Soon after San Francisco’s Amy Sherman started her food blog Cooking with Amy in 2003, she wrote about vacations, which — being a food obsessed person like the rest of us — focused on eating the local specialties. That led to writing travel stories for websites, publications, and blogs, and now Amy goes on trips once or twice a month. (Here’s a list of recent stories she’s written for Fodor’s, CitySearch and others, using clipping.me, a free website that showcases writers’ work.)
I asked Amy about who invites her on trips, how to be taken seriously, and how to make travel writing work as part of a food writing career:
People contact me, especially the convention and visitor’s bureaus. Sometimes I’m invited on trips because I’m a food blogger, like going to Avery Island to visit the Tabasco factory. Sometimes I’m invited on trips aimed at travel writers, food writers, wine writers and adventure travelers.
Q. What’s covered, typically, on a sponsored trip?
A. I have to get to the airport, but the rest is covered. That’s activities, meals, transportation and hotels. I’ll spend money on tipping housekeepers and I’ll try to venture out on my own for a meal, snack or drink, or to buy food. Sometimes the schedule is packed, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and I have no time on my own. People think it’s glamorous but it can be grueling!
When I was in Bermuda, one day there was a hotel box lunch. I couldn’t write about that! I bought lunch at a seafood restaurant so I could taste the local specialties. A taxi driver told me about an ice cream place, so I snuck out to talk to the proprietor.
Q. What does a sponsor expect from you?
A. If I’m invited as a blogger, there’s no specific request, but it’s expected that I’ll write a post. Typically they give you enough experiences so you can pick and choose. Some bloggers write the “And then we went there” post, but I find those dull. Usually Facebook posts and tweets are not required, but encouraged, on the blogger trips.
There are Fam (familiarization) trips, to get to know a place.
Some people ask beforehand about what assignments I have, and sometimes they require an assignment in advance from a publication.
Q. What kind of trips do you turn down (besides this one)?
A. Trips where they require an assignment ahead of time. I don’t want to be locked into a story if I don’t find the trip worthwhile.
Q. Who is most likely to invite you?
A. Convention and visitors bureaus are usually the sponsoring agencies. They hold group Fam trips and individual trips, where they put together an itinerary for me and the outlets I write for. They can help facilitate what interests me.
Q. How do you get the word out that you’re interested in invitations?
A. As I got more involved in travel writing, I joined the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association, and I find it really worthwhile. I got on a press trip to Switzerland that was only available to members, and I’ve made good contacts and connections. They have a fantastic newsletter that lists which editors to pitch on travel stories. There’s also SATW, BATW and tons of other travel writer associations. For travel bloggers, there’s TBEX , with expos around the world where people court travel bloggers.
Q. What advice do you have for writers who want to write about culinary travel?
A. Start out by writing about your vacations, or about your own town, because editors want writers who are familiar with their subjects. Think about what you know really well, from a travel perspective.
Then push it further. There are lots of opportunities for travel writers, but you need to write more than what’s on your blog to be taken seriously. Use your blog to get your foot in the door, but then start pitching publications. Make culinary travel a specialty if you want to do it professionally.
Q. How do you decide which trips to take?
A. If I can’t find three outlets for my stories, I’m losing money. I’m taking time away from my work for three to four days and I need more than one story that pays $250 to make it worthwhile. I’m always looking for editorial outlets.
Q. What are publications looking for now?
A. It seems that websites and print publications want just “listsicles” to drive traffic. That’s a combination of lists and an article, like San Francisco’s 5 Best Cult Classic Restaurants.
There’s also a big trend for “experiential travel,” like taking a cooking class, going on a foodie walking tour, shopping at a farmer’s market, or eating in someone’s home. Afar magazine is a great example of that.
A. I do. Travel is exciting and fun and I’m experiencing things that are compelling. I want to share them. I do not disclose when I’m using social media because I’m not being paid to do so. Sometimes I use a hash tag from the Convention and Visitors Bureau, if they have an official one.
Q. Hmm. I don’t know. Payment for your expenses qualifies as payment in kind. Otherwise you wouldn’t have the opportunity to talk about the place or take photos.
A. Sure, but I’m not accepting cash for it. I’m accepting cash when I get an assignment from a publication or website. Some outlets require me to disclose, some don’t, and I always disclose on my blog.
It all comes down to trust. People have to decide whether I’m trustworthy. There are some travel writers who don’t accept comps, and I don’t trust what they have to say.
Q. Do you ever travel now where you’re paying all the bills?
A. Oh yeah. My husband and I try to take a major trip every year. We just went on a trip where I paid a media rate at a hotel and paid for all the meals. I didn’t expect or ask for a comp anywhere. It’s hard to completely turn it off, though. I found a new bar and interviewed the owner. I’m hoping to pitch the story.
Got a question or comment for Amy? Comment below.