The Romance of It All: How to Travel Writing's Many Perks

Chapter 24
The Romance of It All: How to
Pursue (and Take Advantage of)
Travel Writing's Many Perks
“Of all possible debauches, traveling is the greatest that I know;
that’s the one they invented when they got tired of all the others.”
— Gustave Flaubert
t’s not unusual for mouths to drop open when I tell people what I do for a
living. The truth is: Travel writing just sounds like the perfect job. In many
ways, it really is. I work from home, make my own hours, take vacation when
I feel like it... and I really do get paid to see the world. Over the years, publications have paid my travel expenses and then paid me for my articles about
Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and beyond.
Plus as a travel writer I can justify all sorts of travel I would never be able to
in another line of work. Just last month, for instance, my family and I headed
to Montreal for a couple of nights. We were in Vermont to see my brother, so
we borrowed his car and drove two hours north. When we returned home, I sat
down at my computer and whipped out a short piece about our stay to submit
to International Living. Not only did I get paid for my article, but because I’d
turned our mini-vacation into a “business trip,” I was also able to take portions
of it as a tax deduction — including my airline ticket.
We took that trip on a whim, and so I
didn’t have time before we left to arrange
for the kinds of perks I might ordinarily
have pursued — a reduced-rate or complimentary hotel stay, maybe admission to
a museum or a special guide at an exhibit
that interested me.
But established travel writers are treated
regularly to all sorts of benefits like those,
and more — free trips, meals, accommodation, tickets to shows, invitations to
exhibit openings...
Along with a select group
of fellow writers and their
spouses, we were toured
around, wined and dined,
had interviews with
sources helpful with our
information gathering,
and spent a goodly
number of hours lounging
on the beach. All at no
charge. And then I was
paid for my article.
For instance, I spent a long weekend in
Cancun some years back (with my husband) as an invited guest of the president
of a large hotel group, which had just
opened a new resort. Along with a select group of fellow writers and their
spouses, we were toured around, wined and dined, had interviews with sources helpful with our information gathering, and spent a goodly number of hours
lounging on the beach. All at no charge. And then I was paid for my article.
Arranging such perks does, however, take some planning in advance. Here are
a few ways you can pursue them...
Get Your Name on Press Lists So PR Officials
Know to Alert You to Press Trips
We talked about this at length in Chapter 17, but for the sake of continuity I’ll
touch upon it again here. You must let public-relations officials know you exist. If you don’t, they’ll never know to send you press releases and put you on
their press-trip invitation lists.
So pick a few organizations from whom you’d like to hear regularly, and send
an email or call to introduce yourself. Your email might say something like
The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program
FROM: Sally Simpson, Travel Writer
TO: Jeannie Jimper, Travel PR Inc.
Dear Ms. Jimper,
Please add my name to your media list so that I receive press releases from you
regularly. In addition, I’m interested in being alerted to any organized press trips
you might have in the works.
I’m a freelance travel writer who specializes in family travel. My articles have
appeared in Parents and Family Travel Times.
The best way to keep in touch with me is via email at: [email protected]
Thank you for adding my name to your mailing list. I look forward to receiving
material from you regularly.
Sally Simpson
Freelance Travel Writer
1234 Main Street
Somewhere, IL 60614 USA
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 773-333-3333
My name is on many such lists, and so I receive press releases regularly from
places I’m interested in visiting. At least once a month a press-trip alert or
invitation crosses my desk. In the last few weeks, for instance, I’ve received
announcements like these:
Travel writers and broadcasters are invited to — The other Florida:
Northwest Florida. The farther north you go in the Sunshine State,
the deeper south you get. Newspaper or magazine outlets and one
confirmed assignment necessary for freelancers.
The Adirondack Regional Tourism Council would like to extend invitations to travel writers to visit the region. Individual itineraries will
be created to reflect the writers’ interests.
Women’s Wellness Retreat — “The Art of Transformation” at The Cliff
House Resort and Spa, Ogunquit, Maine. Program includes motivational speaker, art of journal writing, gourmet dining and aroma
therapy you can do at home, pilates, yoga and signature spa treatments — lobster dinner! Invitation open to four writers who best
represent a media outlet that reaches the upscale, woman traveler.
Letter of assignment a must. Lodging, dining and program activities
are included. Air Transportation will be considered with a letter of
Four-person, four-night “niche” trips to the USVI: Sailing, B&B’s, Mature Traveler — *Please note that on behalf of the United States Virgin Islands Department of Tourism and our airline partners, we must
require that press trip participants provide a letter of assignment
from each outlet’s editor or producer for each person participating in
the trip.
Because we have a limited number of spaces on the trips, and many
requests from journalists to participate, it would also be helpful to
provide: the outlet’s circulation (preference is given to writers associated with a publication — or combination of publications —with a
minimum circulation of 100,000 or more); the name of the writer on
assignment; and the intended publication date of the article or book,
broadcast date of the program, or posting date of the article on a
Web site.
