The myth of getting paid to travel

February 7, 2011

Want to know how you can REALLY travel the world? Check out my eguide, How to Take a Career Break to Travel.

I can’t stand all the posts on travel blogs that claim it’s possible to travel the world for free through writing. It’s NOT. Okay, maybe it’s possible for a few select writers. But for the majority of us, forget about it.

Unfortunately, those posts get tons of hits because they prey on the hopes and (unrealistic) dreams of hordes of wannabe travel writers. I’m here to burst that bubble.

Here’s why there’s no way in hell you’re going to finance your trip by writing along the way — and what you should focus on instead:

Most publications pay shit for travel writing. I love the Matador Network, a traveler’s community that publishes pieces by up-and-coming writers. But you know how much they pay? $25 per piece. (June 2015 update: They now pay $40 for original pieces.) Now, that can go far in a developing country — it’s about how much I spent each day while traveling in Africa — but it’s not enough to make a dent in your travel expenses. Most online-only publications that want travel pieces pay similar rates, if at all.

To get published in a publication that pays better, you need experience. I realize this is a Catch-22 for newbie writers, that you need a clip to get a clip. That’s why you break in by writing for small, low-paying websites or publications. But to make enough money to fund your around-the-world trip, you’ve got to break into larger markets. Even then, unless you’re working all day every day — when you should be enjoying your trip — you won’t bring in enough to cover airfare, housing and other costs.

I know this because I’ve done it. While traveling in Africa in 2008, I freelanced for a handful of publications. I could do this fairly easily because I’d been working as a journalist for several years, so I had both experience and connections. But even then, the money I brought in from writing only paid for a portion of my trip. How’d I make that money? Read on…

Reporting in Burkina Faso (with my handy, old-school notebook)

You’ll earn more if you write about something other than travel. Not many markets pay well for travel writing. So if you really want to make money from writing, write about other topics.

For example, while in Senegal, I wrote a profile for my college alumni publication about an alumnus who was volunteering there in the Peace Corps. (Check out this piece about getting your writer’s foot in the door at an alumni publication.) In Burkina Faso, I spent a week at an AIDS clinic run by a Houston-based organization and wrote a newspaper piece about it.

Notice a trend here? Most publications won’t pay for a story about something that’s happening in another part of the world unless it has a local angle. They want to be able to tie it back to their readership. By broadening what you’ll write about to include topics other than travel, you’re likely to land more assignments and make more money per assignment.

If you’re always working, you’re not getting the most out of traveling. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy both writing and reporting while traveling. Part of the reason I like working as a journalist is because it gives me access to places and people I otherwise wouldn’t have. Reporting stories while traveling gave me purpose, helping to shape my trip. But sometimes I wish I worked less than I did. In too many instances, I’d find myself frustrated in an Internet cafe, trying to upload a photo to an editor, when I should’ve been out exploring a new city.

The best places to travel don’t have an Internet connection. Which means that if you’re trying to get work done while traveling, you might not go to the best places. Don’t do it. Go where you want to go, and make your money-making venture your second priority. Otherwise you’ll regret it later. (2015 update: Internet access is becoming more ubiquitous, so this might not be such a problem for you anymore. You also might consider bringing with you a WiFi dongle like Karma; it works only in the U.S., but with a little research, you can find international options, too.)

You need a huge audience to make money from blogging. Sure, several well-known travel blogs have a big enough audience that it makes sense to monetize them. But yours probably doesn’t. Maybe it will, someday. But don’t squander all of your travel time away in Internet cafes trying to make that happen. If this is your plan, at least have your blog ready to go before you travel. That way, you 1. will realize it’s more difficult to make money from a blog than you thought and 2. won’t spend your entire time traveling working on your blog.

Press trips aren’t for the press. Journalists with ethics don’t accept free trips with companies and then write about them. (Feel free to argue me on this point; I stand by it.) For bloggers, this has become a common practice — so common that I’ve even advised one of my clients to offer a so-called “press trip” to get publicity. And that’s fine, because bloggers often have different goals and abide by different rules than journalists. (If only the public knew the difference.) But when you use this method to travel for free, know you’re firmly placing yourself in one camp, not the other.

