Up until the pandemic, being a travel writer often topped the list of the world’s most enviable professions–especially if you could wiggle your way into the luxury travel niche. Luxury travel writers are often whisked away to untouched islands and spend their time making the most of what the destination has to offer. Multi-course dinners, private tours of the area, and fine champagne often feature as highlights of these press trips. They pretend they are royalty until it’s time to be sent back home and back to reality.
What is a plus one in the travel writing world?
Travel writing is not a high paying profession for most writers in the game. When you factor the costs of traveling to a destination and sorting the duds from the diamonds of hotel, activity, and restaurant recommendations, travel writers often find it a challenge to break even on a trip.
Enter the press trip. Press trips or familiarization (fam) trips are when a government tourism board or private company invites a travel writer to experience the destination, footing the bill. While these trips have their pros and cons when it comes to allowing a travel writer to tell an authentic or interesting story, many of these press trips allow for a travel writer to bring a guest–colloquially called a plus one.
While it’s an unpaid position, being a travel writer’s plus one is much better than the role of travel writer itself.
A travel writer’s plus one is there to help the travel writer experience the destination more like a typical traveler would. It’s frankly more fun to travel with a guest on a press trip, and it’s much easier to find stories when there’s another character in the scene. The travel writer will have an adventure buddy to join them on a zipline excursion, whisper with as they browse through museums, and swap plates with at lunch. A plus one also helps the travel writer see the destination from another perspective.
Many times, plus ones are able to relax on the property while the travel writer is carted around to the more mundane aspects of a press trip–like looking at all 22 of the different room configurations. This room has a queen bed on the left side of the room… Plus ones get to enjoy the trip without having to worry about filing copy, images, or mitigating the oftentimes awkward relationship between the publication and the press trip organizers.
So, how do you stay on a travel writer’s good side if you’re invited as a plus one?
Wait for the photos before making any sudden movements
When you walk into your hotel room, don’t unpack until the room has been photographed from every angle. Better yet, just grab a drink in the lobby and hang out with your unsightly belongings for a few minutes while the travel writer gets the shots they need.
At mealtimes, offer your plate for photographic consumption–even if it means eating your food at room temperature. If you travel with a travel writer who focuses on food, it might be worthwhile to order a cold plate to begin with. Getting images could take a while. I’ve even heard rumors of some family travel writers who have their children so well trained, the children know not to chow down until the camera is put away.
Most images submitted to a publisher cannot feature strangers without a model release being signed. Getting signatures from a crowd of non-English readers is a challenge. Those who can read English are sure to be skeptical of what the travel writer is asking them to sign. A dedicated plus one will help the travel writer get a human-free shot of the subject. Perhaps the plus one will strike up a political conversation or act out a street performance–anything to lure the crowd away from the coveted statue, natural feature, or monument.
Offer to take notes
A guidebook writer’s worst nightmare is leaving a hole-in-the-wall restaurant without taking notes. Days later, they’ll wrack their brain wondering if the venue is open all day, or just for dinner? Did it have anything for gluten-free vegans, or is it good for carnivores only?
A plus one with a sharp memory and note-taking skills is a valuable asset to a travel writer, and sure to keep you at the top of the list when they’re looking for a buddy on their next work trip.
Be game for any activity
Okay, maybe not any activity. It’s not uncommon for a travel writer to arrive on a press trip and quickly be asked if they want to go bungy jumping or snorkeling or on a cycling tour to the region’s best produce stands. While not all travel writers are game for these types of activities, it can be awkward if a travel writer is keen to explore while the plus one would rather hit up the local strip mall. On a trip to Taveuni, my plus one was up for hiking, standup paddling, scuba diving, and kayaking. We rarely relaxed and this helped me find more stories for the trip. My stories would’ve been much more boring had my plus one thrown up a peace sign and told me to catch her on the beach.
Travel writers will feel more relaxed if they know that their plus one will be open minded to any activity that is thrown their way, even if it falls outside of the plus one’s typical interest. Even if the activity ends up being an epic fail, that is a story in itself.
Would you want to be a plus one?