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I’ve just grabbed excerpts from those announcements to illustrate my point.
These things usually include, in addition, a few paragraphs of “sales” material
meant to entice writers to come along. You’ll
notice that in order to participate in those trips,
Once you have a few
most of the time you’ll need either a “letter of
published articles
assignment” or a “confirmed assignment.”
That’s because these PR officials want to make
sure they’ll be getting some return on their
investment. If they’re going to fly you in, put
you up, feed you, and make sure you’ve met
all the folks you need to meet, then they want
to be sure, too, that they get some press in
under your belt, you’ll
be in a much stronger
position to approach
a publication, propose
an article, and ask for
an assignment letter.
Perfectly reasonable.
So how do you get an assignment from an editor? Well, it gets easier once
you’ve got a bit of a track record. That brings us back (yet again) to the importance of getting those first few clips. Once you have a few published articles
under your belt, you’ll be in a much stronger position to approach a publication, propose an article, and ask for an assignment letter.
Keep in mind, even if you get a letter from an editor agreeing to look at your
article “on spec,” that may be good enough to satisfy a PR official looking to
fill a press trip. You’ll need, however, to be up-front with that PR official in
saying that you’ve got a “spec” assignment. You might increase your chances
of garnering a spot on the trip if you’ve got two or three such jobs lined up.
Take that Northern Florida press trip on the list above. Perhaps you’ve pitched
three “Northern Florida” articles to three different editors at three different
publications, and each has come back with a “Sure, sounds good. Happy to
have you do that article on spec.” Now you can tell the PR official:
“I’m interested in participating in the Northern Florida trip you’re sponsoring from May X-Y. I’ve been in touch with editors at several publications and have lined up spec assignments as follows:
Parents Magazine — spec article accepted on the non-Disney Florida, a
deepsouth experience with history, beaches, and wildlife to keep the kids
Florida Today — spec article accepted on the “genteel south” part of
the state, positions N. Florida as the state’s culturally rich, and best-kept
travel secret.
Chicago Tribune — spec article accepted on the “genteel south” part of
the state, also positions N. Florida as the state’s culturally rich, and bestkept travel secret with news peg being affordable flights in and out of Pensacola from O’Hare.
I’m a freelance travel writer based in Chicago. In the past, my work has
appeared in International Living, Parents, and The Traveler.
Thank you for your consideration.”
One quick note on this front: If you’re in this situation and pitching an article
to an editor, check the publication’s guidelines ahead of time to make sure the
editors don’t have any rules against publishing articles written by writers who
have received special rates or consideration while “on the road.” Some publications make a point of publishing stories written only by people who have
paid full-fare. You’ll just need to make sure you’re not stepping on anybody’s
toes. Plenty of publications don’t mind if an article was generated from a press
Stay in Editors’ Good Graces
I should say, too, that PR officials often put editors at travel publications on
these lists in the hope that a publication will send a staffer on a trip — that almost guarantees coverage. But I know from my years as a staff editor that we
were often too busy to spare one of our in-house people.
Often I’d turn to my cadre of reliable freelancers, the writers I most liked
working with, and email or call one of them instead. I’d say, “We have an
invite here for a week-long, all-expenses-paid trip through Russia, sponsored
by the tourist board. Are you interested? We’d want an article from you about
ABC (we’ll pay you for that, of course).
We can’t spare a staffer, but I thought this might be up your alley. If it is, just
let me know. I’ll write you a letter of assignment and alert the PR official that
we’d like to send you on our behalf.”
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Well, I rarely had a freelancer turn down such an offer.
The key to getting calls like that, of course, is getting into an editor’s good
graces. And you do that not only by writing strong articles, but by following
the rules you learned in Chapter 18 about keeping editors happy. Those relationships you develop with editors can not only keep you in assignments, but
they can lead to perks like trips, too.
Travel on Assignment, with the Publication
Picking up Your Travel Tab
Of course, another way to cash in on travel writing’s perks is to have the publication pick up your travel expenses. This is something you’ll find larger publications willing to do. Most smaller publications simply don’t have the budget for it. You’ll usually find notes on this subject in the Writer’s Guidelines.
If a publication is going to cover your
expenses, it’s usually because the editors
have contracted you to write a particular
article on their behalf. In other words,
you’ve been assigned an article not on
spec... but as an outright assignment. You
have a firm deadline. You’ve signed a
contract, and in that contract you’ll usually find language specifying what sort
of expenses (if any) are covered.
Build your portfolio of
published articles. Once
you’ve had some success
at smaller publications,
begin to pitch your ideas to
better-known and largercirculation publications.
You’d be fooling yourself if you thought you’d be touring the world on a publication’s tab three months from now. But it’s certainly something that’s within
your grasp. You’ll simply have to establish yourself first.
