All about sponsored travel! Shh!



It was just two years back, when I was daydreaming to freeze the sunset and catch the sunrise. Sit all day next to fluttering prayer flags and sip warm ginger-lemon tea. Meet strangers and talk life. Explore off the grid and live in cozy wooden cottages. While my boss twisted his mustache looking at my half-hearted presentation in a dull-grey conference room, in my head, I was hiking somewhere!

This innocently sounds like the dream of our generation. There are many of us, fueling the whirlpool of memes, talking about how everyone desires to travel the world but has no money for such indulgence!

Photo of All about sponsored travel! Shh! 1/5 by Ambika Bhardwaj
Daydreaming at work looked like this. Shot by: Ambika Bhardwaj

Zooming into this picture, I believed that penniless travel was all about sleeping on a cold park bench, hungry nights and hippie pyjamas. Until one thing led to another and I ended up traveling, without shaking my piggy-bank! I am no sage sitting under a Banyan tree and enlightening you about sponsored travel, but hey, I've got some secrets to share:

Here's what to do:

1. Know the who's who of travel:

This is the renaissance age for travel. The industry is mushrooming with new tour operators, while the old ones are reinventing themselves. It is a paint ball of ideas and networking is your way to enter the game. I started out with making an elaborate list of travel tour operators in India. This was followed by researching on what they do. For instance, trekking interests me, so I filtered my target to the tour operators specialising in the same. By doing this, you will be creating a prospective market for yourself.

2. Skill it up:

This is important. Since you've entered the market, you are either a buyer or a seller. We don't intent to buy or wish to spend on travel, so that makes us a seller. What have you got to sell? Here are a few skills I picked up:

a) Writing:

This was my first step on the trail. With Google crawlers, exploring the web pages of tour operators, they are in a continuous need of fresh content. I started as a content writer with an adventure tour operating company. I really wanted to visit and write about the places they organised treks/trips around. But this wasn't really the time to play princess. So, I wrote about everything: from marketing content to well researched blogs on places I haven't even visited. This may sound terrible, but it does a lot good. For instance, developing a travel writing style, understanding outdoors, and networking better. This is one of the ways to start. In due course of time, some of my projects in this company gave me an opportunity to travel. This is when I started my own travel blog.

b) Sales:

Everyone out there, is hungry for this! Absolute-insatiable-hunger, for more clients! For instance, I wanted to trek Kedarkantha last year. Instead of paying heaps for it, I gathered 10 people who wanted to go on this trek. I contacted some companies and offered them a deal, they just couldn't refuse! I gave them 10 clients and in lieu got a sponsored trek. A lot of tour operators, especially the start-ups, function this way: If you offer them a set number of clients, they either cut a slack for you or sponsor your trip.

c)Photography/videography: Documenting Experiences

Travel documentation is the mantra! This is the time to swagger your photography/videography skills. For instance, I really wanted to trek up to the Kanchendzonga base camp. A simple search on tour operators organising this trek, followed by, offering them a set number of pictures/ videos, worked wonders. This not only aided me to travel for free but also helped me earn!

d) Any God damn skill:

This fellow traveller I met in Mumbai, wants to live in as many countries as possible! I think that's a beautiful dream! He is a digital marketer by profession and does not believe in "touch-and-go-exploration". Rather, believes in staying at a particular place, to soak in the soul of what it really is. Last I heard of him was, when he wrote an email from Nepal. He's been staying in Pheriche, close to Everest Base Camp, since the past 3 months, as the host of a mountain lodge. So, any skill!!!

Photo of All about sponsored travel! Shh! 2/5 by Ambika Bhardwaj
Sea of clouds at Pheriche, shot by: Aniruddh Joshi
Photo of All about sponsored travel! Shh! 3/5 by Ambika Bhardwaj
Writing on the go! Shot by Ambika Bhardwaj

3. Barter Flourishes:

Of course it does! You know the market, you've picked up a skill and now you have to strike a good barter deal. However, if you wish to become a full time traveller sometime in the future, you must also know the art of saying "NO". When to work for free and know when to start charging. For instance, when I started as a freelance travel writer/photographer, I usually struck a good barter deal. However, once you have enough content to establish yourself as a traveller, you've got to stop working for free. That sounds like a long shot, but just saying, lest we forget that barter is only good for a start.

4. Build your audience:

You've got to share and promote your travel stories and experiences, because social presence matters! All those heart pounding, jaw dropping views have to find a place in your blog/Facebook/Instagram identity. This is essential for you to establish yourself as a traveller in the industry.

Side note: This will not happen overnight! Keep building it, bit by bit!

5. Keep strengthening your network:

Bagging a few sponsored trips, is just the beginning. One needs to be on a constant search of bluer skies! One needs to keep adding more colour to the networking canvas! Working or bartering with one company may become your comfort zone, but you must explore other options to keep the boat sailing!

Photo of All about sponsored travel! Shh! 4/5 by Ambika Bhardwaj
The road not taken! Shot by Ambika Bhardwaj

Concluding, I'd like to tell you what happened the other day. This person naively asked me, if I am a professional blogger. I paused before answering it, this time.

No. I am no professional blogger, writer, photographer or videographer. I just happen to love travelling. Immensely! In order to travel as much as I want and for free, I happen to pick up a couple of skills to aid me better.

I am no crusader of quit-your-job-and-travel-the-world (that's risky inspiration). No matter how ridiculously cool it sounds, though! I know a lot of people, who fulfill their worldly responsibilities by doing a 9 to 5 sort of job and head off to explore once in a while! At the same time, I did not want to be hung up on the cobblestones of depravity simply because travel is an expensive affair. Even the most luxurious travel is not, if you know how to work towards it!

So, all I am saying is, I have never been a great fan of paying for my travel and alcohol. Travel we've discussed, alcohol, you figure out! Let's storm a discussion or think of more ways to explore the world without checking our pockets!

Photo of All about sponsored travel! Shh! 5/5 by Ambika Bhardwaj
Much to explore! Shot by Ambika Bhardwaj
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