I always used to wonder how travel writers got their sweet gigs. After all, from where I sat, it looked like someone was flying writers to amazing destinations, paying their expenses, and wining and dining them. I wanted in, but I had no idea how to become a travel writer. In truth, I had no idea how to get invited on a press trip.
Of course, there are lots of reasons why I wanted to dip my toe in the tropical waters of travel writing. But one reason was this. Nearly everyone I spoke to told me travel writing was one of the toughest industries to break into. That publications were closing, budgets were shrinking and it was near impossible to get an editor to reply to an email, let alone commission you.
I don’t mind a challenge and so after taking taking a short course in travel writing I had the confidence and know-how I needed to pitch editors.[And to be honest, I actually now think there’s never been a better time to be a travel writer]
But. Yes, there was a ‘but’.
Every time other writer I knew was invited on famils, press trips or media fams, and I had no idea how that happened for them.
How on earth, I wondered, did PRs (or editors) come to approach them with these offers?
What is a famil or press trip?
A famil is short for familiarisation, and in different media circles throughout the world there are different names: FAMs, fam trips, press trips and sometimes even junkets (urgh!)
Basically, a fam trip or media press trip is an opportunity where a DMO (destination marketing organisation), tourism body or brand covers some, most or all of your expenses. And, as a result, you write an article(s) about your experience.
There are different kinds of press trips
I’m not going to delve too deep here, but there are different kinds of famils – the main two are: an independent trip where you organise everything and may only seek support from tourism bodies or PRs for part of the trip, and the second is a group famil where you’re with a group of other media professionals and you all have a set schedule to follow.
But how do I get invited on a press trip?
Press trip opportunities aren’t always easy to come by. But once you know some simple strategies, you’ll be in a much better position to land your first FAM.
Ask the editors you write for if they are looking for particular stories
This one is for writers who have editors they know and work with semi-regularly. If you’re just starting out, don’t worry – there are other ways to break into travel writing and land your first press trip.
So, you’ve written for an editor a few (or more) times before? Great. You’d like to write some travel content for them? Super.
Don’t forget that travel content is everywhere. You may be writing lifestyle features or design articles for a magazine, newspaper or digital outlet, but they may also have a travel section.
So ask the editor. It’s as easy (and as scary as that).
I landed my first individual FAM trip by doing just that.
I’d like to say that I was really systematic in how I got my first press trip, but the truth is that it happened by accident.
I had written a story for an editor of a food magazine about where I live. The editor confirmed she had received my article and was happy with it.
I emailed the editor and asked if she was looking for more pitches. At the last moment, I added one more line: “Or are there any destinations you already have in mind that you need covered?”
I am so glad I added that last sentence because she replied almost immediately and said, “We need someone to do a story on Western Australia – would you be up for it?”
See how important it is to be proactive and ask the question?
Once you’ve got the ‘ok’ about a filed story, have another story idea ready to pitch. And it’s always worth including a question about if the editor has got stories they need to assign.
Start building relationships with PRs
As a freelance writer, it’s likely that offers for press trips will either come via an editor at a publication (I love when this happens because it means you have a guaranteed commission) or through a PR of a DMO, travel marketing agency or individual provider (such as a hotel).
One of the best ways to get your foot in the door and land your first solo press trip, is to add on a few days to an itinerary you already have.
Say for example you’re going to be in Fiji, it’s worth using Google to find PRs that work with brands and organisations in Fiji. You may have a particular interest in a new hotel that has just opened or you might like to write a story about a reef regeneration project. You can email the PR and use words similar to my sponsorship request letter.
It can be tricky getting support for a full famil (e.g. flights and on-ground costs) if you don’t have many articles published, so getting part sponsorship is a good first step.
Want to be invited on a group press trip? Do this:
- Investigate the membership requirements of your national travel writing society. My first international press trip came almost immediately after I joined the Australian Society of Travel Writers. The PR remarked that she always preferred to invite travel writers who were members of the ASTW.
- Apply for a TravMedia profile and apply to attend TravMedia’s IMM (Here’s a handy guide to IMM for new travel writers)
- Read through the travel sections of newspapers and magazines and pay careful attention to the disclaimer at the end where it says something like: “X was a guest of [brand], [airline] and [tourism board]”. Start reaching out to the PRs at these companies via LinkedIn or email. Introduce yourself and ask to be put on their general email list. If you want to be considered for upcoming famils – make sure you ask!
- Show an interest in the PR and their ‘product’ – ask to meet for coffee or have a phone call to hear about the latest news. Usually on group media press trips PRs will accompany travel writers, so they will want to make sure that you are good company before they offer to spend two or more days with you.
- If you have a specialty (e.g. if you’re a freelance writer who loves scuba diving or military history, make sure you find agencies and PRs who specialise in these sorts of clients).
One important thing to know …
Before you search out press trip opportunities or accept a FAM offer, be aware that some publications (like the New York Times) say they don’t commission articles from writers who have been on a press trip (yes, that’s regardless of whether your press trip was related to the story you’re currently pitching).
However their rules do state:
“Depending on circumstances, the Travel editor may make rare exceptions, for example, for a writer who ceased the practice years ago or who has reimbursed his or her host for services previously accepted.”
But many publications are okay with writers who have been on FAM trips. Just make sure you tell them.
And don’t give up. As you can imagine travel writing is competitive.
It can be hard to get traction, and places on press trips tend to be offered to publications before freelance writers. But that said, in my experience, travel writing is also a very supportive industry. You’ll find that once you start making connections with PRs (and keep those connections going) and follow these simple strategies for how to get invited on a press trip, it won’t be long before you land your first one.
Have you been on many press trips? How did you land your first famil?