Build your portfolio of published articles. Once you’ve had some success at
smaller publications, begin to pitch your ideas to better-known and largercirculation publications. As you begin to have success there, you’re not only
beefing up your own track record of success, but you’re also establishing for
yourself a reputation as a reliable, professional writer.
That’s when it becomes not unreasonable to expect assignments that come
with both pay for your article and reimbursement for your expenses.
Arrange Your Own Perks
More often than not, freelance travel writers arrange their own travel perks.
Rather than join an organized press junket or press trip, they approach an
organization directly — might be a tourist board, a hotel, a tour operator, a
theater, etc. — and they ask for special consideration.
This is how Steenie Harvey landed an all-expense-paid Lord of the Rings tour
through New Zealand. It’s how Tom Schueneman arranged a discount on his
upcoming safari in Botswana. It’s how Alice Cunningham found herself invited for four nights, free-of-charge, at a deluxe resort on Oahu, Hawaii.
How do you do it?
The three most important things to remember are these:
1. Present a well-defined story idea.
2. Keep your audience in mind. How will your coverage benefit this person?
3. Be polite.
You need to write a strong letter of introduction for yourself, which tells the
PR official, property manager, or business owner you’re approaching what
you’re going to be doing in town and how, exactly, the press coverage you
plan to provide can benefit him.
How to Write a Letter that Gets You the Perks You
The rules for writing a good letter of introduction are largely the same as those
you’d follow to write a strong query letter. (For a review, turn to Chapter 22.)
1. Research the hotels/restaurants/events that you’re interested in to make sure
they offer the services you are looking for.
2. Find out the name of the manager/PR director/event coordinator. (If you
can’t find it online, call to ask.)
3. Put on a “professional face.” Either fax a letter on professional letterhead
that identifies you as a freelance travel writer or type this “letterhead” information at the top of your email.
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4. Introduce yourself and your project and explain what you are after.
5. Present a specific travel agenda.
6. Be concise and polite.
7. Close by saying that you will follow up with a phone call or second email.
8. Attach copies of any assignment letters that you may have received from
specific publications.
9. If you have published clips, include clean photocopies or PDFs.
10. Always follow up with a thank-you note whenever someone assists you
and send along a copy of your published clip.
Beginning on the next page, let’s look at some examples of effective letters of
Sample Introductory Letter 1:
This is a good example of a letter asking a hotel for a complimentary room.
It’s clear and simple — and the tone is enthusiastic. More specifically:
1. The writer gives a good overview of her article. That’s smart. She gets right
to the point.
2. She makes it clear that this hotel can benefit directly from some good press.
(Always try to include such benefits.)
3. The writer shows an interest not only in having a place to sleep but also in
looking at the facilities and interviewing the manager.
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Kelly O’Brian
Freelance Travel Writer
456 Greenbriar Ave.
Chicago, IL 60654 USA
[email protected]
Mr. Javier Ibanex
Manager, Tortosa
39 Avenida Colon
77777 Cordoba, SPAIN
Dear Mr. Ibanez:
Good specifics. If you have a firm assignment,
name the publication and its circulation.
20 March 2004
I am a freelance writer conducting research for an article on the best
paradors of Spain for an American audience. My piece will cover their place
in history and their contemporary significance as well as tips for readers
interested in visiting and staying in these castles and other significant
I will be traveling in your area from Thursday, 11 December to Sunday, 14
December. I would like to know if you might grant me a reduced press
rate or perhaps a complimentary room for a night or two so that I might
experience your facilities and interview you for my article.
Thank you very much for your consideration.
As I’ve said, I plan to recommend to my upscale readers the places to stay,
and I believe your parador would be of particular interest to them.
Shows benefit to the hotel manager.
Kelly O’Brian
Sample Introductory Letter 2:
This is a weak letter for many reasons. Some are obvious; others more subtle.
1. The writer doesn’t adequately introduce himself and explain who he is.
2. The writer wants to write an article about the Marshall Islands — but it appears that it will be negative (about the poor healthcare). Why would a tourist
board give this man a complimentary trip when it doesn’t look like he’ll have
anything nice to say? You don’t have to write only good things about a place
— but you shouldn’t start out with a negative idea either.
3. This writer gives no details. When, for example, will he need that free trip?
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Tobias Stokes
1234 Ash Avenue
Constant, VA 31423
email and
 Needs
phone or fax.
18 June 2003
Public Relations Director
Tourist Board of the Marshall Islands
10 Old Palm Way
Tell us what magazine and something
about the readership.
Dear Sir:
I am interested in visiting your country for a spec assignment with a U.S.
My story will address the current lack of adequate healthcare on the
islands, and inform my readers of ways that improvements can be made.
I would like to know if you might sponsor me while I am there and provide
me with food and lodging, as well as an interview for my piece.
Please contact me when you have received this letter and let me know the
status of my request.
The writer should follow up instead.
Thank you very much for your consideration.
