Bloggers Travel for Free?

If you read a lot of travel blogs, you’ve probably seen mention of how they travel for free. Naturally, this has spurred a big growth in travel blogging. I mean who wouldn’t want to travel for free? Recently, I went to Thailand on a press trip, and I wanted to share a bit more about this idea.

Before I begin giving you a glimpse of what it’s like, I do want to point out that trips can vary quite a bit. This one was highly tailored by the sponsors whereas the one I’m involved with in Luxembourg later this year has much more open space for the members to explore on their own, etc.

travel for free

Travel Planning

Generally, but not always, press trips include transportation. When I’m traveling on my own dime, I’m able to change dates, destinations, situations, etc., to ensure it’s a schedule I’m comfortable with. When someone else is organizing it, the only input you often get is the departure and arrival locations.

On one of our days of travel, we were expected to meet the shuttle at 5:45 AM. Any time between 2-7 AM is generally my “oh hell no” zone. Had I planned and paid for the trip, there is no way that wakeup would happen unless it meant a significant monetary savings.

I’ve been known to stay another night somewhere just to avoid having to get up too early for a flight.

As an independent traveler, I select the type of airport transfer that works best for me. On our press trip, however, the sponsors had arranged all transfers. Unfortunately, one time their choice didn’t make the most sense given Bangkok traffic, and it ended up taking a LOT longer to get to our hotel. Added on top of a bunch of snafus, this made an already long day even longer.

travel for free


I prefer to travel a bit more slowly so that I have more time to try to absorb a place, its culture, its foods, etc. When I’m in control of the situation, I plan my travel accordingly. I generally have no itinerary other than when I’ll arrive and occasionally when I’ll be departing. I like to leave things open to spontaneity. If I like an area, I can stay longer. If I don’t, I can up and leave.

I also want to avoid travel fatigue, so I make sure to allow for daily downtime. I’d rather see less of a place and have a deeper experience.

One day’s itinerary for us looked like this: 7-8 AM breakfast, then check-out of hotel room and ride to the pier. Take a speedboat to a small island and walk around or swim for 45 minutes. Get back on the boat and ride for about 40 minutes to a marine national park and snorkel for 45 minutes. Ride in the boat to another small island and hang around for about 45 minutes. Ride in boat for 40 minutes to another island and have a leisurely lunch. Ride in bouncy boat on choppy water for around an hour to another island. Ride in van to the hotel and do check-in.

Now you have a couple of hours of time that isn’t planned, but since you’re there to check out the place, you spend a good deal of that time walking around taking photos, talking to staff, guests, etc. Then it’s dinner with some tourism officials. After that you have a couple of hours before you need to crash because you have an early start the next day as well.

Of course, since you haven’t had any time to really sit down and do stuff, you need to check your emails, do your social media stuff, take care of your photos, etc.

When the itineraries are packed for you, there isn’t a lot of room to say “I’m not really interested in this.” For example, we were expected to spend a couple of hours doing coconut shell carvings, something none of us wanted to do. We would’ve rather had the time to explore the island more, but the people paying the bills had other ideas.

At the end of our whirlwind trip, we were all too tired and burnt out to want to attend the bar hopping activity they had planned for that night. It was so tiring keeping that pace for a few days and being in near-constant motion.

As noted above, there are some press trips where you are able to kind to select more of the activities you’re interested in, but it isn’t always possible, so you have to make a choice.

travel for free

Travel for Free

When I see people claiming that a press trip is “free travel,” I have to bite my tongue hard. It may be “free” in the sense that I didn’t have to pay for my airplane tickets, transfers, most of my meals, my lodging, etc., but we were also expected to share things on social media and are expected to write about at least some of the places we visited. I have no problem doing that, but if I give you something in exchange for a service, I’m not doing it for free. It’s work. And often it’s uncompensated.

When you consider that you’re also taking time away from other things, it definitely isn’t free. I do some freelance and independently contracted work during the week to help pay our bills. While being involved on the press trip, I had no time to do any of these things which means I made no income for the time I was gone. Since I’m self employed, I don’t get vacation time, so if I don’t work, I don’t get paid.

During the trip, we were essentially in motion or involved in official business for 12 hours or more a day. That doesn’t include the time you spend after all that’s done, or between meetings, to do all the tasks associated with not only the trip but your business.

And when the trip is done, you still have your content to write, etc.

I’m not complaining. No one forced me to go. I’m just pointing out how things work.

travel for free


Yes, there are definitely pros for doing these trips. For instance, it enabled me to go to Thailand without having to pay for my airfare. In addition, I normally travel low-budget airlines, but they had me on a traditional carrier which also meant a level of service I don’t usually enjoy (comfort kits, meals, no charge for checked baggage, free food and beverages (including alcohol), etc.).

Normally it’s up to me to figure out EVERYTHING when we travel. On a press trip, though, they take care of arranging the essentials. I didn’t have to worry that I’d get off the ferry to discover I now had to figure out a transfer that didn’t go as planned. Someone else made all the calls.

On our way to lunch, our guide notified them we were en route, so we sat down and a minute later plates were being put down in front of us. I didn’t have to deal with a language barrier since our guide handled it all.

