The Do’s and Don’ts of Sponsored Travel

This squeeky bridge is probably not very safe but it sure is IG worthy
This squeeky bridge is probably not very safe but it sure is IG worthy

Hi my name is Raphael and I’m a travel blogger who gets paid to travel the world. At least in theory…

You see, the reality of professional travel blogging is much more complex than that and right now there is a growing misconception behind the concept of “getting paid to travel the world” so I hope that this article will clarify some of the myths and urban legends behind Professional Travel Blogging itself.

If you’re a non-blogger, sit back and enjoy as I reveal the man behind the curtain and divulge some of the industry’s best kept secrets. If you’re a blogger, I hope this can inspire you to unleash your own inner potential…or not.

Either way, it’ll be an entertaining read so strap on and get ready for the journey!

“Getting paid to travel the world? How does it works, Raphael?”

Before I answer, let’s take a look at this imaginary story:

A rugged handsome man enters into a bar and orders a glass of whisky. “What do you do for a living?” the blonde bombshell asks him. “I’m a medical surgeon” he answers. “Oh, so you get paid to be inside an hospital? How exciting!!!” she replies while she giggles and takes a sip of the man’s drink.

“Well, not exactly. I mean, the work I do takes place inside the hospital, yes. But I get paid because of the activities I do at the hospital, not just for the act of being present at the hospital itself” he says as he tries to defend the quality of his work as a surgeon.

That, my friends, is Professional Travel Blogging in a nutshell. Do we get our travel expenses covered some of the time? Yes, we do. But it’s not because of the fact that we perform the activity known as traveling, it is because of the work that we do for the brands that pay for our expenses.

In the history of the world, there are basically two currencies that are universally accepted: One is money and the other is work. And we Travel Bloggers are known to pay with our work when it comes to collaborations with brands.

“But how do I do that, Raphael? How can I start working together with brands?” funny that you ask because that’s the first step that separates Hobby Blogging from Professional Blogging: Understanding the value of the work you are already doing.

How to save money in Switzerland
Winter sunset at Interlaken, Switzerland

The Do’s and Don’ts of Sponsored Travel #01: Understand the value that you’re creating

Anyone can start a blog. Anyone can take amazing photos and write incredible stories. Anyone can build an impressive following of loyal fans. There are no entry-barriers to the world of Travel Blogging and yes, I strongly believe that anyone can potentially be a successful Travel Blogger.

The number one thing you need to know? How to create value and more importantly: How to communicate said value to both your readers and to brands.

Imagine for a second that you’re not a Travel Blogger. I know, it’s hard to do, right? But come on, just bear with me:

Imagine that you just paid on your own dime to stay at one of the best hostels you have been in your lifetime, let’s call it the “Epic Selfie Hostel of Awesomeness” of Bangkok. Then, after a few days of drinking, selfies and partying, you decide to share your joy in your personal Facebook by uploading photos of the hostel and a brief recap of how epic it was.

Soon, your friends who were planning on visit the same city decide to stay the same hostel and your friends who were not planning on visiting said city are now considering to do so because of your personal recommendation. Even better, your friends just shared your photos and text to their friends who are now doing the same with their own friends.

You, my friend, just created value (a lot of value I might add) for the “Epic Selfie Hostel of Awesomeness” (seriously, I need to copyright that!) and well, let’s just say you were on the loosing side since the hostel got a big boost in their revenues while you got…well, just personal satisfaction which might be enough for some but it certainly doesn’t pay the bills and a man has to be able to afford his tacos everywhere in the globe.

Travel Blogging is basically this system in a nutshell only that instead of limiting ourselves to our personal accounts, we use our brands’ accounts and we go the extra mile to ensure that our message is seen, shared and re-shared by our loyal readers.

And trust me, there’s nothing wrong with making money from those services since it’s a mutually beneficial business relation where new never-seen before value is created: The readers are happy, the brand is happy and you, the blogger is happy too.

The first step? Look back at your old blog posts and see how much value you have created for brands. Go and take notice of every single mention of an Hostel, Hotel, Tour Company and Restaurants that could have been monetized by you in order to keep funding your travels.

It’s such a harsh truth to realize this after you have already paid for all of that on your own dime, uh?