Tobias Stokes
Sample Introductory Letter 3:
This is a good — but not perfect — letter:
1. The writer very quickly introduces himself. That’s good.
2. He explains what his story is about. This works, but he could have included
another sentence with a more specific idea about exactly what his topic would
3. The writer is clear about asking for what he wants.
4. The close is strong. The writer shows genuine interest in the flower show.
It’s friendly — and it’s effective.
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Massimo Roca
Freelance Journalist
via del Mare 22
325 Grossetto
phone/fax: +39 2 488 9874
12 April 2003
Ank Vriesendorp
Tourist Board of Amsterdam
22 Centraaldijk
111 Amsterdam
Dear Ms.Vriesendorp:
This is good. Just the kind of people, it seems,
who would like a flower show. And shows good
exposure for the event, too.
I am a freelance journalist writing a story for International Living, a publication
with more than 300,000 daily readers online and more than 30,000 for its
monthly print publication. Readers are primarily American and affluent,
interested in international travel and retirement.
I recently learned of your upcoming Annual Flower Show in Amsterdam and
am interested in covering the event. I think my readers would be interested
in this “excuse” to visit Amsterdam. I plan to discuss not only the flower show
itself — though that will be my primary focus — but also where to stay and
eat while in town.
Strong details about article, though could be
even more specific.
Would it be possible to receive press materials and an entry pass for the
Polite request.
I look forward to telling my readers about the flower show. I will be in touch
later this week to discuss this proposition and to learn more about this year’s
Good. Shows genuine interest,
event and its history.
not just a grab for something free.
Thank you very much for your consideration.
Massimo Roca
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
If you’re looking for a reduced rate or complimentary hotel room, send your
letter of introduction to several potential “takers.” This is important for several
Many times hotels are booked with conferences or are full in high season, and,
quite frankly, they do not need your editorial plug. If you are traveling in a
high-volume tourist area — like Maui — you will definitely have to contact a
few different hotels or resorts before you get a bite. (Of course, if you have a
really bang-up article idea, that can help your cause tremendously.)
Sending queries to multiple contacts is just smart networking. Hotel representatives talk. It’s a small world. And they also move from job to job. It’s wise
to make a good first impression, as there is always a chance you could talk to
this person again someday. Furthermore, particularly in small communities,
other hotel representatives usually find out what journalist is staying where.
They are certain to learn that a writer is in the area... and wonder why you
didn’t call or write. You enhance your own credibility when you contact more
than one hotel.
Sometimes, it’s best to start with lesser-known organizations — a bed and
breakfast, an intimate café, a local festival. They will be most in need of the
publicity you can offer. Plus, it’s often the less-popular, out-of-theway spots
that make for the most interesting articles.
Follow Up by Phone, Fax, or Email
After you’ve written and sent your letters, follow up. Call to make sure your
fax or email made it to the right person. Check on its status.
Remember, too, to try all angles. If you are looking for a free hotel room, you
might not get one. Well, what about asking for a
discounted rate? For example, travel agents usually receive “travel agent rates” when they travel,
which can be as much as 50% lower than the
regular price.
And, often, there is a comparable press rate. Take
advantage of it.
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Here’s an idea of how a follow-up phone call might go:
RECEPTIONIST: Sheppard Hill Hotel, how may I help you?
YOU: May I please speak to Charles Dunedin, your general manager?
RECEPTIONIST: Who should I tell him is calling?
YOU: My name is [ ... ], and I am a freelance writer. I recently sent him a letter discussing my upcoming trip to Auckland and would like to discuss matters further with him.
RECEPTIONIST: Just a moment please.
YOU: Thank you.
MANAGER: Hello, this is Charles Dunedin. How may I help you?
YOU: Hi, my name is [ ... ] and I am a freelance journalist. I sent you a letter a week ago requesting a complimentary room for the night of November
25 when I will be in town to write a story about unique travel opportunities
in Auckland. As I explained in my fax, I’ll be covering several festivals and
reporting on good hotels to stay in, as well as on the best restaurants I find. I
am most interested in little-known, off-the-beaten- track places. I understand
from your return fax that you don’t have complimentary space available for
that night. But, I would be interested in any special discount rates that you
might offer to members of the press.
MANAGER: We don’t really have a special rate assigned...
YOU: As I am interested in reviewing your hotel, touring your facilities, and
talking with you and your staff about what sorts of special rooms and rates
that you have available, I was hoping that perhaps you might extend to me
the same kind of discount you offer travel agents, for example. After all, I’m
looking forward to recommending your hotel to my readers.
MANAGER: Well, yes, I understand.We do have a room available that night.
I’d be happy to offer you the discounted rate of $55 a night. Our normal rate
is $98.
YOU: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much. I’m looking forward to meeting
you and learning more about your hotel when I arrive.
MANAGER: Very good. I’ll see you then.
