No one has sympathy for a travel journalist. I’m well aware that on some days – when I’m out collaring lions with conservationists, meeting eco-heroes on Kenyan beaches, flying above snowy mountains in a helicopter – I have the best job in the world.
But there’s also a fair bit of responsibility attached to what I do. Not everyone opening a magazine or newspaper is just flicking through a travel story for entertainment and throwing it away (although, granted, a fair percentage are). A handful are also spending their hard-earned cash on booking a trip. And that makes it even more important that we get our facts right.
When you’re travelling at the breakneck speed that we are often expected to, getting everything spot-on can be tricky. Take the self-drive road trip I took recently through California, in which I stopped in five different parts of the country in seven days. In each region, I had to find the best hotels, restaurants and vineyards to stop at, the hikes to take and the places to visit en route.
Before I’d even left for the trip, of course, I’d done days of homework. In my hand-luggage, to peruse on the plane, was the Rough Guide to California; a Word document with 20,000 words cut and pasted from various newspapers and magazines; and a stack of printed information, from a map of California to press releases about all the hotels I’d be staying at.
While all of that provided me with a basic grounding on where I was going, what made all the difference were the PRs on the ground. Visit California had helpfully linked me up with the local PRs in each of the counties I visited, and in several of the hotels, a welcome pack was sitting on my bed, with not only maps and guides to the area, but helpful personalised letters suggesting places I might visit – and people to talk to. With these, I could very quickly plan my day, knowing I’d got as much information as I could before I hit the road.
Not only did this extra help make my trip a pleasure but, when I got back home, I had gathered so much inspiring information that I commissioned another journalist to go back and do a piece, for another part of the newspaper, on all the places I learnt about but couldn’t visit. A win-win for both me and for the destination.