It’s that gold ring that aspiring travel writers strive for and established travel writers continue to grab: the press trip. All expenses paid, complimentary multi-course meals, invitations to wine tastings, free nights in resorts in exotic locations, tickets to exciting adventures and tours, passes to cultural events, the whole shebang all wrapped up in one trip.
I won’t lie. Those perks never get old.
Press trips usually come in two varieties:
1. FAM (familiarization) trips offered by a destination through their public relations agency. Most of the time they include all expenses, including travel, and you have to apply to be included. The schedules and activities are set by the destination.
2. Self-guided press trips are those where the writer chooses the destination and contacts either the CVB (Convention and Visitor Bureau) or hotel directly to solicit accommodations (and, sometimes, meals and activities). Going this route, you get to set your own schedule.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of competition for press trips. But don’t be disheartened. The good news is you can get them if you make yourself irresistible – even if you’re a relatively new writer.
I suggest that you start small, with a request for a night or two at a hotel, a meal, or maybe a complimentary tour.
The key is in crafting an appealing query. Here are two things that have always worked well for me:
1. Be special.
I start my letter by stating some special credential upfront that makes me stand out from other travel writers. In my introductory paragraph, I tell them that I’m an author of a book of tips for women traveling solo, and that I’m a member of the ITWPA.
Those two qualifications open the door and entice them to keep reading. Of course, writing a book takes time and experience, but becoming a member of a respected writers’ organization (and using the badge) is an instant way to jump-start your credibility.
2. Flash your clips.
Show that you have a history of writing about similar places or activities by sending links to these stories. You can do this even if you don’t yet have any by-lines in well-known media by sending them blog stories – from either your own blog or guest posts on other travel blogs. In fact, you can even do what I call a “set up” to make your request more irresistible. Here’s what I mean…
This fall, I was scheduled to go on a week-long, self-guided press trip through four of the Florida Keys. About a month before the trip, I decided I wanted to add on a snorkeling tour to John Pennekamp Coral Reef Park. My by-lines for snorkeling stories were a bit old, so I quickly wrote up three new stories about recent snorkeling experiences. I sent two to be published by media I had a great reputation with and posted the other on my own blog.
Within a few days, I had three current clips to send along with my request for the Pennekamp Park snorkeling adventure. The clips were tangible proof that I had experience writing about a similar activity and could get the story published – with great underwater photography to boot. I made it a no-risk, irresistible scenario for the park. How could they possibly say no?
I was granted the free tour within hours of sending the request.
I also enjoyed two extra benefits. First, I had intended to write all of those stories and this just lit a fire under me. Second, I thoroughly enjoyed the best U.S. snorkeling spot, free of charge!