Don’t forget to follow up with a thank-you letter that confirms what you just
agreed to. As with any step in this process, you should always nurture the contacts you make. A thank you only takes a few minutes to write, but it leaves a
lasting impression.
13 Ways to Parlay Your Travel Writer Status into
I took a highly unscientific survey of travel writer colleagues to ask them how
they most often — and most effectively — parlay their travel writer work into
offers of hospitality. Here’s what those conversations revealed:
1. Stay in the world’s best hotels
Jennifer Minton traveled to Antigua, Guatemala to do research for two stories, one on investing in and retiring to Guatemala and another on traveling
there. She stayed at one of the nicest hotels in Antigua, an old stucco villa
with arched passageways and exposed beams, extensive gardens, and open-air
patios... and she stayed for free. How?
It was easy to arrange. A few
weeks before she left, she
looked in a guidebook for hotels in Antigua and faxed each
a note — to the attention of the
general manager (whose name
she had called beforehand to
get). She explained that she
would be in town to research
an article on traveling to the
region and asked if they would
provide a complimentary room
for her on such and such dates.
Of the four hotels she faxed, she heard back from one (where she stayed) immediately. Another faxed to say they had no rooms available, and the other
two hotels faxed to say they had passed along her request to their head office
in Guatemala City. She didn’t pursue those last two leads, but would most
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likely have been granted complimentary rooms there too, had she followed
The first day in Antigua, she sought out the general manager and arranged a
time to talk with him about his hotel, the tourism industry, and his take on the
country’s economic development. He treated her to a free lunch and a wealth
of quotable opinions and useful information.
Then, he had one of his employees show her around the grounds and recount
the history of the hotel.
The point is: It’s not difficult to get a free hotel room — but you’ve got to lay
the groundwork first by emailing or faxing ahead. Then make smart use of the
hotel as a resource. Talk not only with the general manager but also with the
bus boys and the maids and the desk clerks.
And, of course, remember to send a thank-you note when you return home
and then a copy of your article once it’s printed.
Particularly with smaller B&Bs or with family-owned inns, you’ll usually find
the owners tremendously helpful with your research.
They often have great tales to tell about how they came to own their hotels
and they’ll be able to point you to good sources for any additional information
you might need.
2. Dine at exclusive restaurants
You can eat well for free in some of the best restaurants
in the world, but you’ve got to plan ahead. Let’s say
you’re in London working on a piece about out-of-theway bistros. Call, email, or fax a few and explain what
you’re doing. Tell the owner or manager what kind of
people will be reading your article and what you’re trying to accomplish. Essentially, you’re putting together a
restaurant guide for visitors who don’t want to go where
the tourists are. Explain that you’d like to come and eat
such-and-such night... and that you’d like to sample the
house specialty or the most popular meal and talk, if
possible, with the owner and/or chef.
When you arrive, introduce yourself and have your card handy in case you
need it. You’ll likely have the best table in the house and the most impeccable
service. Maybe even a complimentary meal.
Even if you don’t contact a restaurant in advance, you’ll often find that if you
let your server know, perhaps toward the end of the meal, that you’re a writer
in town working on a story, then you might well be treated to a complimentary
glass of wine or dessert. Ask for a menu and a card from the restaurant if you
think it’s a place you’ll want to write about. That indicates you’re serious. And
if the owner or manager is in the house, he or she will usually come over and
answer any questions you might have.
3. Gain entry to sold-out events
Usually, the organizers of any event reserve a certain number of VIP tickets.
And there are a fortunate few who benefit from the first-row seating, backstage passes, and exclusive treatment — event sponsors and journalists among
them. Now you can, too, with a little careful planning.
When you see a mention in the paper or hear on the radio of a concert or play
you’d like to see, call ahead to ask for complimentary tickets.
But don’t call Ticketmaster and expect
to get anywhere. Instead, you’ll need to
get in touch with the people who have
the power to make the decisions about
who attends for free.
Even if an event is “sold out,” there are
usually specially reserved seats that
were never available to the general public to begin with.
If you’re interested in attending a performance at Wolf Trap outside of Washington, D.C., for example, call the facility directly. Ask to speak with the
public-relations coordinator. Introduce yourself and explain that you’re interested in covering the program and wondering if there are any “comp” seats
still available. (You may need to fax over a request and an assignment letter.)
Be pleasant — as you should be any time you’re making a new contact — and
be earnest. PR coordinators don’t want those front-row seats going unused. So
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if you present yourself well, you’ll have a good shot at getting first-class treatment at a sold-out show.
4. Get the best seats at the theater... the opera... sports events...
and more
It’s not what you know, but who you
know. The most important trick to remember when you’re looking to find
the best seats in the house is that you
must ask the right person.
