Last year was one of the most incredible years I’ve experienced as a travel writer. I took so many trips one friend suggested I find a suitcase that could be thrown into the laundry with my clothes inside, eliminating the need for packing and unpacking! While that amount of travel doesn’t appeal to everyone, for a travel writer it’s a dream come true. The trips were balanced between group FAM tours (familiarization tours) and individual press trips. The year began with a FAM tour to Quebec City’s Winter Carnival. Other group FAM tours included sampling beer, wine, and spirits on Delaware’s newly introduced “Good Libations Tour,” hand-dipping my own bottle of Maker’s Mark Bourbon in the signature red wax at the Kentucky distillery, standing before the paintings of the Dutch Masters in The Hague, dining on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, and relaxing with a soothing massage at the Four Seasons in Irving, Texas. My individual press trips provided unbelievable experiences like personal dining with acclaimed chefs in Amsterdam, sampling food and wine along Charlevoix’s flavor trail in Quebec, road-tripping through Virginia with my boyfriend, and even tagging a crocodile in Belize. If variety is the spice of life, I’d say my life is pretty spicy! So what’s the difference between a FAM tour and an individual press trip? FAM tours are arranged around a specific focus. For example, on the Delaware Good Libations FAM, the destination representatives were promoting a newly-organized tour that promotes the breweries, wineries, and distilleries in Delaware. The writers invited had outlets either through publications or blogs where the beers, wines, and spirits could be promoted. FAM trips may also provide a round-up experience of a destination. The advantage of a FAM tour is the chance to network with other writers. I’ve met editors on FAM tours that later asked me to write for their publications! With individual press trips, on the other hand, the focus is flexible and based on the writer’s story assignments and specific areas of interest. An added bonus to an individual press trip is that you can often bring your significant other. My boyfriend has traveled with me to Germany, Canada, and all over the USA. He is responsible for his personal expenses, of course, but still benefits from stays in luxury hotels, amazing dinners, and even access to chefs and behind-the-scenes experiences as my companion. We’ve already talked about ways to get invited on a FAM trip or set up an individual press trip, but it’s also important to get return invitations. You don’t want to be THAT writer that no one wants to see again! Here are a few tips for making sure you continue getting the trips you desire:
- Be on time for scheduled appointments. It takes a lot of work to organize a press trip. Coordinating schedules with attraction representatives, restaurants, wineries, museums or whatever else may be on the agenda is no easy task. On a group FAM tour there is nothing more annoying for the host and the other writers than having to wait on a tardy writer. On an individual trip, it’s even more important that you adhere to the schedule especially if you are traveling with a friend or significant other. You don’t want to come across as someone who is “using” the destination to score a vacation. Always be professional and respectful!
- Take notes and lots of photos. Sure you want to experience the destination and the delicious meals but more importantly, you want to remember details so that you can write a spectacular article when you get home. My handwriting tends to be a bit messy, so I often use the audio recorder on my iPhone to record guided tours and I will use the note feature to type a few quick notes. Of course, it is important to ask permission to record beforehand and to let the host know you aren’t texting when you are typing those notes into your phone! Also, I take photos of everything. Every meal, every bathroom toiletry, every nook and cranny of an exhibit. While the photos may not be needed for publication, they provide an extra bit of memory for me when I’m ready to write the article.
- WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! Destinations aren’t inviting you on a trip to give you a vacation. They have a job to do and that job is to promote their destination. When you attend a trip you are responsible for holding up your end of the deal – writing an article and getting it published. Of course, the more articles you can publish from a destination the better. It’s also important to keep in touch with your hosts after each trip. Keep them posted on potential publication dates, especially if it’s going to be several months before the article is published. Be sure to follow up with a copy of printed articles and links to online articles.