In early October I traveled to Nova Scotia, Canada to write an article for Climbing Magazine and to participate in a Familiarization Tour (aka Fam Tour, aka press trip) to explore the Northumberland historical counties. This story is about participating in my first Fam Tour, and lessons learned about how to have a successful one.
I’m surprised the bald eagle is the national bird of the U.S. In my life I’ve seen one, perhaps two, of the species here in the States. Yet Canada is flooded with them, or at least the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are teeming with these taloned tyrants.
Upon crossing the border into N.B., what did I see? Sarcasm. Or rather, tearing of the flesh. Or rather rather, I saw a bald eagle sarcasming a seagull along the side of the road. All blood and tossed feathers as if the eagle was using the ‘gull in a pillow fight against a barn door made of down.
“The land seems more savage up here,” I thought to myself.
On I drove to Saint John along an empty road, then down to Boston’s sister city on the Atlantic, Halifax.
I was here to participate in my first ever Fam Tour organized by DEANS, Destination Eastern and Northumberland Shores. (Thank you for having me!). Climbing Magazine also thought enough of my association with my cousin, Andy, to let me write a front of the magazine story about bouldering on Dover Island. So I combined the two and made a go of it for a 12 day trip through the land of Moose and hockey.
First off, what is a familiarization tour? Namely it’s in the name, and hence self-explanatory. A tourism board (or authoritarian leader) invites members of the media, bloggers, content producers, and other vocal types, to visit a place in order to become familiarized with it and to help tell the story. #BetaSpray in climbing terms. The aim is to highlight destinations that may be lesser known in order to encourage tourism.
Like when Roger Federer posed with a quokka as part of a promotional stunt for Rottnest Island in Australia.
On this trip, we traveled from Pictou, across from Prince Edward Island, along the northern shore through New Glasgow, the jagged edges of Cape George, Antigonish, Guysborough and to the end of the world, Canso, close to Cape Breton. There were no cute quokkas on this tour, though we heard tales of bald eagles ripping the heads off of seagulls. Such as it is.
The visit was fun, factually stimulating, and full of very generous people. I won’t give a full run-down of the tour, but here are some neat little nuggets I picked up:
- If you grow up in these communities, everyone knows who you are by who your father is.
- Boston has nothing on the local dialect of Pictou county. ‘Magine!
- The Northumberland Strait is said to have the warmest water north of the Carolinas, 1,400 miles to the south.
Alas, this story is about making your first Fam Tour a good one. Below you’ll find my takeaways, as well as input from my fellow travelers on the trip.
Onto the meat.
How to Have a Successful First Fam Tour:
1) Know your angles
What kind of stories do you like to tell? Being clear with what you would like to write about helps you identify the appropriate people and threads to follow. There is so much activity each day it can be easy to miss an opportunity if you’re not on the lookout.
My preference is to write profiles about people. Based on the itinerary, I thought there might be some interesting local entrepreneurs to chat with and maybe there would be something about the growth of outdoor adventure sports.
Knowing what I wanted to write about made it easier to find leads, by asking questions like, “who would you recommend talking to about…?” or “do you know anyone doing something interesting in…?”
I’ll come away from this with stories about a world champion town crier, a local climber who designs fantastical guidebooks, and cooperative businesses. Among others.
With that said…
2) There’s only so much you can research ahead of time
Because the point of the tour is to expose you to a lot of things, places, and people you would not normally encounter, you have to remain open to stories when they present themselves.
“Do some advance research based on the itinerary,” suggests Denise Davies of Out and About Nova Scotia. “Think of possible stories [but also realize] this will change as you go on the trip.”
Denise helped turn me on to the the rich history with cooperative businesses in Canada, originating around the fishing industry of Antigonish county. That leads into today, where the country has a high concentration of cooperative climbing gyms. Why have cooperatives maintained? Other ideas that arose: Why does the inn keeper want to be in a punk rock band? How is commercial weed growing impacting rural communities?
On the other hand, I had a bulk of the Climbing Magazine article written before I went to Dover Island. There were gaps that I needed to fill in, that could only be gleaned by being on the ground: Understanding the personalities of the characters in the story, gaining a feel of a place, humanizing the idea through personal experience.
While a lot of facts can be researched online, the color and substance of a piece only comes from being there.
3) Be prepared for long days
It’s quite a bit of work to be toted around in a chariot all day to visit museums and shops, walk the beach or the woods, have catered lunches and restaurant dinners, and speak with locals from cheesemakers to historians to town Mayors…
In all seriousness, there’s a lot of information, sensory details, and social activity to take in, which can get draining after awhile. How to stay engaged while finding time to recharge was important for me as an introvert.
4) Take lots of notes and photos
“In my experience, the one consistent regret I’ve had after getting home from a press trip is that I assumed some experience or another, some subject or another, some encounter or another would never be of any use to me as a writer,” shares Darcy Rhyno, an award-winning travel writer from Shelburne.
“I’ve learned to document as much as possible from any trip with audio recordings of interviews and presentations, photos of everything from menus to interpretive signs and contact information for everyone I meet. It’s paid off many times when suddenly an opportunity arises, sometimes long after I’ve taken a trip,” he continues.
For me, it was the sheer volume of exposure that necessitated taking notes and photos in order to remember it all afterwards. Sometimes I would take photos for media usage, and for others it was simply notational.
Denise seems to agree: “I take lots of photos, not that they are all for publishing, but to help me remember. We cover a lot on a FAM trip so you need reminders.”
5) Be curious!
“Head out on a press trip with a heightened sense of curiosity,” encourages Darcy. “Everyone has a story. Dig until you find the nugget of gold.”
For me it’s about recognizing when something piques my interest, because if it catches my attention, it’s possible it will be intriguing to someone else.
6) Don’t forget to ask for contact information so you can follow up!
“Often, time is short on press trips,” warns Darcy. “If I do find a story that needs follow up, I’ll ask that person if we can be in touch in the coming weeks.”
AKA, get those business cards!
Have you been on a Fam Tour?
What are your tips for having a successful trip?
Thank you again to DEANS for inviting me to participate on the Northumberland and Eastern Shore tour!