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I arrive at the hotel a few hours before check in. I’m hoping to leave my luggage behind the reception desk, wander the property, and take photos for the magazine article I’m writing. I can kill some time while I wait.

Instead, I receive a warm welcome. “Miss St. John, we’ve been waiting for you—your room is ready.”

On the fourth floor, sliding glass doors lead me onto the patio, which overlooks two pools, a carousel bar, a miniature golf course, and the peaceful waters of Chautauqua Lake in Celoron, New York.

A note on the table assures me that it’s OK to order any item on the menu for dinner; the waitstaff are expecting me around 5 p.m. A bottle of chilled wine is in the small fridge, and a small box of fine chocolates sits on my pillow.

Theresa St. John

Later, seated and looking over the menu, my jaw drops at the $100 price tag for a 34-oz steak on the restaurant’s specials board. I mean, they said I could order anything, right? I don’t order the steak in the end, but it feels good that they wanted to treat me in such a lavish way.

I’m on a personalized media trip for a few days, and scenes like the one I’m describing make me realize—yet again—how lucky I am to be in the travel writing industry.

Before 2013, I heard about people enjoying the VIP lifestyle. I remember thinking, “Man, I could get used to that if I just figure out how they do it.”

Attending the Ultimate Money-Making Photography Workshop in Miami and the Travel Writers Workshop in Boston that same year changed everything. In April and September 2013, I learned invaluable secrets about becoming a travel writer from the pros before me. 

Around that time I became a member of the ITWPA, which came with an exclusive ID badge—a key that opens doors worldwide.

The first time I used my badge, it afforded me access to the Saratoga Race Course as a media member. I was allowed to wander the grounds and take photos for my stories. The highlight of the day was ending up in the winner’s circle, where I watched as a World War II veteran ring the bell to start the fifth race.

As a regular patron to the track, I had been hundreds of times—but never near the Winner’s Circle, and never mind a guest inside! It’s a day I will never forget.

Becoming a travel writer has been one of the best life decisions I ever made. I now stay in hotels I would have never been able to afford, on someone else’s dime.

Visitors bureaus invite me to ribbon cuttings of new businesses, ghost-hunting excursions, private tours of historic mansions, hot air balloon rides, and five-course meals at restaurants with month-long reservation lines.

PR folks roll out the red carpet with five-star hotels, beer and wine trail visits, museum tickets, boat rides, and so much more—all for free!

Frequently I open my email to several invitations to an area in my home state of New York. The PR contacts will ask about my interests and then design a media trip around them. Nine times out of 10, I can even bring a friend with me, which is excellent as I can share the experience with someone I love. I can “pay it forward.”

And it’s not only in the U.S. that I’ve experienced these perks…

The owner of a vacation rental invited a friend and me to spend eight days in Paris in exchange for an article.

An authentic Irish cottage owner offered his home to another friend and me for 10 days in exchange for an honest review of his property.

And I was able to bring four friends for a nine-day adventure in Fiji, where we stayed in a villa just steps from the South Pacific.

I love travel writing and the life it affords me. I’m grateful for the people I meet, the places I experience, and the stories I share with the world around me.

I wouldn’t say I’m used to this life either. I still feel amazed when I travel somewhere new. I still feel surprised when a stranger rolls out the red carpet and does everything in their power to show me a good time. Sometimes I even shake my head and look around to make sure they’re talking to me.

Travel writing always seems like Christmas to me—I’m this little kid in pajamas sitting near the foot of a beautiful tree, looking over gaily-wrapped packages, wondering which one I should open next, wondering what might be inside.

But let me tell you—I’m never disappointed.