Hello dear readers. Exactly because you are dear to me, as is this little blog of mine, I’d like to talk about the hot topics in the travel writing and blogging world: freebies/press trips and the new FTC rules that kick in on December 1. So on this mid-November day, after returning from Arizona just yesterday – where I was hosted for four days by the great people of the Greater Phoenix CVB – I’d like to make it clear where I stand.
I’m sure many of you have been following the debate on travel writers accepting press or fam(iliarization) trips, as they’re also known. The discussions have been heated, on all platforms – from Twitter to personal blogs and magazines. So I thought I’d chime in and explain my position.
I do, happily, accept press trips. In fact, since last spring I have traveled to the following destinations for free: Barbados, Mexico, British Columbia, Montana, Bosnia, St Tropez, Bora Bora, Israel and Arizona. I’m about to take off for Paris and Canada in the next couple of weeks; both trips will be 100% sponsored.
I’ve blogged about these trips, I’ve sold articles about the destinations visited and will probably sell more content that arose from these junkets. And I stand behind every word I’ve written about these sponsored trips. As an honest writer and journalist, I cannot be bought. Just because a PR company or a hotel/resort may have paid $1000s to get me out to a dream destination does not mean I will give the said destination or property a glowing review. If I don’t like it, I won’t review it. If I don’t care for it, I won’t blog about it. In other words, I stand behind every word I write on this blog.
When I started blogging back in January 2008, I had a very noble idea of keeping an entirely ad-free blog that would be pure labor of love. I told myself I wasn’t interested in making money with it. It was just a showcase for all the travel writing I hadn’t been able to place so far and poetic musings nobody was likely to buy. At that time, I had a cushy freelance travel writing gig that covered my life expenses on a monthly basis. Other projects kept on landing into my lap all the time, so much so that I had to learn to say no. That lasted for a few more months, until I lost the writing gig in September 2008, and several other outlets soon after.
Let me explain here that I make my living 100% with travel writing. There has been no other income, personal loan or gift of money that came my way in many years. Travel writing is literally my bread and butter. On my low days, I am upset about the fact my rent may go unpaid or the credit card bill may be hit with hefty interest. But on my good-mood days, I am proud of the fact I have been working my way through recession as a travel writer, fully supporting myself with a craft I love, in an industry that has been one of the most hard-hit during the crisis.
But something had to give. So I started saying yes to press trip invitations, I put a few ads on my blog and I am about to post a sponsored article or two (with a disclaimer, of course) on my blog in the next few weeks. My blog is no longer an underground online presence as I liked to see it at the beginning, a non-commercial entity I was on a high horse about. I’m far from supporting myself with my blog solely but if blogging can cover my utility bills on a monthly basis, I am a happy camper.
The same goes for press trips. I have two options. Option one: I politely turn down the many dreamy invitations that land into my inbox on a weekly basis and I find a full-time job (if I’m lucky). If I choose that scenario, goodbye blogging about my whirlwind travels around the globe and hello fluorescent lights of corporate America. Option two: I continue to travel, paying my own way when I can and allowing others to pay when I can’t, collecting stories and photos to bring to my blog readers, family and friends who follow my travels with interest and curiosity. A propos of pics, above is yours truly on my first ever rock-climbing endeavor, just a few days ago on Camelback Mountain in Arizona.
In the last couple of years, I’ve been living the high life below the poverty level. I’ve become a survival artist extraordinaire. I’ve learned how to cash in on my passion. But throughout all that, I’ve remained faithful to you, my readers, and to myself as a traveler and a writer. Again, I stick to every word I write on this blog.
So now that I’ve disclosed so much about myself and my (non-ethical?) ways as a travel writer, are you less inclined to believe me? Or has this little exposé had no impact on whether you like what I write and continue coming back for more? I’m curious. I’d love your comments. And let me know where you stand on the debate.