Sponsored Travel: The Ultimate Blogger’s Guide

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This post was originally published on happytowander.com in 2016. For more up to date blogging resources, check out our free guides here.

The reality of sponsored travel is that most people would give up their left arm to travel the world for free.

The good news is: today you get to keep both arms.

The bad news is… My dear bloggers, as you may realize, it is officially the last week of Blogtoberfest! *hands out tissues* And while it may be the saddest of days, do take comfort in the fact that I’ve strategically saved the juiciest topic for last. After four weeks of enduring my awkward jokes, you have now built foundational skills in content creation, social media, and traffic building… so naturally, it’s prime time to delve into a topic that we’re all super interested in (whether we admit it or not):

How to turn our blogs into free, sponsored travel.

Well right off the bat, I’ll have you know that nothing in this world comes free. Blogging, pitching and content creation all involve buckets of hustle (and stress eating), so know that you’ll have to work hard for your results. Today’s guide however will hold your hand through the basics. In the past year, I’ve had a lot of success pitching to different hotels and activities, which has helped tremendously in terms of not starving to death. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, so today I’m going to share that all with you!

I hope you’re ready to learn about sponsored travel! It’s another long one, so grab a blanket, feed your goldfish and clear your schedule for the next 3-4 weeks. (Only semi-kidding).

Let’s get started! But first…

Frequently Asked Questions about Sponsored Travel

1. How do I get sponsored travel as a blogger?

For the purpose of this post, sponsored travel will mostly refer to complimentary (or discounted) tours, stays and experiences in exchange for some kind of work on your part, whether it’s a blog post, social media or whatever else. This tends to happen in one of two ways: either you approach a brand, or they approach you. This post is all about how you can approach brands, so spritz on some perfume and practice those persuasive eyebrow raises. The beauty is really, all you do is ask.

2. When am I “big” enough to start pitching for sponsored travel?

If Facebook groups are any indication, this is THE number 1 question asked by new bloggers… and sadly it’s one that nobody has answers to. Now I wish I had some crystal ball to peer into so I could be like “yes Janine, your first comp’d stay will be next March” but there’s really no set formula for how many followers, pageviews, etc. you need because the circumstances always dictate the result. Hence I give you the most annoying answer of all:

It depends.

The first time I tried pitching to a hotel, I was at 4000 unique visitors a month. When they agreed to host me, I pretty much passed out. In hindsight, I could have probably reached out earlier to positive results, but who knows? Realize that it’s not just about numbers, it’s about details like engagement, how well your brand fits theirs, what kind of availability they have, etc. so don’t worry about hitting a ‘target number’, focus on the more important foundational stuff first, like creating great content. I feel like 2000 is a bit of a credibility minimum, so I personally wouldn’t start until you have at least 2000 followers/readers but again, numbers are only a small piece of this sponsored travel pie.

So much yes! This is the best guide out there for travel bloggers hoping to pitch brands for complimentary hotels, trips and more. A list of must-know tips for any aspiring travel blogger.
My first ever sponsored stay!

3. How do I approach brands and businesses for sponsored travel?

It’s surprisingly easier than you think. Outreach can be done through email, and as long as you know who to contact and how to professionally type up your pitch, then you have a shot at some kind of response. So, put on your coziest pyjamas and get to work!

4. But I’ve been told to never work for exposure! How do I get brands to pay me?

Woah woah woah slow down, crazypants. My philosophy is, if a brand reaches out to you for a collaboration then yes by all means, assert your worth and ask for payment. On the other hand, if you’re the one reaching out to them, it would be pretty nutty for you to say “hi can you pay me to stay at your hotel? My 100 Instagram followers would love it.”

Here’s my tip: Start small. Getting a complimentary night’s stay is already a huge win, so chill, revel in your success, and we’ll conquer the big paid gigs later on.

5. When is the best time to pitch?

Again, this varies. I’ve had success a month in advance, and success even 3 days before. Your better bet is to always to contact them earlier, that way you have more time to cry deal with a Plan B if they say no. Regardless, peak season is always tougher to get (for obvious reasons), so plan around that. Pro tip: send your emails on Sunday night or Monday morning, and they’ll probably respond sooner since it’s at the top of their inbox!

