When people learn that I’m traveling the world, inevitably the first thing they say is, “How can you afford to travel so much?” The truth is, without getting comps, perks, and media discounts, I wouldn’t be able to do it.
This was especially true of my trip to Bora Bora earlier this year. Dubbed “the most beautiful island in the world,” by James Mitchener, Bora Bora evokes images of exotic palm-fringed, sugar-sand beaches and bungalows that hover over brilliant aqua sea. It was all that and more.
I stayed in a private overwater bungalow – yes, the kind you drool over in travel magazines. I had a view across the lagoon to the looming volcanic Mt. Otemanu; a few steps from the bungalow led into the four-foot deep, crystal clear lagoon where I could snorkel among the coral and myriad tropical fish any time of day.
The highlight of the trip was feeding the sharks. The thought of coming face-to-face with a blacktip reef shark is enough to invoke waves of terror for some. It sounds scarier than it is – the blacktip is docile and it is not unusual for them to swim fairly close to snorkelers. The actual feeding is done by an experienced guide and it was quite a sight to see the sharks all vying for the offered goodies.
The downside to Bora Bora is that it is outrageously expensive, and without assistance from the Bora Bora Pearl Resort and the Tahiti Tourism Board, visiting that stunning island in French Polynesia would have broken the bank.
I learned how to get perks and comps when I attended the Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop two years ago.
Here are a few of the tips that helped me land the Bora Bora trip:
- I did extensive research to see what had been written about Bora Bora, then came up with a unique story idea.
- I made contact eight weeks before I planned to arrive, to give them time to consider my requests and make the necessary arrangements.
- I was specific with my requests. I hooked them with my unique story idea, then asked for assistance with hotels and activities that would fit well with those pieces.
- I included links to similar articles that I’d had published to show that I’m a good risk.
- I included three assignment letters so they would be ensured that stories would appear in at least these three publications.
- I cited a relevant event to create a sense of urgency. The “Amazing Race” TV show had just opened their season with contestants skydiving over Bora Bora, so I suggested that they should piggyback on the excitement the show generated for the island.
And here are some things to keep in mind as you’re first starting out.
1. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. Don’t be afraid to approach tourism people. Sometimes enthusiasm can make up for lack of experience.
2. When you’re first getting started, I would suggest that you ask for a “journalist discount” instead of a freebie. A good percentage of the time, and depending on the cost, you’ll get it free. Don’t ask for their top-of-the-line activity or the presidential suite.
3. If you choose a destination that has not had a lot of press, you have a better chance of getting comps and perks. You can work your way up to the more exotic destinations as you gain experience and a track record of publications.
I used to think that traveling the world as a travel writer was the best job in the world. Now I know it is, because I’m doing it.