Why I don’t accept free gifts or payments for guidebook reviews

Child holding Money in Nepal_resize
Nepali money in a hand
Don’t offer me money to do a review on this website or to put your business in my books: I won’t accept because I pay my own way to give readers a better review

I have never taken a payment or gift for a review – here’s why

“Freebie is a product or service offered for free in exchange for a review”

At least for the purposes of this article that is my definition of a “freebie”.

I’ll also include cash, press trip, junket or any other form of “gift” or “in kind” treatment.

Two months ago I was offered over USD$5,000 in services or travel related products. I refused. The number went up substantially along with flights and extras. I refused to accept anything. It annoyed the people offering it to me as much as it seems to annoy the people who can’t figure out how to get offered this sort of “incentive” to write about a place.

I’m going to keep this short as it’s more a re-statement on what I hope is already well known about me.

I don’t accept free products, hotel rooms, cash, meals or services in exchange for reviews or placement in my guidebooks or on this website. Not ever. I wrote about this several years ago in travel blog ethics.

I don’t believe one can offer a reader a genuine professional review of a travel service or single use travel related product if it’s been given for free.

Puppet in Nepal
Need a souvenir from Nepal? I’ll tell you where to get the best deals based on my own experience

Inside the tourism industry today

It’s well known within the travel industry that freebies come in the guise of junkets or press trips, free stays or products etc. Most of these terms are made up to hide the simple truth of financial incentives.

Of course the whole problem here is the exit strategy. So much so that many “reviewers” will say that getting a “freebie” or going on a press trip will not influence their review or “writing”.

The reality is that human nature and a positive business model completely undermines this redundant comment

Plenty has been written about this elsewhere: The less-than-Lonely Planet, The risk of accepting free travel, Can you trust your guidebook, there’s also an interesting LinkedIn discussion on the subject.

When was the last time you read a negative travel freebie review? I can’t ever recall reading one. There’s a reason for that.

Today many “writers” say they can’t afford to live or even travel on what big publishers are willing to pay, so they accept freebies to help them visit places.

If the salary you are being offered as a writer is not enough, then perhaps it’s time to consider a new career or a second job. P.S. please don’t become a nuclear power plant inspector!

Many other good writers have already taken up the mantle and are subsituting their writing with photography or other such means that fit into their lifestyles. Others will simply opt for the easier option of panning for free hotel stays etc,. (the latter are the one best kept away from the nuclear industry).

What about a laptop or camera review where the writer or blogger received a product? Well, the vast majority of these items must be returned to the manufacturer. Cheaper things don’t always go back but expensive items usually go back after the review.

The travel catch? You can’t send a holiday/flight/trip to a country back nor a safari/tour etc.

Annapurna Circuit at Thorong La Pass
Want to go trekking? Many people take sponsored treks to write a “favorable” review about a company – I do not. I pay my own way so people can find out about the good, the bad and real trekking experience in Nepal

A quote from the back of my Nepal guidebook

“This book was written by David with a travelers heart and mind at the forefront. Everything from hotels, transport, meals and treks were 100% paid by him alone with nobody knowing he was taking notes along the way. Thus bringing you the reader (and traveler) the most open and honest guidebook to Nepal today. ”

As I read this, I remembered back.

On one occasion after visiting over 450 hotels on a long-term project I stood in front of a hotel manager with eyes wide open shaking my head as he offered the full shebang. I was worn out, haggered from the blazing heat outside with aching knees from all those stairs and a parched throat from repeated questions asking to see a room for about the twelfth time that day.

The manager had guessed who I was. Hoteliers will often call each other when they know a guidebook writer is in town. This guy laid on all the charm. It was quite brutal to refuse what was being offered on that day. But I did.

I never took the free weekend stay, glorious spa treatment and free meal vouchers he offered. He seemed quite perturbed.

I know why he was perturbed, because I know who took the offer last year.

If they find out you are a guidebook writer you will be treated like royalty – it’s hard for many people to refuse such treatment.

Rubble around Kathmandu Durbar Square
Sometimes it’s very difficult to write about a place that’s been devastated by neglect or natural disasters … but I feel it’s also important for tourists to know exactly what to expect when they visit a country – Kathmandu Durbar Square might be a mess, but I balance this out by creating and writing about great new heritage walks

It’s somewhat of an “in” joke about some travel writers who do take offers of hospitality. However, these days with social media and online reviews more and more travel services are becoming vocal on this. Both in terms of an expose and offers.

Many restaurants are tired of people coming in saying they write for a blog or magazine and want the best or the review will be bad. More on this trend here – Free meals for blog postsFood Blaggers.

Hoteliers have yet to catch up. There are even bloggers and hoteliers who write on how to get free stays.

I’m not going to give them publicity but just do a search for “hotels and travel bloggers” and you’ll see a long list of dubious articles about the process.

Is it wrong to take freebies when writing about travel?

It’s not for me. It never has been. I simply don’t agree that you can offer impartial advice on something like a destination or a service if it was given to you for free.

