Getting sponsored trips as a travel blogger can seem like a foggy and convoluted business, like it is some mythical beast that is unattainable. I am going to show you that, while difficult, you CAN lasso yourself a Pegasus, if you look hard enough and in the right places, and ride that baby to some free trips!
When I first started travel blogging seriously in mid-November, right as I arrived to New Zealand and my first time being outside of the U.S. I had a very vague understanding about being sponsored. I knew of a lot of travel bloggers that do get sponsored, like two of my favorites Nomadic Matt and A Dangerous Business, but I had no clue how to go about getting sponsored trips myself.
I spent days on end before my trip searching the web for tips and tricks, but everyone said different things, and I eventually gave up. Post as much as you can. No, quality over quantity. Just around and around. I figured maybe in 6-12 months I could land something after I have done this for a while, I never expected it to be in the first couple months, but somehow it did.
How did I land a sponsored trip? It involves finding a naked guy in my bed, a camel, and some beer. This is one of those strange tales that can start with:
“Well, it’s a funny story..” or “What had happened was…”
One normal morning while staying at Nomads Hostels Fat Camel in Auckland, I went downstairs to pay for another night of accommodation, and by the time I returned to my room, there was a naked guy suddenly snoozing in my bed (no, he wasn’t there to begin with).
Before that scarring event, I had emailed the marketing manager of Nomads Hostels mentioning I was going to write a review, but it didn’t seem there was much interest in that. After I posted the article retelling my traumatizing, eye searing experience finding the random naked guy though, it seemed to spark a sudden interest. After a few Tweets back and forth, they decided that we should meet.
I was invited by the hostels manager and their marketing manager for beers at a bar close by to talk to me about possibly working together. Holy crap I was nervous! My heart was thumping, my nails were gnawed to almost bleeding level, and I have never had a meeting like this before. I actually considered skipping out on the meeting at one point, it just seemed too good to be true, and I didn’t want to be disappointed.
After a pep talk with myself in the mirror that went something like this, “Snap out of it bitch! What are you so scared of?!” I threw my game face on to mask my fear, sucked it up, and went to meet destiny!
I arrived at the bar 10 minutes early, just to make an impression. Then I found myself standing there, looking quite lost and probably a little out-of-place, and I had no clue what the two ladies look like. Thoughts are racing though my brains a million miles an hour. What if I fuck this up? What do I talk about? What if they don’t like me?
I had to break the negative thoughts, so I asked the bartender if she had seen the two, and luckily she pointed me to a cocktail table outside. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans, push my way through the doors, and I froze. There were the two woman, already drinking beer and talking, and I was like a deer in headlights.
“Ryan, is that you?” I looked behind me, like you see the fools do in the movies, then back at them. I wonder what gave it away, was it the backpacker beard I was rocking, the twinkle of keen writers eye, the overflowing laptop bag I was carrying? Probably not. Most likely because I was doing that awkward waiting-around-for-a-good-moment-to-say-hi routine.
Wew. Glad they made the first move, because I may have just walked right on by too nervous to ask. After the introductions were made, they asked me if I wanted a beer, and instantly I knew I was going to get along with these ladies!
Next thing I know we are all laughing, exchanging stories, and having a good time. I was forced to recount the naked guy story again, but they loved it, so I didn’t mind. We talked about everything from marketing, social networking, blogging, and I started to understand why they contacted me.
The marketing manager informed me that she was the one running everything online. 8 websites, as many Twitter accounts, 4 Facebook pages, and loads more. No time to blog at all, especially for their secret project. She tried to get other employees in on the blogging side, but a lot of people can’t commit to writing, and a lot are too afraid to write honestly. That is where I came into the equation.
What was the secret project? They wanted to create a personality for the hostel’s mascot, Clarence the Camel. We exchanged ideas about creating a blog for their website, but instead of something standard, making it a little more interesting. Who would have the time to create a personality for their fake camel?! This guy.
I guess they figured if someone is willing to write about a naked guy in their bed, he could write as if he was a tequila drinking, frisky, rockstar camel. Hell, I’ve tipped back lot of tequila in my day and ran around pant-less, so I could definitely put myself into a party camel’s toes (no pun intended).
Feeling pretty good after swigging back 4 beers in quick succession to ease my nerves, I parted ways with them officially known as The Blogger. That night I became a freelance camel jockey.
For my trial blog post, just to see if I could actually write as the camel, I took Clarence to Skydive Auckland and the staff and photographed him pretend skydiving. It wasn’t as thrilling as I had thought, secretly I was hoping they would toss me out of a plane, but it was still pretty fun.
This was obviously the first time I wrote as a camel, but it was a helluva good time, and the best part is, as a camel you can really say whatever you want! I brought out the raunchy, the risqué, and the foul mouth, and I am pretty proud of the wild character I created. What a party animal Clarence became, and the staff of Nomads and Skydive Auckland loved him.
