It was our fourth meal of the day, and we still had one more to go. But this was one we wanted to linger over: birria tacos, the meat so slowly braised in its chile-based broth that it nearly disintegrated in the grilled corn tortillas; ceviche made from raw shrimp that had been hauled from the Pacific just an hour prior and then tossed in lime juice with onions and coriander; and chilaquiles layered with sweet red and spicy green sauces studded with melty puffs of queso fresco. We washed it all down with an ice-cold michelada, a heady blend of tomato juice, locally produced Tecate, lime juice, spices, and chiles.
At that point, we had to offer a gracious, if reluctant, “no, gracias” on dessert—it was the only way we’d have the slightest hope of finding room for more food in an hour as we ate our way around Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Welcome to what it’s like to be on a press trip, where travel writers are escorted around a destination, usually accompanied by other writers and representatives from the area tourism boards. Either everything is paid for by the locale and its partners, or you pay a nominal “media rate” (usually at least half of the going rates paid by tourists) if you are writing for a publication that doesn’t allow stories based on freebies (which applies primarily to newspapers, as most magazines are fine with press trips).
Press trips can focus on a theme—for example, Poznań, on the western side of Poland, offers press trips that revolve around things like history, shopping, day trips, and the burgeoning bakery scene—or they can be general “getting to know the place” tours. There is often a set itinerary, and participants are expected to be with the group during the entire trip—days usually begin at 7 a.m. and end well into the evening, to make the most of the allotted time—as well as produce a published story that runs in an approved publication soon after (although more and more destinations are allowing bloggers, influencers, and those with a proven history of publication to participate as well).
A press trip to Poznań is just one of hundreds of hosted offerings I’ve shared over the years in my twice-monthly ITWPA newsletters. As one of the many journalists out there taking advantage of the opportunities presented by sponsoring countries, cities, regions, travel marketers, and tour groups, I’ve been able to engage in experiences that I otherwise may not have been aware of, all through the generosity of the locals who participate in press trip itineraries. I have enjoyed everything from restaurants, hotels, and shops to outdoor excursions, guided activities and private tours of museums, amusement parks, art galleries, and more.
For example, in Puerta Vallarta, I was able to visit the mountains in a Mercedes Unimog, a massive off-road vehicle that took our group of six into the heart of the jungle, where local chefs butchered a wild boar and laid out an elaborate feast of local delicacies cooked over fire. The next day, we were taken by yacht to a little-known snorkeling cove, followed by an evening of club-hopping.
Throw in a guided tour of a mezcal maker—along with plenty of sampling and a few bottles to take home—and then a fascinating three-hour meander around the locally made altars erected for Día de Muertos, and I was grateful for the final day devoted to lounging on the beach. In addition to getting an extensive insider’s look, I’ve made new friends on every press trip I’ve been on, people whose journeys I still follow—and that’s not to mention the contacts at each tourism board whose insights I continue to seek out.