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When I was a little girl, I dreamed about castles. I would dress up in my mama’s dazzling 1950’s puffy prom gowns and prance about impromptu chair-and-blanket constructed palaces with my hand-made construction paper crown bobby-pinned to my head.

I’ve never been able to totally let go of the fantasy of exploring castles… So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I was invited on a press trip to Dubrovnik, a city containing some of the most magical fortresses in the world.

This stunning, medieval city overlooks the azure Adriatic Sea. It’s captured the imaginations of masses, including the HBO hit series “Game of Thrones” which films its Kings Landing scenes here. It’s easy to see why this city has mesmerized so many – it’s nothing short of enchanting. Ancient castles, red-roofed buildings, and narrow cobblestone streets all run down to the bluest sea imaginable.

I had to pinch myself more than once.

And not just because of the panoply of colors and fairytale architecture surrounding me. I was welcomed to Dubrovnik as an honored member of the press, invited to participate in several tours free of charge, and on top of that, when I returned home I was paid to write about it.

“Is it hard to get into travel writing?” I’m frequently asked.

Well, yes and no. Brain surgery, that’s hard. Rocket science, coal mining, and farming – yes, those are hard. Travel writing isn’t hard per se, but you have to do the work (before, during, and after a trip) and follow the rules if you want to be successful, get published, and receive invitations for press trips.

Here are my tried-and-true tips for getting invited on press trips and being able to travel for free.

  1. Get a few bylines under your belt. These can be for online publications or guest posting on good travel blogs. You will seldom get paid for these, but the links to your work at this point in time are more valuable than money. Use these links to show you are a credible writer when applying for press trips.
  1. Start small. Apply for a local or short press trip—sometimes called FAM (familiarization) trips. Find the contact for the tourism board in your area and ask them to be put on their email list. You’ll get emails with tips for stories, attractions, new activities and openings, and upcoming press trips.
  1. Obtain a letter of assignment from a publication to use as a carrot when you apply for the press trip. At first, these will be for smaller publications, the same as in No. 1 above. As your experience and bylines increase, so will the status of your assignment letters.
  1. Don’t be afraid to apply for press trips. Even if they decline at first, there may be other opportunities in the future, or they may have something else that they feel would be more suitable for your level of experience.
  1. Try a self-guided press trip. Instead of waiting to apply for a group press trip where you’ll be in competition with other travel writers, contact the tourism board and ask them to host you for a couple of days. You can start nearby, where your only cost will be for gas.

 There is a workable formula to getting invited on press trips and enjoying success as a travel writer. And the rewards, perks, and adventure make it the best job in the world!

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