Even low-budget trips cost money. I’m all about traveling on a budget. (In fact, I have a post coming up that explains how much it cost for my six-month backpacking trip in Africa.) And I think it’s a great idea to work as a volunteer to keep down costs. But even those trips cost money. Especially when flying to interesting, far-flung places, I find airfare is my biggest expense. And know what? Few publications or volunteer programs will cover that for you. Even if you’re planning to work while in-country, you still have to get there.

This isn’t intended to be a downer of a post. It’s intended to help you think realistically about how much a career break might cost you and how you might finance it.

My advice? Save money. Doing that is probably more possible than you think. And rather than expecting to get paid to travel or travel for free, approach writing — or better yet, another more lucrative skill — as a way of helping to offset the costs of your trip.

But know that you’re going to have to shell out some dough for your career break or gap year. Because nothing that awesome — and your career break will be awesome — comes free.

Update: After getting lots of comments on this post, I wrote a follow-up, which you can read here.

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70 Replies to “The myth of getting paid to travel”

  • Roxanne says:

    Thank you for this, Alexis. I think the distinction between “supplement your income while traveling by writing” and “travel exclusively based on travel writing income” needed to be made. Thank you for the tips as well!

  • Nice points Alexis. I agree that you just aren’t going to make any money writing on travel topics for other people. I know everyone has a different goal with their blogs, but I’m leaning more and more towards niches rather than personality and story based blogs as a way to earn money while traveling. For example if your a RTW traveler there is only so much money available to you because your target audience is difficult to find, and so wide spread that its difficult to find advertisers.

    Instead, look at your travel as an asset. You are in a place (for free, or with your own money) so you should take advantage of the time you are there. You can write a story that has nothing to do with you personally and that is geared towards the search engines (i.e. zoos, medical tourism etc etc).

    I’ve learned the hard way that developing a personality based travel blog is much more difficult than a topic based blog.

  • Jeff says:

    Great post Alexis. You’ve just confirmed what I long suspected!

  • Thank you, danke, merci. Someone telling the truth about travel writing. In my years as a writer, the only kind of writing I’ve found that will ever really pay for a trip is copywriting.

  • Doug Mack says:

    A really solid, important reality check. And as a sometime travel writer, I couldn’t agree more. Also worth noting: unless you’re a well-established writer (who gets assignments from major magazines), you’ll not only be working for peanuts but writing on spec–no one’s going to even give you the $25 assignment before you go.

  • Couldn’t agree with you any more, though having just returned from a press trip I will say that I never once felt pressured by the company sponsoring me to right biased or untrue things. In fact I was impressed that they sat down with me and asked me opinion on how to make their place better!

  • Thank God somebody finally said it. Thanks for this!

  • Akila says:

    Very true . . . in fact, I am planning on posting a similar piece this week about how we fund our travels. We travel, my husband consults, and I do technical writing because technical writing pays a heck of a lot better than travel writing.

  • Andy Jarosz says:

    Particularly agree that it pays way more to write about something other than travel. My commissions for corporate magazines are irregular but very well paid (compared with travel rates) and enough of these in a year allow me to travel on my own terms. I share your concerns on the press trips issue but the reality is that this is the new model for a destination or a tour company to promote themselves in a cost-effective way. And no, people who read the end result generally don’t pay attention to the disclaimers at the end (for what they’re worth).

  • Grant Lingel says:

    Very well said, Alexis! Great piece.

  • Natalia says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. It seems I am not the only one a bit tired of the whole ‘monetize your blog/travel the world and have your writing pay for it/travel the world doing what you love (travelling!)’ type posts that are out there. It just isn’t a way to make a living, and it isn’t a way to fund your travels. As you point out, you are probably better putting in the effort and saving for your trip – what’s more, it is probably going to mean a less stressful trip (no worrying about what to write, and finding an internet cafe so you can file it!) and you will probably see more, since you won’t spend so much time writing articles or updating a blog.

    • You’re not alone, Natalia! I run a simple living blog and gripped about those very folks last week, and a bunch of readers agreed.

      Alexis, this was an awesome post and one I feel needs to be linked widely … especially to the fans of those monetize your blog ‘n’ travel folks.

  • SVV says:

    Nice reality check Alexis.

    However, Europeans have “awesome” gap years 🙂 Well, those students that know how to work the system do at least. Many of my classmates from both Denmark and Holland took year(s) both during school and after to “find their path.”

    Hey EU, adopt me?

