You may be familiar with the rudiments of sponsored press trips, in which you, the freelancer, receive assorted perks, ranging from free tours to complimentary meals and accommodations and even, if you’re lucky, comped airfare. All in exchange for a hoped-for (but never false) positive review.
Watching the Academy Awards last weekend, it struck me how being on a press trip is a little like being a movie star…
From the moment your trip starts, things change …
Waiting lines are non-existent. The best tables are magically available for your seating. Chefs pop out of their kitchens to personally greet you. Sommeliers are keenly interested in what you think of their wine selection. Even better, your money is unspendable! Reaching for your wallet may even draw a mild, good-natured rebuke. Your questions, no matter how ignorant, are seriously addressed. You are given behind-the-scenes tours and may find yourself staying in hotel rooms normally reserved for gamblers who reliably lose giant gobs of money.
But being travel writers on press trips, you want to act like the “good” movie stars—the ones who don’t let the sudden display of obsequiousness when they enter a room go to their heads. Also, it’s important to remember that your responsibility is not to the hotel or restaurant that’s spoiling you, but to your “unpampered” readers, a class that you’ll be returning to all too soon. It’s easy to exude over day-long whale-watching excursions and wax rhapsodic over exotic specialty cocktails when they’re free. But part of your job is reporting on whether these pleasurable experiences are worth the considerable price of admission they may entail.
So what does being a “good movie star” press trip writer entail? Glad you asked…
- Show up to “the set” on time. Chances are your hosts have crammed your schedule full with many activities. Arriving late for breakfast or the first excursion of the day, or not returning to the van when you’re supposed to, can set back the rest of the schedule, and inconveniences all your fellow writers. Be professional.
- Know your lines. You’ll doubtless be fed a lot of information along the way, but if you do some homework about your destination and itinerary beforehand, you’ll be prepared to go “deeper” into the material and deliver a more nuanced performance in print.
- Improvise. If you have absolutely no interest in “Pre-Colonial Sculpture in the Second Aztec Era” (something I just made up), then begging off from this excursion of the trip is perfectly fine. Use the time to wander afield and find a quirky shop or burgeoning hip district that’s not on the official itinerary. Pursuing your own interests in “down time” can often result in finding your best stories.
- Don’t Make Headlines. Writing a first-person account of your trip is great and even encouraged. Just don’t become the story during the trip by behaving in a way that makes your shenanigans what the other writers talk about at the bar at night.
So go ahead and revel in the movie star treatment and numerous “gift bags.” But if you really want to be the travel-writing equivalent of an Oscar nominee, keep your head on your shoulders, and deliver an award-winning account of the trip.