The One and Only Time it’s OK to Duck a Tab

“We can only offer adequate organizational support for your press trip if we have sufficient advance notice….we ask you to advise us of your plans at least four weeks in advance.”

Four weeks? I was leaving for Berlin, Germany in four days on a last minute assignment. So there was no chance of the tourist office helping me to get a free hotel stay or a special media rate. These things take time to arrange.

You have to fill in forms, provide credentials.

But I don’t enjoy spending my own money. Not if I can spend someone else’s. After all, travel writers give publicity to a destination which then helps ‘sell’ it to a wider audience. And studies have shown that readers pay far more attention to a travel story than an advertisement.

When on assignment for International Living, I get a travel allowance. But this doesn’t cover any activities or tours I want to take in my own time. On this trip, my brief was to write about real estate, lifestyle and Berlin’s Christmas markets.

But I’d spotted something I really yearned to do—a foray into Berlin’s musical past. During the 70s and 80s when it was still divided, some of my favorite musicians had lived and partied like demons in the city. I wanted to see where David Bowie, Nick Cave and Blixa Bargeld had hung out.

The three-and-a-half hour jaunt with Fritz Music Tours included a visit to the legendary Hansa Studios. I’d never been inside any recording studio, and the Irish rock band U2 had made their Achtung Baby album in the “Hall by the Wall”. It once was literally right beside the Berlin Wall. Musicians could see the armed border guards of an East German watchtower from its windows.

Admittedly, I didn’t expect IL’s editor to thrill at the idea of sending subscribers to Club SO36, an infamous punk hangout. And although I’m a fan, I’d be worried about readers with heart problems encountering Einstürzende Neubauten. This German experimental band—the name means Collapsing New Buildings—use drills and industrial equipment in their performances.

But I reckoned it wouldn’t be too difficult to sell an article either to a musical publication, or a UK newspaper’s travel section—they tend to like offbeat stories.

Trouble was, the private tour cost €45 ($59) per head. I had my husband (aka the “bag-carrier”), with me, who shares many of my musical tastes (though not Einstürzende Neubauten), so it would come to €90. Which is $118. Ouch.

But nothing ventured, nothing gained. So I dashed off an e-mail to Thilo Schmied, an ex-sound engineer who runs the music tours and asked if he could offer a media discount.

Nein. But Thilo gave me a contact name at the Berlin Tourist Office who might possibly be persuaded to fund the tour for us at short notice. Note ”us”. When I’m looking for freebies, the “bag carrier” turns into my “photographer”. I’m not exactly telling untruths—he does shoot videos any time I have to stand in front of the camera.

By now, I really was down to the wire. The e-mail to the tourist office didn’t go until the night before I left for Berlin. But it must have been persuasive. My contact not only agreed to fund the music tour, but also sent around a press pack by private courier to my hotel.

Tourist offices can often do a lot for travel writers—if you give them enough time. For example, I’ve seen everything worth seeing in Barcelona without paying a cent. In Estonia, Tallinn’s tourist office arranged a special private tour for me that wasn’t even on offer to visitors—I wanted to delve into the city’s ghost stories for a Halloween article.

So never be shy about asking if they can help fund all or part of your trip or special activity. It will keep your travel costs down. Of course, you generally need to have a track record as a writer or a definite assignment—and it’s expected that you’ll send them a copy of your story after it has been published.

By the way, the music tour is awesome.

Editor’s Note: Travel writers don’t just get free flights to interesting locations…free stays in expensive hotels…and free meals in top restaurants—they actually get paid to go to these places. Sound like something you could picture yourself doing? This industry is far easier to break into than you might think. At our upcoming Ultimate Event 2012, Steenie will be revealing the secrets of the trade she learned the hard way. Make sure you’re front and center.

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