  • Don says:

    Some good points. I predicted that a successful blog would take 3+ years to develop momentum, and that’s what most of the leading money-making bloggers have confirmed – of course, didn’t everyone think they would hit the ground running? The reality is that traditional journalists now have to learn all the internet marketing skills to take advantage of the time they are putting into their writing.

    I’d have to disagree with the point “Press trips aren’t for the press” – you knew that was coming, right? The two camps you are inferring are normally: 1) journalists who work for traditional media and CAN’T accept trips because of company policy and 2) bloggers who can accept press trips. But what about reclassifying the camps as: 1) those who just tow the line and those who still write unbiased coverage regardless of the payment structure? The reality is that many recent bloggers came from journalistic-quality print media – I doubt their standards were compromised by crossing that old media/new media line. Also, the public SHOULD know the difference by way of disclaimer on blog posts, and it should raise questions if they see only glowing reviews on several posts.

  • Gary Arndt says:

    “Journalists with ethics don’t accept free trips with companies and then write about them.”

    I have to call bullshit on this.

    So, someone like Don George has no ethics? He took a sponsored trip to Peru and has been writing about it for Gadling. He also wrote the book (literally) on travel writing.

    About half of the members of SATW are PR people, not writers. SATW and NATJA both have press trips members can take during their conventions. That covers a big giant chunk of all travel journalists.

    When is the last time you saw a scathing review of a hotel in a major travel magazine? The magazine pays for trips, but then never says anything bad about anyone because it doesn’t want to lose advertising. How is that ethical? How is working for a company like that ethical?

    Also, please tell me the rules you allude to but don’t come right out and say, that differentiate bloggers and journalists? Are you a blogger or a journalist? You call yourself a “social media coach” which seems much closer to blogger than journalist.

    You also allude to having clients. Who are they? You didn’t disclose. If you don’t disclose who is giving you money, how do we know you aren’t writing about them? (see above ethics charges)

    If you are going to start tossing ethics accusations at large groups of people, you better be able to back it up and open up yourself to examination of the same charges.

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Hey Gary,

      I consider myself a journalist, blogger AND social media coach — Yup, all three. I don’t talk about my social media clients in this post because folks who read my blog regularly already know who they are. (In this case, I’m referring to OEX, a 4×4 driving company.)

      But as I said in the post, I think it’s okay for bloggers to go on “press trips” — I just don’t think it’s okay for journalists. That’s because journalists are expected to not take freebies from anyone they write about, a long-standing rule. Those journalists’ publications might accept advertising, etc., but those departments are supposed to be separate from editorial. Bloggers, however, are often trying to make money, maybe by selling ads, maybe by taking trips — and since they might do all of the tasks themselves, there’s often no line between blogger and, say, advertising department. That’s just one of the differences I’m writing about here.

      I included this point in this post not just because it’s one way to travel for free, but because I think it’s something our community should discuss. So I appreciate your input, even when you don’t agree with me.

      • Eva Holland says:

        “That’s because journalists are expected to not take freebies from anyone they write about, a long-standing rule.”

        I think this is an overstatement – sure, the New York Times is the obvious example of a big-name print outlet that (supposedly, but it’s really all about who you know isn’t it?) bans all writers who’ve ever taken a freebie. And yeah, NatGeo Traveler doesn’t accept stories based on sponsored trips. But that’s not enough to make it a norm, let alone a rule.

        Press trips were around for a long time before blogs, and working print journalists took (and continue to take) plenty of them. It’s fine to disagree with the practice, of course, but arguing that there’s some sort of industry consensus on this seems disingenuous.

        • Alexis Grant says:

          Hey Eva — I actually DO think there’s an industry consensus on this! Again, I’m talking journalism, not blogs. But maybe I’m wrong… And I certainly think the industry is changing, leaning more toward allowing press trips. Anyone else want to chime in on this??

          • Eva Holland says:

            Maybe we’re mixing up our terminology here – would you classify writers for major travel glossies (say, Caribbean Travel and Life) as journalists? They’re certainly not bloggers. And many of them routinely take and write about press trips.

          • Alexis, you’re right.

            Without wading into who’s a journalist or not and who’s ethical or not, just wanted to address what Eva wrote here:

            “I think this is an overstatement ““ sure, the New York Times is the obvious example of a big-name print outlet that (supposedly, but it’s really all about who you know isn’t it?) bans all writers who’ve ever taken a freebie. And yeah, NatGeo Traveler doesn’t accept stories based on sponsored trips. But that’s not enough to make it a norm, let alone a rule.”

