Sunday, July 25, 2010

Press Trip? Tough gig!

When I tell people one of my jobs is travel writer, their response is usually something like, "Wow!  What a great job!  You must love it!"  I do.  Most of the time.  The part of the job that is tough for me is the press trip. 

There are good aspects to a press trip and I want to write about these first. 

Best element of a press trip is the people I've encountered.  Some of the publicists and writers I've met on press trips have become good friends.  Nothing can top that for value in my life. 

Another important element of a press trip is the opportunity it gives a freelance travel writer to experience a destination we probably couldn't afford on our own.  Working as a travel writer does sound exciting but for the majority of us there is very little money in it.  Payment for our work is also often hard to collect.  We spend a great deal of time trying to get paid for work we've done for editors and publishers who must think we are all madcap heirs and heiresses on a lark.  Ugly side of the job.  So, a press trip may provide us with content for articles we can sell.  Sometimes we have an assignment lined up before we even pack our bag.  One bag.  We travel light. 

Now for the bad bits.

On a press trip I am someone's invited guest.  Could be a hotel, a city, a tourism bureau, a chamber of commerce.  The trip is generally scheduled within a inch of my life in order to experience as much of the destination as possible.  I am going to receive first class treatment everywhere I go on this press trip.  That's the problem.  If I just go with the plan laid out for me on a press trip I am not doing my job as a travel writer. 

I spend as much time as I can on a press trip working outside the boundaries of the official itinerary in order to do my job correctly.  I need to experience a place without people knowing I'm a travel writer.  I need to see what service is like for most people who travel to the destination.  I need to see parts of town and visit businesses my hosts might not want me to visit.  So, I grab every minute I can outside of my scheduled events to get my work done.  I'm up very early in the morning until late into the night to get this all accomplished, while still attending most of the events on the itinerary.  By the end of these trips, I'm as wiped out as the publicist who has to corral a group of feisty personalities through an experience

On occasion I go completely off the reservation and SKIP a scheduled event.  I only do this when it makes sense for my work.  Like the barbecue I was invited to on a press trip about a year ago.  I was ordered not to drive myself to the inn where it was being held because the steep route was too dangerous.  What poor person am I sending up a killer mountain to happy inn if I can't even risk the drive?  No one!

For many travel writers press trips are the very best part of the job.  I can understand that, too.  Traveling is one of the most freeing, exciting activities in life.  Enjoying it on someone else's dime?  Just that much better.  

I feel quite strongly that great care must always be given to the work we produce from press trips.  The very point of most travel pieces is to provide helpful information to people considering how to spend their hard-earned cash, and even harder earned days off, on a vacation.  This is the very reason I am thankful for the opportunity a press trip offers me and completely committed to doing my job in whatever free time the official itinerary offers me.**

There are media outlets who absolutely will not allow their writers to take press trips and may not even hire a writer who has accepted one.  I can understand the concern.   The public needs to be absolutely sure a positive review of a destination comes from a writer's authentic experience and not the impressions of a press trip's controlled and skillfully finessed environment.  

**Hello publicist, I know you are asking yourself now  if I really did sleep in that morning I was late for our scheduled breakfast event.  Probably not.  Most likely, I was miles away by the crack of dawn, on my own little journey.  I may have already sampled food from two other breakfast places before joining all your smiling faces around the table.  Ditto lunch.  Ditto dinner.  And people wonder why I'm getting so fat.

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