Tim Turner shares a few tips.
Since 1995, I have toured the US, slept nights in chandeliered rooms in Rome, wandered aimlessly down the Seine, and been assaulted by a Frenchman dressed as Minnie Mouse - all for nothing. And in this period, far from being an in-demand Tory MP, I have been only recently employed.
I enter competitions. I scrutinise the supermarket shelves and magazine pages, and my eyes are trained to spot the word "Win" at 100ft. Free travel isn't exactly guaranteed, but given that I've been to the States, Rome, Paris, Disneyland Paris and Cairo, and spend a weekend at the sublime Caledonian hotel in Edinburgh, it's certainly on the cards.
Winning is easy: if your envelope or postcard gets pulled out, that's it. The trick is to avoid the pitfalls. The period when you're fruitlessly filling the postbox, and lying in bed attempting to anticipate what pun will make the promoters smile, is agonising. You may find yourself getting desperate, buying qualifiers for fantastic competitions you don't win, landed with products for which you have no use (there is no more psychologically expensive 39p than the 39p you spend on a tin of cat food for a cat you don't own).
But a competition may give you a trip you'd never normally consider. My partner went to Disney almost under duress, and enjoyed it more than me (reader, she wore Mickey Mouse ears - in public).
So, how is it done? Simple: blind luck. There is no way to guarantee that you'll win, although if you enter so many, one will almost certainly come up. Quantifying the critical mass is impossible, so you have to enter a load of them.
Keep your eyes peeled for holiday prizes in improbable or low-audience media, and shops that are poorly frequented. Equally, it's far easier to buy a packet of Hobnobs than a greenhouse. Of course, you should never buy something expensive just to win a holiday; if you do that, you don't need free travel as much as therapy.
If the idea of a literally priceless holiday appeals, you should develop a trained eye. Never leave anything unread; scan shop windows; pick up every leaflet at the supermarket. You may be mistakenly drawn towards displays for "Wine" - but no matter. Shopping will never be simple again, and the concept of junk mail will alter utterly, as those envelopes will now be tantalising sources of trips abroad.
But perhaps the most important tool in the competition box is a friend. Virtually all travel prizes are for two or more, so given that your partner or pal will benefit from the prize, rope him or her in. Not only is it easier to think up daft slogans with a sounding-board, your friend can help to find entry forms, and - hopefully - act as a voice of reason, giving you pause with such phrases as "but we haven't got a baby" when you clutch an unlikely qualifier.
All this may sound like a nightmare: you may feel that you have better things to do with your time than loitering in the aisles, or pondering why you drink Heineken in no more than 12 words. If so, fine - all the more for me. But in truth, I won't win them all, and there are people who win far more than me. Nevertheless, I've reached the stage where I'm amazingly fussy - I don't enter for cruises, tours, or trips involving ferries - and yet still my passport is getting pleasingly dog-eared.
There seem to be far more trips to Orlando than to the Orient, and if you want to sample trips of a more piquant flavour, you'll need to be vigilant. But there are a surprising number of trips to Mexico, Chile, Morocco and South Carolina, if you're minded to find them. Indeed, get yourself on the mailing list for bargain flight specialists and tour companies, and in among the brochures and special offers, exotic and esoteric destinations will be nestling. Besides, a successful "comper" (horrible word) can save his or her pennies for Estonia while ticking off the more obvious places for nothing.
Send out lots of entries, and sooner or later (and there really is no telling) one will come back to reward you. And once you're in the habit, every day bristles with possibilities - the post could consist of a credit card bill and an offer for double-glazing, but it may have a trip to Paris, or Paraguay, or even Playa de las Americas (if you've not been too careful). The world may soon become your oyster.