Petra Travel Guide
The Man of Wonders and his loyal companions

The Do’s and Don’ts of Sponsored Travel #02: Understand the way pitching to brands work

I often joke with my friends by telling them that pitching is like dating but that’s a pretty accurate description of how the business of Travel Blogging works: Going to war without a well-thought plan will only guarantee failure and the worst thing you can write as a pitch is: “I want to stay at your Hotel/take your tour/eat at your restaurant for free because I have a blog”. 

That will only get you in the spam folder, my dear friends. It’s the equivalent of going to a girl and saying “I want to date you because I’m a man”. It’s stupid. Really stupid.

Instead, how about generating an Unique Selling Point (USP) in which you explain what you can offer, the quality of your previous works and more importantly, WHY you’re choosing that specific Hotel/Tour/Restaurant above the competition.

A girl doesn’t wants to be one of the bunch, she wants to feel special and that’s the point where most Travel Bloggers fail during their first pitch: They forget to tell the brand WHY they want to work with them. Doing research is essential since you can mention in the pitch their current events, previous projects and more.

In fact, you can actually do research in other Travel Blogs in order to see which brands are open to working with bloggers (you can see my entire list of sponsors here). Come on, feel free to click it, I don’t mind sharing) and remember to avoid the mistake of thinking that just because they have worked with bloggers in the past it will automatically make them want to work with you: getting the right contact does not equal to having the foot in the door, it just means that you already know where the door is located.

So how to find the right contact? Well, in most of the cases I just use the info@companyname e-mail found on the websites of Tour Companies, Cultural Attractions, Hotels/Hostels/Apartments and Restaurants that I want to work with.

If that fails, call the number and ask to talk with the Marketing/Sales/PR person. In the rare case that it also fails, well, Twitter is your friend. You won’t believe how many sponsored travel opportunities I’ve gotten via Twitter!

Believe in the value of your brand and you will succeed, a big problem in the Travel Blogging world is the lack of confidence and self-worth that people constantly have. You’re awesome and it’s your duty to broadcast it to the world. So go and start sending those pitches for sponsored travel right now!

The Buddhist stupa atop Leh Ladakh
The Buddhist stupa atop Leh, Ladakh

The Do’s and Don’ts of Sponsored Travel #03: Understand that expectations should match reality

Before we continue, let me just say that an important thing to remember is that numbers are not everything and some brands are actually more interested about the quality of your photography, writing and your engagement.

Don’t undersell your talent by thinking of yourself as a “small blogger” but yes, you should always be realistic when it comes to short and long term benefits for the brand itself.

Don’t lie by saying that one mention in your blog will get them 100 new bookings each month and please, do not use BS metric such as “impressions”, “reach”, and “potential readership”. We all know that’s just an inflated number that bears no ground in reality.

The most common and reliable metric is “unique sessions” and “page views” that can be proved by using Google Analytics. As a frame of reference, most brands will be happy to work with you once you reach 10,000 Monthly Visits so keep on doing good work until you reach that point.

And hey, let’s assume that a brand has just replied to you with a big “YES”. Isn’t that awesome? But hey, before you start high-fiving yourself, there are three more important points that you should know. After all, you don’t want to sell-out and alienate your loyal readers, right?

The first of these points is to always deliver on your promises and to never promise something that is beyond something you would normally do. For example, I have never written a complete article about one specific hotel and I have no plans on doing so in the future.

What I offer to Hotels/Hostels is that I will write a normal article about the city and I will mention their property inside the article itself but always no more than two paragraphs.

Don’t sell-out by writing things you wouldn’t normally write, please. Always be clear with what you can deliver and be as precise as you can be. Communication is essential and don’t be afraid to tell brands “NO” when they ask you to do something that you’re not comfortable with

Your number one strength is not your writing or photography, your number one strength is the trust of your readers and you don’t want to lose that by doing something that a brand is asking you to do, speaking of which…

Sami Reindeer Selfie
Selfie Bucketlist #08: Selfie with a Reindeer while wearing an honorary Sami hat

The Do’s and Don’ts of Sponsored Travel #04: Understand where your true loyalties are

Want to know the difference between a print travel magazine and a online travel blog? If you own a blog, you are your own editor, publisher and writer. You are the one in full control of the story and because of that, you have an higher degree of responsibility towards always telling the truth.