Get in touch with the PR director for
your local symphony, opera company,
sports team, or theater group. Of
course, the smaller the organization
the easier it is to get good, even free, seats. A small theater troupe in need of
good press will willingly offer up some of the best seats in the house if they
believe it might lead to positive coverage and publicity. On the other hand, a
major league baseball team is less interested in what you have to say, because
it receives national TV coverage regularly.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get in. It just means you’ll have to network a
little more creatively. Think about an off-beat story you might do: You could
write a piece on the food served at baseball stadiums around the country, for
example and pitch that to the P.R. department. Or, better yet, get in touch with
one of the coaches or another team official. If you’ve got a backdoor entry,
you can parlay that into the best seats in the house.
5. Experience, firsthand, the world’s best festivals
The Haydn Festival in Vienna, where concerts are performed all day and
night... the Elfstedentocht festival in the Netherlands, during which residents
attempt to skate a 124-mile course over the frozen canals connecting 11
towns... the cat parade in Ypres, Belgium, when locals dress as cats and parade
through the streets in celebration of an old myth about feline powers...
Touring the world by festival is one of the best ways to get an intimate peek
into the true nature of a country and its people.
Don’t just visit the U.S. in the summer, come to see the blue-grass festival
held annually in the mountains in Telluride, Colorado. Don’t simply wander
through Spain hitting one tourist attraction after another, go to
Toledo the last Sunday in April for its famous Olive Festival.
You’ll find interesting and unusual festivals all over the world celebrating
music, dance, religious figures, harvests, local history, legends, and more.
They can make for great stories. Editors who would
turn down your offer to do a general piece about
your trip through Italy might jump at your piece on
the religious festivals held annually in small towns
throughout that country.
You can track down a list of the best festivals by
getting in touch with the PR director at tourist
boards or with the press attaches at embassies. Or,
of course, search online.
Also, Chase’s Calendar of Events, updated annually,
is a good reference for holidays and festivals around
the world.
6. Take trips and tours most people just dream about — fish
off the coast of Belize... safari in Africa... raft the rivers of
Ecuador... barge the rivers of Europe...
Mike Pinter had planned a week-long vacation in Ecuador and wanted to
spend a day river-rafting through the interior. He might have signed up for
a trip when he arrived and spent a couple of hundred dollars for the experience... and it probably would have been worth the price. But instead, he and
his girlfriend went rafting for free.
Mike did his homework before he left and tracked down an American running
a successful rafting tour business. He wrote a letter introducing himself and
followed up with a call to offer some more details. Mike explained that he’d
be on assignment for International Living, to do a piece on adventure travel,
and said that he’d like to write up the trips this gentleman runs. The owner
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was pleased at the prospect of the free publicity, and he offered Mike and his
girlfriend a free day out in exchange.
You can do the same thing... no
matter where in the world you find
yourself. Interested in fishing off
the coast of Belize? Call around
to find a guide who comes recommended and get in touch with him.
Barging in Europe sound like a
relaxing few days? Call a few companies that arrange such trips and
see if one will give you a “comp.”
Sometimes, you can arrange for free tours or trips when you’re already in a
country. The key is to meet the right folks.
One travel writer, in Costa Rica on assignment, was having dinner in a local expatriate hangout when she was introduced to a fishing guide who, as it
turns out, was from her home state. They talked a bit about the local tourism
industry and why fishing was particularly popular in that region. By the end
of dinner, he’d invited her out for a few hours on the water to experience the
local fishing firsthand.
Don’t be shy when you’re looking for a free excursion. Introduce yourself
to shop owners and hotel managers. Make friends with taxi drivers and local
kids. Have a drink at a popular local hangout and talk to the folks sitting on
either side of you. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself “in the loop,” and you’ll be
surprised at how easy it will be to get invitations for free tours and trips.
"Already, you're far ahead of where I was at that point in my
writing career. Because I never even realized, until that moment,
that stuff such as press trips even existed. That writers were
quite entitled to this world of free meals and free hotel stays..."
Click here to listen to Steenie Harvey talk about her first press trip – allexpenses-paid to Borneo.
7. Meet celebrities, diplomats, politicians, artists, musicians,
sports stars...
One writer met with Denmark’s Minister of the Economy when she was on a
free press trip there a few years ago. Another dined with the vice president of
Nicaragua. Yet another worked alongside the late Mother Theresa and shook
hands with the Dalai Lama. You’ll find your travel writer status will serve as
an entree to meet celebrities, diplomats, politicians, artists, musicians, sports
stars, and more.
If you hear that a particular person you’re interested in meeting will be in
town, call up his or her spokesperson and ask for an interview. If an author
you’d like to speak with is giving a reading in town, call up his publisher or
the bookstore where he’ll be to arrange for a few minutes of his time. You can
gain access to press conferences, too — though you’ll probably need to alert
the conference sponsor that you’re interested in coming so your name will be
on a press list at the door.
Often, the best way to know who is coming to town is to get your name on the
press list at your local convention center, at the airport, and at any auditorium
where large events are held. Keep in touch with the public relations office in
those places and you’ll soon be one of the first to know when your favorite
celebrity will be in your area.