Brutal Truths to Understand about Sponsored Travel

I’m sorry guys, I need to play Bad Cop for a second here.

The truth is, there’s a lot of misconceptions out there about sponsored travel, and some bloggers who don’t quite understand what it means or the work that it entails. Luckily, I’m gonna bust out my baseball bat and break your spirits before we get started! Who’s ready to get their dreams crushed?! Oookay!

1. You need to make sure you have the right intentions.

First thing’s first, if you’re only blogging to get free stuff, then that’s a problem.

Blogging is really hard work. I spend more time with my blog than I do with my boyfriend, okay? I might as well be married to this thing. Blogging is a massive commitment, and many people don’t realize that. You’re going to be pouring months (maybe even years) of unpaid labour into your site before you start seeing any returns, so if you don’t have a genuine passion for writing or photography, then run.

Blog because you love it, blog because it’s fun, but never ever ever blog because you see it as a magical portal to “Free Crap Land”.

2. Understand that you are embarking on a path of constant rejection.

Oof, that’s dark. Sorry I have to say this, but once you enter the wild world of sponsored travel & pitching, thick skin is of crucial importance. Realistically, most of your emails will be ignored, and of the few responses you do receive,”no”s will be common. There’s a million reasons why you could have been rejected or ignored… maybe your email got sent to spam, maybe they were having a bad day, or more likely: maybe your blog is awesome, but just not the right fit for their target market. Don’t ever beat yourself up over rejections, because they are a natural part of the process.

3. Sponsored travel comps are not all they’re cracked up to be.

You know that feeling when you enter a gorgeous hotel room and all you want to do is burrito yourself in a blanket and sleep until the seasons change? Yeah, imagine that, but instead of getting in bed you need to meticulously stage photos of the room while it’s still clean, and awkwardly pose in bathrobes to get fun shots of you enjoying yourself. Don’t get me wrong – sponsored travel is amazing and you get to experience so many cool things, but at the end of the day, it IS a lot of work… and when your mind is always on work, you’re getting a very different holiday experience than if you were just taking a vacay on your own. Know that it’s not just margaritas on the beach… it’s more like awkwardly trying to take the perfect photo of said margarita, while it melts in the heat of your desperation. Just know that “free travel” is not as romantic as we all assume.

So much yes! This is the best guide out there for travel bloggers hoping to pitch brands for complimentary hotels, trips and more. A list of must-know tips for any aspiring travel blogger.
Shots like this require a lot of awkward staging…

4. As a blogger, you’re not entitled to “free” anything.

In any blogger Facebook group, there will always be that one chirpy newcomer who asks: “Hi I just started my blog! How do I get free hotel stays? Thanks.”

There are so many levels of rage that boil in me when this happens. Let’s be clear on a few things: bloggers aren’t entitled to anything. Literally anyone can start a blog, and if you assume that’s enough for you to work with brands, then you’re devaluing the hard work of a looottt of people. Secondly, as a blogger, when you stay at a hotel or do a tour in exchange for a review, please for the love of Spongebob, know that this agreement does not equal free. 

In establishing these partnerships, you are providing value to these companies through your work. Your agreement is a collaboration, not a freebie, got it?

And so that’s why the golden rule is to never approach brands for sponsored travel until you have value that you can offer in return. If you have a 2 day old Blogspot filled with angsty diary entries, that won’t bring any value to brands (except maybe a good laugh at lunch break).

How to find the right people to contact for sponsored travel

Alright, so you’re going on a trip, and you’ve decided you want to reach out to a few businesses? Great! People I usually contact include the tourism board of that city or country, hotels that I’m interested in and any tours/activities that are a good fit for my blog. Here are some tips for you in this seeking contacts process:

1. Seek out businesses that fit your blog’s audience and niche. It may be tempting to just email everyone and see who’s willing to take you up on your offer, but don’t muddle your brand by taking just anything!

2. Identify businesses or brands that have worked with bloggers in the past. This will greatly increase your chances of a ‘yes’. Strategies for this include Googling your destination + “opinions are my own” or “I was welcomed as a guest”. You can alternatively sniff out hotel or company websites with prominent Press pages and see if bloggers are included in those lists.

