We love travel — especially interviewing frequent travelers to get awesome suggestions about where to go and how to travel with ease. One of the biggest questions that we have for the nomads we meet is how they finance their wanderlust. After all, it’s not easy for most people to drop everything and head to Bali for a few weeks. In many cases, the adventurers we speak to leverage their online followings or talents to cover their vacations.
This week, we sought out an expert to explain the ins-and-outs of financing your trip by selling photos or videos. Chris Young has traveled to over 400 hotels in over 50 countries across six continents — providing creative content in exchange for accommodations and activities (even airfare on occasion). Hotel reviews, location guides, and gear guides all show up at his website, The Young Travelier, which provides meaningful, and up-to-date info to the would-be vagabond.
Young has a lot of information to offer, which just may be the push you need to start traveling (and getting the costs covered).
RULE 1: Remember That Brands Need Your Work
I’ll start sort of with the reason it’s even possible nowadays. A lot of it is because brands — and brands could be anything from a hotel to a country and its tourism board — have a need to stock their social media accounts with lots of images or videos, a lot of content. And it’s expensive to produce all this content, so they are constantly looking for ways to crowdsource it.
It’s always a question of whether to hire a local professional or to cover the cost of someone coming in and doing this for them. And you’ve probably heard it before, but this is how a lot of Instagrammers, YouTubers, so-called social media darlings go about traveling for free. It’s a lot of quid pro quo.
RULE 2: Develop A Portfolio
If you’re someone that’s not already running social media accounts and you don’t have a ton of followers, that’s not necessarily the end of the road for being able to travel for free. If you can demonstrate via a portfolio of past work that you’re able to provide quality collateral for a potential client, then a lot of hotels, Airbnbs, and travel agencies, tour guides, et cetera will show interest. All these travel related industry people are willing to offer their service or whatever they have in exchange for your ability to create content for them.
I personally send them a link to my portfolio. Because I have a small social media presence, I’ll send them an Instagram link, I’ll send them a YouTube link, but I also have a link of my professional work on a video hosting site called Vimeo.
RULE 3: Expect To Reach Out
It’s actually going to be an active outreach on your part. So, the method that I use is to scope out an underserved hotel or maybe an Airbnb that looks like it needs new photos. Another option is a country that looks like it doesn’t have a huge presence online but could be a great place to travel or is developing in tourism.
Sri Lanka is one that I recently went over and shot. I stayed for free at almost every hotel there, including getting comped meals and activities. It was the same in Belize.
These are examples of countries that are not top of the line for a lot of people to travel to yet. But they have a growing tourism industry that’s really looking for people to come and spread knowledge about them.Usually, I reach out with a form email of some sort. It says that in exchange for content, I would like to have either a comped or reduced rate. The industry term is “media rate.” Sometimes, when you are beginning, you may not get a completely free vacation, but it can be a wonderful discount, as deep as 70 to 80 percent off a normal rate, somewhere. So, if not a free vacation, potentially, a very, very discounted one.
I contact the reservations department and ask for a marketing or media manager; they will relay that over. I’ll blanket a place. For example, sometimes there’s a particular place I want to go to and maybe I don’t know whether or not it’s underserved. For example, I went to Portugal a little while ago, and I contacted a bunch of hotels in Lagos. I didn’t know which ones were going to respond or not. So, after contacting six seven of them, one responded back with “Yeah, we’d love for you to come here and shoot for us.”
You definitely have to be prepared for people to say no or ignore you. No one’s been outright rude.
RULE 4: Don’t Anticipate Getting Everything Comped
I think you should go in not expecting or requesting that they comp you for free but asking what they could do. At the very least, if they do agree to work with you, you can get a discount, you might possibly get certain things, smaller things for free, that are really interesting. For example, I worked with a Four Seasons in Maui, and they weren’t willing to comp me, but they were willing to basically give me a bunch of free activities including a day at the spa and a review of some of their private dining experiences. It was probably worth about thousand dollars in freebies at the hotel.
You’re in charge of your own flight. But if you can shoot professional video, a lot of times they will also pay for your flight because on average a nice video that they can rebroadcast somewhere would cost, at a minimum, three to five thousand dollars or so to deliver.
It’s very much a value proposition for them. They’re gonna take a look at how much it’s gonna to cost them to do this locally, to locally source it, versus how much it costs to get you there and to do it.
It helps if you happen to have actors or actresses, as they call them. They are basically other people in the video for them because that’s an additional saving for them. You need a pretty face, a pretty body. Unfortunately, things are a little superficial.
RULE 5: The Time You Spend Taking Photos and Videos Will Vary
The time I spend on a trip taking photos is all over the place for me. There have been times where I was in Bali at the Ritz-Carlton Reserve, and I shot two out of the three days I was staying there. I had to make sure to showcase certain things that they want, that the manager wanted to showcase at the hotel: their unique spa, the fact that it was on the river, their local cuisine, locally sourced things, and some of it was the architecture. It was very atmospheric resort; it was built in the middle of the jungle on sacred grounds. So, there were certain things in their mind that they wanted to see.
There have been other times where it’s taken all of a few hours out of four or five days somewhere. The client understands what they want for the most part, and you just cater to their need.
You should be prepared to work. Yes, this is definitely gonna be work. I’ve never had to just work the entire time. I feel like most of the time, it doesn’t feel like work because I’ll really want to go there in the first place. I want to document the experience, and it matters what my work looks like to me. So, I like to do a good job on the go there, even if it’s not necessarily for cash.
RULE 6: Consider Writing A Blog
I also happen to have a written blog, so I will sometimes write an article instead of shooting or in addition to collateral for them. Everyone’s different. If you’re just starting out, it might be a little bit different. But, as you progress, if you do want to do a written blog, if you want to have all these different types of social media channels, they always stack on top of each other as an added value to this potential client.
RULE 7: You Have To Deliver
I’ve had some of the properties actually email me or contact me on the spot for the work I have done. And, sometimes while I’m there, they ask me to deliver in lockstep during the stay, but I’ve also had other ones who have actually just trusted me. I would say the majority, 80 or 90 percent, just trust me to deliver to them by the time I leave or at some point in the future.
A lot of these chains are really trusting. Now, most of them will have your credit card for incidentals. So, I’ve never not delivered. But I would assume that if you don’t, they would probably have the right to charge you back, although they don’t make you sign contracts.
RULE 8 Share Your Work On Your Channels As Well
I think they often want you to share your work on your social media as well. So, I guess in my case because I have these social media channels, they actually prefer for me to share and are disappointed if I can’t. It’s just added eyes for them. I don’t know what would be the case without a following, but I would assume it wouldn’t be terrible for you to show off their country or city or hotel or tour — whatever it is that you’re creating content for.