8. Get everything from fly-fishing poles to fruit baskets
If you’ve got a hobby that requires equipment, and you’re interested in trying
out the latest gimmicks, make sure you’re on the press lists of the companies
that make the brands you like.
One writer, an avid hiker and photographer, was looking for the best way to
carry his camera while he was on the trail. The old fanny pack he’d been toting for years was falling apart, and he figured someone must have come up
with something better. He decided to do a little firsthand research for a story
that would review the best of these products. So he called the companies that
make the backpackers’ camera cases he’d seen in stores, made sure he was on
their regular press-release lists, and then spoke directly with the public relations director at each place.
The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program
After he’d gotten some background information and the specific benefits the
marketing departments had keyed in on, he asked to speak with the design and
development departments, the folks who actually put the items together. Then
he spoke again with the PR departments and requested samples that he could
try out. They were very pleased to oblige, happy to have somebody reporting
on their products.
Certainly, this sort of thing is easier to arrange it you already have an article
assignment (even if it’s on spec). But that doesn’t mean you must have one...
9. Pamper yourself with massages, manicures, and facials
In the interior of Belize sits a luxurious spa nestled in the rainforest.
Along Mexico’s Pacific coast, numerous spas are set on pristine white-sand
beaches. All over Europe, there are famous, established spas and new ones
opening up. In the U.S., you’ll find spas in every state. And you can benefit
from this very competitive business.
You see, good press is the best publicity
a spa can get. And that’s what you can
Interested in a free massage or facial? Try
getting in touch with a spa you’d like to
visit. Talk with someone in the sales department and speak with the PR director.
If it’s a small facility, ask to speak directly with the owner. Explain that you’re
interested in doing a piece on his spa. If
you have broader ambitions, you might
compare several spas in a certain region
and so contact more than one. If you ask
a lot of questions and show that you’re
well informed and sincerely interested in
including their facilities in your story, you
might well be invited to try them out at a
discount or at no charge.
You’ll most likely need an assignment letter for this sort of perk.
Often you’ll have the best luck if you can peg your coverage to some newsworthy event or development. For instance, if you find that a particular spa is
offering a new treatment not available elsewhere, that would be a good excuse to call and check it out. If a new spa is opening, that’s a perfect excuse to
spend a weekend enjoying the facilities... and writing about them.
10. Play the best golf courses and ski the hottest slopes
The same way you’d track down a free fishing excursion in Costa Rica, you’d
secure a free golf weekend or a ski holiday anywhere in the world. It’s all
about who you ask and how you present yourself. If you’re interested in golfing at a course you’ve never played, go through the standard procedure. Get in
touch with the PR department or the golf pro.
Explain that you’d like to write up a piece about the course, and fax or email
an assignment letter if you have one. If you don’t, you can simply say you’ve
approached such-and-such publication to pitch your idea.
For courses that have an affiliation
with a hotel, make sure that you’re
on the press list for that hotel or
chain of hotels. Particularly when
new facilities open or when improvements have been made on a
course, the hotel may sponsor a free
press weekend to invite writers to
stay and play at no cost.
The same goes for a skiing excursion. Every ski resort runs a highprofile PR
campaign either in-house at the resort itself or through a professional PR firm.
Find out who’s in charge of the marketing and public relations for the places
you’re interested in, and get in touch. Make sure you’re on their lists to receive regular press releases, and start developing relationships with the people
in charge of the PR.
Hotels and condominiums built at ski resorts are, like those at golf resorts,
very interested in attracting guests, particularly in a competitive market. So
get your name on the press-release lists for those places as well.
The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program
One writer received a press release about a special family weekend getaway
that a hotel was offering at a big discount — and it included free ski lessons
for the kids. She thought it sounded like a good deal but, having never been
there herself, was hesitant to recommend the place. So, she called the public
relations director (also the sales manager) at the hotel and explained that she
was interested in writing an article about the hotel and its facilities that would
focus on the bargain winter weekends and special deals the hotel offers yearround.
She asked if she might come for a couple of nights simply to check the place
out, get a tour, and meet in person with her contact to learn more about what
the hotel had to offer. She went, for free, two weekends later.
11. Get the insider’s tour of the White House or the Kremlin... a
French chateau... a British museum
At every great monument and castle around the world... at grand European
cathedrals and in historic mansions all over the globe... the “official” tour is
offered to the public. Then there’s the “insider’s” tour. That’s the one you want
to arrange. Your status as a travel writer can help you do it.
At grand palaces-cum-tourist mills, you’ll likely have to arrange an insider’s
tour ahead of time. If you tell the ticket taker at the Tower of London that
you’d like a special tour, she’ll probably tell you there isn’t such a thing. But
if you call ahead and speak with a curator or docent and explain that you’re
interested in a particular part of the monument or that you’d like to interview
him or her while you’re there for a story that you’re putting together... then
you’ll likely get an invitation to visit (and a very personal tour).