Many people make out they travel around the world by offering reviews in exchange for free-stays, “press-trips” etc. That’s their thing. Let them do it. Pretty pictures, but it’s not the real world that most travelers touch down in.

For me, I’ll pay my own way and at least the people reading my work know that what they are getting is a review or write-up based on what they too will be getting as a normal paying customer.

Onwards towards the future of travel writing

So there you have it. A recap to what should already be known: Everything on this website and in my guidebooks was 100% bought and paid for by me. I’ve written and photographed everything here myself. That whopping great 536 page guidebook, yep, all me.

As my publisher said to me this year ” I can’t fathom how one person could have, written, photographed, researched, edited, formatted and published this entire book. It’s incredible.”

Man sleeping on a bus in Nepal
I travel just the same as you as a tourist no matter what country I am in … traffic jams are a reality … bad for time keeping but good for getting some editing done!

We discussed some edits to about 57 pages and I handed them back to him the very next day.

“You are a machine!” he gasped.

That was just one of about 9 books. Plus several websites, a preservation project and a whole lot more.

This is not a brag, this is simply what I call hard work and a determination to produce the best.

Agree or disagree with my opinion about a product or service, at least you’ll always know it was a genuine review or statement and usually came about from some stoic work ethics!

How do I survive without taking free offers?

This is a question I get from so many travel bloggers and others within the travel industry. I usually reply by asking if they’ve ever bought one of my guidebooks. They usually look at me with a blank stare. And therein lies the answer.

I rebuilt the travel guidebook from the ground up for a reason. It’s pretty obvious that each place has been meticulously visited and reviewed.

This takes an incredible amount of time, mind warping research and a lot of work. It’s not about a “free trip” it’s about hard work!

The actual traveler who buys my books quickly realizes that my style of writing is far more frank and blunt than you’ll find in any other book or indeed websites.

I tell it like it is. And many travel service people don’t like that as they simply want to push sales or tours and get big numbers. But it’s what makes me different and it’s why people read this website and buy my guidebooks. They get independent travel information that is 100% genuine and identical to what they will also experience.

The best guidebook to Nepal in front of a temple
The best print guidebook to Nepal – real reviews, real places – 100% paid for by me – the product of 10 years of research, blood, sweat and a 3 hour surgery! Writing it was the easy part!

Yes, we all have different opinions on things. I like savory, you like sweet. I do however know what a good chocolate gateau tastes like vs a thawed out slice of last weeks baking effort. I believe a reader would also like to know this before eating in an establishment offering “freshly baked cakes”.

Sometimes it’s not an opinion that matters but simply a trusted write-up, the facts, and reading about what you’ll actually experience that matters the most.

Get my Guidebook to Nepal & discover more than anyone else!

The most up-to-date, popular and dedicated guidebook to Nepal in the world. Over 617 pages & 984+ photographs of every temple listed, every day on all the treks lists and so much more.

Take a look below and you’ll find out why this beats all other guidebooks!

Best guidebook to Nepal

Find out more here!

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24 Replies to “Why I don’t accept free gifts or payments for guidebook reviews”

  1. Love this way about you and the site. I worked in a hotel years ago and had ‘another’ big guidebook company write stay there. He wanted a free stay and took full advantage of the local bars too. I straight up asked him why he did this when his company said they didn’t. He shrugged it off saying what they don’t know, won’t hurt him. I never bought one of their books again!

    1. Indeed. It’s a shame these things happen. Much like zero hour contracts and outsourcing. It gives certain companies a way out in terms of workers rights and their own policies which may differ from “contractors”.

  2. I bought your guidebook last year. Digital one for trekking. Loved it. Very obvious you’ve been on these treks and covered the routes personally. Made a huge difference to our trip!

  3. It’s because of this methodology that we really enjoy reading your guides. Thank you! Please cover more countries ;)

  4. What’s the best you’ve been offered? Or rather, what’s the thing that’s tempted you the most?

  5. Keep up the hard work. You are making a different and getting a great reputation along the way.

  6. How do hotel contact we? We want to be listed in your book?

  7. The market is so flooded with blogs these days. Just searching for a things to do in a place like Madrid is insane. First the awful Trip Advisor listings which only link to pop ups and more hotels. Then come the booking.com sites. Then random blogs which have links to all of the above. It’s so hard to get good travel information these days.

  8. Nice. Very nice. Well done for such a strong ethical stance.

  9. I am your avid reader of your blog since for many years. I love your ethics. I’d prefer to run a free blog like this on every holiday I take rather than spend my life chancing free getaways!

    I would like to commend you for a very good job in every blog that you’ve made. Thank you for inspiring us! ♥

  10. Admirable approach. Ethics in travel is hard to find

  11. Greetings Dave.

    Been following your blog for past few years and admire your work and now your latest baby – the Nepal guide in print!
    Well well done. Indeed, it’s getting more rare to see people with such a strong work ethics. Keep up the good work.
    Nepal is still on my travel bucket list. Hoping to visit soon with your guide in hand.


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