admire very much and a big reason for that is that they never want to filter anything. They understand that (you) are the savvy, intelligent travellers they are looking for and would never want to jeopardize your trust, or my truth with you.
They know better than to send me lipstick on a pig and just try to get me information which you may find cool or useful. If I don’t cover it, we try again. If I have a negative experience, they are the types who want to connect me with the head of customer experience, or loyalty, or whatever to make sure they learn and that the brand improves in the future.
Know this: if I ever receive something for free, you’ll know about it in clear and present day. It will be in the header, the body and probably elsewhere. If it’s not there, I paid my way entirely and with joy. I go to great lengths to earn status and benefits which get me into lounges and great experiences on my own, and to earn points which unlock things I don’t have the cash to support. Singapore Suites ain’t cheap, ya know?
As the lines between advertorial BS and genuine opinion continue to get blurred by the largest entities in this space, rest assured that it only makes us want to add clarity. It’s a reason why blogs like One Mile At A Time, View From The Wing and others are so successful going on 10 years. We approach trust as something we can lose in a single blog post, and it’s that mentality that we hope will have you reading in another 10 years.
Well written. For a lot of people who accept comps from the businesses they write about, it’s often a slippery slope. It’s an ethical dilemma for many bloggers and the individual has to draw the line. Glad that many of them are writing about this week!
Good to know where you’re coming from.
Love your blog, your honesty and transparency:) Please continue doing what you are, as your passion is truly valuable!
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