I didn’t have to arrange boat rides. When we checked in at a hotel, I pretty much only had to sign a form and that was it. Often I had a welcome gift in my room that a typical guest wouldn’t receive.

travel for free

I also enjoyed a level of luxury that is extremely rare for us. If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you know that we typically do an Airbnb apartment. Four- and 5-star accommodations are generally not in our vocabulary, and we usually don’t like them anyway because for some odd reason their WiFi usually is crap.

I also didn’t have to make the decision between getting a massage or enjoying an activity based on my budget. A 1-hour massage was actually part of my itinerary (bless the organizers!). Yeah, it was rather nice having a massage as part of my official schedule.

That did not suck.

I also ate food I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. Partly because I wouldn’t have understood the menu to know what to order so would’ve just pointed at something and hoped for the best (which honestly I do enjoy). Also, during our stay in a 5-star hotel we took part of an absolutely amazing Sunday brunch. I later learned it cost about $100 USD per person, so I probably would’ve skipped it if that was coming out of my own pocket. And I would’ve missed out greatly! I can tell you if I go back to Bangkok, I WILL be going back for that brunch. I’ll be saving for that splurge.

travel for free

Final Thoughts

Press trips definitely have their pros and cons, like anything else. As with so much of life, it comes down to choices. I certainly have no regrets about this Thailand press trip. I definitely enjoyed being flown there and back, being wined and dined, chauffeured, and being able to stay in luxurious places I wouldn’t normally while not spending even $50 USD directly out of my pocket for a week of travel.

It was worth losing some of the other income.

In my opinion, though, writers/bloggers who do these trips need to stop saying they travel for free. It’s misleading to readers and is a poor business attitude. These trips are work. And I’m extremely grateful this is something I can call “work.”

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  1. It’s true that no trips are ever really free, there’s an exchange of services. Writing about a destination afterwards takes time and effort but you’re also getting great content, so it’s mutually beneficial.

    The tourism board fam trips I’ve been on have always had very full itineraries to make the most of the time there. It can be overwhelming at times, but a good group can make it really fun.

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    • Thankfully, we had a really good group, and it was small. The people in the group definitely do make a difference.

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  2. It is a poor buisiness attitude to call press trips free. They’re work and hard work at that.

    For a long time I shrugged away from the idea of doing a press trip because I was concerned about being lumped in with the unprofessional bloggers who see it as free travel and treated accordingly. I am more open to press trips now however, I will always keep in mind how much work it really is as every professional blogger should.

    Thank you for posting this, I really appreciate what you’re saying!

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    • I’ve definitely witnessed that behavior of which you speak. Some of them act like prima donnas and are extremely unprofessional. I’ve been stunned at some of their behavior. I definitely would like to avoid large groups in the future, and I would like to tailor the trip a bit more to ensure that I can actually produce better quality content for my readers.

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  3. Hi there! Thank you for this post. I have been wondering a lot why I hear that trips and tours are “free” for travel bloggers. Even when I pitch and list all the things they will get in return, I get responses along the lines of “we don’t give away free stuff.” And even if I explain that working for it and working hard are essentially not free and most of the time and effort invested is actually underpaid (which is alright since I am a newbie blogger), I am still made to feel as if I have to be utterly grateful. One place even felt super generous giving me one scoop of ice cream (and only that) for a full restaurant review. Say what? So thanks for writing this post. 🙂

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    • My goodness! That’s insane! I think most companies and agencies get that we’re actually working and providing a service, but it seems many bloggers are constantly calling these trips “free,” and I think they’re doing a disservice to the industry, themselves, and their readers by doing so.

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  4. I can relate to this from the perspective of someone who is invited to lecture or teach in interesting travel locations.

    What you describe is not just that other people don’t understand that it’s often hard work and not just fun travel. It takes an adjustment when you start doing this to recognize that this is NOT just taking a vacation to the place. Now, I think more carefully about what the scenario is and whether I realistically will even enjoy being in that location. Am I being paid? how much? how does it offset travel and other costs (what I’m not doing at the same time)? How hard will I be working? Do I have the opportunity to “tack on” anything fun just for myself? Do I even want to go visit here with my limited time, if someone didn’t invite me? Do I gain anything professionally besides getting to say I visited ?

    I still like getting the chance to combine work and travel but I definitely weigh the pros and cons more carefully before accepting!

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    • I definitely agree. I just finished my 2nd blogger trip, and after these two experiences I will be weighing things out from a much different perspective.

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  5. Thanks for this, Talon. I just don’t understand why some DMOs make press trips feel like the Amazing Race. It isn’t in anyone’s best interest; we become burnt out and too tired to focus on and really explore all the amazing sights, tastes and sounds before us, and they lose out because we lack the time to post meaningful content on social media when we’re on the road.

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    • It really is quite odd. And sometimes the itineraries they have really don’t showcase their region well. I just finished a blogger trip meant to promote a specific city, and I have to ask myself why would I bother promoting it based on what they decided to spend most of their time on with the bloggers. It was a horrible waste of time and money in my opinion. And as I live in that city currently, I found their focus to be rather odd.

