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Organizing your first press trip before you go makes all the difference.

After trying to break into travel writing for so long, you finally get the call. A PR agent is arranging a press trip to St. Lucia and you were recommended by so-and-so. Can you leave in two weeks?

Two hours later you wave your e-ticket in the air and do the happy dance. Then you stop. Umm, so what’s a press trip? What do I DO on a press trip? Can I bring my dog?

Full panic ensues. What do these people want from me? OMG, what did I get myself into?

If your first press trip invitation catches you off guard, these tips will help you sort through the chaos:

1. Define your mission

After coming off the über-high of being invited on an all-expenses paid trip to paradise, it’s a good idea to clarify a few things with the press trip coordinator: What are his / her publicity goals for this trip? Then discuss ways you can help meet them. Keep revisiting their goals until you’ve successfully published your work.

2. Do your research

Consult travel bureaus, chambers of commerce, books, magazines, travel blogs, and local newspapers for tourist information. Learn enough about your destination in advance so that you can start working story angles and request on-site interviews or side trips to nearby attractions.

Press trip coordinators know that each writer has a professional agenda and will try to accommodate your needs. While it’s their pleasure to help you meet your story objectives, don’t be difficult and keep your change requests to a minimum.

Surf online travel writer forums to learn what to expect on press trips.

3. Craft your story angle

Sometimes the story you’ll end up writing won’t reveal itself until you’re back at home, flipping through all your notes.

Your job will be to “inform the reader by way of facts and enlighten him by way of impressions” (“Writer’s Encyclopedia”, Writer’s Digest). A few story angles should bubble to the surface while researching your destination, but don’t worry if they don’t. Sometimes the story you’ll end up writing won’t reveal itself until you’re back at home, flipping through all your notes.

4. Be honest

Whether or not you have published travel stories, just be honest about who you are and what you’ve done. Never oversell yourself. The PR agent wants confidence that you can write well and can sell your story.

If you don’t have published clips to back that up, offer to share stories or blogs you’ve written and discuss where you plan to pitch your story. Novel ideas and a willingness to write and pitch hard just may suffice.

Honesty also applies to your writing. If service at the sponsoring hotel restaurant was rotten, are you obligated to publish this? The answer depends on the angle of your story.

Your readers may be future travelers to this destination. You have an obligation to be honest about what they should expect. But whether the restaurant service is relevant to your story is for you to decide.

5. Target a publication

Most press trips are given to writers who already have a “letter of assignment” from an editor, but not always. Perhaps you have a demonstrated background in a special activity (e.g., fly fishing, scuba diving) that your destination wants to market. If so, work up some connections to a niche publication.

You will likely be asked where you intend to publish, so even if you have no connections yet, it is wise to identify a few possible outlets that accept new writers. Big Hint: National Geographic should not be on your list.

Check out 50+ Travel Magazines That Want to Publish Your Writing or join Travelwriters.com , where all members receive a list of 700 travel publications to pitch. Finally, check out online postings for assignments that may coincide with the place you’re visiting.

6. Be nice

Also, be friendly to the other travel writers. You never know when one might help you get invited on their next press trip to Bali!

Personality counts. Your hosts will put a lot of work into showing you a good time.

Being professional and courteous is a given, but you’re leagues above the rest if you’re also inquisitive, enthusiastic, and flexible—especially when things go awry.

If you have legitimate issues that affect your stay, particularly ones that future travelers should know about, then bring it up with your host and give them a chance to set it right. Also, be friendly to the other travel writers. You never know when one might help you get invited on their next press trip to Bali!

7. Be prepared

Be sure to take business cards, digital camera with a large SD card, digital voice recorder (if you have one), extra batteries, phone, travel alarm clock, pens and paper and any activity-specific gear.

A computer is optional for short trips. There’s frequently so little down time during press trips that you might not have much time to write…a favorite notepad sure beats lugging around a six-pound laptop.

Editor’s Tip: A mini-stapler can save you headaches later on. As you travel around visiting restaurants, hotels, etc., you’ll end up with dozens of business cards and slips of paper. Instead of collecting them in a box, envelope, etc. staple them into a spiral notebook as you go.

8. Urge to purge

After your trip, your brain will swirl with inspired phrases, imagery, and conversations that you experienced. Cater to your muse by carrying a notebook everywhere you go and set aside chunks of time to write.

Don’t resist the urge to purge your personal adventure story before getting to the business of writing for publication. Later, these inspired expressions might find a place inside your practical-info pieces.

9. Publish your destination

The faster you publish your travel story, the better you’ll feel and the happier your hosts will be. Publishing to your own travel blog is a great way to get material up quickly, but it is no substitute for outlets with high readership.

Target a list of several publications. Study them. Pitch them. Don’t stop until you’re published. And keep your hosts informed of your progress.

10. Breathe easy and enjoy yourself

Don’t let the stress of writing and publishing burn you out. People are jealous of travel writers for a reason. You’re living the dream!

So live it up and really give your friends reason to hate their cubicles!

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