In 2019, I spent 3 months traveling on somebody else’s dime, and here is how you can too.
January of 2019, I quit my corporate job in California, packed a backpack, and set off to travel around South East Asia for the entire year. As a young and newly unemployed traveler, I knew that my money would go further for me in South East Asian countries.
For this trip, I planned to visit over thirteen countries and spent months compiling detailed excel spreadsheets on how and where I could save money on the road. I had nearly every expense planned and even set aside an emergency fund.
You see, this was not my first backpacking trip. I remember returning from my first adventure abroad and being completely addicted to life on the road. My one obstacle, affording it.
This time around I wasn’t going to waste my days getting drunk on the beaches of Thailand. Instead, I wanted to explore my passion for photography and writing and make use of my social media skills. Before I left, I invested in a high-quality DSLR camera, and put my Journalism degree to use, by starting my very own travel blog.
During my trip, I began photographing the people and places I visited, whilst curating detailed travel guides to share on my blog. In doing so, I was able to gain a following of over 50,000 Instagram followers who became apart of my travel community.
I wrote about anything and everything I encountered. I provided detailed guides, packing lists, and travel trips for young travelers like myself. In many ways, I saw myself as a resource. I hiked some of the most incredible viewpoints and curated images at the seven wonders of the world. I captured real and raw moments and began sharing them!
In doing so, I attracted the attention of travel brands, companies, tourism boards, and hotels. I began working with them to promote their products to my audience through Instagram features and published blog posts.
I collaborated with companies such as Booking.com, The Ritz Carlton, Club Med, and Daniel Wellington to name a few. However, prior to leaving, I was in the dark when it came to brand collaborations and what ‘working with a hotel’ meant.
How To Start
The most difficult part about all collaborations, be it with a brand, or a hotel, is knowing when you are ready to start. Truth be told, there is no real blueprint for when you can ‘qualify’ for collaborations. There is no official set number of followers you must have or engagement rate you should reach in order to start. HOWEVER, there is a rough guideline of requirements you should follow to help yourself score your first hotel collaboration.
I didn’t begin working with hotels until I had over 10,000 followers. As an estimate, I recommend that you wait until you have somewhere between 5,000–10,000 followers to reach out.
That is because these hotels are being emailed by hundreds of people a day ‘claiming’ to be ‘influencers’ and it is beginning to become a nuisance. If you want to have the best chance of scoring your first collaboration we strongly suggest you wait until you fall into that guideline.
Reach & Engagement:
Of course, not everything is about followers. Hotels also take into consideration your reach and engagement. Make sure you have a strong engagement rate ratio. This means having a strong balance of comments and likes in relation to your posts and the number of followers.
Understanding the Numbers
Once you have determined your engagement rate, it’s important that you understand where it falls on the scale
- Less than 1% is considered low engagement
- 1% — 3.5% is average/good engagement
- 3.55–6% is high engagement
- Above 6% is very high engagement
Apart from Instagram, it is important to understand that there are a number of other platforms you can be involved with that can add value to a brand, or hotel.
I used my website and blog. This could be a great option for you, or you could look into alternative platforms such as YouTube. Whatever it may be, it is important to be multi-faceted. You will appear to be much more valuable to the hotel if you are able to help promote them on more than one platform.
Before you start contacting any hotels, it is important that you understand your value and what you can bring to the table. What is it that makes you stand out and worth them providing you with a free stay?
So now that you have determined that you are ready to start reaching out to hotels, the first thing you need to create is a media kit. It is important to keep in mind that the media kit for hotels will look different than one for brands.
A hotel media kit is typically one page in length, concise, yet effective in the message you are trying to get across.
It should include images, a brief bio about yourself, your follower count, reach, engagement, audience demographic, and services you provide.
Typically speaking, most hotels will have a Marketing Manager who will already know what they would expect from you in exchange for the stay. If not, the ball is in your court and you can determine what you are willing to provide.
What the Marketing Manager chooses to ask for can vary frequently, thus there is no set ‘normal ask.’ Sometimes they will want multiple images, sometimes they only need one. To save yourself the potential extra work, determine what their ask is first and then reason with yourself if you think the exchange is fair and feasible.
Do you get paid to work with hotels?
This is a question I get frequently and the answer almost always, for everyone, is NO. (Unless you’re a big celebrity, or they are trying to promote their property for a grand opening, in which case they select the talent on their own).
Unlike with brands, hotels do not have the budget to actually pay influencers to stay at their property. The most they will typically offer is a comped stay, or a stay FOC (free of charge).
Now, the bigger you get, the more chance there will be for negotiations and asks. For example, rather than getting only 1-night stay for free, you can ask for more. On top of that, you can request that you receive complimentary meals. As with any business deal, there are negotiations to be had. It is up to you to determine what you think your service is worth.
If you are able to complete a number of successful collaborations with hotels during your travels you have the opportunity to build up a resume. Hotel chains talk to one another and often times I was given the chance to stay at a number of their many locations throughout my trip. That is why I always suggest that if you choose to work with a hotel you ensure you are providing them with your best work.
After a few months of working with hotels, I finally got the attention of tourism boards. Who in turn, curated entire trips dedicated to travel creators like myself.
In conclusion, I calculated that out of my entire year on the road, I was able to secure 3 months of completely free travel and accommodation. This was all due to the collaborations I secured. Therefore, if you are getting ready to embark on a long trip around the world, I suggest you invest in yourself as a resource to others if you are looking for a way to have part of your trip paid for.