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  6. That press trip to Thailand sounds exhausting, and honestly that itinerary sounds like my worst nightmare! I’ve never done a press trip, but I do organise quite a lot of visits to (vegan) restaurants directly with the managers in order to review them on my site. So, yes, we get to eat “for free”, but it’s definitely still work, and quite a lot of it. Sometimes it’s nice just to pay for something yourself and not have any obligations or expectations riding the interaction.

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  7. Talon,
    This is excellence in writing. You are so correct from all angles. FAM trips are generally over scheduled and one is lucky to get 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night.

    Most people don’t understand what is in the background. Thanks for sharing this post. You are entirely correct. It definitely is “work” to take a trip of this sort.

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    • Thanks, Mike. It really IS a LOT of work. My choice to go, but I get tired of the whole “I travel for free!” nonsense.

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  8. Love this! So nice to just read fairly straight forward insight about these kinds of trips. No whining, no soapbox, just the real deal. I have a hard time explaining concisely to new writers exactly what happens on these kinds of experiences, so now I’ll just link them over to this post. Thanks!

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    • I’m so glad you found it helpful! I’m not fond of the whining or soapbox either. Some people seem to want people to feel sorry for them because they chose to go on a trip. Ridiculous! It’s a choice you made.

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  9. I just returned from a travel conference for women and there was a press trip panel workshop. They touched on some of these subjects but i really enjoyed reading your extensive post on the finer details. I’ll be sure to share this with some of the other ladies. I do have a question though, from one “family” blogger to another: are family press trips rare or do you choose to leave the kids at home? Since I write about family travel it would seem odd to write about a 5-star hotel where I didn’t go with my kids. How do you work that out?

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    • So glad you liked it. Family press trips are quite rare. This trip was a solo one, so my son stayed home. For the trip we have in Luxembourg, he is included, and I generally try to have him included on any of these types of trips since that is a big part of my angle so to speak. I think they’re starting to realize the benefit, though.

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  10. Great post, Talon, and right on point. People think we’re so lucky that we get to “travel for free,” but they have no freakin’ clue how hard we work. Not all of our itineraries are quite as packed as yours was (particularly if we’re on a group eco-tour, wherein we basically travel just like everyone else), but we rarely have much free time for our paying gigs when we travel. Being a professional travel writer/blogger (i.e. making most or all of your income from writing) is hard work. I suspect most of the people who say how lucky we are would change their tune if they took a trip like yours to Thailand. It can be utterly exhausting!

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    • Lol. You’ve basically become a parody of yourself now, do you realise that?

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  11. I can only think of a few times where I’ve traveled “for free” with no expectations for publications or any other work in return from me. Suffice it to say, it was for little sponsorships like a city card, a free dinner, or a bus pass for 2-4 days where I was just told “have fun” with no expectations in return. I wouldn’t really consider that free because I had probably paid a few thousands of dollars just to get into the city, independent of the the free activity.

    I’ve also worked with companies on some very nice trips, and also been on press trips that have been so chaotic I never had a moment to myself. In either case, the amount of work I put into it was substantial, and the lost time where I could have been actually earning money through other projects is something a lot of people don’t consider.

    Is going on press trips a great perk of the job? Yes, yes it is. But it still isn’t going to pay the bills to keep the website running, let alone provide shelter and food for the other 360 days of the year.

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    • Very true about those smaller perks that carry no expectations. Some of these trips are quite packed. It isn’t hard like say doing construction in tropica heat, but it’s still a lot of work, very mental, and can be quite time intensive. I definitely would prefer for someone to pay for the airfare and just give me a stipend to cover hotels, food, my time, etc., and let me discover the place as a typical visitor would. That would be an awesome trip AFAIC.

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  12. I agree. All of the press trips I’ve been on usually would have more than 12 hours of activities on daily basis, it’s kind of crazy. I can understand that organisers might want to cover as many places/things as possible but still…

    What makes me wonder is that usually the organiser would be with us all the time and would have organised plenty of other trips too. Don’t they feel tired too like the rest of us? My guess is that they do but they see this as their job and that’s probably how we need to look at it too, i.e. we’re working and doing some overtime work, not on holiday. 😀

    But of course, like you said, there are plenty of pros & perks as well, and I wouldn’t mind them at all 😉

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    • I’m sure they are tired, but they’re also getting paid for their time which usually bloggers aren’t. I think they have more stress, though, considering they have to keep everything going, have to deal with all the hiccups, and have a lot of pressure to make sure the bloggers/writers are having a good time. If the trip gets lambasted, it’s probably their neck on the line. No thanks!

      We definitely do need to think of it as work because that’s what it is. I think that might also change some of the behavior and attitudes from some bloggers who take these and act like primadonnas. When you accept a trip like this, you accept the itinerary, the responsibility, and that things may not go the way you expected. Your job is to join the trip, participate, and share and promote. They didn’t bring you there so you can complain about small details.

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  1. DN/LI/TB 23/11/16 - […] Bloggers Travel for Free? After a press trip to Thailand Talon Windwalker shares what it actually means to travel…

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