gili-lankanfushi-maldives-over water hammock

It's been months since we returned from our “honeymoon” and still we hear this often: “Wow, your honeymoon sure looked insane. Must be nice...how did you guys afford to do that?”

I think we have explained a hundred times by now that while our honeymoon was in fact “insane,” we chose to work very hard during our post wedding trip to share our experience with others and get them to develop the desire to want to visit these places themselves. We were not intentionally rubbing it in anyone's face and writing about how amazing it was just for the fun of it or just to brag and make others envious. Did you spend countless hours on your honeymoon taking the perfect photos and then editing those photos, writing in-depth articles, updating social media accounts, meeting with the venue marketing/managements teams, etc? While we absolutely love what we do, it's still work. A LOT of work.

No, that perfectly captured photo of me riding my bike to the overwater bungalows in the Maldives was not a single spur-of-the-moment snap, the elephant herd strolling by the river while I looked off into the sunset was no accident, and the endless social media updates and blog articles written were not just thrown together on a whim during a quick flight to our next destination.

The comments about the bike photo and the over-water hammock still make me laugh considering those two shots took a couple hours to get, and I almost drowned trying to swim out to that hammock (Well, I did not really almost drown, but our cameras did).

gili-lankanfushi-maldives-bike ride

For aspiring travel writers, if you are getting into this just because you want a “free trip,” then you need to rethink your plan pronto. You can make a lot more money doing other things and then just pay for whatever travel experience you are seeking. A lot is expected when a hotel, an airline, or a tour provider hosts you for a trip. This is a reciprocal relationship; they are providing you with value (accommodations, hospitality, etc.) and in return you need to be providing equal and often times far greater value (at least that is what I suggest if you want to be successful).

Hotels and venues find value in what you do and expect a return on their investment. If you cut corners and decide to simply sit back do literally nothing but vacation, it will 100 percent show in the less-than-adequate return your host will receive. As a result, it would be safe to assume that you will not be invited back or recommended for any future media trips. The bottom line here is that if you are not passionate about the “work” part of travel writing, then do not do it all.

The other reason for not becoming a travel writer unless you are serious is that you are giving the rest of us passionate workers a bad name by taking advantage of the situation and not providing value. So please, if you are not up for the hard work, then I highly suggest you find another career that will allow you to work hard making money and then travel and simply relax and enjoy without the work of writing and photographing while on vacation.

As you can probably tell, it’s a rather irritating topic for anyone that is working their butts off behind the scene ("hustling" as Gary Vaynerchuk would say), only to be perceived as kicking their feet up and relaxing.

With that out of the way, we can focus on the real question: how the heck did you do it?

While we go on media trips quite often, the honeymoon is the one we get asked about most. Maybe because it was the first time we planned our own media trip or because we were sharing our personal journey. Regardless, here are the nuts and bolts of how we made it happen.

Pre-Planning

We do have an active luxury travel blog that has a solid following. We knew we would share our experience with our audience, but we wanted to reach an even larger audience since this was a bit different than our typical media trips. So we reached out to our friends at honeymoons.com and offered to contribute our story and write on their platform in addition to Venuelust. With over one million unique visitors monthly, honeymoons.com was the ideal choice for this particular trip to give an additional layer of value to our media providers.

We then made a list of where to go and what unique spaces we wanted to feature. This was extremely important because we focus on off-the-beaten-path luxury at Venuelust, and we needed to make sure we partnered with the best of the best venues while we were on our trip. When we were approached by big brand hotels, we had to turn them down (unfortunately) because they didn’t fit our profile. Again, we were not after (nor should you be) a “free trip.”

If you are just getting started and do not have a blog with a lot of traffic, consider reaching out to publications and/or other influencer blogs and offer to contribute your story/experience. It may be a lot of work to write on two different platforms like we did, but it will grow your audience and help you gain the recognition you need to be successful.

Booking flights

Emirates First Class experience

If you want to have a successful travel blog you need to travel A LOT and write a ton of high quality content that your audience deems valuable. Writing just to write and hit publish is a waste of your time (quality > quantity).

If you do not already have any, it's time to open a few credit cards so that you can start accumulating points. We put everything on our credit cards. EVERYTHING! If you are a business owner, we highly recommend the American Express Platinum. Use the Chase Preferred if you are an individual. These cards provide you with lots of options for transferring points to airlines and hotel chains. The Chase Preferred Card gives you 2x points on all travel and restaurants, so you can start racking up points very quickly. These cards also have major sign-up perks. With the Chase Preferred Card you earn 50,000 bonus points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months. That's about the cost of a roundtrip plane ticket! With the American Express, you can get your global entry card for free. If plan to travel a lot, you need this card (this is an entirely different post which I will cover). With the AmEx, you also get a $200 airline credit each year that can cover the cost of checked bags, seat upgrades and even onboard cocktails. Our friend The Points Guy shares some great tips on what cards are great right now. You can also read more about how to plan a honeymoon using points.

