Over the next coming months, you’ll see me talk about a lot of different travel products and companies and disclosing how I got the stuff or tours for free. I wanted to explain ahead of time why I take press trips and freebies. Yes, I get stuff. And yes, I take it. I pay for the majority of my travels. No one covers my flights, my food, my drink, my hostels, and most of my tours. In fact, I only get about 15% of my expenses covered by trips or freebies. However, lately, I’ve been getting more and more stuff offered to me. I don’t see anything wrong with taking things that relate to my website, audience, or budget travel. For full disclosure, here are my thoughts on press trips, free stuff, and the ethics of my writing:
I’m honest about it. I’m not going to hide the fact I get free stuff from my readers. On the internet, all you know about me is what you read from my blog and twitter account. All our relationship boils down to is my integrity and the trust you have that my writing is transparent. I’m not going to ruin that trust by being deceptive. If I did, you wouldn’t read my site and the last 20 months of my life would be wasted. I always plan to tell you what I got for free.
I am NOT a cheerleader. I have turned down stuff because companies told me I’d have to give them a good review. If someone wants to give me their product for free, that’s fine so long as they understand I’m going to write an honest review about them. If I don’t like it, I’ll say so. If I like something, I’ll say so. I’m not going to be bribed with free stuff. It’s not like I’m Tom Delay!!
I’m fair and balanced. The above being said, I can appreciate a product that might have an audience other than me. Just because I don’t like something, doesn’t mean you won’t. You could love it. I once wrote how I would never Contiki but also said I could see why people would. In my review of Eurail passes, I was totally open about the prices and what was and was not cheaper. I’m here to inform so you can travel better, longer, and cheaper.
PR trips are not unique to travel. Do you think TV critics, music critics, or movie critics are biased when they give a review of a product you know they got for free? Roger Ebert doesn’t pay for movies but no one says he’s biased. Why? People trust him to be honest. I would hope you think I am honest too. In the end, it’s the story behind the trip that interests me, not who paid for it.
I don’t take things I wouldn’t use. I often get requests from people to take some luxury tour or stay in some fancy hotel. I turn them down. Why? Because my site is about long term budget travel. Saving money so you can stay on the road longer. Free stuff for the sake of free reduces my credibility and my credibility is far more important. If I don’t think it’s relevant, I turn it down. I’ll take a Eurail Pass or the Kiwi Experience because budget travelers and backpackers use them but you won’t see me writing about a luxury resort just so I can stay in one!
Who doesn’t like free? I don’t know one person on the planet who doesn’t like the word free. If someone offered you a product you are going to use anyway, would you turn it down? Probably not. If Eurail, a hostel, World Nomads, REI, Stray, Lonely Planet, or anyone else wants to give me products to try for free, I’m happy to take it! It saves me money- money I can use to travel longer with and what’s wrong with that? As long as I follow the above rules, then I’m not doing anything wrong, deceptive, or misleading and my reviews stay honest.
Everyone has their own view on PR trips and questions how objective someone can be when they write about free stuff. However, in the end, it comes down to trust. Do you trust that the reviewer is honest? If you trust the person to be fair, balanced, and honest then whether they got it for free or not is irrelevant. What matters is what they write- the story about their trip and experience. I don’t care that Roger Ebert got to see the movie for free or that a bunch of travel bloggers got a free cruise. I trust all of them to be fair and that’s what matters to me. If you don’t think that person can give an honest opinion, what are you doing reading them anyways?
I’m going to keep taking free stuff and press trips but you have my guarantee that I plan to be honest in my reviews. Our relationship is based on trust and there’s no freebie in the world that would cause me to ruin that. And if you don’t think that I can be honest and truthful- well, then why did you just spend all this time reading my post?
(For full disclosure, I paid myself to write this post. I paid by check too even though myself wanted cash!)