1. Pack a fat stack of business cards.
This is likely the biggest mistake I made. I’ve been doing freelance work from behind a computer screen for years, and up until now, I’ve never needed to hand my business card to someone face-to-face. Whoops. I felt like a total poser not having any, and it was definitely the biggest tell (in my opinion) as to my inexperience.
If you don’t have any and don’t have the means to get any fast, just stalk whoever you feel deserves stalking on social media. In my opinion, following someone on Twitter or Instagram is better than a piece of paper you (or they) are likely to lose. …But I’m still gonna get business cards anyway.
2. Don’t sweat your neophytism.
It’s likely that the group you’re going to be a part of is from all sorts of different backgrounds. On my trip, there was a woman who didn’t really speak English, and none of us was sure quite what she was doing there. Can you speak the language the trip is being provided in? Great. You’re doing better than she is. There will be people there with decades of experience; there will be people with virtually none. There will be iconoclasts with audiences that don’t use social media, and there will be hip young’ns who can’t get off their iPhones. Because of this, you’ll fit right in.
3. Do your research.
I was a total nerd (am) the entire trip. I wrote down extensive notes and then consolidated them into the notebook I was going to tote around constantly. While that worked, you can skip that first stage and just research where you’re going, what you’re doing, and then write down the questions that pop up as you’re learning. Those will garner some interesting conversations that may provide you the more detailed angle you need. You can then pull aside that cute tour guide and get more of an inside scoop, and be impressive to boot.
4. Know how you best learn, organize, and consolidate information.
Would you prefer to voice record everything and then go back over it? That way you’re not playing the dictation game and having to deal with deciphering your scribbles later (guilty). However, that’s really time-consuming. Would you prefer a pen and paper? A tablet? Taking video? Are you visual or aural? What’s gonna be the way that you can remember this trip the best?
About half of the journalists on my trip used phones as cameras. A few of us spent more time taking photos of food than eating (not me). A couple didn’t take notes at all. One or two used audio recorders, and another was constantly taking video. In the end, it seems like a matter of personal preference. I was worried about looking like a poser with my iPhone, and while I still kinda am, I realize that that’s stupid — especially if you’re a writer, not a photographer.
5. Bring a coat.
6. Stalk the tourism board/organizations/your bill-footers on social media.
I handled the Twitter aspect of my trip beforehand, but kind of neglected Instagram. As a result, I had all these pretty pictures of Germany that the tourism board had no idea I was putting up. It’s not a huge deal (I can obviously tag them later), but it would’ve been nice just to handle everything in real time and not worry about it after the fact. So do it beforehand — and not just for the big kahunas. What restaurants are you going to? Hotels? Museums? Who is someone, anyone, that wants to get tweeted at for their money or time? That’s where you come in and look like the pro who is worth that four-course meal.
7. Label your pictures.
Ugh. My phone was filling up after day 1. I had to put all my photos into Dropbox every night to make sure there was enough room for the next day. This did work out in the end, but my photos aren’t exactly in order. This wouldn’t be a big deal if the towns I went to were markedly different, but the similarities were and are disorienting. Now I have to sit and stare at a photo for a few minutes before I realize where it should go chronologically and then recall when and where it was taken. Whoops.
What I should’ve done was save my pictures under different file names, or make separate folders for each day, or each town. I had my laptop, too, so no excuses. In short, don’t be me.
8. Print out all the information you could possibly need.
You’ll want the itinerary handy, and just in case shit hits the fan, whatever other information you were given will be useful, too. It’s likely the itinerary will change or be updated, but it’ll be good for reference later (and memory-jogging) nonetheless. You’ll also feel solace when you have things written on paper on the off-chance you need to tell someone, “Hi, excuse me. I’m with so-and-so [whips out paper]. Could you tell me where I could find…” It’s like whipping out a police badge, only much less intimidating and less cool.
9. Remember that you’re dealing with humans.
An hour or so before I landed in Germany, I had no idea what I needed to do. No one could tell me if I was being picked up, if I had a hotel, where I should go, etc. I ended up emailing every possible contact I had and finally getting some information from the Indian division of the company I was traveling through. The information was there, I just wasn’t being told it. Don’t ask me why. Neha, in the nick of time, let me know that I probably had a reservation at this one specific hotel, and that no one was coming to meet me as I was landing a bit early. Was that so hard? I crossed my fingers and got to the hotel, and everything was fine. But for me? Way too close for comfort. You have a job to do as the journalist, sure, but remember that you’re not the only one! You’re dealing with humans, not magical rainbow unicorns you need to be in awe of.
10. Don’t take it — or yourself — too seriously.
The four members of our group from China were soon deemed “the Chinese delegation,” and they spent most meals on their phones. The Brazilian woman who couldn’t speak English drank more beer than she spoke. I’m sure I was loud and obnoxious and stereotypically American. I probably made an uncalled-for WWII joke, too. Not only are you all different people, but the differences in cultures will break the “bar of professionalism” as well. There’s no Big Brother watching over you, monitoring your posture and checking in on the culturally-aware things you want to be heard saying. This isn’t the White House; you’re not dining with the Queen. Just be you.
Well, if you is polite, of course.
This article originally appeared on The Strange and New and is republished here with permission.