Imagine waking up to the sound of the waves lapping on the Sea of Cortez in a suite that’s bigger than your house. Everyone deserves a luxury vacation at least once in their life. But, if you’re a full-time side hustler like me, taking time off work to go on any kind of vacation often means you’re losing money. I haven’t had a non-working vacation in years because every time I travel, I’m mentally calculating how much income I’m losing by not working, and how much money I’m spending for a getaway I know I deserve, but can’t really afford. However, in the past few years, I’ve discovered how to see the world for free by becoming a travel writer.
Sounds too good to be true, right? It’s not. I really did wake up in a luxury suite in Cabo San Lucas, and it didn’t cost me a thing. But, there is a catch. While going to bucket list destinations on someone else’s dime is totally boss, it’s not really a vacation. It’s actually a lot of work. In fact, vacations as we once knew them are slowly disappearing, and new data from Wrike Blog found that more and more people are working while on vacation to minimize the stress of returning to work when they get home.
We’ve all been there. You spend a week unplugging from everything that’s making you feel bajiggity AF, and come back to hundreds or even thousands of emails. Email fatigue is real, and returning to a mountain of work can make that vacation hardly seem worth it. In order to stay on top of email and avoid losing money, a lot of travel writers work on other projects during their downtime while they’re on press trips. So, if you really don’t care about that whole relaxation thing, travel writing or being a travel influencer is an ideal way to see the world without spending a cent.
Even if you’re not a writer, if you’re a photographer, videographer, or you have a side hustle or job that has a large social media following, you might be able to get yourself some free travel. There are two kinds of travel opportunities for people who can help promote travel destinations. The first is a solo press trip. These types of trips are generally sponsored by hotels that want to generate buzz for a recent renovation or grand opening. The hotel or resort will fly you to a destination, comp your room, meals, and other services (like spa treatments). This type of trip is somewhat relaxing because you get a say in designing the itinerary, and the schedule is usually less hectic.
I even went on a trip sponsored by a car company that let me decide what I wanted to do as long as I wrote about their electric car. I’m not gonna lie, zipping through the city in an electric car with Lady Gaga blasting from the super-fancy speakers was exhilarating. In fact, I was having such a good time that I got pulled over for speeding. Luckily, the cops were so interested in the car, and in learning about travel writing, that they let me go with a warning.
The second type of trip is called a media familiarization trip, also known as a FAM. While you’ll jet set to bucket-list-level locales like Japan or Bora Bora, FAMs are not at all relaxing. These types of trips are often sponsored by destination-specific tourism boards or tour companies. Because of this, the coordinator wants you to see as much as possible, which means your itinerary could start at 7 a.m. and go well past midnight. You’ll also be on your FAM trip with other writers, product reps, photographers, and influencers.
So now I know what they call this car the #ChevyBolt. It goes from zero to 60 in five seconds flat, which was apparent after I got pulled over seconds after accelerating from a stoplight. The #cops let me go because they were so fascinated with my #electriccar. They were walking around the car and asking questions about the features. They were even more curious that I was driving it for an @coastmagazineoc #writing assignment. I ❤️❤️❤️ this car, and if you’re a #leadfoot like me, remember that a little goes a longggg way! #phoenix #arizona #health and #wellness #writersofinstagram #holiday #desert #hybrid Thanks @jmcneely78 for the 📷 snaps! #leggings by @revolucion_la
While this is a great way to make new friends and professional contacts, it’s important to remember that because you’re technically working, and not on spring break with your squad, you have to behave yourself. Mainlining tequila at happy hour and throwing up on the table during the five-course dinner at the swankiest restaurant in town is not only frowned upon, making a spectacle of yourself means you probably won’t get invited on another FAM.
Additionally, if you’re a hardcore introvert who needs a lot of alone time, you’re not going to get it on a this type of trip. For those who prefer to relax, a solo press trip is better because you’ll get a lot more free time than you will on a FAM. On the flip side, if you’d rather spend your days exploring every cobblestone street, open-air market, and smoky sea cave in places you’ll likely never visit again, FAMs will totally be your jam. Interested? Here’s how to get invited.
If you’re a writer, chances are your city or town has some sort of lifestyle magazine or website that publishes travel articles. Newspapers are usually a no-go because ethically, newspaper journalists are not allowed to accept any kind of gifts, and this includes free trips. Contact your local magazine and inquire about their travel section. You’re more likely to be successful if you have published writing or photography samples to show the editor.
You can also start a travel blog, but you’ll have to be strategic about how to quickly grow your following so press reps organizing the trips can clearly understand how you’ll be able to successfully promote their destinations. Once you get invited on one trip, other invitations will follow. On FAM trips you’ll also make connections with other travel side hustlers who get offered trips. If you cultivate these relationships, your new friends will pass on opportunities offered to them that they — for whatever reason — need to turn down.
Because I have multiple side hustles going, and not working means not getting paid, I decline a lot of press and FAM trips, and I do try to pass them on to other travel side hustlers. My roommate, a fellow writer who also has a full-time job with benefits and paid time off, spent a good part of the past two years using her vacation days to travel to Southeast Asia, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, and Canada for free. While all of this free travel is really exciting, it’s important to remember that it does comes with strings attached. You won’t get a lot of sleep, and you’ll be spending your time taking notes and photos, posting to social media multiple times a day, and if you’re a writer, you’ll still need to write and file the story once you get home.
That being said, if you’ve got a serious case of wanderlust, but you’re so broke you’ve considered selling magazine subscriptions door to door, a working vacation is a small price to pay to get your fix for free. I’m heading to France on a FAM and Bora Bora on a solo press trip this fall. Because, whether you work or relax on your trip, packing an overnight bag and just going is good for the soul, and I don’t know about you, but my soul could use a little nourishment right about now.