The glamorous day of a travel writer

By | Category: Travel rumblings
flight delays

Bad weather can delay travellers and not just by train. How many times have I been stuck by delayed flights, cancelled ones or re-routed ones?

If pushed, and only if pushed, I will admit to others that I am a travel writer. To most, I evade the question knowing that as soon as I utter those magic words I am likely to be told about a problem on my companion’s last holiday, a request to be told where is the best place to go at the moment or, and this is the most common, to be told how envious the person is of my wonderful lifestyle.

For a start, the pay is generally lousy. Many travel writers get paid little or nothing for their stories. Those with commissions from national newspapers or long-standing television channels do best. People become travel writers for a variety of reasons but to get rich is not one of them.

Arriving in destinations in the dead of night, grabbing a few hours’ sleep before starting early next morning is not unusual. Trips tend to be over-planned so that there is little time to write – destination organisers seem to think there will plenty of time to do that after they have safely seen you back home. Most press trips are a few days with only some lasting linger so a different hotel each night is nor uusual and that means packing and repacking each day. Some destinations are reluctant to even pay for the flights and I’ve yet to meet one that will pay for any tickets to get you to the airport they have chosen. I have never travelled business class on a press trip and first class is just a figment unless you are someone like Joanna Lumley or someone equally famous. The one perk you do get is that the hotels in which you stay are rarely anything less than four stars and your “minders” do manage to get you through passport control fairly easily.

power cable problems are a particular problem to train operators and passengers Image © Virgin Trains

But on press trips, you are shown what the destination wants to show you. There aren’t many minutes in the day for you to explore. I have seen writers producing copy at 4am in Las Vegas casinos prior to venturing on another day’s visit to see the differing bedspreads in a dozen hotels all of which, the hoteliers will tell you, is the most luxurious avalaible and really sets them apart from their competitors!

To highlight how glamorous the job can be, here are the events of a recent day.

At 4.15 in the morning I left my home to drive the forty miles to Aberystwyth to catch two trains and a bus to attend Destinations in Manchester. This consumer travel show is one of the first of the year and I find it a useful place to gauge how the travel industry is doing as well as using the opportunity to talk to destinations and operators outside of the travel and tourism bubble that is London.

Having driven along roads bespeckled with twigs and the odd branch or two, the journey took over an hour given that I chose to drive slowly along the coastal road which, even at the best of times, can be windswept evidenced by the bushes that grow only at an angle to the world instead of straight into the sky.

At Aberystwyth the cold train duly arrived for the 5.30 am service to Birmingham International and I took out my laptop ready to start work. Everything went according to plan until, at Machynlleth, passengers were told that due to a shed being blown onto the line the train could no longer continue. But the train company, sensing the stormy night might have caused problems, had arranged a coach transfer (via the other railway stations on the route) for the remaining 60 miles to Shrewsbury.

Often a travel writer is frustrated © Dan Sperrin

Off we travelled in a freezing coach so I kept my coat on well into the journey. Travelling on the roads at 6.30 in the morning means that, sooner or later, you catch commuter traffic and so, for the last ten or so miles of the journey we crawled along, coaches being unable to overtake very easily. Given that the Welsh government seems reluctant to spend money on dual carriages or even overtaking lanes in mid-Wales it will surprise no reader when I say that I missed my connection from Shrewsbury to Manchester. To add to the pleasure of the journey one passenger succombed to motion sickness.

Luckily the one-coach service from Swansea to Crewe was running eight minutes late so I was able to catch that relic of  thirty or forty year old travel. It stopped at every single station making what is normally a brief journey into one lasting much longer. But I shouldn’t moan. It did get me to Crewe and I was able to catch a Virgin train to Manchester.

Unfortunately, due to the weather, the overhead power lines were affected in the Sandbach area of Cheshire so we came to a halt enlivened only by the guard (I can’t see why they should be called train managers) updated us and mentioned that he could see the lights of a stopped train in front of us.

If my trains had run to time, I would have arrived in Manchester at 9.15 giving me ample time to catch a bus to Event City for the show. As it was It was an hour later when I headed to Manchester Piccadilly Gardens to catch the X50. The bus was warm, a welcome relief as it was raining quite hard now. Like many a city, Manchester has many a roadwork plan but the one near Event City is a lulu of a job creating traffic jams that only sluggishly moved. Before I decided that I had had enough and would walk the last mile, we were stuck for twenty minutes moving just inches at a time as vehicles on our side gave way to articulated lorries trying to cross into the industrial parks and as two lanes merged into one.

As I said, I got off the bus and walked in the rain. By the time I reached Event City it was nearly 11am but my decision to walk had been validated – I had beaten the bus. In fact it was so far behind me I couldn’t even see it in the traffic stream.

Late for my first appointment, I went straight to my second planning to return later. A few texts later and I had little chance of catching up given how busy the show had become. A sale is more important than meeting a travel writer and by 11.30, Event City was heaving with hopeful holidaymakers.

cartoon of an unhappy suitcase

and sometimes downright unhappy. Image © Dan Sperrin

The return journeys were fine. No traffic congestion, the trains ran to time and I was home by 8.30. Just another sixteen hour day. Next week there will be an even longer one as I catch the 00.45 ferry to Rosslare and then a train to Dublin for the Holiday Show. At least the ferry timetable has changed and I should be home by 11pm making the day just a shade shorter than 24 hours.

But I still have to find time to write up the interviews and stories I have collected.

Yes, I have picked one of the days when few things go right. But you would be surprised how many there are. People that you interview who don’t know you are coming especially after you have travelled a few hours to get there and who blithely ask you to return tomorrrow. There are prima donnas, like there are in every industry, who think they are doing you a favour and fellow travel writers that you would cross the road to avoid. To learn that even one of them is on a press trip with you means enduring days of complaints, moans and a yearning for the return flight home.

Now who wants to be a travel writer?

 

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