One of the first questions I get asked as a travel writer is: “So, do you get to travel places for free?”
The answer is yes, I do occasionally travel for free (or for a rate that costs less than a taxi to the airport). But it’s often not because of my job—it’s by doing things that you can do, too.
Let’s walk through some things you can do to score “free” travel, from shot-in-the-dark opportunities to ways you can actually turn the things you do already into a bonus vacation.
First up: get free travel by winning a contest. How does a luxurious five-day couples escape to a Sandals resort sound? Or a trip to the Star Wars world premiere? Brands from Werther’s to Marriott frequently dangle free trips in front of their fans in exchange for likes or membership. All you have to do is win!
…so the odds are probably not in your favor. (And you’ll have to pay taxes on your prize.)
What’s next? Instagram.
How many likes did you get on your last photo? 50 or so? That’s too bad. But multiply that number by 100, and you might be in business: the business of influencing.
Yes, being really good at Instagram can earn you free travel. More and more tourism bureaus and travel brands are looking to social media influencers in an effort to spread the word about their destination. Just look at the tropical Instameet Hamilton Island hosted, or the 7-star über-luxe hotel stay Beautiful Destinations ‘grammed. The catch? Filters are great, but they’re not going to get you to the big leagues. Building a rep as an influencer takes a lot more effort.
On to the next option: working.
What? Booo. But hear me out: Some gigs offer great travel perks, like working for an airline (or travel writing). Others let you work in exchange for travel costs, like house sitting and WWOOFing.
Okay, let’s find something better.
Make friends with people who work in travel. Rather than peppering airline companies with your résumé, just start being really nice to anyone you know who works at a job with travel perks. Your airline friend can hook you up with buddy passes, and your travel influencer pal can sneak you into her free hotel room.
But what if your friends can’t hook you up? Ultimately, your best bet for free travel is earning rewards points that you can cash in for plane tickets, hotel stays, and more. If you want to get technical, this isn’t completely free—you’re purchasing things to get these points. But if you work it so you’re earning on things you’d be buying anyway, then cashing rewards in for trips feels like a big perk.
There are a handful of ways you can earn points. First, sign up for a travel points earning credit card—you can see which ones give you the most points on sites like The Points Guy. (My personal go-to is the Chase Sapphire Preferred.) Many of these cards come with sign-up bonuses that can set you well on your way to a free trip. If you have a big purchase coming up—a move, a vacation, or a wedding—it’s a good time to think about getting a new card to get the points. (Just make sure you pay off the balance every month!)
You can also rack up points by doing your online shopping through airlines’ shopping portals, which give you miles for purchases at retailers like Banana Republic and Groupon. Another route is to register your credit cards (it doesn’t have to be a rewards card) with your favorite airline’s mileage dining program. When you use your card at any participating restaurant, you’ll automatically get points for your meal. Bonus: delivery counts as well.