            Eh, the NYT are NatGeo are not rogue examples. I’ve been a fulltime staff reporter (not a freelancer, though the rules are the same) at a very small newspaper, a medium metro and a huge daily, and the policy everywhere is that you can’t accept gifts, meals and travel. Period. You have to sign papers agreeing to this when you work there. Newspapers also have rules (the terms vary) that anything valued at, say, over $20 had to be (1) refused — like INSISTING the mayor can’t treat you to dinner at a steakhouse or (2) handed over to charity. One paper I worked for held an annual internal “sale” of freebies sent to the newsroom, stuff like books, new brands of nail polish and, yes, travel vouchers. The money raised from this sale was explicitly given to charitable causes supported by the newspaper.

          • Eva Holland says:

            Emily’s point makes me wonder if this isn’t partly a freelancer/staffer confusion. As far as I know, Canada’s major newspaper chain has two standards: one for staff writers, who are forbidden from taking freebies, and another for freelancers, who are “encouraged” to follow suit. None of the handful of magazines I’ve written for have ever even raised the issue. And it seems that most submission guidelines I read mention that freebies are allowed but disclosure to the editor is mandatory – and it doesn’t always follow that disclosure will appear in print.

          • Eva, you are right: Many of the smaller companies, like Bonnier, are completely OK with press trips. Even the California board of tourism (run by Time Inc.) encourages me to take comps when I’m on assignment for them, as they can’t foot my bill. Having gone from an editor at a major publishing house that didn’t allow freebies–and said so in as many words in most of its magazines’ opening pages–to a freelancer, I have seen a major shift from it being absolutely NOT okay for writers to take freebies to many editors implementing “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies to cover their own asses.

            What I don’t understand is, if everyone is already doing it, why can’t the U.S. media just employ a similar policy to what the British and Canadian papers use, where there’s a disclaimer at the bottom that says: “This writer was a guest of XX Board of Tourism.” If they’re not going to cover a writer’s expenses and, thus, force the writer to take a press trip or whatever, that seems like the easiest middle ground.

          • sara says:

            Hi alexis. I love your blog post. I was thinking about becoming a travel writer, however, I NEVER believed the hype about getting paid thousands of dollars to travel the world for free as a travel writer. Just like you, I would become furious when I saw thousands of ebooks for sale claiming this…ugh….If people haven’t figured it out, most of the “big” publications have now moved online, since everything is now digital. And even the bigger publications who have somehow survived the digital-age are shelling out no more than $300 (at the most) for travel pieces. SMH $300 is not even enough to cover air-fare, let alone food, hotel, car rental, etc. And while you at your destination, you are going to need something to talk about and photograph, which means taking pics of food dishes at certain restaurants and spending money on Entertainment (clubs, parties, movies, etc.)

            Many large publications don’t have as big of an audience as they once did in the old ‘paper-back’ traditional days because it is harder to keep an online reader’s attention for long. One minute a reader could be scanning through a travel website, and the next, they would be sifting Youtube for funny cat videos 😛

            Most online publications are paying just like you said, $25 or LESS….and many of these travel site owners would just request a certain type of topic to stay on in order to catch an audience who might buy their advertised products. I would suggest for hopeful travel writers to find multiple long-term writing clients who are looking for content on a daily basis in order to make any real money.

  • Sherry Ott says:

    Nicely put. As someone out in this big bad world doing this now – I agree, it’s a ton of work for not a lot of money. I personally won’t write for other sites and get paid that little of money – it’s just not worth my time. Instead I try to put my time into writing for my own blog and then making money through advertising. And yes – I’ve been at this for 4 1/2 years…and I know that if I had started this website last year I wouldn’t have a hope in the world of attracting advertisers.

    I often struggle with work vs exploring while on the road – and I still don’t have a good solution. But I totally agree with you that going to places without internet at all are the best experiences. 🙂

    Overall- yes – you need to save money…the good old fashioned way…be patient and don’t be afraid to give some things up.

  • Eva Holland says:

    Thanks for this, Alexis. It needed to be said.

