Last year was one of the most incredible years I have experienced as a travel writer. I took so many trips one friend suggested I find a suitcase that could be thrown into the laundry with my clothes inside, eliminating the need for packing and unpacking. While that amount of travel doesn’t appeal to everyone, I love it. The trips were balanced between group FAM tours (familiarization tours) and individual press trips.
If you aren’t familiar, FAM trips (or familiarization tours) are group trips arranged around a specific focus. For example, one of my FAM trips last year focused on the cities of Ecuador where the destination marketing representatives were promoting city attractions, fine dining and luxury hotels. The writers invited had outlets either through publications or blogs where that type of focus could be promoted. FAM trips may also provide a round-up experience of a destination. The advantage of a FAM trip is the chance to network with other writers. I’ve met editors on FAM trips that later asked me to write for their publications.
With individual press trips, the focus is flexible and based on the writer’s story assignments and specific areas of interest. An added bonus to an individual press trip is that you can often bring your significant other. My boyfriend has traveled with me to Norway, Germany, Canada and all over the USA. He is responsible for his personal expenses, but still benefits from stays in luxury hotels, amazing dinners and even access to chefs and behind the scenes experiences. And, no, I don’t try to pass him off as my professional photographer!
Getting invitations to trips is fantastic, but getting return invitations is even more important. That’s where FAM trip etiquette comes into play. I’m sure many of you have heard stories and/or experienced a FAM trip with a writer who you really hope to never see again. FAM trip etiquette was the topic of a recent panel at the annual NATJA (North American Travel Journalist Association) conference in Oxnard, California.
Here are a few etiquette tips from that session that will keep you from becoming THAT writer:
- Communication is key – before, during and after a trip. When a destination marketing representative is trying to set up your flights, hotel arrangements, tours, etc., prior to a trip it is important for you to be responsive to e-mails and calls so as not to delay the process.
- Be on time for scheduled appointments. It takes a lot of work to organize a press trip. Coordinating schedules with attraction representatives, restaurants, wineries, museums or whatever else may be on the agenda is no easy task. On a group FAM tour there is nothing more annoying for the host and the other writers than having to wait on someone who decided to sleep a little later than everyone else. On an individual trip, it is even more important that you adhere to the schedule especially if you are traveling with a friend or significant other. You don’t want to come across as someone who is “using” the destination to score a vacation. Always be professional and respectful.
- Take notes and lots of photos. Sure you want to experience the destination and the delicious meals but more importantly, you want to remember details so that you can write a spectacular article when you get home. My handwriting tends to be a bit messy so I often use the audio recorder on my iPhone to record guided tours and I will use the note feature to type a few quick notes. Of course, it is important to ask permission to record beforehand and to let the host know you aren’t texting when you are typing those notes into your phone. Also, I take photos of everything. Every meal, every bathroom toiletry, every nook and cranny of an exhibit. While the photos may not be needed for publication, they provide an extra bit of memory for me when I’m ready to write the article.
- WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! Destinations aren’t inviting you on a trip to give you a vacation. They have a job to do and that job is to promote the destination. When you attend a trip you are responsible for holding up your end of the deal – writing an article and getting it published. Of course the more articles you publish from a destination the better. It is also important to keep in touch with your hosts after each trip. Keep them posted on potential publication dates, especially if it is going to be several months before the article is published. Be sure to follow up with a copy of printed articles and links to online articles.
- We’re all busy and deadlines are a constant struggle. But that’s no excuse to skip dinners and planned activities on a hosted trip. As Jo Duncan of The Beender-Walkers Group says, “Once you arrive at my destination you are expected to participate in all scheduled tours and activities even if you are on a deadline. Skipping out on dinners and events to finish a piece about another destination is unacceptable.”
And trust me, Jo’s trips are fabulous, you don’t want to get on her blacklist!