Once you consider yourself a respectable travel writer and you’ve been published in a few magazines and online travel publications, you’ll start receiving invitations to FAM (Familiarization) Trips, or at the very least you’ll be eligible to apply for them.
These trips aren’t for the super-beginner. But if you’ve had three or more pieces published, you’ll see you start to qualify.
On these trips, they’ll try to show you the best a destination has to offer so you can write about it later. Everything is typically well scheduled and laid out for you in a nice, neat package so you just go along for the ride. And it’s generally a smooth ride, too. FAM tours usually include airfare, ground transportation, accommodations, meals, guides, complimentary entry, and VIP treatment at tourist attractions, private tours, and more. You stay in the nicest hotels and resorts and eat at the best restaurants.
And FAM Trips are fun. I’ve been on dozens of them, around the U.S.A, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
This year alone, I’ll be doing nine FAMs. I’ve visited some marvelous places and met fascinating people, including beekeepers, UFO-watchers, living history re-enactors, wilderness guides, soldiers, gold prospectors, world-class athletes, and luxury hotel barge captains.
I’m going on a five-day FAM Trip to Nebraska next week with 20 other freelance travel writers, courtesy of the Nebraska Tourism Commission. I’ll be visiting shops and galleries and staying in a Riverboat and a luxury lodge. We’ll be visiting historical parks, national monuments, caves, Indian petroglyphs, an interpretive trail, a windmill factory, an art museum, a history museum, a zoo, an Audubon center, and the Nebraska State Capitol, to name a few of the activities.
Dining is a big part of the FAM Trip experience, too, and my Nebraska trip is no exception; we’ll be eating at French-American and Greek restaurants, and gourmet restaurants and brewpubs, and visiting a bakery, a pastry shop, and a creamery. There are also several breweries and wine tasting cellars on our itinerary.
I’ve just got back from six weeks in Europe, that included 12 wonderful days of being escorted around southwest Germany, staying in historical cities every night, with personal guided tours every day. Among the places I visited were Baden Baden, Wiesbaden, Koblenz, Stuttgart, and the Black Forest. I also spent six days driving around Wales, following an itinerary prepared by their tourism agency.
But there’s a price to pay for this exciting travel. First, to qualify for FAM Trips, you need an assignment letter or two. Tourist agencies typically want to see this upfront and they’ll only pay for your trip if you have one.
Why? They want proof that their investment in you will pay off. They treat you to free travel, you treat them to free publicity. That’s the deal.
So for me, I like to bring a mix of these assignment letters to the table, to be as irresistible to the tourist agency as possible. Some online and some in print.
The tourism or PR agency will also check out your background on the Internet (website, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) before inviting you on FAM Trips, too, just to make sure you’re a bona fide travel writer, versus a dilettante.
Thus it’s in your interests to make sure you have a few travel stories published online, plus a website, and a LinkedIn and Facebook presence, to give you credibility. Make sure you have links to samples of your work, before you apply for FAM Trips. (If you google “Roy Stevenson travel writer” you’ll see my sites).
And here are a few other things to bear in mind when you’re on a FAM:
First, realize that you are working, so don’t slip into vacation mode. You’re supposed to be a professional travel writer, so behave like one. Take notes and photos, ask plenty of questions, and don’t overdo the alcohol.
Second, always be on time to every meeting on your itinerary. One PR agency that has taken me on press trips all over the U.S.A. removes tardy writers from their list of journalists.
Third, never berate your hosts or criticize them when things go wrong—and things will go wrong on every trip. Cut them some slack and treat it as part of the adventure. In a word, travel graciously.
FAM Trips are rewarding in many ways, and you get to see places you might not normally consider visiting, so always keep your eyes out for them and build up your bylines.