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Confession: I take free trips

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 โ€“ where I was hosted for four days by the great people of the Greater Phoenix CVB โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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 exposรฉ 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.

Blog Comments

I don't care whether your trip was a sponsored one or something you paid for yourself. I trust in your integrity and I trust your opinions! I would gladly read your article and take your advice on a certain place. Hey, we all have to make a living and there are worse ways to do that than accepting free trips.

Hi Anja
I also agree with Jen. I don't see what's wrong with accepting free trips, especially (as you said) you will still write honestly about your experiences regardless of who's paid for the trip. There's nothing wrong with making money from your passion. In fact – it makes perfect sense to me!!!


I would literally kill for doing what you do. Besides you can recommend me whatever, but at the end I'm the one who choose how to spend my money.

It never mattered to me and it still doesn't to know you accept press trips. In fact, my personal goal for 2010 is to get on a few press trips myself to see how they work.

You're a professional travel writer.

Thank you so much for writing this!

As a writer who also accepts press trips I feel worse about the PR people I am disappointing by not writing the fluff they might like than I do about my readers, who I hope are getting good and entertaining information despite the circumstances of my travels. How do handle PR expectations?

This is definitely a very interesting topic but it seems similar to many bloggers out there who write product reviews. If they don't like a product they won't write a review and they inform the PR agency their reasons why. This helps maintain a good relationship with the blogger and the PR agency. I think most PR agencies would rather a blogger write no review than a negative review.

I admire your integrity and fully support your decision. Maybe one day I can do what you do too. ๐Ÿ™‚

I applaud your honesty and integrity! "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything." It's a basic concept our grandparents taught us and is the kinder way. Self disclsosure on your part is all you can do, the reader's have to take responsibility for their final deicsions. I am new to your writing but will check back to your blog as I like what I've stumbled acros…

I am with you, Anja. Keep writing and delighting us with your stories and testimonies. I love it, with freebies or without. And pardon my bad English.

Phew! Thanks everyone for expressing their views and showing support.

I think there is more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to travel writing. It depends on who you want to write for and what their policy is. Your post is the best I've read throughout the whole controversy. Balanced and honest from someone who makes a living from travel writing.
I'm curious–how do you handle PR people when you've gone a trip and didn't write about it because you would not recommend the place?
Happy travels Anja!

Hi Anja,
I agree with everyone's comments so far. As long as you (and any other travel writer who accept press trips) gives an honest view of their experiences I don't mind at all. In my opinion, press trips are only a natural part of many travel writers' lives and there's nothing ethically wrong with taking them. I feel less respect towards those who write about a destination they haven't even visited (something I've done in the past, which I'm not especially proud of). Without press trips, there would be fewer amazing travel articles!

Press trips are something that most print travel journalists don't give a second thought about – it's an expected part of the job that they will travel at someone else's expense.

In the online world, we are becoming more commercial and more professional. Everyone expects free online content, but the reality is it has to paid for in one way or another, and these free press trips are part of the payment.

I personally wouldn't agonise over it, as long as we realise that there's no such thing as a free lunch and that a press trip is not a holiday either.

Hi Anja,
Thank you for this insightful post. I can certainly relate to your early ideals and how these have evolved. Now, if only I could get some invitations for some free trips! ๐Ÿ™‚

Hi Anja,
I would do the same if I had the opportunity. Sounds like a great idea; I'd encourage you to keep travelling so you can share the wonderful experiences with us. How could it be wrong to accept free trips when you give back so much in return?
Don't waste time worrying about it being a moral issue, just enjoy the journey! ๐Ÿ™‚

Wendy, I'll be very honest: I haven't yet really "hated" a place enough not to write about it at all. There are different ways of looking at each destination/property and so far I've been able to cover each to the satisfaction of the PR people. There is one destination that I went to recently though which I have very conflicted feelings about. Still finding ways to write about it with integrity…

Erica, yes, absolutely! I think it's so much better to take press trips and form your own opinion about a place than to write about a place without ever having visited. I've also done the latter but prefer not to again.

Thanks for reading, Keith, and good luck getting those press trip invitations! ๐Ÿ™‚ I'm sure they'll be coming your way.

Thanks much for the support, anonymous.

Heather, you're so right! There is no such thing as a free lunch and press trips surely aren't holidays. Believe me, I've returned from quite a few seriously tired – the pace is often crazy.

I feel exactly the same. I actually got into the travel writing business so I could travel, so free trips are the icing on the cake. I will not, however, lie about a place I have visited. Since I work for a travel agency as an indepdent contractor, I simply choose to write about the places I have visited that I think our clients will also enjoy. Actually, I haven't been anyplace yet that I felt in good conscience I could not recommend. That may change, but for now, I haven't had any conflicts of interest. My agency does not pay for my trips, so if I don't get press trips or fam trips, I am on my own for expenses. Bring on the free trips!

good on you man! i can totally respect that. i love your truthfulness.

personally, i feel that there's a very fine line between a writer and a journalist, and many people tend to group those terms into one category. but when you meditate on where those two terms differ, you may find why it is that fams could be perfectly fine for introspective writers who often times write narrative.

in any case i'm glad it's working out for you man. kudos to a great post!

JR @ http://www.DriftersBlog.com

I'm making my travel money by writing, but never about travel it seems. I take any contract i can get to make some $ to travel with. Thats life on the road!! ๐Ÿ™‚

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