    The other thing that drives me nuts about the “write in order to TRAVEL FOR FREE!” angle, aside from its, uh, tenuous relationship with reality, is the way it makes writing into almost a kind of scam or gimmick. To me it’s just as absurd as, “Become an Olympic bobsledder in order to TRAVEL TO SOCHI FOR FREE!” Writing is the dream for me, not just a means to an end. (Though obviously I love to travel.) I feel like viewing it as a way to get free trips is cheapening – and, frankly, that shows in the writing for a lot of blogs out there.

    This ties into the press trips point. I take press trips and still consider myself both a) ethical and b) a journalist. But press trips are strictly work trips for me, not bonus vacations, and I think that approach is important in getting anything useful/worthwhile out of them. Travel is great, but at the end of the day it’s the work that matters.

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Thanks, Eva, especially for your take on press trips. As I wrote above to another reader, I think that’s something our community should talk about — and it’s most enjoyable to talk about it when people like you offer thoughtful comments.

    • Natalia says:

      ‘I feel like viewing it as a way to get free trips is cheapening ““ and, frankly, that shows in the writing for a lot of blogs out there.’

      I couldn’t agree with this more! I think this is the thing that annoys me most in regards to this issue – its almost a race to the bottom, with travel blogs becoming more and more about trying to get free trips and/or selling the latest ‘travel for free! Here’s how!’ than people sharing their opinions and stories. I don’t know about other readers, but I read a blog because it has good quality, engaging writing and/or information about somewhere I want to visit. And I won’t be travelling there on a sponsored trip, so I don’t want to read about how it is done on a sponsored trip. I want to read what it is like for ‘real’ travellers. That is why I am reading a blog rather than a guide book or a travel supplement in a newspaper.

  • eemusings says:

    I love this and couldn’t agree more. My current plan is to work a regular job, save and take awesome holidays overseas that I can fully enjoy.

    But about press trips…Don’t know about the US, but at least here, basically all travel pieces are sponsored. And I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing either; after all, even if you’re footing the bill yourself, you’ll still want to focus on a lot of the positives about a place, as nobody wants to read a 400-800 word whine.

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Good point on the whine!

      I realize my view on press trips is traditional, and I knew it would strike a nerve here… but my view of the press is, well, traditional, at least in terms of ethics. For blogging, I see lots of wiggle room.

  • stuart says:

    A lot of the “make money travel blogging” is just the latest order of snake oil to hit the scene. Yes you can finance your trip travel writing, no it won’t be easy — and, the less experienced you are (by that I mean you lack contacts at various editorial outlets, writing ability etc), the more difficult it will be.

    The situation of going to one place and having a publication pay enough that you don’t need to write for anyone else, is a pretty rare one. Instead, getting travel to pay for your trip involves getting more than one story out of a trip and the only way this can be done within a sensible amount of time is through leveraging already existing contacts. Sure you’re not going to sort that out writing for publications that pay $25 a pop, but if they’re paying more then it is doable.

    Re the freebie thing, you’re wrong. Journos take freebies/press trips all the time. It’s a personal decision, and while I’ve never accepted one, and we wouldn’t accept a submission from someone whose story was a part of one, I respect someone else’s decision to — as long as it is disclosed. It becomes an ethics issue only when the freebie isn’t disclosed.

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Hey Stuart — Interesting… If you think it’s okay, why wouldn’t you accept one?

      I’m not saying it’s never done, I’m saying it *shouldn’t* be done. While I recognize that the industry may be slipping in this respect (in part because of dwindling budgets), I still think publications that aspire to old-school ethics wouldn’t accept a free trip.

      • stuart says:

        I think I said I don’t take them though I respect someone else’s decision to take one. I wouldn’t take that as a glowing endorsement of them!

        In my opinion a comped trip/hotel stay/flight etc does not carry the same weight/independence as one that has been done entirely off the writer/publisher’s back. That’s why we don’t accept them.

        If other publications and/or writers want to accept them, I don’t have a problem with that — as long as the story is accompanied by a disclaimer. I like to be told up front that the piece I’m reading is potentially advertorial.

  • Heather Rae says:

    I am SO glad you brought this up. So many people have asked me why I don’t put more effort into making money from my blog (because it’s way too much work for way too little money) and if I want to travel so much, why don’t I just pay for it through travel writing (um…because that’s not going to happen). It’s nice to see someone write about the reality of the situation as opposed to giving people false hope. Great post, Alexis!

