How to Get Companies to Pay You to Travel: My Story

A couple times a week I get a message on Facebook, Instagram, or through email from someone asking questions about how they can get their upcoming trip sponsored, like I have.

My friends/significant other and I have been planning this trip…love to travel…take pictures…have fun…inspire…video…et cetera–how do we get a company like Merrell or EnerPlex to sponsor us?

Sponsorships are kind of like mermaids. They’re never seen and often talked about. So let’s talk about sponsorship for a trip.How to Get Companies to Pay You to Travel: My Story

There are two types of sponsorship:

  • Product
  • Monetary

I’ve seen lots of people get sponsored on a product level. It’s awesome not having to pay for a product/service you need and you’re saving money. Getting sponsored on a monetary level is tough. Unless you have a big following, you have to prove yourself and stand out from the rest.

Companies need to see a return: Companies see this in 1 of 2 ways. They A.) expect you to leverage your massive following to show off their product/service. B.) They believe you have a special set of skills (photography, videography, writing, etc.) that will supplement their marketing/advertising efforts.

In order to qualify for Scenario A, your social media following usually has to be on par with, or larger than the company’s.

BIG travel is king: Everyone goes on weekend trips, sometimes weeklong trips, and occasionally trips that last a month or two. Hardly anyone dedicates their life to travel. If you’re willing to dedicate the next year or two of your life to traveling, your chances skyrocket. But you have to prove that you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do with or without the help of a company or two.

In order to prove to companies that you’re doing this trip with or without them, you need to self fund it first. It took Adam and I two years to save up what we thought we’d need to buy a van, build it out, money for the year, and a little extra on the side in case something happened. It wasn’t easy; we lived at home, worked our normal jobs while picking up freelance gigs, and every extra dollar we made we put into savings. When Merrell and EnerPlex came along, they just helped make our yearlong road trip even better and have in some ways certainly made our live easier than what they would have been.

You’re not getting paid to go on vacation: When you get your trip sponsored, it all of a sudden turns into a job and is no longer a vacation. Granted your job is way awesome to brag about, but you’re going to constantly be on the lookout for ways that you can fulfill the promises you made to your sponsors. You might even find yourself working while you’re traveling.

Don’t expect to get paid right away: Think of it as dating. Usually you want to get to know someone, go on a few dates, introduce them to your friends and family, and then maybe you make it Facebook Official. That’s usually how long-term relationships happen, at least in my case. Hardly ever do one-night stands turn into any long last relationship. Expect to actually get to know a company over time. Work with them on a product level for a while and interact with them on social media.

The industry’s small: Every industry is small. Do a stellar job and over deliver to your sponsor(s) and other companies may take notice.

You can just travel: Being sponsored and paid to travel’s great and all. But you can still travel because you love it and believe it’s what’s best for you and the best way to spend your time.

Getting sponsored to travel doesn’t happen overnight. It’s helpful if you’re already active within the industry and have made some connections in one way or another: social media, working with PR companies, working directly with brands, meeting others in the industry at trade shows/conferences, etc. Perhaps sharing my story could help shed some light on the topic.

Here we go:

I’ve always loved to travel. My parents showed me from an early age that it’s best to collect experiences rather than things. My dad went to a lot of conferences for work when I just started walking and my brother was a little baby. My dad got to bring my mom, my brother, and me along and to this day my mom tells people that I could basically find our seats on a plane by the time I could walk. It was fun, my mom made it a game, kind of like “Hide and Go Seek.” As Adam and I got older we’d take family road trips to visit extended family in North Carolina and snow ski, down to the Keys to snorkel and fish, and in 2010 my mom insisted the 3 of us guys start going on an all guys surf trip.

We listened to her.

One day my dad came home from work and told Adam and me that his book publisher somehow found a way to see a baseball game in every stadium with some friends one summer in college. Oh and they got sponsored to do it. About that time I had just started The Weekend Warrior and Adam was getting savvy with a camera. My dad threw out a challenge to us, get some companies to sponsor our annual all guys surf trip. That epically failed, Adam and I didn’t really make an effort, but if you’ve seen The Bro’d Trip website or watched any of our vlogs, you’ll see that we’re not doing this alone. We’re working with some companies on a BIG level and they’re helping make this yearlong road trip better than what we had originally imagined.