The reason why most people don’t trust outlets such as Fox News is because their version of the truth is biased by their loyalty to their corporate sponsors and trust me, you don’t want your blog to turn into something similar. As an influencer, you should always present an objective telling of the truth no matter who is paying for your bills.

It is with great sadness that I must confess that a good chunk of the people inside the Travel Blogging Industry are only looking after themselves and treat their readers just as means to an end (the end being getting paid to travel the world, of course).

This in turn leads to situations where loyal readers are victims of dishonest deception from the Travel Bloggers that they once used to admire.

Yes, I get it. From a business point of view, doing an honest and objective review that leans towards the negative might be a bad idea for a Travel Blogger since it can potentially scare off future sponsors and that’s why they either sugar-coat it or even worse, they decide to make the editorial decision of “killing the story” and never blogging about it.

“But what’s wrong with that, Raphael? People avoid talking about things they dislike all the time” Yes and in a normal situation I would definitely agree with that but a Travel Blogger should always have a responsibility to tell the truth no matter what since omission of the truth is still considered as lying under many ethical schools of thinking.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the following example:

Imagine for a second that a well-known Travel Blogger, let’s call her “Backpacking Jane”, gets a sponsored stay in a 5-star hotel. Now let’s imagine that something bad happened to her (her computer got stolen, she got charged for something she didn’t order or simply she thought the place was a money dump not worth visiting) and her experience is mostly negative.

Disappointed, she goes and talks to the Hotel manager to inform him of the situation and they reach a mutual agreement in which she will kill the story in order to avoid informing her readers about how awful the 5-star hotel is. So far so good? Well, wait for it.

Now imagine that a loyal reader of hers books a stay on the same hotel and suffers a similar awful experience. No harm done, right? But hey, what if the loyal reader actually finds out that Backpacking Jane actually DID stay at the same hotel, also got a bad experience and what’s worse, decided to lie by omission to her readers by failing to warn them about the awfulness that takes place inside the hotel.

Do you see now why killing a bad review is actually one of the most unethical things to do for a Travel Blogger? Your number one loyalty should ALWAYS be to inform your readers. Good experience, bad experience, it doesn’t matter. Inform. Tell the truth. Aways. No exception. To the brands you owe your work but they cannot own your opinion.

Last month I got a sponsored stay worth 2000 euros at an Arctic Glass Igloo Resort located in Finland and to this day, the article is seen by more than 100 people every single day thanks to the magic of Google and Social Media. It’s an honest objective review and people thank me for it because it has helped them to avoid wasting their hard-earned money.

Honesty in the Travel Blogging Industry is rare and that’s why I deeply admire travel bloggers who are completely loyal to their readers instead of prioritizing their sponsors.

If you want to read more sponsored articles that lean on the negative, be sure to check out the sponsored shipwreck of Adventurous Kate, the sponsored 2000 USD watch that didn’t work of Leave Your Daily Hell and the scam of the sponsored yacht week in Croatia of Girl vs. Globe.

You always have the choice of being truthful and honest or being misleading and deceiving. But remember that only one is the right choice to make.

The day I slept at Kakslauttanen Glass Igloo
The day I slept at Kakslauttanen Glass Igloo

The Do’s and Don’ts of Sponsored Travel #05: Understand that without transparency, there is no trust

Last, but certainly not least, it is important to talk about the number one most important thing you need to consider before accepting a sponsored travel opportunity: Transparency. Can you believe that a good chunk of Travel Bloggers don’t label sponsored travel as such?

They wrongly believe that if their readers know that a restaurant/hotel/tour was paid for by the brand, it somehow diminishes the opinion and expertise of the Travel Blogger and, in my opinion, that’s something very far from the truth.

I would like to believe that you, my dear readers, care more about the content itself and less about who paid for the activities that I did in said city/region/country. I would like to believe that you readers are smart enough to figure out where my true loyalties are and that’s why you trust my opinion.

I would like to believe that you want me to keep traveling and to keep creating awesome content and that’s why you support the fact that I get paid to travel the world. Isn’t that right, my awesome readers?