We have accumulated plenty of miles, so we were able to fly upper class on Virgin, Emirates, and Korean Air. We also got a dozen economy flights on South Africa Air, all for just a few hundred dollars in taxes (actual retail costs would have been $20,000++). We also used points to book chain hotels between our scheduled work stays.

Virgin Upper Class

Expectations and Delivery

Be mindful of timing, expectations and delivery. Planning two nights in one destination and then having to travel by plane to a new destination where you will only have two days doesn't work out well when your flight is delayed or canceled. This happens a lot more than you might think, so you need to take this into consideration and plan for these types of setbacks. When working on a tight schedule, it can be hard to have enough time to truly “experience a location,” while conducting all the “work” that needs to be done. You may have to hustle to take the photos you need, get the answers to all the questions you need answered, exploring everything that needs to be explored, and so on.... This is especially true in developing countries where setbacks happen all the time, and there really isn't anything you can do about it but smile and roll with the punches.

flights in africa

Example: we had a delayed flight coming into Zambia. We arrived in the middle of a huge storm, with torrential downpours. It rained for the entire 1 ½ days we were there (plus we missed a half a day due to the flight delay). We couldn't leave our tented camp the entire time we were there. (Anyway, we would have needed a canoe to paddle around camp as all the trails/roads were extremely flooded). We felt terrible that we did not have much to write about and our pictures were limited to us playing dominos with the storm in background. When it was time to leave our tiny plane couldn't land at the connecting airport and we missed our next flight into Victoria Falls, causing us to miss an entire day of scheduled activities. If you only have two days at a particular location, we highly recommend scheduling a “non-work” day before heading off to your next destination. This will help you cover any delays and/or other travel issues that pop up. And something will surely pop-up. We guarantee it.

Be Absolutely 100 percent clear as to what exactly you are offering

How many blog posts will a venue be featured in? How many words per post? How many social media posts? Will you do videos, still photos, and other images? When will the blogs be published? What is your distribution plan? How will you promote the articles?

Give yourself plenty of time to handle your commitments to a venue. When we first started, I would tell venues that we would be posting on social media live throughout our stay and the articles would be posted within two weeks. I didn't take into consideration the fact that there would be no internet half the time or that our schedules would sometimes make writing on the road virtually impossible. For example, after coming off of eight days straight of safari camp stays, which have very intense schedules that start at 5:00am and end around 8:00pm, we were excited to head to a private island in Mozambique where the only items on the schedule were massages, relaxing, eating, and a bit of snorkeling(and the “work” part of course). We planned to catch up on writing and social media when we got to Mozambique. Not only did we have ZERO internet, the humidity actually caused our computers to shut down. They did not work for the entire five days we were there. If we didn't have work commitments, I would have taken it as a sign from the tech gods telling me "enough is enough, put that stuff down, open your eyes and view the incredible surroundings." But, the truth is, I was stressed out about not having the time to get caught up, so all that relaxing that I was looking forward to didn’t exactly happen. The big learning lesson here is to plan for contingencies like this and to always set proper expectations that allow you breathing room. In other words, always under-promise and over-deliver.

Be Flexible

If your schedule allows for it, be flexible. We hadn't planned to go to the Maldives, but we were invited last minute. We also hadn’t planned to then go to Sri Lanka, but we were invited while we were in the Maldives. We jumped online, changed our flight and were off to the Maldives that next morning. While it was an amazing experience, the best part about our extended visit to the Maldives was that Travel + Leisure, Matador Network, Fodor's, and CNTraveler all shared our photos of the locations. It was a WIN-WIN for us, and, most importantly, for the incredible venues and audience we were representing.

Follow up

It's important to follow up after a media trip. Because our background is venue management and because we travel A LOT, it's valuable for the places we write about to hear feedback. I don't mean the sugar coated “everything was fantastic, we loved it” type of feedback. Our goal was to really experience these venues and see how and what these venues could do to attract more business. We would be doing the venues a disservice if we didn’t provide them with this insight.

We would discuss things like what could they do differently, what was the best part of our stay, and any little details they could add to make the experience for others better and to earn more repeat visitors. Venues also appreciate it when you provide detailed reports about how the posts and articles performed. You can easily tell them how many unique visitors and how many shares the posts that they were featured in got. This will give them data that will show them the value that you provided.

One of the most important tips I can make is that you need to be 100 percent honest. If we are unhappy with an experience, we are not going to say it was great because we were getting a free stay. Again, this would be doing our audience and the venue itself a disservice. Not only does the traveler lose when writers do this, the venue will lose as well as false expectations have been set and will only lead to disappointment.

The only way the venues are going to improve is if they receive the necessary feedback, so please do not hide negative information or sugar coat it. I am not saying that you need to blast them. In fact you should make your criticism constructively. I would recommend that you sit down with the venue manager and discuss your experience honestly - the good, the bad and the ugly. They need to hear it and better from you then other travellers who WILL blast them online. Again, the goal is to have a win-win partnership for all parties. Communication is a vital component to the success of a media trip.

Your Turn...

Do you have anything to add? Use the comments section to join the conversation.