Once you’ve established a few travel writing bylines in print and online, it’s time to reach out to some of the local tourist agencies and get on their press trip invitation lists.
FAM tours are a great place for the beginning travel writer to start because you may not necessarily need letters of assignment for them. I say this with reservations, because I personally recommend you always have advance assignments when applying for press trips.
Many Convention & Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) and Public Relations (PR) agencies organize periodic Familiarization Tours, or FAM tours. They are also known as local or regional Press Trips.
On a FAM Tour, a CVB hosts a small group of writers or tour operators for a few days to show them what the region has to offer to visitors. There are usually three to seven writers on the trip, although it varies for every trip. FAM Tours are usually two days to five days long, although they can last longer.
You can choose to participate in FAM Tours in your own region or somewhere else in the U.S. The CVB or PR agency does all of the organizing. They arrange meals, the tour bus or van, accommodations, and visits to attractions.
You, the writer, simply go along for the ride, shepherded around by one or two reps from the CVB who try hard to impress you with their attractions. They’ll take you to the nicest restaurants, put you up in the best hotels, and show you the most interesting attractions.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
On a FAM tour you’re on the CVBs schedule. You’ll see what they want you to see according to a prearranged itinerary.
But, the CVB will make sure travel writers with assignments will get time to visit the attraction(s) that they need to visit, no matter what the main agenda might be.
I don’t go on Press trips without an assignment. My hosts sometimes need to schedule a lengthier visit so I can spend more time doing research on the attractions I’m writing about in my article, that weren't part of the press trip invitation.
Or, they might customize the FAM tour to include that attraction separate from what everyone else is doing for a day.
Here’s an example of a customized press trip invitation in Nashville, Tennessee:
My handlers customized one day of the tour so I could visit an automobile museum where I had an assignment. While everyone else followed the press trip agenda, I spent half the day touring the museum, doing interviews, and taking photographs. The museum even provided me with a room and table to download my photos and check that they were okay before I left. Later that day I re-joined the rest of the press group.
If you have specific assignments, you need to speak with the organizer about this in advance so they can line up your side-trips, if needed.
The main disadvantage of guided FAM Tours is that you don’t get a chance to wander off and explore by yourself. Many independent travel writers find this “stuck-with-the-group” timetable onerous.
More typically, on your first few FAM tours, you’re likely to feel awestruck and blessed with guides shuttling you around like royalty and hosting your meals at fine dining establishments.
If you have been published prolifically and have numerous story outlets, some CVB media reps will invite you on the press trip even when you don’t have an assignment. Your intent to pitch stories after the trip will suffice. But, every CVB has different criteria and you will need to check this for each trip.
I recommend you always have at least one assignment before accepting a press trip invitation, but that’s between you and the organizers. But to get invited and to be taken seriously, you do need to be published to prove you’re a bona fide travel writer.
You should also be aware that CVBs in your region generally expect you to find your way to the starting point of the tour. Once you arrive, they’ll take it from there.
If you’re traveling to a FAM tour where air transport is required to get there, the CVB or tourist agency will often pick up the tab for airfare. You should always ask if they cover this, if it’s not clearly stated. Don’t be shy!
Contact the CVBs in your region or state and politely request that they put your name on the list for future FAM tours or press trip invitations.
Usually you can find CVB contacts on the Internet. Set aside some time to research the contact names and phone numbers for a variety of CVBs in your region, and then contact each one of them with your request.
I did this early in my travel writing career and the CVB floodgates opened. Over the next few years, I received numerous invitations.
CVBs are happy to list you even if you’re a novice travel writer. They know that most travel writers begin by writing about local places and destinations, and that beginners are eager to get published. So don’t feel that your meager portfolio isn’t enough. Ask to be put on their press trip invitation list.
Once you’re on the CVB press lists you’ll start to receive press trip invitations. And for the best experience while you’re on the press trip, be sure to round up one or two assignments before you go.
Many CVBs send out a monthly newsletter that lists new attractions and activities in their area. These newsletters are gold mines of information for new story ideas. Get on their list and diligently scan their newsletters for those nuggets.
For a while, I was receiving newsletters from more than 50 CVBs that were courting me to visit their destinations. By keeping them on my radar, I found they offered me plenty of opportunities for new stories.
For example, I’ve made three trips to Arizona and produced more than one dozen stories for them, in print and online.
Another destination packed full of story opportunities is Alaska. I’ve had three lengthy FAM tours there, have been treated like royalty every time, and produced numerous stories.
Some FAM tours to popular destinations are much sought after. You may have to fill out an application form of some kind. This isn’t unusual. Do this diligently and send it back quickly.
Also, not all CVBs host press trips. Everyone works within a budget, and some CVBs don’t have the budget to host press trips. If you find a CVB unable to help you, thank them and move on.
If you don’t get invited the first time you request a FAM trip, apply again for the next trip, after you’ve built up your travel writing portfolio. Typically, the writers with assignments get priority for the trip. This is one more reason to have an assignment in advance.
How to Land Press Trips and Fam Tours
I've written a guide about how to land press trips and fam tours. It will tell you everything you want to know about how to get into the inner circle and get invited on regional, national and international press trips.
Low Cost Travel and Press Trips for Travel Writers
Quid Pro Quo: Travel Writers and Press Trips
Wrangling Complimentary Travel Perks for Travel Writers
Press Trips for Travel Writers: Tap Into a Network of Resources
Roy Stevenson is a professional travel writer and the author of www.PitchTravelWrite.com. Over the past ten 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.