  • Regarding the point of ethics and press trips, this is a tough one. I write a print column called Ethical Traveller (in The Irish Times) and I specialise in writing about sustainable, green and ecotourism for many UK national newspapers and magazines, as well as in my own blog, http://www.ethicaltraveller.co.uk.

    I have to accept free accommodation and rail fares from suppliers in order to cover the businesses, as I would never get expenses to do so. I research all of the businesses I write about thoroughly in advance to see whether I think they will meet the the criteria of what I write about. Without these ‘freebies’ I wouldn’t have written a book on small, sustainable tourism businesses in Ireland (Ecoescape:Ireland), which are competing against the big name four and five star hotels, nor could I have written an iphone app about similar businesses, Ireland Green Travel, to be published in next couple of months.
    I never go on mass press trips, but I certainly do accept accommodation which is free of charge. Some of these businesses have been booked out for the year as a result of articles published, businesses which were totally off the radar for most tourists before then, and businesses which are making important impacts in terms of a more responsible form of tourism in their country.
    I would never hesitate to criticise any business, freebie or not, but detailed research in advance means that I know pretty well before I get there that it is going to be of interest to me, and will most likely be a positive experience. So, is this unethical? I may never be published in The New York Times as a result, but ultimately I am glad that the businesses have benefited, and that I get to engage in a debate with readers about a changing face of tourism, and that I have been able to sustain myself as a writer into the bargain.

  • Andrea James says:

    Are we really debating whether or not it is ethical to review something when it had been given to us for free?

    Just because something is commonly done, or not, doesn’t make it ethical, or not.

    The standard doesn’t change for bloggers or traditional media. If maintaining integrity and reader trust matters to you, you’ll be open about who paid for what.

    Business reporters have long taken a situational approach to accepting freebies — as accepting lunch or breakfast, or a seat at a conference, is part of the way of the business world.

    As long as you’re open with your readers about what you’ve accepted, using common sense on when and what to disclose, you’re being ethical. Obviously, you don’t need to disclose accepting a breakfast muffin.

    But, if you are going on an expensive trip and writing about it in a similar sense of conducting a “product review” and the product was given to you for free, then you should disclose it. Just be open. The reader will decide whether he can trust you.

    If you review a video game, and you say at the bottom, “XYZ Game Studios provided this video to me at no cost for review,” you have just built trust with the reader for your honesty.

    The Golden Rule applies: Would you trust the recommendation of a writer who got a major freebie, if you later learned that the writer had accepted the product as a gift? Would the disclosure help?

    Openness helps everyone in the long-run. Foster sincerity and integrity, no matter the writing venue, and readers will sense that.

  • Kristina says:

    Nice post! I’ve written several travel stories about the places I’ve vacationed. The paper never paid for the trip, but I was able to expense a few things. A few times, I didn’t have to use vacation days. More recently, when I wasn’t a full-time reporter, I was paid the going freelance rate for the story. That didn’t cover 1/8 of the cost of the trip, but I will write it off on my taxes as a business expense. And that helps a little.

  • Great post. I read so many articles and watch so many youtube vids that claim to teach you how to travel for free… but none of them actually do! It’s a whole bunch of possibly, could do and maybes. You’re none the wiser for reading them! BTW… I’m totally gonna spend some time reading your blog tonight!!!

  • Tracey Mc says:

    Great post. Thanks for the reality check.

  • Charu says:

    Nice post, Alexis, and you make extremely valid points. But I do have to agree with Kristen Luna here that the line is becoming blurred in terms of what “journalists” can and cannot accept. What is NOT acceptable is taking a press trip and having no disclaimer and writing about it — as though you’ve financed everything on your own.

    For me, it boils down to the CN Traveller motto: Truth in Travel. I am EIC of a beauty blog and get a zillion products to review, and I have to put a disclaimer that I’ve received freebies to review. Does this mean I can’t give a product a bad review? Of course not. That would be anathema to integrity. But I’m definitely not going to plunk down money to buy these since my site doesn’t pay me a fortune, nor does it cover my expenses for these types of purchases.

    I think this is also a factor of the economy. If budding journalists and travel writers want to get exposure to travel and go on a press trip, I’m all for it. But they have to be objective, and disclaim. There is a huge shift towards bloggers now, as you know…if they are to be the “taste makers” of the future, they need to hold to their own honor system and standards of integrity and accountability.