12.Travel to forbidden destinations
Your travel writer status may help you gain entry to certain countries to which you could not
otherwise travel.
If you’re a U.S. citizen, for instance, it’s nearly
impossible, under most circumstances, to travel
to Cuba. However, there have been certain
exceptions to this rule. Regularly employed
journalists and freelancers, for example, have been allowed to travel there on
assignment. (Before you consider doing this, find out exactly what the current
regulations are. You’ll find them posted online at:
13. Read The New York Times best sellers before they hit the
Just as recording companies and film distributors are willing to send out free
compact discs and movie tickets, so are book publishers willing... often eager... to send out free books. They want their new releases reviewed, and so
they’ll send you copies in hopes that you’ll write about them.
Publishing houses put together a press campaign for each book they publish.
At a minimum, it includes a press release about the book with information
about the writer. Often it also includes a schedule of the author’s book tour
and speaking engagements.
The best way to get your name on “review-copy” lists is to start getting in
touch with the publicity departments at a handful of publishing houses. Call
and speak directly with a PR representative.
Introduce yourself and explain what it is you’re most interested in. As a travel
writer you might say you’d like releases about new books written on various
countries, on travel tips, or on living in destinations around the world. Perhaps
you’d also be interested in political commentary or in books about international affairs.
Explain that you freelance for various publications and that you’d like to receive regular press releases about the books they figure you’d find most interesting. Soon, you’ll be receiving a steady flow of releases. When you see a
book you think you’d enjoy, give the contact person a call and he’ll send it off.
Do this often enough, and you’ll start to automatically receive books in the
mail... absolutely free.
The Unwritten Rules about Perks
A PR representative who had arranged a free cruise around the Greek Isles for
a freelance writer — under the assumption that he was going to cover the trip
The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program
in a travel publication (because that’s what he said he was going to do) — had
this story to tell:
“I understand that freelance writers
won’t always write about the trip — or
write good things about it — but to my
knowledge, he didn’t even send a query
out to a single publication afterward,”
she said. “I was not impressed with him.
After all, there is some industry etiquette
that freelancers are expected to follow.”
Although you are not
legally obliged to write an
article after you accept a
comp, you really should ...
and do everything you can
to get it published.
She’s right. There is an unwritten rule that you should produce something that
will bring your sponsoring organization business. That’s the reason they’re
granting you favors. And, in truth, if you do sell an article, you have that much
more credibility when you try again to land another free trip. Plus, you’ll actually make money from your “freebie.”
So, although you are not legally obliged to write an article after you accept a
comp, you really should ... and do everything you can to get it published.
In other words, hold up your end of the bargain.
Flash Your “Credentials”
In some places, having “press credentials” can — quite literally — open doors
for you. What, exactly, are press credentials? And how do you get them?
Press credentials are what newspaper reporters carry around — the ID tag that
gets them past the police line at a crime scene so they can report on the event.
As a freelance travel writer, you won’t be employed full-time by any publication that automatically issues its reporters a “Press Pass.” But that doesn’t
mean you, too, can’t benefit from “credentials” that can help you gain access
to a new museum exhibit or get better seats at a festival show.
For freelancers like you, the best way to get credentials is to join an organization of writers — in your case, travel writers. As a graduate of this program,
for instance, you’re eligible for membership in the International Travel Writers
& Photographers Alliance. You can find out more about it at
You’ve Officially Completed the Program
“There is a real magic in enthusiasm.
It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment...”
— Norman Vincent Peale
Well, you’ve done it. You’ve slogged your way through to the end. I sincerely
hope the trip has been more enjoyable than arduous.
If you and your fellow readers were here in the room with me, I’d escort you all
out the door and down the block to the little brick pub on the corner so we could
raise a glass in honor of your accomplishment.
Alas, we are all far-flung.
But, please know, I consider you one of a special breed. You are one of the elite.
One of the folks who, with seriousness of intent and unwavering enthusiasm really
took this travel writer dream of yours to heart and made the investment in time
and thought necessary to turn it into a reality.
Your travel writer toolbox is fully equipped. You’re ready to call yourself a
professional. It’s just a matter of thinking of yourself as such... and paying close
attention to the important lessons you’ve learned in this program.
You know how to come up with winning story ideas, how to pitch them
effectively to editors, how to choose the right words and create sentences that flow
easily one to the next.
You know how to target your audience so you’re always writing to a reader who
will be interested in your ideas.
You know the secrets to keeping editors happy.
And you know what you need to do to cash in on the many perks travel writing
I wish you all the best in your new career — whether travel writing is something
you pursue full-time or on-the-side.
Go forth and write. Write thoughtful, well-written prose that grabs your readers
and makes them want to take action.
Go forth and enjoy the world... in a way you never could as an ordinary tourist.
Travel with your eyes and ears and nose and heart open. Travel well. Travel richly.
The Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program