Sadly, not all Travel Bloggers think this way and that’s why they mislead their own readers’ into thinking that their latest Hotel/Restaurant/Tour review was actually NOT sponsored. And you know what? Even print magazines do it all the time and some editors of said magazine actually have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in which they don’t even ask their writers if said Hotel/Restaurant/Tour was sponsored.

As you can imagine, this creates a huge breach of ethics and luckily (at least in the US) there are laws that require for Bloggers to disclose sponsored stories. Personally, I wouldn’t trust anyone who doesn’t discloses since that is basically an insult to the intelligence of their own readers but hey, you’re free to do what you might consider best for your brand.

And yes, I perfeclty understand why labelling an article as a sponsored one might sometimes disrupt the general narrative of the article which is why I sometimes disclose at the end and sometimes I just make a small mention of the fact that I was invited/sponsored/hosted by a company.

I also have a page with all of my current and previous sponsors so any reader who is in doubt can easily see which brands have actually paid me to travel the world.

Non-transparency is dangerous because it means that you have something to hide. Just be honest and upfront and your readers will love you for it. Remember, your readers WANT you to keep traveling but they don’t like being lied to. No one does.

Honesty is a two way street and you cannot expect your readers to be loyal to you when you are not being loyal to them.

This squeeky bridge is probably not very safe but it sure is IG worthy
This squeeky bridge is probably not very safe but it sure is IG worthy

So…how do you actually get paid to travel the world? 

Aha. The million dollar question. So far I have talked about the do’s and don’ts of working with brands but I have left out on purpose the main reason why you clicked on this article: Money.

When should a Travel Blogger expect monetary payment? Well, this is a tricky issue and varies from blog to blog depending on their own monetisation plan.

For some Travel Bloggers, sponsored travel itself is not a payment and they follow a traditional journalistic approach where they expect Hotels, Restaurants, Tours and Tourism Boards to pay for their travel expenses and to give them monetary compensation in addition to that. “Traveling itself doesn’t pay my bills” is what they will normally say.

Other Travel Bloggers consider sponsored travel as the payment itself since it’s actually a barter of services (my work in exchange for your work) and also because they are confident in their abilities when it comes to the monetisation of the blog beyond sponsored travel (although getting paid for additional Social Media Marketing services you do for a destination is always a win-win situation for all sides).

Anyways, in case you really want to know, the way I’m currently making money with my Travel Blog is by contacting companies (insurance companies, clothing companies, travel gear companies) interested in sponsoring an upcoming or a previous journey of mine.

Thanks to the magic of Google and Search Engines, you can actually pitch companies to pay you money in order to be included as the official sponsor of old articles of yours that still get a significant number of new visitors per day.

No, it’s not about selling link juice or gaming the system of Google rankings (after all, the links will be nofollow), it’s about connecting good companies with readers and creating new value. Another business venue that I’ll be incorporating later this year is affiliate marketing sales in which you gain a commission each time one of your readers books an hotel/hostel. Win-win for everyone, right?

“So Raphael, can someone get rich by Travel Blogging only?” That’s hard to tell since the people making five figures per month do many things beyond Travel Blogging itself. Right now I’m making a four figure income per month thanks to my Travel Blog and I hope to keep improving time after time, there are no glass ceilings in the online world so in theory, anyone can make as much money as they are able to. At least in theory…

I sincerely hope that this article will be useful to you and that you can up your game by following these five simple steps. Remember, the reason most Travel Blogs crash and burn within their first year is because they focus too much on getting sponsored travel that they forget about what really matters: their readers.

The only way to move is forwards and I wish you all the best.

PS. In case you want to know more about the Business side of Travel Blogging, I recommend you to join Travel Blog Success. Note: This is an affiliate link and I will be making money for every sale of the course.

Gratitude is also a two way street so please, make sure to send me an e-mail in case you make a purchase of Travel Blog Success and I’ll gladly help you with any further question that you might have.

Thank you all and safe travels! Until next time!!!

How to Get Paid to Travel the World via @journeywonders
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66 Comments

  • Great article – some really useful tips! Hoping to start approaching a few companies myself by the end of the year, but I just really need to work on my stats. Have favourited this for future reference!

  • Very refreshing post on a lot of levels. I’ve read quite a few articles about people who have stopped blogging because of lack of transparency in the business. Nice to hear a strong voice saying that sponsorship and transparency can go hand in handl

  • great article..very helpful for me especially that I really want to travel the world! wish I can also travel like that…traveling while earning money! lolz..safe travels to you.

