Planning your first press trip? I just planned mine, thanks to the help of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, and I’ve got a lot to share! (I have learned, for instance, that lugging around a suitcase for every possible occasion possible is probably not the brightest idea, but I’ve also learned that asking to take people’s pictures isn’t as horribly awkward as I imagined it might be). So, if you’re planning your first press trip, here’s my top five list of tips and tricks I’ve amassed for keeping in touch, taking notes, and staying connected while on the road this week. If you think of something else, please leave a comment below and add to my list!
As Lavinia Spalding says in Writing Away, invest in a journal you feel completely comfortable with. After all, it’ll become your dearest companion while you’re away. Bring a computer, but don’t let yourself be completely saddled with it. While the notion of a journal seems hopelessly outdated to some travel writers, my best and brightest insights have come to me when my eyes aren’t glued to the screen—instead, they’ve come when I’ve been buried in my journal, scribbling notes, drawing pictures, sketching out ideas, and frankly, just letting my imagination play in the pages. Also, you can easily write down people’s information, take notes in remote places, and take away the scent of a place (paper is a wonderful olfactory preserver) long after you’ve returned.
Be attentive to it, but don’t be married to it. Depending on where you are or the type of trip you’re doing (for instance, you might be on a trip solely to promote a place via social media, which, in that case, would make this point completely moot), use social media strategically. On this trip, for instance, I’ve done my best to post interesting links and updates to Facebook and Twitter that are relevant to readers. Generally, people don’t (and I mean this with the utmost sincerity) want to know what every single taxi ride you took was like. Be attentive to your audience—share what you would like to read and be selective with your updates. Also, be wary of overloading your readers with “jealousy posts” (posts that are meant solely to inspire envy from your followers) because you don’t want to alienate, frustrate, or annoy those who are following you. In a sense, create waves—don’t flood your network. Also, a good rule of thumb I’ve learned on this trip is to post at times when those who are at home will be awake and checking their social media—otherwise, your posts could get lost in the stream by the time most of your readers wake up.
Researching tea culture in Maokong
If you’re not aspiring to professional photography, at least invest in a decent point-and-shoot camera (Panasonic and Canon offer nice amateur cameras between $400-500 dollars that rival entry-level DSLRs). Even if you’re not looking to change the world with your photography, you’ll want to have a way to document your experiences and help you remember details later. Besides, depending on where you’ll publish your work after the trip (and who knows where that’ll be?), it’s always a good idea to have photos to accompany your articles—and you can upload them to Facebook, Flickr, or other photo-sharing sites, which is a great way to continue creating momentum after your trip is over. And, if nothing else, you’ll have a massive slide show to bore your friends and family with when you get home–and what’s more fun than that?
Do not be afraid to talk to people. The world is full of fascinating people with stories to tell, and people generally love to tell them, especially to foreigners. Even if you don’t share the same language, you’ll never know what you might be missing if you don’t try. Don’t be afraid to approach people with a smile, pose questions, write down answers, ask to take photos. Above all, don’t forget to listen—let people tell you their stories. Don’t go with preconceived notions of what you expect people to tell you about a certain place—let the people inform the place, and you might surprised what you come away .
Try not to over-plan your trip (as activities in foreign countries always take longer than you expect them to take). Be flexible with your itinerary. Allow for cancellations, changes, and evolutions. The weather, for one, has been a large determining factor for us this particular trip. For instance, we couldn’t exactly go mountain-biking in the monsoon (so we museum-hopped and tried lots of delicious food instead). We couldn’t head to the awesome island of Penghu because there weren’t any winds and no one was windsurfing (which was the whole reason for going there), so we decided, instead, to stay an extra day in Taipei and get to know the city a little better. If something does happen and you can’t cram everything in to your itinerary that you wanted to, remember this: save it for next time. Do what you can while you’re there–and enjoy every part of it.