Before booking a flight, get grounded in the basics of travel writing press trips.
Travel writer Steenie Harvey (www.thetravelwriterslife.com/abswriteclass/) asks, “Who wouldn’t want to travel the globe and get paid for it?”
Before booking a flight to Bali, get grounded in the basics of travel writing press trips.
1. The Rule of Hype: Teasers such as “Get paid to travel the world!” are usually ad copy written for companies selling courses and books. While it’s true that travel writers do go on paid press trips, known as junkets or “fam” (familiarization) trips, the road toward being wined and dined in luxury hotels is paved with contacts and publication credits.
2. Develop Contacts: Martin Li (www.freelancetravelwriter.com) reveals the secret to receiving invitations to junkets — get your name on the press lists of national and regional tourist boards, airlines, tour operators, hotels and other organizations that regularly host trips for journalists.
3. Join: Become a member one or more travel writers associations which receive calls for writers and hold conferences jointly with travel industry representatives. Every association I looked into requires applicants to have had a minimum number of travel articles (or photos or books) published in widely read media within a given timeframe. For details visit the British Guild of Travel Writers www.bgtw.metronet.co.uk, the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Organization www.ifwtwa.org, the Midwest Travel Writers Association www.mtwa.org, the Society of American Travel Writers www.satw.org, the Travel Journalists Guild www.tjgonline.com, the Australian Society of Travel Writers www.astw.org.au/login.php, or the Travel Media Association of Canada www.travelmedia.ca.
4. Unglamorous Truths: Louisa Peat O'Neil, author of several Travel Writing books, contends that many travel writers hold other regular jobs and use vacations days for junkets. And not every trip is glamorous, as Jeremy Ferguson attests in his article that included the line “It’s a simple restaurant that serves dishes that usually surf on a tidal wave of grease.” (www.savvytraveler.org/show/features/2000/20000506/china.shtml) And a few magazines and newspapers refuse free travel, because of the ethics question.
5. Ethics in Question: In “All Expenses Paid: Exploring the Ethical Swamp of Travel Writing” www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/1999/9907.austin.expenses.html, Elizabeth Austin writes, “It’s true that the writers of most junket-based pieces generally sing the praises of their hosts' accommodations… the greatest hazard of the press junket isn't the implicit quid pro quo. It's the controlled and sanitized travel experience it presents to the writers, with everything as perfectly planned and tidily gift-wrapped as those nightly presents left on our pillows. During our trip…we got the complete visiting rock star experience.” The likes of which Average Traveler won’t experience.
6. Objectivity is Key: Tim Ryan (starbulletin.com/2001/06/24/features/story1.html) tells about the time Paul Theroux (www.paultheroux.com/) joined several travel junketeers for dinner at a luxury hotel. “In a pleasant tone that carried a knife-to-the-heart message, Theroux posed a question: ‘How can you possibly write something objective about a place when you're essentially being paid to visit? I know I couldn't.’ The room fell silent as most of the writers lowered their heads.” Writers who occasionally break away from the group can gather un-choreographed impressions and information.
7. Integrity Intact: Disclosing that a trip was sponsored can put the article in perspective. Jeff Shelley (www.cybergolf.com/jeffsJournal/index.asp?id=1461) writes, “I flew out to ‘the Flathead’ thanks to an invite from the Whitefish Convention & Visitors Bureau…Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t need a ‘fam’ trip to be sold on the Flathead Valley.” Writing about firsthand experiences and appealing to the five senses, rather than parroting adjective-laden brochure hyperbole, demonstrate integrity, too.
8. Readers Trust Writers: Tourist attractions can get publicity with advertising campaigns, but at a high price. Austin explains that “a single full-page ad in ‘Condé Nast Traveler’ (www.concierge.com/cntraveler/) reportedly costs a whopping $50,000. And an ad lacks the credibility of a seasoned travel writer swooning over a resort's breathtaking setting and lavish amenities.” Tourist attractions realize value for the dollar when they invest a fraction of that amount per writer per day. According to Jeremy Ferguson, “Travel agents don't like to use their customers as guinea pigs. If an area of China, for instance, claims to be ready for tourists, the agents want to see it for themselves.” Writers participate in these PR junkets.
9. Travel Writers’ Resources: Register free at www.travelwriters.com for news and sources. For $49 a year, you’ll get press trip announcements. Order the e-book “Guide to Become a Travel Writer” at www.FabJob.com. Post requests for trips at www.mckenziepr.com/MediaConnector/Sample1.htm. Read “Travel Writer's Guide” by Gordon Burgett; “How to Make a Living As a Travel Writer,” Susan Farewell; “Inside Secrets to Finding a Career in Travel,” Karen Rubin; “Careers for Travel Buffs & Other Restless Types,” Paul Plawin; “The Travel Writer's Handbook 5th Ed,” Louise Purwin Zobel and “Teach Yourself Travel Writing,” Cynthia Dial.
If you’ve already had travel articles published, getting invited on a paid press trip could be your next goal. If you’ve dabbled in travel writing, you can follow L. Peat O’Neil’s recommendation. “No one starts at the top. Find your own level, work in it, then work up out of it.”
As you’re jetting to Bali, you’ll agree that travel writing is the best job in the world.
"Well-paced, funny and all-around excellent," says Tales from a Small Planet editor Francesca Kelly about Fowler’s travelogue Half Baked in Taiwan at www.Xlibris.com, www.Amazon.com and your local bookstore.