  • Funny, I just found this post after writing my own about freelance writing, including how journalism experience helps — so many people think they can just “break” into freelance writing or blogging without a background. Your advice is spot-on.

  • Vagobond says:

    I would say that while it might be difficult to write honest reviews from comped trips, it’s by no means impossible. I’ve written negative reviews for comped places and I consider it to be totally ethical. Maybe it’s not a great way to make friends, but my readers know they can trust my reviews and recommendations. I’ll accept as much comped stuff as is offered, but I always make it clear my review or write up is going to be totally honest.

    I just wish there were more freebies coming my way. Not to mention editorial invitations, but I’m not even sure those exist anymore.

    ~vago

  • Yep, there is no way to travel and get paid for it. I have lived On The Road for 17 years and have to say that the life of a freelancer is not so glamorous as it sounds. I live and travel in India BECAUSE I am a freelance writer and India is full of stories and cheap to live in. Most of my stories about India are picked up by local media as I don’t have the added hassle of “selling’ the destination.

  • Shelley says:

    I agree with most of your points, except the one that NO journalist with ethics takes a free press trip. I have done many of them, and I am a “real” journalist who has been published in many high profile publications, I am not just a blogger.

    I think it might be different if outlets still actually paid expenses or paid writers for their travel. But they don’t. Virtually no publication pays for a travel writer to actually travel anymore. That leaves two possibilities:

    1) A travel “journalist” is writing a travel article without ever actually taking the trip him or her self. OR

    2) The journalist goes on a press trip to experience the destination, and then writes about it.

    So which is worse? In my opinion, it’s far worse to write about places you have no first hand knowledge of – and believe me, this happens all the time – than to have your flights and/or accommodations sponsored to travel and write about it.

    Obviously, there are ethics within this, and professional journalists are not compromised on their content by the press trip. They still write what they want to write, honestly about their experience.

    Feel free to disagree, but I just don’t see how in this day and age, any travel writer can do it without press trips. Let me know of a publication that pays for the writer’s travel and I’ll eat my words.

  • Ana says:

    This is an excellent post. Definitely not a downer. I don’t make money from travel writing and I don’t even travel that much but I meet SOOO many people who believe it’s all a breeze to travel, as if you’re getting a dollar for every mile you travel.

    Kudos Alexis!

  • Kelsey says:

    Great post, Alexis! As you know, I’ve written about my dislike of this aspect of travel bloggers before, so I’m definitely with you on this one. Travel bloggers often write that stuff not because it works, but because it gets hits, and I think it really contributes to the seedy feel that has been growing within the travel blogging world. However, it’s not just the travel blogging world, I feel that it’s a problem in the blogging world in general – the emphasis on selling “e-products” has driven people to write what they think will sell, not what they know works. Telling someone their dreams are impossible doesn’t sell, so there aren’t many bloggers out there who talk about reality.

  • Adam says:

    Just discovered this and found your analysis, Alexis, to be spot on! Comments here are very interesting, too!

  • Holly says:

    Great post Alexis! The dream of getting paid to travel is a strong one. A lot of people never stop to try to figure out the math! You’ve offered some solid pointers here!

  • Joe Fletcher says:

    This article reads like self-centered, incidental BS. The author cites her own experience without much of any outside research or discussion into the topic. That’s really not enough to declare something as absolutely as travel writers don’t make money.

    Like Shelley says (and the author basically concedes by welcoming argument), travel journalists do accept free press trips. That’s how freelance writers make money writing articles. Even if they are getting paid a few thousand dollars for the article, the only way to make any actual money is by getting expenses paid. Chances are it’s not the publication doing the paying, so all or part of that is being paid by the destination business(es). Journalists also try out free products and get other types of freebies that allow them to write the stories that you want to read. Maybe people are under the wrongful impression that all journalists are independently wealthy and pay for everything they write about, but that’s not the way it works. It’s simple financing and really has nothing to do with ethics.

    And most publications pay shit? No, the random publications you cite pay shit. Actual established magazines and Web properties pay considerably more than a site that you admit is designed for up in comers.

    Sorry, Alexis, you should reword this article as “Why I don’t make money travel writing.”

