This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Tinger Hseih, a food and travel blogger and influencer who has traveled the world on free brand trips. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I started as a food blogger in 2015 when I was in the middle of my weight loss journey. Back then, I started writing about what I was cooking. I loved sharing low-carb recipes for different types of regional cuisines and started to build a loyal audience of people who wanted to eat healthy but with a lot of flavor.
This was around the same time, Instagram was starting to take off. I created an account and posted recipes and photos of my meals. In 2016, I scored a gig as a Facebook live host for a popular food platform. Their pages had 500 thousand to 1.5 million followers. Every time I went live for them, I plugged my social media pages and gained followers rapidly. By 2018, my third year of starting my blog and posting on social media, I went from 10,000 followers to over 100,000 followers.
Over the years, I’ve leveraged my large social media audience to collaborate on brand partnerships and host online travel shows for tourism boards. But my specific niche and loyal audience has also allowed me to travel the world for paid and non-paid brand trips. If you’ve ever wondered what they’re like or how to get invited to one, here’s what you need to know.
My first brand trip happened thanks to a friendship
When I was just starting as an influencer, I made it a point to make friends with other content creators. I would start conversations with influencers I admired or who were up and coming just like I was by entering their DMs with a compliment or questions; it’s extremely important to genuinely connect and show love to your peers that you respect.
I live in Los Angeles and there are a lot of content creators who call this city home. I attended meetups, events, or conferences that were geared toward content creators while building relationships with people I met there.
Sometimes if a brand is looking for more influencers for a trip, they will ask the ones they invited if they have recommendations for people who would be a good fit. That’s how I landed an invitation to my first brand trip with a group of other influencers in 2018 to Taiwan through the Taiwan Tourism Board.
My friend, a food blogger, was invited on the trip and shared my information. I had around 85,000 followers at the time but was selected to go because of his recommendation and because I put together a clear list of the type of content I would create after going on the trip. This included three Instagram posts showcasing activities, food, and general photos of my time in Taiwan.
The trip was five days and we toured various popular tourist destinations throughout the country like night markets in Taipei, Sun Moon Lake in Yuchi Township, and Lantern Festival in Chiayi. Other than paying for WiFi and souvenirs along the way, everything else was covered including airfare, hotels, and all of the meals.
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Not all brand trips are completely free to go on but they’re still valuable
The most recent brand trip I went on was to Formula One in Las Vegas. My invitation came from Qatar Airways, who offered Paddock Club VIP access to the event. I paid for my airfare and hotel but it was worth it. Not only did I get free food and drinks at the event but I was able to meet the F1 drivers, ride around the track, and see the multi-million dollar race cars close up. I created two Instagram Reels in exchange for access to this event, even though only one was required.
I knew it would be an ultra-exclusive opportunity and a chance to continue a relationship with a brand that has sent me on other press trips before. In 2019, they paid for me to fly to Qatar to see the World Cup soccer stadiums and went to Paris to watch a Women’s World Cup match.
You can negotiate with brands about how much content you will create on the trip
If a brand reaches out about a trip, they will share basic details in their initial email. They will tell you about the location, trip dates, and what is included if you decide to go. After that, you can negotiate with the brand for anything else you’d like paid for and what deliverables you’ll be expected to provide.
For example, a brand might ask you to create five pieces of content for Instagram—which could include three Reels and two static posts. You might write back and agree to three pieces of content instead based on the time commitment it will take you to produce the content and the value you are getting from the trip (Ex: fully paid or if you had to pay for some of the trip).
You might also ask the brand if you can bring a plus one with you on a trip. Some press trips allow for this, while others do not. But it’s always worth asking since oftentimes you will travel with a group of creators or journalists you’ve never met before. Bringing a plus-one can help you manage photos and videos.
The trip perks include more than just free travel all around the world
As an influencer on these press trips, you get a lot of free things. I have been treated to spa treatments, suitcases, clothes, bottles of premium alcohol, and electronics. But a big benefit of these trips is the chance to make connections with other content creators all over the world.
When I went on a brand trip with the Ministry of Indonesia to Indonesia in 2018, there were around 20 influencers. I became friends with a handful of them and kept in touch. Not only have we been able to help each other out as content creators by exchanging tips and tools, but we also share each other’s information with brands and have been on other trips as a result of these connections.
You don’t need to have 100,000 followers to be invited on press trips
It might seem like you have to be a big-time influencer with hundreds of thousands of followers to go on a brand trip. But that’s not the case. I have seen content creators get invited on trips when they only have 20,000 followers.
The reason brands invite them is because they either have a specific niche (Ex: they share about luxury wellness retreats in tropical destinations) or because they create professional-looking content that brands might want to license and use on their accounts.
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Contact brands or tourism boards directly
I love pitching brands directly to land invitations on their upcoming press trips. I first start by researching the brand. I read blog posts on their website, any recent press, and scan their social media. I try to find out what marketing angles they care about for the upcoming year and reference those in my pitch.
For example, Destination Toronto shared its “You Gotta See What We See” campaign on its official site. Some of this information can also be found if you google the brand name, marketing strategy, and the current or previous years of the campaign. Understanding the brand’s needs and goals is integral to helping them provide a solution using your social media platform.
If you’re eager to book a press trip this year, be proactive about it. Reach out to brands, hotels, or tourism boards directly and pitch yourself. Every few months, I make a list of these types of contacts and send them a message introducing myself. I find the person’s contact information by searching on Linkedin or sending the brand a direct message on Instagram.
I’ll share what type of content I create, my social media metrics (ex: engagement and follower count), and a media kit. I will ask them to keep me in mind for upcoming press trips. And if you want to be included on future trips, I highly recommend following up.
Put together a media kit that you can share with brands
When I reach out to brands directly, I like to send them a media kit that’s centered around what I can offer on press trips. Not only do I include information, like audience demographics and an explanation of my niche but I also include examples of content from other press trips so they can get a feel for what I’d create working with them.
If you’ve never been on a press trip before, that’s okay. You can include other examples of content in your media kit to show them what your photos or videos look and feel like.
To that end, brands want to make sure that you create quality content and have a similar niche before inviting you on a trip. For example, a lot of my content is centered around culture, food, and travel.
Last March, the mezcal company Mezcal Amaras reached out and invited me on a five-day trip to their headquarters in Oaxaca, Mexico. I believe one of the key reasons why I was chosen for that trip was because I already shared posts about Mezcal and Mexican culture through sponsored and non-sponsored posts. If you post what you are passionate about, even when you’re not getting paid, you can share those posts as examples to show to brands you want to collaborate with.
You can also include case studies where you show how you’ve helped sell products that relate to your niche or the brand’s niche. For example, if the press trip you want to go on is hosted by a wellness company, you can share posts about organic meals, and sustainable clothing, along with metrics for those posts.
Another way to get a brand’s attention is by posting about them before you reach out. I was invited on a brand trip to Los Cabos by Mexico’s tourism board. The reason I was selected was because I had visited and posted about that particular region of Mexico in the past. Be sure to use the tourism board’s or brand’s hashtags and tags in your posts to get their attention because some agencies and brands will use programs to find creators this way.
I’ve been a content creator for almost a decade and being invited on these trips feels like a reward. I don’t take these opportunities for granted. Instead, I overdeliver and hope to be invited back on the brand’s next trip.
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