“Would you please stand still for 12hrs?”, a friend asked me last week. “You’ve been travelling non-stop!”, another one said. Yes, that’s true, as you may have noticed from my Instagram timeline, I have been travelling non-stop: Cuba, Las Vegas, Lanzarote, West Sweden (with one or two days in London to unpack and repack my suitcase).
The past five weeks have been incredibly exciting as I’ve travelled to new destinations, learnt new things and met lovely people along the way. It was tiring, but also a lot of fun. At the end of the day, I am very grateful to be able to travel as much as I do, most of all because I work hard for it. I get a sense of pride in having a job that allows me to do what I’ve always wanted: to travel.
Yes, travel blogging is a job, not just an extended holiday. I am sure some people will envy my lifestyle, but it’s not all gold and glitters, so today I want to share a little bit of what it really feels like to travel as a blogger.
Not all the trips I do are free or strictly work-related. When I am invited to attend a press trip most of the expenses are paid for by the hosts. My job is to review and promote the destination, or the tour operator, the hotel and so on.
I also travel a lot with my husband and my family; of course these are holidays I pay for myself. I try to keep a balance between “holidays” and “press trips”, for the obvious reason that I want to spend time with my husband and be able to travel at my own pace. Though if I loved the destination I visited on holiday, I will still blog about it though, so actually I am always working (but that’s the life of a blogger, full stop)! ;)
When it comes to press trips, some months are busier than others, usually before or after summer and before Christmas. It varies from blogger to blogger, depending on the topics they focus on. In my case, March set up the pace for 2016 with four back-to-back trips to different countries (Spain, UAE, Israel, and Austria). After 3 1/2 weeks on the road I came back to London to spend ten days catching up with work, family and friends. I had less than two weeks to write blog posts about my trips, do admin work, develop recipes for brands and write features for publications such as Sprudge.
And then I was on the road (actually, in the air) again.
My husband and I had booked a 2-week holiday to Cuba, a destination I had dreamt to visit for a long time. An invite to fly to Las Vegas for the Bon Appetit Vegas Uncork’d Festival (two days after my return from Cuba!) was too good to refuse. I thought I would have time to recover afterwards, but then another invitation arrived, this time to join a bloggers’ trip to Lanzarote. Then, as I was flying back from Lanzarote to London, I received another invitation to visit West Sweden that same week. These destinations fit my style and the itineraries were interesting, so I said yes. That’s how I ended up travelling for five weeks in a row.
It wasn’t planned, it just happened and I am glad it did because I had a wonderful time, but if you thought these were relaxing holidays, think again! Also forget about that picture of me with a piña colada by the pool for just a minute! ;)
Travel blogging is a job, so let me explain to you how it works. Travel PR agencies organise press trips to destinations around the world and all year round, on behalf of tourism boards, airlines, resorts or other travel brands. These trips used to be offered to journalists working at newspapers, magazines and TV channels, but nowadays the travel and hospitality industries want to work with bloggers, vloggers and Instagrammers because they know we can influence the consumers’ behaviour.
A lot of the times press trips are confirmed (and sometimes cancelled) at the last minute, so I need to be flexible and be able change my plans at a short notice.
Bloggers don’t get paid to attend a press trip (although there are ways to make money by commissioning extra posts, photos, videos, etc. or by agreeing on a day rate). Personally I have never been paid to travel. So technically I am working for free and on top of that I have to take time off work to travel – that’s potential loss of income.
Throughout a press trip I work non-stop: gathering information, taking pictures, writing notes, asking questions, and constantly updating my social media channels. Once I get back in London, it takes me days or even weeks to process all the content from a single trip.
Think of a press trip like a school trip: a group of people travelling together, following an itinerary and the instructions of a group leader. Activities, meals, free time have allocated time slots. On a food blogger’s trip, for example, my day will be packed with activities from 9:00 in the morning to 11:00 in the night. These could be: visiting local producers, taking part to a cooking workshops, attending a food tour, meeting chefs, or having dinner at a fine dining restaurant. We usually get 45-60 minutes to freshen up after the day out, before meeting up again for dinner. There is no Monday to Friday, or nine to five. The days are intense.
If the trip is sponsored by an airline, my job starts at the airport, from the moment I meet with the PR and other bloggers. When I get to the hotel and I check into my room, the first thing I do is taking pictures. Often we meet with the hotel’s marketing managers to visit the property, learn about the brand, take notes and photos. When I have some free time (usually before or after dinner), I mostly spend it editing the photos taken during the day and sharing them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
If I have any time left, I try to see things that are not included in the itinerary like visiting a speciality coffee shop or a food market, or meeting with local bloggers and Instagrammer. I might go for a run or rent a bike to explore the city at my own pace. I like to explore the destination by myself to get a real sense of the place. I make the most of the time I have, even if it means giving up on a few hours of sleeping.
At the end of the trip I am knackered. It’s not just the constant travelling through time zones and the hectic schedule. It’s the feeling of being “ON” all the time: working, smiling, listening, interacting, and generally being professional and good company. Sometimes the trip doesn’t meet my expectations or the company is not very interesting. Other times I am tired or ill, but I still have to go out and work, because I am lucky to be there and because a lot of people have put their trust on me to do a good job.
There are downs of travelling as a blogger, but there are also ups. I get to do things that wouldn’t be accessible to me as a normal tourist, like chatting to local producers and chefs, or touring with locals. I eat at amazing restaurant, sleep in wonderful hotels, meet new people everyday. I learn more about the world and about myself. And after all of that, I get to share my tips and photos with my readers, I can support businesses I loved and can help people in planning their perfect holiday.
The hardest part though is being away from home so much. Every invitation to attend a trip will bring me joy and excitement, followed by guilt for leaving my husband, for not seeing my friends for months, for not blogging as often as I should, for missing out on other things (damn you, FOMO!) and for not working hard enough. I am sure most bloggers feel the same way as me.
I am learning that sometimes it is good to say no to an invitation to travel. It’s frustrating, but the truth is: travel blogging is not going to pay my bills. To use a cliché, nothing in life is free.
So here comes the question a lot of people ask when I travel: how do you make money?
Every blogger is different, but in my case I earn money as a freelancer in different ways: I work as a contributor for a few publications; I work as a photographer; I develop recipes for clients; I promote food brands on my blog and on my Instagram; I do Instagram takeovers for brands; and I manage an Instagram account on behalf of a food company. I don’t get paid to travel, but in other ways my blog supports my lifestyle as a travel blogger.
I work whenever I have time to work: at home, in a café, on a plane, in a hotel room. I struggle to find the time and energies to work as much as I would like to, but I do my best. I try to keep a healthy work-life balance; to take care of myself and my body; to spend valuable time with my family. Isn’t this what we all do?
My life is not perfect, but I like it. It’s taken me years to get to a point where I am proud of myself and what I have achieved. I don’t look back at my 20’s wishing I had done something different. Ok, maybe I wish I hadn’t eaten so much chocolate for the past twenty years! ;)
Today I cherish my freedom. The freedom to travel when I want, to manage my time, to choose which stories to tell and which causes to support. I am grateful to have a platform to speak from and an audience who is interested enough to listen to me. And that’s the greatest gift of this job as a travel blogger. Even if it comes at the price of not getting paid for it.
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