The past few months have been set in somewhat of a limbo, as we planned to be in the U.K. in April, and then again in July, but now in September we are still twiddling our thumbs in Thailand. And this is to do with an ongoing long-term Visa saga, which we ironically applied for to avoid the complications of travel to and from the U.K. on back-to-back tourist VISAs. So given the situation we really cannot plan any worthwhile travel ahead, and instead we have been hopping around in Thailand a bit, as well as living in Chiang Mai for a month. But this uncertainty has made us look more into our futures, and at the potential obstacles of our unlikely lifestyle, e.g. “what if we have to get actual jobs?” Anyway, if we were ever to work the nine-to-five, I would rather it was in the travel industry, as its pretty much all I’ve known over the past 5 years. And fortunately there is an easy introduction to the industry, through travel blogger press trips, which are opportunities I’ve continually snubbed in the past years, due to our focus on independent travel, and complete lack of interest.
In the past we have pretty much avoided all group tours, and I can only think of 3 non-independent tours we’ve taken on in the past 5 years. These include a bus tour of Puerto Princesa (Philippines, Nov. 2012), something similar at the Terracotta Warriors in Xian (China, Dec. 2013) and then there was an overnight cruise at Halong Bay (Vietnam, Oct 2013). Group tours which reminded me of tedious field trips at school, only now we’re joining them as adults. It’s just weird. But it doesn’t help that we really aren’t people people, we’re probably the least social people you will meet, reclusive even, and the thought of feigning interest in others feels just excruciating to me. I just can’t do it. So obviously our travels before now have been independent, which goes the same for press trips, where we’d choose our destinations and experiences, before approaching hotels and travel brands to collaborate with along the way. And by doing this we would normally half our overall travel expenses, maybe more, while scoring some unlikely luxury along the way. It works well, and our 10 days winter train travel in Japan this year makes for a good example. However, these travels do take a lot of planning, and time, which are luxuries we really don’t have right now, while our life sits in this annoying limbo.
An Easy Introduction
So the ideal introduction came when I entered and won a travel blogger competition with the TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand), which was something I entered thinking I’d be in the U.K. at the time, and could really have used the free flights. But obviously we’re still stuck here, and I inevitably found myself with a five-day tour of Bangkok and Isaan, which to me was like winning a tour of my own home town. So I obviously passed on the prize, but did join for one night to touch base with TAT, and many positives came from this. But having now stepped out from our comfort zone, we thought ‘why not join an actual travel blogger press trip’, which brought me to my emails to see what offers were on the table. And three quickly stood out. One, a blogging partnership with Centara including complimentary flights, luxury hotel stays, dining etc. throughout Thailand and Vietnam, although we could not pick and choose our hotels, and we can easily do similar with varying brands. Then there was a paid opportunity offered by a collaboration of hotels in Taiwan, which included flights, hotels, transport, and daily spending allowances. But again this is independent travel, and it defeats the entire purpose of this nine-to-five, character building, social experiment.
Next Stop Malaysia
Arguably (obviously) the lesser of the three, was a four-day blogger press trip to Malaysia, run by a big hotel and resorts brand, where we’d be bussed around with a bunch of other bloggers, to write about the resorts experiences. So in for a penny, in for a pound, we’re off to Malaysia. But we of course regret this immediately, as the thought of 4 days in close quarters to travel bloggers, is nothing short of a nightmare. “Why are we even doing this?” So we dreaded it from the get-go, and near backed out on every other day, and at nights I would pray that maybe they’ll forget about us, or ditch us. Which just made the dissonance worse, as we never quite knew whether or not we’d follow through. Because it was always a joint decision. But we vowed to stay strong, and told ourselves it’s just a job, and if we follow the itinerary, do the work, and just keep our distance from others, then we’ll be back home soon again. And when it comes to jobs, it’s really not a bad one, staying in high-end accommodation, eating fantastic food, and there’s all the travel experiences in between. Although it wasn’t a paid job, and while there may have been opportunities to negotiate payment, we were ultimately there for learning and research purposes.
First Day Jitters
The taxi to Bangkok airport felt like the first day of school, or work, or bootcamp, but we were focussed and positive by then, and there really was no turning back. Or at least that’s what I thought, as then Fanfan turned to me on the flight and said “I need to get off this flight. I can’t do this. I need to get off”. And while I won’t go into her reasoning in much detail, there were early annoyances when bunched together, and already we felt way outside of our comfort zone. But, to be honest, I was relieved that it was Fanfan who backed out, and not myself, so I am happy to follow her towards the exit. But, before reaching the doors, she then turned to take a deep breath, and instead approached a flight attendant to ask for new seats. Because, before now, she had been seated in the row in front of me. So we are given new seats, and the job is back on, although we had already abandoned our group within the first minutes of meeting them. Anyway, I find at least one positive in the group of bloggers, as we weren’t being bunched in with backpackers and cookie-cutter travel blogs, but instead a mixed bunch of travel, lifestyle, food, and fashion bloggers, each working to their own skill sets as web bloggers, microbloggers, vloggers etc. Diversity which I highlighted as lacking when I originally vowed to never join a travel blogger press trip ever (eating my own words now).
