Once you’ve established your reputation as a prolific writer in your region or around the world, and you have a good relationship with several travel magazine editors, you’ll find a whole new world opening up to you - that of FAM Tours and Press Trips.
The good news is that these trips might provide you with low cost travel, or even free travel, if you have assignments or can be trusted to get the assignment soon after the trip.
To get on the lists for press trips you first need to build up your travel writing portfolio. This is very important because you need some bylines to your name before you will be taken seriously.
The people who pay for these trips are skeptical of the freelance writer who contacts them out of the blue and can’t show a foundation of work to back up their claim to being a professional freelance travel writer.
Here's the process I follow for selling my travel stories and getting travel perks. I call it Roy's Rules for Selling Articles and Getting Travel Perks. Of course, they're only guidelines but it doesn't hurt to use them as a rule until you can establish your own.
This doesn't have to be a daunting experience. Getting started takes a little time and effort, but you can follow your interests and find gold mines in small, niche magazines.
Once your travel portfolio and website show that you have a solid track record, you’ll find that tourist agency representatives may happily invite you to visit their area. Of course, they are expecting that you’ll write some nice stories about their area.
You will also want to make sure you have a solid presence on social media. Facebook is a good place to build your travel writing image - here are 8 ways you can use it.
Being active on social media helps to publicize your travels while you're on the road, and it might even have other benefits. Here's a post about how one travel writer uses Twitter and other social media.
The best possible situation, if you want to visit a place, is to pitch and sell some stories in advance. If you already have assignment letters in hand, you are more likely to get the attention of tourist agencies and PR media. Of course, there are no guarantees and every agency has a budget to live within - but there's no harm in asking.
You will also want to read the page about Travel Etiquette on press trips once you've been invited.
You might also be wondering how to find press trips? Here's a network of resources you can tap into so you know what press trips are on offer.
Here are the different types of Press Trips available to travel writers:
Many Convention and Visitor’s Bureaus (known as CVBs) periodically organize Familiarization Tours (know as FAM tours). With this type of trip a CVB hosts a small group of writers or tour operators for a few days to show them what their region has to offer to visitors.
There are usually four to seven
writers on FAM tours, which last anywhere from two to ten days.
FAM tours are a great place for beginning travel writers to start. In some cases you don’t necessarily need letters of assignment for them. (Check with the tourist office to find out their requirements.) Often the intent to pitch stories after the trip will suffice.
However, you do need to be published to prove you’re a bona fide travel writer. CVB's typically only invite you on a FAM tour once you show your ability to get published. It makes sense – you’re potentially getting some free travel in exchange for your agreement to write a nice article or two about their destination.
This type of FAM tour is like a group FAM tour except that you decide where you want to go, what you want to see, and when you will take the tour. In other words, it's customized for your needs.
Self-Guided FAM Tours are usually a few days long. Some self-guided FAM tours last as long as a week or more, depending on the budget of the local CVB and the value of your assignments.
I consider this a low cost travel kind
of trip, rather than free travel, since you might not get all your costs
covered. Every trip is different.
Self-guided FAM tours are generally more difficult to organize for the writer, but they can be potentially more rewarding than a group FAM tour. Since you are the one deciding upon your destination, and what you want to see and do, you have a lot more control over your itinerary than on a group FAM tour.
You will need to get those all-important letters of assignment in order to get the most cooperation from the CVB’s for these types of tours.
Here's how to organize a self-guided FAM press trip.
In addition to FAM tours discussed above, there are several other types of Press Trips.
Some Press Trips are organized by public relations firms instead of
CVB’s. These firms represent tourism boards, hotels, and resorts,
within a country as well as internationally.
Invitations to these Press Trips are more difficult to obtain than regional FAM tours because there’s more competition for them. The tourist bureaus are more selective about who they choose.
This means seasoned travel writers with access to editors of bigger circulation magazines often get priority.
You can also organize your own international press trip. You would do it similar to how you would organize a regional self-guided FAM tour except, of course, you’re traveling to another country.
Self-excursions are a form of low cost travel. Don't expect to have all your costs covered when you're organizing this on your own. Most likely you'll manage
to get some costs covered, but be prepared to pay for some of the trip.
The real key to covering the costs of international trips, and even making some money is to sell as many articles as you can before you leave your own country.
By having assignments before you even leave home you will be able to cut costs at your destination by arranging press passes, complimentary accommodations, and possibly free meals.
Finally, you might want to consider taking an extended writing holiday –
where you travel to a low-cost, warm, exotic location, perhaps to
escape the cold, dreary, never-ending winter weather – and you set up
your writing shop at your destination. This way you can continue some
of your usual writing habits and add some new travel stories to the mix
to help defray the costs of this low cost travel idea.
Not every destination will quality as low-cost travel so you’ll need to be savvy about where to go. I took an extended writing holiday in Ecuador for five weeks a few years ago. Ecuador has particularly inexpensive accommodations along with a lot to see and do, so it was possible to really enjoy myself while continuing to get work done. Typically, I would work all morning and then go out in the afternoons and explore.
Some international destinations have very low cost travel accommodations available, but there are other possibilities you can explore.
Maybe you know someone with a vacant vacation home that would be happy to have someone living in it for a while.
You might also consider home exchange opportunities, housesitting, or consider renting out your house while you’re gone to offset the cost of being on the road.
Of course, you can also pre-sell stories about your destination and use some of the self-guided press trip advice to help pay for your trip and keep it low cost travel. Whatever you decide, the idea is to get away for a while to a new destination, write new travel stories and explore new places, without completely unplugging from your office.
You can also check out this article about how to find press trips for international and U.S. destinations for more tips.
This page describes the various kinds of press trips and low cost travel opportunities I’ve explored over the past few years. All of these kinds of trips will save you money, and help you to learn about a city, a region or a country, and should leave you full of travel story ideas to keep you busy selling and writing travel articles long after you get back home.
I've written a special report about How to Land Press Trips and Fam Tours. It includes everything you need to know to get invited on these coveted trips.
Roy Stevenson is a professional travel writer and the author of www.PitchTravelWrite.com. Over the past nine years, he’s had more than 1000 articles published in 200 magazines, trade and specialty journals, in-flights, on-boards, blogs and websites and has traveled on assignment around the U.S. and to dozens of international destinations.