Let’s face it – press trips are the Holy Grail of a travel writer’s life. Staying at the best hotels and resorts, eating luscious local cuisine, immersing yourself in vibrant culture, and experiencing exhilarating adventures, all on someone else’s dime. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
Press trips come in two varieties.
One type is the group press trip, usually called a FAM (familiarization) trip organized by a convention and visitor’s bureau (CVB) or their PR agent in which they solicit and select a small number of travel writers to experience a jam-packed itinerary of their destination.
The other is a “self-guided” press trip where a writer contacts the CVB on their own to assist them on a personal basis with accommodations, meals, tours, etc.
Most successful travel writers employ both of these press trip techniques to reach the destinations they want to write about.
During the first half of this year, I went on press trips to Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Croatia. They were all fabulous, but my favorite press trip was the one from which I just returned, two days ago – the stunning Dalmatian Islands in the Adriatic Sea, just off the coast of Croatia.
From the moment I arrived in port, I was treated like visiting royalty.
This was not your ordinary cruise. For one thing, the gleaming boat held only 25 passengers, making it feel like you were sailing on your very own luxury ship. And talk about intimacy! It was so easy to get to know everyone on board – I now have many new friends from all over the world.
And besides the captain, we had a seven-person crew at our beck and call, including our own cook to make our big buffet breakfast and delectable three-course lunch every day. Not dinner though. No, dinner was at a charming al-fresco restaurant overlooking the harbor at a different island every night – all on the house.
We explored medieval towns, sun-bathed on secluded, turquoise beaches, hiked to panoramic views in national parks, participated in local wine tastings, and even dropped anchor so we could jump off the ship for a swim! The only thing I paid for were the souvenirs for my kids.
What about you? Does the travel writer’s life sound like something you’d like to do? Well, I’ll be straight with you…… YOU CAN.
Here are a few tips that helped me land press trips.
1. Get published. Getting bylines is the key, and it’s really not as hard as you might think. Don’t set your sights as a newbie for Conde Nast or National Geographic. And don’t worry about getting paid when you first start out. Scope out some online publications that fit with your “niche” or focus. Online magazines and travel blogs are always looking for new, fresh content. Very few pay, but the goal here is to get several bylines which you can then send to the tourism bureaus to (1) show that you can get published, and (2) let them see what you sound like.
2. Get proof. One way to show CVB’s that you will deliver as promised is to submit assignment letters with your request or application. In many cases, once you’ve written several articles for an online publication, they will be glad to write an assignment letter for you as a way of showing appreciation when payment is not an option.
3. Get professional. Before you contact the tourism board, research the destination, to see what’s already been covered and come up with a fresh new angle. Grab their attention. Then contact them in a way that is not “me oriented.” It’s not about what a wonderful writer you are, it’s about what you are going to do for them. Before approaching them, have your angle, lede, or story idea already in mind, and then hook them with just a taste of what you can do to promote their destination.
4. Get going! “80% of success is showing up.” (Woody Allen) Sure, it’s daunting to ask for free stuff. But if you don’t ask, you won’t receive. And it does get easier with time. I look back on some of my first solicitation letters to CVB’s and cringe. But they got better and better as time went on, and it became a domino effect…. better letters = more trips = more bylines, repeat, repeat, repeat, ad infinitum.
One last thing… after returning from a press trip, I then write one or more stories – and get paid for them.
“I want your life!” people tell me all the time. I can’t say I blame them. The travel writer’s life is the best in the world. And press trips are one of the main reasons why.