Photo by Erin Granat

If you’re like me, you think there is no better job in the world than getting paid to travel. If you’re also as outgoing and over the top as I am (foreign friends have referred to me as “The American Show Pony”), you also think the best best best job in the world is being a travel show host.

We’ve all watched the Travel Channel or Globe Trekkers and thought, shoot, I could do that. Stand in front of the camera and go to the world’s most exotic and exciting places and basically get paid to have fun. Yeah, no sweat.

Problem is, our dream is shared by…well, everyone. I recently sent in my stuff to host a travel series put on by Student Traveler magazine and was told my resume was one of no less than 2,000 submitted. Ouch. The competition is undoubtedly fierce.

Q: So what’s an aspiring Samantha Brown to do?

A: Start your own show about your own town.

A Brief history of ERIN 411!

After graduating with a degree in journalism, I realized that if I wanted to make my travel host dream a reality, I’d first need to log some serious hours in front of the camera to see 1: if I was any good, and 2: if being an on-camera host was something I’d still want to do beyond the fantasy glamor of it all.

Photo by Erin Granat

I chose to go the internet video blog route for a few reasons. In my opinion, video blogging is more innovative and fresh than buying time on the local access channel.

Also, coincidentally, I had an interview to blog for the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA) website, a sort of tourism bureau for our area.

In my interview, I managed to convince the forward-thinking internet marketing manager to let me do a video blog rather than a traditional written blog, and even to find me a bit of money to pay a video production team so it wasn’t just me and my shaky digital camera.

Thus, ERIN 411! was born, a video blog about the hottest events and coolest nightspots in Reno-Tahoe, my hometown.

The first episode I shot, with the help of talented local filmmaker Timothy Gaer, was at the Reno Rodeo, a big event here in Northern Nevada. The episode wasn’t exactly as adventuresome as, say, exploring the markets of Mumbai, but it was conveying the vibe of a destination all the same. Which is what travel hosting is all about.

It was also good timing. We’ve been having a sort of “Reno Renaissance” the last few years, with dozens of cool new restaurants, lounges, and shops opening downtown, as well as many new construction projects. We’ve been getting awesome concerts and building a reputation as a center for the arts.

There has also been an influx of young professionals moving to the area, all meaning that I started ERIN 411! at a time when there was an audience and there was local support.

The RSCVA wanted to keep marketing to the younger local and visitor alike, and so I was signed on for a full season of the show. My little vBlog project is currently seven episodes in, is featured on several Reno-Tahoe websites, has been mentioned on national travel websites, and has its own kick-ass intro with amazing graphics (courtesy of Orangetree Productions).

I’m currently planning episodes for season two, with subjects ranging from our women’s roller derby league to following the progress of favorite local bands.

Photo by Erin Granat

During this foray into being a vBlog host, I’ve learned several lessons. Here are three of the most important things you might want to consider:

1. Do you truly want to be on camera?

First and foremost, I’ve learned that thinking I’d be good on-camera is really different than actually being on-camera. I had done some commercial and film work prior to hosting my show, but the first time I saw myself on screen interviewing and improvising, I just about died (Whoa nervous eyes! Whoa camera adding the infamous ten pounds!).

The reason travel hosts like Brown and Bourdain are so good is because they seem perfectly natural in front of the camera. But then the reason so many of us think we too could be travel hosts is because they make it look so easy.

The irony is that it takes a lot of practice and training to seem off the cuff and unrehearsed.

. . .it takes a lot of practice and training to seem off the cuff and unrehearsed.

My advice? If you’re interested in starting your own vBlog or pursuing hosting gigs, take a class or hire someone to work with you first and foremost to see if you’ve even got natural ability.

But if you can’t afford to hire someone to work with you (which I couldn’t) or don’t have any classes in your area (which I didn’t), you can still learn some basic on-camera skills on your own. Here are a few tricks:

Spend a lot of time in front of the mirror. We all have facial ticks and hand gesturing habits that we aren’t even aware of. And when you get nervous (like when someone points a camera in your face), these gestures tend to become more pronounced.

Get used to what you look like to other people. Start recording yourself doing practice intros and have friends stand in as interview subjects. Rewind the film and do it over and over until you see yourself improving. You’ll only need to do this a few times, becoming more aware of yourself, before you notice the difference.

Like everything else, practice makes perfect. Also, a hit of vodka before showing up at the set works every time, at least for me.

Photo by Erin Granat

2. Expect to work your ass off.

I’ve also learned a whole heap not just about being on-camera, but also about producing, writing scripts, coordinating locations, getting access and legal rights, and promoting promoting promoting. I basically do everything but hold the camera and edit.

And if you’re going to start a vBlog from scratch, you’ll probably encounter the same challenges unless you have a team of people willing to work with you. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have production companies help me for a fraction of what they would normally charge, because holding that camera and logging those hours of editing would have been what kept me from my goal.

So I would say when it comes to vBlogging, expect to do all the work. But don’t be afraid to ask production professionals for help. If they’re like the people I’ve worked with, they will be stoked by your enthusiasm and dedication.

3. Embrace shameless self-promotion.

If you want to start your own vBlog, you’re going to have to become a shameless self-promoter.

Yet this is also the beauty of hosting a vBlog over hosting a television show; we live in an era of marketing with the click of a mouse. It’s really very easy to get links of your show out there in forums and on blogs. I’ve put ERIN 411! on MySpace, YouTube, and even made business cards with my face plastered on it.

It’s a bit awkward at first, but if you want to get into the industry, eventually you’re going to have to get comfortable talking about yourself and your projects.

Conclusion?

So did I discover the answers to my original questions? Sure did.

1.) Yeah, I am pretty good on-camera. I have a knack for coming up with quirky comments and interview questions on the spot and I seem more natural and personable every time we do a shoot.

2.) And the zinger: I’ve learned hosting (and producing, writing, promoting…) is about 95% hard work and about 5% glamour and fun. But that 5% is absolutely worth it. I’ve become completely hooked on the challenge of communicating through the camera what it’s like to experience a destination or event.

I’m going to keep on doing ERIN 411! as long as they will let me, and hopefully someday soon all that experience and (shameless self-promoting, of course) will pay off and you’ll see me on the Travel Channel, taking you through the museums of Europe.

In the meantime, you can reach me at watch_erin411@yahoo.com if you have any questions about starting a vBlog of your own. I’d love to help and tell you more about what I’ve learned!

Community Connection

You can watch episodes of ERIN 411! at: blog.visitrenotahoe.com or myspace.com/watch_erin_411 .

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