By freelance travel writer, Jerre Repass in Brinkley, AR
It’s pretty much like your mother told you: “Act nicely so they’ll invite you back.” The first press trip invitation a new writer gets is a real milestone, but when you get the second one, well that’s something to celebrate. You must’ve done something right!
Press trips (sometimes called “fam tours”) are how local tourism people attract writers to their part of the country with the very real goal of getting their pet projects in print or on the airways. They are as short as a weekend or as long as a week. They are exciting, tiring, meaningful, network building, and stressful, sometimes all in the same day.
There are certain obvious expectations of the writer that pretty well mimic the first day of school: Be on time, dress neatly, have all of your supplies. But there are other more subtle requirements that really show a writer up as an amateur or a professional.
Do your homework. You will get an itinerary ahead of time. Sometimes you even get press materials. You can do a little extra internet research as well before you go so that you don’t ask, as one experienced writer put it, “the most naïve of questions.” Yes, there are stupid questions.
The bookend of that is, don’t be a know-it-all. Many writers have done lots of traveling, but don’t “been-there-done-that” endlessly. Let the other writers tell their stories (even the shy ones). The most well traveled among us can learn something from the least traveled. Being the conversation-dominant one at a four-hour party is a bore. To do so for four days is insufferable!
If you are contagiously ill, don’t go on a press trip. A dozen people in a van for extended periods of time become a real Petri dish. And if you have to cancel, let your host know as soon as you can so someone else may be able to fill your spot.
After a few trips, you may know some of the participants in a given group. But this isn’t a game of survival. You don’t need to form cliques and alliances. Mix and mingle. Learn from each other. Bounce a few ideas around and be a source of encouragement to your fellow writers.
Writing is a lonely profession by nature; we need to network. To this end, be sure to take plenty of business cards: Share them early and often. One PR company we travel with asks that everyone changes seats at each stop. It’s not a bad idea – a great way to get acquainted like it or not. When you get home, follow up with a friendly e-mail.
If you do get the best seat (riding shotgun beside the driver), don’t think you own it. Sit somewhere else the next day. And be considerate of the limited space the van provides. Yes, we do hit a lot of gift shops but buy small or have your stuff shipped home. Your compatriots won’t care how unique that serving tray is after it falls out of the van at every stop for three days.
Meal time is another opportunity to make new professional contacts. Writers who are asked back don’t order everything off the menu and don’t make a major media event of some special dietary needs. Many firms ask about diet preferences in the first inquiry anyway and plan ahead for the needs of their guests.
Even if you are paying the liquor bill (which is getting to be more and more the trend) don’t get drunk. It reflects badly on everybody. You are not as anonymous as you may think. The world of the travel writer is a small one and PR people share lots of information.
The best-planned press trips have writers from all over the country. That way there’s not so much competition for the same markets and the clients will get more coverage. Your group becomes a melting pot of different cultures, races, and genders. A great rule of thumb anywhere, but especially in such a closed environment, is to avoid making jokes or remarks that are based on gender, race or ethnicity. Don’t use profane language even if you think it is “colorful.” Others from less “progressive” parts of the country may easily be offended. Such offense builds a wall in a very tight place.
Don’t fall in love with the itinerary. Be flexible in your thinking about scheduling. The weather, a loquacious guide, or the addition of an unscheduled stop can all throw a monkey wrench into anyone’s plan. At the end of a long travel day, we were on our way to a five-star restaurant but the clock got away from us while we were still several hours from our destination and it would have been very late by the time we even sat down to eat. Put to a vote, we decided on the golden arches supper club. It turned out to be one of our bonding moments.
Pack at least the basics in your carry-on if you will be arriving by plane. Odds are eventually you will be glad you did! Don’t wear out your welcome. Be inquisitive instead of bored. Be appreciative instead of expectant. Offer thanks instead of complaints. I hope to travel with you soon!
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]