  • Some great analogies here and an interesting, inspiring read. Unfortunately I haven’t yet achieved the readership I need to start pitching to brands, but I have received invitations for comped stays and proposals for sponsored posts and link placements and I’ve turned them down because they don’t gel with the ethics of my blog and the kind of travel style I chose and try to inspire, so I totally agree that being true to yourself and your readers is of utmost importance 🙂 Just out of interest, have you ever had a company refuse to pay you as a result of a bad review, or do you wait until you’ve been paid before publishing the review?

    • Not really, all the companies I’ve worked with are responsible ones that always pay on time so there’s no need for me not to trust them. When it comes to custom-made campaigns, however, I require 50% in advance and 50% after the article is published, this is mainly for logistic reasons.

  • Raphael, I was actually expecting you to be a little more secretive than this, but you actually came out and told us what we want to hear. You’re onto something my man, and there’s no doubt… you’re gonna go far.

  • Great article Raph,

    Definitely something that most blogger seem to overlook is the fact that their loyalty should be to their readership. There is no doubt that a good majority of us seem to look to the people that may give us direct monetary benefits (ie sponsors) and disregard the very people that we are meant to be serving (the readers).

    Great post.

  • Great tips 🙂 I’ve been pretty lucky with my sponsors, so far everything has actually been fantastic. Though now that I’ve said that I’ve probably opened myself for some bad luck. haha

  • You have done an exceptional article here Raphael and have been very articulate and honest about this. I can’t see anything that I disagree with and like you, we value the trust factor that our readers have in us. I like your analogies because they make it very clear exactly what we do and why there is an onus of responsibility on us all to be open and transparent. As for the “Epic Selfie Hostel of Awesomeness”, that made me laugh out loud – that just shows how the king of the selfie is so very honest in even naming his hotel. Very impressed and when you are ready to write for us, we will gladly have you on our site.

  • Thanks Raphael
    I started my travel website about six months and wondering how long did it take you to reach that critical mass that you’re talking about? Was it through organic means or a mix of paid / organic? Did you wait until you got to that point before starting to pitch?

    • I ran a few campaigns using Facebook Ads during the first months of my blog to gain a loyal readership (I reckon I spent about 50-100 USD in total) and right now it’s mostly organic. Going from 0 to 1000 fans is way harder than going from 1000 to 100000. It’s a snowball effect really.

  • This is honestly a fabulous post, Raphael. Good for you! It is so informative and I think I can say for myself and many others that this article is being bookmarked for sure for future reference! Keep it up!

  • You’re officially my best travel blogger so far!! I’m very glad I stumbled upon your blog, which in my humble opinion is a little underrated. You should bag the award for best travel blog in the world!! What I appreciate most is your honesty and transparency. There’s a lot of very popular travel blogs out there that started out right, honesty and all. But now they just look like travel magazines, no personal opinions, just dry advertisements with very contadicting content. Keep up the good work. You are my role model. Loyal follower here. 🙂
    http://dianaratemo.com

  • Nice. These are questions I have always wondered about and you laid it right out there. I applaud you for that and I will take time to read through your blog. When you were first starting out and very new to travel blogging, what would you write about when you weren’t traveling somewhere?

  • Thank you for explaining so carefully. I was curious how you guys survive on the road for so long! Keep posting! There are a lot of people like me who adore reading travel blogs! Best regards!

  • Hello Raphael,
    Thank you for sharing in detail about travel blogging. Only one major point I took out of this article is keep your readers happy and just keep working hard, sponsorship will follow 🙂

    Regards,
    Nikhil

  • love to read your blog.. I like it.

    How can I approach Car company for sponsor a road trip by car?
    Please help me with this…

  • Thank you so much for your tips! I haven’t done any travel blogging yet, but you’ve shown me some good insight on how it works. super thanks!

  • Bravo. Thank you for this very insightful peek into the life of a travel blogger. You were not afraid to share the good, the bad and the ugly and I applaud you for yoir sincerity. Thanks again.

  • Thank you for this brilliant post!
    I’ve tried to approach a few hotels, no answer yet 🙂 I need to work more on it! Extend my portfolio and follow your tips.