Christmas and New Years drew closer and I had no clue what I was doing for both. I poked my head in to the office at the hostel just to say hi, and I ended up talking with them about my holiday plans, or lack of them. They asked what I was doing, and I told them I had no clue, and was waiting for a friend to hopefully slap me in the face with something to do.
That is when they presented me with the sponsored trip. It was a pretty big shock at first, when they asked me at if I was interested in going on a trip with Clarence, I thought it would be something small again. But no, it was FAR better. A 9-day tour on the Stray Bus down to the southern part of the north island, with a whole epic list of inclusive activities to partake in? All I had to do is write about my experiences on the bus trip, and when I was able to take Clarence along, write as the camel.
Two weeks of traveling later, I had zig zagged all the way from Auckland to Wellington, absailing, bungee jumping, white water rafting, and more all on the grace of a camel’s back. Having the camel along was a slight burden at first with my pack and all, but I quickly got used to it, and everyone loved the guy! It’s funny when you see people’s reactions when you arrive places with a camel and go, “you think we can bring him down the river too?”.
I had a blast bringing Clarence the Camel along for the adventures, creating this crazy personality for him, and I am still playing catch up with the articles for the both of us since I had no time on the trip to write. It’s funny though, I can’t think of any more perfect way to get my first sponsored trip while traveling for the first time.
Now you know the weird events that led me to get my first sponsored trip. Below you will find some excellent tips I figured out from the whole awesome experience that will hopefully let you score one as well, though I can’t promise you’ll get to travel with a gnarly camel.
1) Don’t sit idly by twiddling your blogging thumbs!
Hoping something is going to land in your lap won’t get you a sponsored post, or really anything for that matter. Be proactive. Start going out and meeting new people, sneak in that you are a travel blogger, search for businesses that are up and coming and propose a deal.
Do research before you arrive to a destination. If there are activities you are dying to do, talk to the business, show them your enthusiasm (but don’t be too giddy) and tell them you will blog about the experience. Places like these give out freebies to employees and hostel staff all the time, so why not you? I had originally contacted Nomads Hostels to try to get free accommodation for a review, but it evolved from there.
2) When opportunity slaps you in the face, take it!
When it happens, don’t curl up in a little ball and cower from it. Whether or not you have an opportunity present itself, see everything, however small, as a possible opportunity. If someone mentions they are starting a new rafting business, tell them you’ll write about it.
I missed out on working at a traveling taco stand a few hours a day that will hit every major concert in New Zealand this year. I told them I had to think about it, and later the position was filled. Do you know how amazing it would have been to have free entry and exposure to the major festivals, with free food and transport? I was nervous about saying yes right away, go watch “Yes Man” and use that as motivation!
3) Get creative, think outside of the box!
This is important. Some people think blogging is just writing a “Dear Grandma” letter about the good time you had, but it isn’t. We are the ones traveling, out in the thick of this scary World, so think of different ways your travel blogging can benefit the both of you. Look at Where The Hell Is Matt, he dances everywhere, and scored a Visa commercial!
In my case, after tossing around ideas, Nomads Hostels and I thought it was a hilarious idea to write a blog as their fake camel, so I mentioned some funny things we could do with it, and voila!
4) Be confident, but don’t be an arrogant douche!
“I am kinda sorta a travel blogger and maybe I was thinking we could hopefully…”
That won’t get you anywhere. Believe in yourself and that you can write well and influence people, and let them know. Be careful not to cross the line to arrogance though, bragging about numbers and how they are missing out if they don’t choose you will get you a middle finger.
5) Learn the pitch before you strike out!
You only get a first impression — you got it, once. Just like a scriptwriter pitching to big movie execs, if you speak with someone over the phone or in person, you may only have 90 seconds to spit out your pitch. Know a basic line of what you will say to someone you meet with. And make it count!
6) Drop an email bomb!
If you are traveling somewhere, before you arrive, look up local businesses and excursion companies, and email ALL of them. Mention in the email that you are traveling through, and you are looking for activities to tell your readers about. Chances are if you contact enough companies, someone is bound to bite. I haven’t tried this myself, but I will be doing this today in hopes to score some freebies for when my friend arrives.
7) Attack Their Social Networks
Social networking is a powerhouse now when it comes to exposure for businesses. Everywhere you look advertisements have Facebook and Twitter information on them. Find out what the companies social networks are, and mention them in some posts like you are trying to decide on what to do in the area. Some might say PICK ME! Others might say PICK ME and we’ll throw you out of a plane.
Travel bloggers are going to revolutionize the travel industry, and our influence is growing. The reason for this is because travel companies are considered an entity, not an actual person people can relate to. Companies also don’t have the time to create personalities for camels, or blog about tips and tricks they found out for themselves that will benefit travelers. They have time to write destination descriptions, not real life. Bloggers are marketing and social network gurus, because we have to be to make this our job, so that is how you will score your sponsored trips. Offer to write about your actual real experience, and tell the world about it.
What are some methods you have found that helped get your first sponsored trip, and what was the trip?