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A year ago my wife and I decided to escape the Seattle winter for a few weeks to catch up with our friends and my family in New Zealand. I’m originally from Auckland and hadn’t been back for years.

As a travel writer, I knew I could easily line up some assignments to help pay for my trip, so I dreamed up several hot travel topics and fired off a query letter to any and all magazines that I thought would be a good fit for my stories.

Most travel writers go on a trip and then pitch their story ideas to magazine editors afterwards, but my approach is different: I pitch stories both before and after every trip. And this time, as usual, I struck gold.

A glossy U.K. travel magazine accepted two of my article ideas about Queenstown and Rotorua. And, as a bonus, these articles needed a section about luxury accommodation.

Here’s where the gold comes in…

Armed with these assignments, I arranged two nights’ stay at Queenstown’s most expensive and exclusive luxury villa, plus one night at the gorgeous old historic Princes Gate Hotel at Rotorua — free of charge.

In addition, these articles required a list of restaurants, so I sent out several emails requesting comp meals at top restaurants in Queenstown, and five of them came through — enough to fill out our dining card for our stay there.

For three days straight we enjoyed complimentary tours in and around Queenstown.

We took the all-day Kiwi Discovery bus to spectacular Milford Sound and chugged along the Sound in a large tourist boat, yelling excitedly when we saw a large pod of dolphins bursting from the green and blue water, pacing our boat…
We toured the huge Mount Earnslaw High Country sheep station in Glenorchy in a four-wheel-drive Land Rover…
And we stopped at a dogleg overlooking the sheep station with a wide, sweeping view across the Glenorchy basin.

As I gazed over lush green farmland dotted with specks of sheep and rows of jagged-toothed and snow-capped massifs 50 miles away, with a paraglider soaring above us like a curious eagle, I remember thinking, “I never thought this would be my life. It sure beats commuting and working in an office.”

It only got better from there…

The following day we took a thrilling downhill luge ride, then, from a restaurant viewing deck up on high, we admired downtown Queenstown, deep blue Lake Wakatipu, and the towering Remarkable Mountains that provided many a backdrop in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

That evening we took a dinner cruise across Lake Wakatipu, where we feasted on a delicious kiwi roast dinner. Later, as the crimson sun set over the mountains, we returned via the Earnslaw to our luxury Queenstown villa, exhausted but having the time of our lives.

The remaining days of our trip were just as adventure-filled as the first, as we immersed ourselves in the people, nature, culture, food, and history of the region.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself. Truly, the benefits of being a travel writer are marvelous. And armed with some assignments, you can travel like royalty on a pauper’s dime.

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