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Making press trips pay | TTW x BGTW mentoring scheme | Discount subscriptions
Qin Xie's first TTW takeover looks at making press trips financially viable.
We’re back, travel writers! Thank you for bearing with us in June. Some of the dust has settled now, so you can expect regular programming from here on out. And don’t forget, we’ve got this incredible discount running for paid subscriptions after we hit our second birthday on 30 June!
We use your money to invest in excellent content — be it from our own fair hands, or the hands of others more wise. This month, the wise one is Qin Xie. Formerly a travel editor at The Sun and Independent, she’s now freelancing in the travel and money media, and she runs the brilliant Money Talk newsletter, all about personal finance. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know by now that Steph and I are never shy about talking money, but Qin’s got real expertise here, so we’re handing the mic to her to explore some of the biggest financial conundrums in travel writing (see below; 🔒 indicates content for paid subscribers only).
Today: How do you make press trips pay?
🔒 July 12: How do you keep costs down on the road?
🔒 July 19: Can you really negotiate rates?
🔒 July 26: Tax and other things you probably don't want to think about but should
Press trips: can you make them financially worthwhile?
To outsiders, press trips are the holy grail of travel writing. After all, what other job lets you go on a free holiday and get paid for it? But if you’re a freelance travel writer trying to make it your full-time gig, a press trip should be anything but.
Consider this: for a 900-word travel feature in a UK national, you can expect to be paid anything between £160 to £500 depending on the outlet. If you can knock that out in a few hours, even rates on the lower end of the spectrum doesn’t seem half bad for a day’s work.
For context, £160 a day is around £41,600 a year pre-tax, assuming 260 working days – far more than what most salaried staffers could expect in our industry.
The problem is, press trips take up quite a bit of time.
In my experience, the average is around four days. So if you only get one commission per trip, you’ve spent five days on a single story. That means a paltry £32 a day on the lower end of the spectrum, and £100 a day if you’re lucky. Oh, and you’ll have to deduct any expenses from that sum — more on this in the next couple of newsletters — as well as of course taxes, national insurance and maybe even student loans.
At this point, you may well be wondering whether it’s ever possible to make press trips pay. The answer is absolutely — more on this below.
Before all that though, you’ll need to know your target day rate. That means the amount of money you need to earn to meet your ideal salary. If you’re not quite sure how to set that rate, here’s a handy guide I’ve put together for my newsletter Money Talk (skip to the section on how to budget for holidays).
Get more commissions
If you want the press trip to pay for itself, you’ll likely need to secure two or more commissions. Exactly how many will depend on your target day rate, total time spent on the features and how much you’re getting paid.
Start by working out your actual day rate; this is the total fee you receive (less any expenses), divided by the total time spent on the press trip and the writing.
You should be aiming to break even or make a profit — if your actual day rate is lower than your target day rate, you’re essentially making a loss.
Of course, it’s not just about getting more commissions but getting more lucrative ones. So in an upcoming Talking Travel Writing newsletter, I’ll be discussing whether you can actually negotiate rates up.
Work while you’re away
It’s a job, not a jolly — so if you’re relaxing on a beach or lounging by the pool, the harsh reality is you are treating the press trip like a holiday. But if you use the downtime — and there is always downtime — to file stories or do emails, then you’ve reclaimed some of your workday.
In the time it takes to get to the airport for example, I’ll try to reply to a bunch of emails. In the hours to kill between passing security and boarding my flight, I might be able to finish most of an article – or request for comment so they come in by the time I land, like this piece for The Times. And in the hour or two between activities, I might finish something off and file it or send out pitches for future trips.
Depending on the itinerary, it can be pretty exhausting. But when you’re a freelancer, it’s all about maximising your own time.
Pick the right sort of trip
Have you been invited to go on an all-expenses-paid trip to a five-star hotel for a week? Well, if you’re spending your whole time there, you’ll probably struggle to find more than one story. It’s not impossible to get another commission out of it — but it might take you years.
On the flipside, some press trips can be so packed that it feels like you’re only doing anything for 15 minutes before you move on. If you’re putting together a city guide, that might just be perfect. But if you’re writing a colour feature, you might struggle to have enough actual experiences to add depth to the article.
So a nice harmony is a trip with enough depth and breadth that you could visualise, “I can do xyz story for xyz type of publication” before you go.
That said, I don’t know a single travel writer who hasn’t taken a trip at some point because it’s something they really wanted to do, even though they may not be able to get more than one story out of it. Unless you have a sideline in something else, it’s not a strategy that’s going to work for every trip if you want to make a decent living.
But for the occasional one? Well, it is the holy grail of travel writing after all.
Mentoring for aspiring or new writers
The TTW x BGTW mentoring scheme has relaunched for 2022 and we’re looking for a new intake of aspiring or new-to-the-industry travel writers to apply! We are offering 10 FREE places on our mentoring scheme, which is funded by the British Guild of Travel Writers, and will take place throughout August and September.
The 2022 Talking Travel Writing x BGTW mentoring scheme is for new or aspiring travel writers. That means you might be a journalist in another field looking to get bylines in travel publications; maybe you’re a student looking to get into the travel media when you graduate; or perhaps you’re completely new to the writing game entirely and would like guidance on where to get started.
There are no real entry requirements, but you must be new(ish) to the industry and must be aiming to pursue a career as a professional travel writer. We’re passionate about helping diversify the travel press, so Black, Asian and minority ethnic writers are absolutely encouraged to apply.
If you're one of the 10 mentees selected, you’ll be matched with a mentor who’ll you meet (via Zoom, over the phone or even in person if you choose) four times over a period of two months, starting from mid August.
The scheme is supported by the British Guild of Travel Writers, from whose ranks our expert mentors will be selected. Applications for mentees will close at midnight BST on Friday 15th of July. To apply, click below:
If you’re a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers and are interested in becoming a mentor (paid position), fill out this form.
Tweet of the week
Who to follow
After five years heading up the travel desk at The Telegraph, Claire Irvin has jumped ship to take over as Head of Travel at The Times.
Steph and I will be hopping onto the BGTW’s webinar on Friday the 8th of July at 12pm to discuss what makes a great travel pitch and mark the launch of applications for the new mentoring programme. We’ll be joined by editors Lydia Bell from Condé Nast Traveller, Emma Gibbs from JRNY Magazine and Meera Dattani from Adventure.com, so it promises to be a cracking watch. Free for BGTW members/£6 for non-members.
The National Geographic Food Festival is back and is set to be a delicious celebration of all things edible from around the world.
You can now pre-order a copy of freelance travel journalist Mary Novakovich’s soon-to-be-released book My Family and Other Enemies: Life and Travels in Croatia's Hinterland. This travelogue-cum-memoir delves into her relationship with Lika in Croatia, a region little-known outside of the Balkans but which plays centre stage in her story of adversity, resilience and identity.
With a summer of travel turmoil and last-minute flight cancellations ruining holidays on the horizon, UK-based operator Typically Holidays is no longer booking flights from regional airports where they can’t easily arrange an alternative if the flight gets cancelled. It’s a smart move and one we hope other companies will follow.
Finally, Bloomberg is recruiting a travel reporter. Email Chris Rovzar for more information.