I must have danced around the room for five minutes when I first checked into the charming Relais Christie Hotel during my recent assignment in Paris this past November. That spiral staircase, view of the Latin Quarter’s rooftops, 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. As I navigate the world of freelance travel writing and travel blogging; I have officially crossed over into that funny realm where my bank account can barely afford me a private room at a hostel yet I’ll find myself staying at a gorgeous hotel and dining at a fine restaurant.
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. So, how do I do it? These perks are not compliments of a bursting savings account, trust fund, parental bankrolling 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 own.
What are Travel Perks?
A ‘travel perk’ can be anything from a complimentary walking tour, a reservation at a nice restaurant, a hotel stay or even a guide book all offered up to you in exchange for a written review, editorial coverage or blog post. I have received guide books, city food tours, hotel stays and dining experiences in the past and all of them cost me nothing more than an article 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.
Before you Reach Out
On a previous post about breaking into travel writing, I speak to the ins and outs of pitching editors and gaining assignments. You may be an excellent writer with a great story to tell but in such a competitive field it is crucial to have your work published across various publications. The simple fact is that ‘travel perks’ are often given in exchange for a review, story or blog post and the PR agency or brand that is treating you is doing so in hopes of gaining exposure. While your own blog may not have the following needed to make an impact, being a contributing writer for sites such as Examiner.com (9 million monthly readers) or The Daily Meal (3.9 million monthly readers) will give your words more power and pique the interest of brands looking to work with you.
Tip: Writing for Examiner.com is an excellent way to gain exposure while writing for a large online brand. Examiner.com gives creative freedom to write about destinations, hotel reviews, restaurants, etc. allowing you to approach brands as a writer for not only your blog but Examiner.com. To become a contributing writer for Examiner.com, simply apply here and make sure to list Nikki Vargas as a referral!
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 my upcoming trip to Cartagena, I have 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 have responded, others haven’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.
That said, 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. Below is an example e-mail I sent to a hotel brand in London to inquire into reviewing their accommodations (and I’m pleased to say the brand was more than happy to offer a complimentary stay!). The things to note are a clear subject line, an immediate introduction that leads into why I’m reaching out and then the calling out of my credentials and what I can offer the brand in terms of exposure and following. Again, writing for publications helps boost your credentials to make it more likely to secure such opportunities.
Subject: Press Opportunity for XXX
I am a travel journalist from New York City and am planning on flying to London in late November 2014 on assignment to review the food scene and the restaurant, XXX as well as the XXX tour.
I would love the opportunity to stay at the XXX hotel and review my stay on behalf of Examiner.com (9 million monthly readers) and my travel blog, The Pin the Map Project. Additionally, my stay would be shared with my thousands of social media followers to encourage readers to consider booking a stay at XXX when in London.
A little about myself–I am a writer for The Daily Meal, Elite Daily, Travelettes and Examiner.com with published work in FOOD & WINE magazine, Matador Network, Vagabondish, GoNomad and more. I am an accredited member of the Professional Travel Bloggers Association (PTBA) and International Travel Writer’s Alliance (ITWA). In the past I have reviewed hotels, restaurants, food tours and hostels alike during assignments in Miami, Argentina and Colombia.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Maintaining Good Relationships
In a recent post about landing press trips, I spoke to the etiquette during and after a press trip. Being on assignment is different from a press trip since your schedule is more fluid and you essentially plan your own itinerary rather than rely on a PR contact to do so. That said, once you land an opportunity to review a hotel or restaurant, you should absolutely follow through with the stories and exposure you published and be transparent about when the story will be published.
Make sure to thank the PR or brand contact for hosting you and keep them posted on when the story will appear (whether it is on your own blog or another publication). Also, it goes without saying that social media is huge, so tweet, Instagram, Facebook and share your experience while tagging the brand. Establishing excellent relationships with PR and brand contacts leads to future press trip invitations or opportunities to review other hotels or restaurants in their portfolio; so definitely take care to maintain that connection and deliver on what was promised.
Applying for Product Reviews
As your blog gains following, you’ll start to receive e-mails from brands and PR folks looking to have you work with their clients. Recently, I received a note from Tomoson, a product review company that pairs bloggers and brands. The way Tomoson works is that you simply sign up and apply for the products or giveaways that you would like to review. Products are organized by category so whether your blog is travel related, beauty focused or all about food there will be relevant items you could potentially receive for free and review for your site.
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 PR, the main difference between PR and advertising 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.
Got tips on snagging your own travel perks? Share them below!