I’m sure every traveler has a timeline about how they got their career started and eventually got companies to sponsor their trips on a product AND monetary level. This is my timeline:

  • April 2012: Boss tells me I’m a terrible writer and shouldn’t focus my efforts on writing. I start The Weekend Warrior to practice my writing skills and give others some motivation to get out and enjoy their own hobbies outside of work, school, family life, etc.
  • Summer 2012 – Fall 2013: Continue working at a job I don’t like, have awesome adventures outside of work, and meet a whole new batch of online outdoor bloggers and freelance creatives.
  • October 2013: Go on a fun 9 day road trip with my girlfriend and climb with friends that are on the tail end of their yearlong road trip. Girlfriend is enamored with this life and begins pestering me about quitting my job when she graduates college in 2 years to take off on our own yearlong road trip.
  • December 2014: I succumb to her pestering. We begin saving.
  • March 2014: Girlfriend dumps me, for good reason, and I decide I still want to do this road trip. Talk my brother into doing this year on the road with me, after he graduates in December 2015. We’ll write about it and share photos while on the road and make a documentary about our year on the road when all’s said and done.
  • Summer 2014-Summer 2015: Continue working my desk job, pick up freelance writing gigs on the side, and lose out on a social life. Going out with friends becomes a luxury. My dating life becomes virtually nonexistent. Adam continues to go to school, wait tables, and work at a surf camp over the summer.
  • July & August 2015: Put together a proposal to send to companies that we think will take an interest in what we’re doing and align with our vision. Lose our sh!t in excitement when companies actually approach us and want to work with us.
  • September 2015: Quit my job. I give 6 weeks notice because they were nothing but stellar to me for the past 4 years. Everyone at the office is excited, jealous, and somewhat confused at what I’m doing.
  • October 2015: Buy a Sprinter Van from a nice retired couple in Rhode Island and begin building it out.
  • November 2015: Continue building out Sprinter Van and have my last day at work.
  • December 2015: Finish building out Sprinter Van, throw a going away party for all our friends and family, and move stuff into storage unit.
  • January 2016: Hit the road for a year!

I should make known that a life and career centered around travel isn’t always glamorous, at least it isn’t for me. One night I got chased out of a site I wanted to call home for the night and didn’t find another site until 10:30pm. As I sit here writing this, I smell terrible. I’ve lost track of how many days it’s been without a shower, have only worn deodorant on one of those days, and changed clothes yesterday for the first time in over a week. Today my diet has consisted of a couple granola bars, a banana, and a sandwich. But I did spend the better part of the day rock climbing with new friends, taking photos and video, and that’s pretty cool I get to call that work.

If you’re interested in reaching out to a company to help support your trip, here are a few tips that might help:

  • Stand out from the rest: See “BIG travel is king” above.
  • Solicit your skills: Are you a baller at editing, take stunning photos, have a way with words, or have some other marketable skill? Use that to your advantage!
  • Put together a proposal: Companies get pitched all the time (hundreds, if not thousands, of times a day). Make your proposal stand out from the rest; your proposal is the best way to show off your marketable skills.
  • Follow up: Be persistent without being annoying. Getting your foot in the door’s one of the toughest things to do and chances are that your proposal won’t do the trick. Follow up with the person (or info email account) you sent your proposal to let the gatekeeper know you’re serious and deserve to speak with the decision maker.

Parting thoughts

Do the work first, build an audience, hone your skills, show your value, and prove that you’re different from the tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands that have the same dream. Demonstrate that you can provide an ROI (return on investment) to the company. Do all that and then maybe a company will have the confidence to invest in you and give you the creative freedom you want that will ultimately benefit them and their bottom line.

Be great at all this and maybe you’ll have companies vying to work with you. I’ve only very recently realized this and am constantly learning more and more about this career every single day.