3. Know who you should be contacting. Emailing the general info account is probably not the best way to go. You should be looking for anybody who is listed as a Media/Press Contact, PR Person, Marketing Manager or even Sales. This will take some detective work, but a good place to start is the Contact page or the Press page (which will usually have a ‘Press Contacts’ subsection).

4. Just ask! I’ve started doing this recently and it has helped save so much time. Many of the businesses you’re pitching to will be customer service oriented, which means they will be active at fielding questions on Facebook or Twitter. For a hotel you’re interested in, why not shoot them a quick Facebook message and let them know “Hi, my name is Anna Banana and I’m a travel blogger interested in collaborating with your hotel! Would I be able to get an email or phone number for the individual who handles media and PR requests? Thanks a lot!” This shortcut gets you the information way quicker.

The basic format of an email pitch

  1. Greeting: Use the person’s name if you can find it. Never use “to whom it may concern” or “dear sir/madam” (does anybody even talk like that?) and if you have no other option, run with a friendly “Hello” or “Hi there”.
  2. Introduction: Let them know who you are, what the name of your blog is and why you’re contacting them. “E.g. I wanted to reach out about an upcoming visit I have to Bananaland.” 
  3. The body: There’s a few important elements to include. First – what is it about the hotel that fits your blog or audience? “My audience is comprised primarily of banana lovers and I feel like your banana-friendly atmosphere is a great fit for what they look for”. Make things specific. Second – what are you asking for (dates, how many rooms, how many nights, complimentary or discounted). Third – most importantly, what you’re able to offer in return (e.g. a blog post, social media shoutouts, photos, etc.)
  4. Conclusion: Be courteous and thank them for their time. Attach your media kit if possible and cap things off with something that invites a response like “I look forward to hearing from you!” 
  5. Follow-up: I haven’t needed to follow up often, but a week or two after the initial email would be a good time to quickly check in and ask if they received your last email.
So much yes! This is the best guide out there for travel bloggers hoping to pitch brands for complimentary hotels, trips and more. A list of must-know tips for any aspiring travel blogger.
Sailing in Croatia – my coolest sponsored trip to date!

Tips and tricks for a successful pitch

Never copy and paste templates from the Internet!

I’ve been on the receiving end of copy/paste templates before, and let me tell you: there’s nothing worse than an email that’s clearly been sent to 500+ other people. I mean it’s okay to have a basic structure to work off of, but failing to personalize it in any way is not just ineffective, it’s lazy. A few of my favourite copy/paste moments:

    1. Anytime I’m referred to as a Sir/Madam. [Like seriously, you couldn’t just find out?]
    2. When someone said they were huge fans of my blog and my embroidery. [Lolwhat?]
    3. My personal fail: when I emailed the tourism board of a city, but called it by the wrong name TWICE. [I still got tourism passes though. What a wild world.]

Remember that your request is likely one of thousands that your contact sifts through each year. If you found your pitch online, let’s face it: they’ve probably read it before. Do make the effort to personalize your emails  – I promise it’ll make a difference.

A media kit always helps

Even if you don’t have sky high page views or an adoring social media cult audience, a media kit will always help you. Why? Because it shows that you’re a professional, that you’re taking this seriously and that you’re not just some scraggly rando begging for freebies. I typically end my email with “I’ve attached my media kit for your reference. Thanks a lot blah blah blah”. It gives your contact person a way to find out more about you if they’re interested, and is a chance for you to flaunt your best qualities.

Two common misconceptions about media kits are that 1) you need good design skills to create one or 2) that they’re expensive to have made. This is not true at all! You can get clean, elegant Microsoft Word templates (yes, Word) on Etsy for as little as $10. Click here to browse some beautiful and cheap templates! [They’re doing a Buy 1 Get 1 50% off promo at the moment too!]

There are also online services like Canva where you can make your own for free. Be wary of using templates though because then your media kit will probably have many others that look exactly like it.

Show, don’t tell

Instead of “I am a popular travel blogger”, say that your blog “reaches over 30,000 followers a month across 130 countries”. Instead of saying “I have a lot of experience working with brands”, try “I have collaborated with a variety brands in the past (see examples here and here)”. The point is you need evidence to back up your claims. In the fluffy online world where people can just make things up, shine those golden rays of credibility by providing proof for what you say.