    I have a blog lol
    haha
    honestly, a very interesting read

  • A v great article. Transparency indeed matters. And I love it when u say the only way to move is forwards. Such an honest opinion. Apart from the 10000 visits per month, any other metrics to look at before deciding we are ready for the sponsored travel pitch?

  • Hey Raphael

    First of all; I love the article, i’ve learned alot from it!
    Now comes my question;
    I am planning to travel around the world for a year and I was looking for sponsorships. I’m probably going to start a blog or a youtube vlog so that in this way it will be easier to get sponsors because of the viewers/readers I will have. But the thing is, when you start with the blog an the travelling… How do you make sure you get enough views or page visits for the brands to get interested in you? I mean, when i start travelling and i have 200 views or visits for each article, not a single company would wanna sponsor me. So how do you deal with it in the beginning, when you dont have alot of followers? Or what can you offer the companies if you dont have enough followers?

    Thanks! Kaz

    • I am thinking to run my personal travel blog+youtube vlog soon. I already visited some neighboring countries with own money.Even i have shooted videos with drone. So i already owned a lots of content.Just dont starts my blog yet. about your case, learn SEO for organic traffic and use social media promotions.Main question how you write a interesting and good content….And thanks to Raphael for this wonderful article. I learned a lot of things from it.

  • Hey Raphael. 😀
    Im so happy to read this blog. And im so glad that i came across this. I wasn’t aware of journeywonders my bad. But now I’ll definitely keep in touch. I’ve already become a fan of yours oh my god. Haha xD I always wanted to travel the world. I still do. The urge to tell my parents that i wanna go that way, it kills me so bad. Still stuck up with science. Im really interested in travelling and taking photos be it pretty or ugly and write stuffs and really wanna make readers get an automatic smile. Such dreams. I wish you could take me along. 🙂 Anyways good work man. All the best for your future. Yayayeee. 😀

  • Hey Raphael, this post was amazing, thank you! I especially loved this line: “your number one strength is the trust of your readers.” Although I’ve had my blog for a little over a year, I’m trying to make something of it this year and the more I learn, the more I realise I still have to learn! This post was perfect though, thanks for sharing!

  • I think the most important thing we tell people is to travel with a purpose, do not just wander around the world aimlessly. (Like ours is to experience and document the Top 100 Travel Adventures) So many travel blogs do not really have a purpose or a niche. Niche is key and many miss out on that because they want to cover and do it all. This will also help you to get paid for traveling, someone is more likely to pay you if you have a niche they want to reach. Why would they send you on an adventure trip if you write about food? Just something to think about.

  • Very detailed article Raphael! This is such an inspiration for newbie like me. Hope I could do the same. I really wanna travel and blpg about it.

  • Enjoyed this post and learned a bit as well.
    We get good blog traffic but I’ve been lazy with monetizing, being mostly reactive (having people pitch us stuff) rather than proactive. Funny enough, the only place I was proactive was when visiting Japan and only because hotels there were expensive. I was almost surprised when most people we approached were actually willing to work with us. Haven’t really pursued thing since however, mostly because we usually book one month stays through Airbnb and don’t stay in hotels all that much…
    But you are so right about how we bloggers will write about a hotel or restaurant experience, in effect giving people free advertising. I like your idea of not writing a whole post about a hotel (which I did in Japan) and instead including a reference in them in my post about the city. Does that actually work for you? I never feel comfortable wit those hotel review posts and most readers will see right through them – another reason I avoid the hotel stay for review thing.
    Great post, very refreshing read.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  • Hi Raphael! Thank you for writing this, it’s always helpful reading about someone succeeding at a dream you, yourself have. I recently bought a one way ticket to Australia a month ago and am feeling passionate about the travel blogging world but am unsure of the quality of my blog.
    I just wanted to see if you’d have a sec to look at it – time is money so I understand if not =) but figured I’d be where I was before the message if you said no so might as well give it a shot!

  • I’d been blogging for about 2 years already so yes I’m aware of these, but these are still good reminders. The last time I posted a sponsored content, I was accused of being a sell-out even though I’d written about the positive and negative of my experience… This made me wonder if it’s worth it to tag a sponsored post as such. Reading this, I’m reminded how important transparency is to our readers. 🙂

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