  • Pete Noge says:

    A very informative blog post and I am glad that I had the chance to read it. As it happens I am still new to all of this blogging and writing thing but I do hope for my own sake that I will find a way to make money out of it. I was hoping that that might help me travel a bit more as well. Unfortunately, as Alexis said in his post, that endeavor is not that easy. I won’t stop writing, though.

    We truly live in a shitty world in my opinion. If creativity and progress are not sustained, how could we all survive? I was a student in the Academy of Art in Venice for a year, after which I realized that painting wasn’t my way of expressing my views entirely. Writing came to substitute that. Sometimes I regret that I possess an artistic nature. It would have been so much easier for me, if I was to become a doctor or a lawyer or a businessman of some sort, but I am not and I have to work with what I have. I dream of experiencing the world at it’s best and luxury certainly is not what I am after. I just want to see, meet and write. That’s all.

    *http://petesfilth.com* – if you are looking for more

  • Hey Alexis,

    Great post and valid points.

    I hope you don’t mind if I ask a quick question.

    I actually intend to travel around the world as a writer, but in a slightly different way. I intend to rent an apartment for a month in each of the countries I’m going to stay in – and instead of third world countries I intend to visit South-East Asia, Oceania, Western Europe and all kinds of islands (Cayman Islands, Seychelles, etc.)

    Now the question is, how much money do you think would someone need to save up if they’d know they can sustain themselves just about anywhere, but at the same time feel safe living in foreign country?

    -Ben

  • True, I don’t think most people that want to travel for free will ever be able to do that from travel “reporting” or “reviewing”. Most people also will not “rough it” in the way needed to travel cheap. So, it is a pipe dream that folks staring at their computer late at night will fancy, but never act on anyway.

    Now, if you write because you actually want to expose a location to the public, not just travel for free, then accepting local resources as comps or freebies is a bonus. If you are going to go there regardless, because you believe in the story you want to tell, then find a way to finance at least part of it from local resources. If writing a review of a hotel can get you a place to stay while you pursue your grand purpose, then do it. Just be honest with the readers that you got comped.

    Cultural education, or humanitarian awareness, or historical significance, or environmental awareness are all great reasons to expose a place with story based writing. But they rarely pay for the kind of trip that most westerners think of as vacation travel. But, if you believe in the story that you are going to tell, then the lack of a little luxury or a comped day spa will not stop you.

    The other thing that I see is that everyone wants to travel widely. So it just seems that everyone is “skimming” the cultural surface of the places they go. I liked the idea that someone gave above that they would stay in each location for a month. Enough time to get to know the locals, if the time is used for that. And great time to develop “stories” to tell.

    My stories are over at *beijingtravelreport.com*, niching specifically on Beijing itself. There are many places where I want to visit, but this is a place where I want to develop actual “stories”, due to personal family connections.

    And one last thing. Learn to do at least short video clips to give your audience a sense of immersion.

  • Turner says:

    HaHa. Love the honestly. For real. People paint such a rosy picture of travel writing that is astounding. Five minutes doing it should lead to other conclusions. I did recently write about this free sponsored trip through blogging which I find to be quite interesting, but it completely jeopardizes any kind of unbiased piece (after all, who gives away free vacations?)

    When I travel to countries, I am starting to take my time more and like to do more long term work. In Rome, I did street sales: http://aroundtheworldin80jobs.com/jobs-in-rome/

    And in Mexico, Timeshare sales http://aroundtheworldin80jobs.com/how-to-find-a-timeshares-job/ Not gunna lie, it wasnt pretty. But there were some folks making money. I dont presume to pick people’s life path, but the path of travel blogging or writing for millions falls more than a bit short.

    Thanks for the honesty.

    Turner

  • John says:

    Alexis, you are a stupid person and you’re wrong! Just because YOU have no ethics doesn’t give you the right to brand those who go on press trips as unethical. Yes, I do have the ability to accept free things while still giving an objective review. You lack this ability, too bad for you but do NOT project YOUR weakness on others. You need to get a clue and grow up.

  • Alexis,

    While this post is several years old at this point, it is really hitting the nail on the head for me as I have just dipped my toe into the whole “travel and work” world. My site is just starting out, but I have already seen a lot of the stuff you talked about back in 2013 coming into play, and it is sticky to say the least. Nodding and ooohing and aaahing at the comments!

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