An Amiable Bunch
So technically this wasn’t a travel blogger press trip, and instead was a familiarisation (FAM) trip for various media influencers, and I was happy also to find I was the only “white farang” on board, through fourteen influencers. As I am always more interested in Asian cultures and backgrounds, which is why I am in Asia. But we were always set to keep our distance anyway, expecting to blend into the background, which proved to be the right call given the apparent early gossip and drama between a handful of Thai bloggers. It’s a good thing to be on the outside. But against our original assurances, we did mingle to some extent, as we already knew a couple on the press trip who we’d met on the TAT fam trip in Thailand (apparently the blogging world is a small world). They are also relatively similar to us, only 10 times more outgoing, and they managed to rope us into a drink on the second night, which I’m fairly sure was the first I’ve given in to peer pressure since leaving grammar school. But it was otherwise an interesting bunch, and while I do cringe when people say things like “we met some great people” and “made new friends”. We actually did on this trip. I may have been given a new appreciation for people on this trip, as people really aren’t as annoying and unlikable as I usually make out. But the most memorable character was this Thai photographer who would sleep pretty much anywhere. Like standing in a packed elevator, or while eating at a busy table, and then he would disappear to the casinos at night. It’s really a bit like a super power.
It’s Not a Bad Job
So we did approach this blogger press trip as work, because any experienced travel blogger will know that bed back home is where the holiday is. Although I find this may be more for independent travel, when you’re forced to chase schedules, budgets and itineraries. As this blogger press trip proved to be less strenuous than expected, where we are shuttled from one attraction, to the next, with next to no thinking or involvement. It really was overall easy. The blog work can also wait until later, as snippets and notes suffice along the way, to then be put together at a later date. Although this perk only really comes with bloggers who don’t rely on real-time and social media following like us (I spend my life avoiding people, so the last thing I want is people following me). However I did push myself on the first day’s article, as a test of sorts, to see whether it is possible to blog along the way. As, technically, travel bloggers can live their lives hopping from one press trip to the next, and this in turn helps create content for new bloggers starting out. Anyway, I pulled together my notes from the first day, and Fanfan edited the images, so the article was published by breakfast the next morning. However it was a scrappy first draft with no work on keywords, or SEO, and I would inevitably return to fix it at a later date.
The days are otherwise very long, and our first day started in Bangkok at roughly 04:00AM, when we had little more than 20 minutes break at the hotel, before continuing through to later than 09:00PM. Which is quite possibly the longest day I’ve worked in my life. And this was my major concern before setting out, as I’m otherwise used to a routine of waking early, and sleeping early, and enjoying a nap or two in between. Like an elderly man. But miraculously I adapted almost immediately to the new work hours and routine. Also the other major worry was with my love for booze, which really didn’t factor in at all in the end, as we stocked up on wine at Bangkok’s duty-free on the way there. So at the end of each night, while the other cliques came together to explore and socialise on the resorts, we would escape to enjoy our limited free time, with some romance, relaxation and wine. As ultimately we were only there to do the work, and our only finish line was Bangkok airport, and then home. And despite finding only overwhelming positives from this experience, I am fairly certain that this will be our last (unpaid) blogger press trip.
The Grey Areas
Obviously bloggers are can be taken as pawns to the travel industry, or fake corporate shills when accepting press trips. Which is partly baloney, to be honest, as there is absolutely no pressure or expectations for us to sugar-coat any of the experiences. And everything I wrote was completely honest, as always, whether they liked it or not. Because the purpose of these blogger press trips is more in raising brand awareness, than forcing pitiful bloggers out to write shining reviews for them. In fact I could probably have walked away and written nothing, as they really don’t check-up or hassle us to share the coverage. There are also no signed contracts, no legal obligations, and we were basically just sent an itinerary to begin with, and asked if we wanted to join. A set of bloggers even dropped out last-minute, despite the flights and everything being paid for, without any repercussions. But otherwise I have no qualms with sharing sponsored experiences, and while I often hear “we pay our own way” used as a badge of honour, it really is completely irrelevant to me. Partly because I feel I have no obligation to my audience (sorry audience), but also the payment method is completely irrelevant to the experience. As we are just independent bloggers sharing our own honest experiences. If readers feel there’s value in the experience, then that’s their choice. As I really don’t care how others spend their own time and money. I don’t take others as being idiots who can’t think for themselves.