Always put your best foot forward

To succeed at pitching, you need to know your strong points.

If your social media audience is significantly higher than your blog’s, then emphasize those numbers. If your audience is small but very engaged, then explain why that is helpful to them.

Putting your best foot forward also means being a squeaky clean professional, so use good email etiquette, maintain a friendly tone and avoid typos at all costs! A professional email helps (e.g. [email protected] rather than [email protected]), as does your own domain name.

Are you still stuck with a free WordPress.com or Blogspot account? Check out my tutorial on how to get a self-hosted WordPress.org site (+ vanity domain) for FREE!

So much yes! This is the best guide out there for travel bloggers hoping to pitch brands for complimentary hotels, trips and more. A list of must-know tips for any aspiring travel blogger.
Cheers to successful pitching!

Research the company and tailor your pitches

Let’s be real: ‘Copy and paste’ pitches stuffed with vague terms like “your property” or “your business” are massive no-nos.. At the bare minimum, you should be mentioning the hotel/company’s name, and even better if you pin point what it is about them that you like. Real pitching superstars will explain how their brand meshes well with your target audience and why you think a collaboration would be appropriate. The key is to make it very clear that your pitch is tailored to them, and no one else.

Always note what value you offer in return

Many bloggers neglect this crucial piece, which is probably why many of them complain about rejections. Remember, you’re not just asking for free stuff, you’re offering your services in return.

So duh, you need to offer something in return.

Think about your strengths: are you a master photographer who captures mindblowing photos? Are you a social media wizard with a legion of devoted fans? Leverage these assets and tell companies how you can use your skills to help them.

My pitch emails always include the line “If you are able to provide [insert what I’m asking for], then here is what I can offer you in return:” followed by a list of what value I can provide back.

Triple check the content of your email

While I keep stressing the importance of personalizing your emails, I of course still have a structure/template that I stick to. The amount of times I’ve accidentally forgotten to change names/sentences is appalling and embarrassing. You know what’s gonna guarantee a “no”? Messaging the marketing contact of one hotel praising the decor of their direct competitor (perhaps a true story). SO PLEASE read your email a few times over before pressing “Send”. It’ll save you many hours of self-loathing, embarrassment and crying in a corner.

Bonus: Create a kickass ‘Work with Me’ page

You never know who might want to work with you. At the beginning, many of the deals you secure will be through your own proactive pitching, but it doesn’t hurt to have a ‘Work with Me’ page on your blog either. Make sure it’s clearly prominent in your site navigation and more importantly, that it looks good and sells you as a blogger. Mine is by no means perfect, but you can check it out here.

Helpful things to include:

Any media features or awards you might have gotten

What your blog is about and who your audience is

Statistics (that you’re proud of!). Emphasize your biggest numbers

A list of brands that you have worked with in the past (if you have gathered testimonials from them, now’s the time to show the world!)

The services you offer

A way of contacting you to discuss further

So much yes! This is the best guide out there for travel bloggers hoping to pitch brands for complimentary hotels, trips and more. A list of must-know tips for any aspiring travel blogger.
Werk with me. I am magic.


So there you have it… the very last instalment of Blogtoberfest.

The truth is, part of me wants to duck into a cave and hibernate until the end of days… but even after those thousands and thousands of words, I still feel as if I’ve only scraped the surface.

So duh, I’m going to continue writing blogging guides. I can’t promise the updates will be as frequent (because I really miss the travel part of my blog!) but just know that this isn’t the end of blogging posts forever… I have a million more ideas in the pipeline, so stay tuned for more 😉

Thanks to you, this past month has been the most successful month I’ve ever had in blogging, and I’ve honestly never felt more motivated in my entire life to write… like to the point where one week, I hid in the corner of a bachelorette party to finish edits (#BestBridesmaidEver). That’s some class A dedication guys, which means I (maybe) love you all just a little bit. So thank you for coming along on this wild ride, and stay tuned for plenty more to come!

I hope you enjoyed that guide on securing sponsored travel! Now tell me – what has been the most valuable thing you’ve learned this month? Or are there any more topics you’d like for me to address?! Fire away in the comments.

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