Monday, June 9, 2008

Family vacation: Mile 349

One of the oddities of my existence is how during times of depressed income I can still always count on being at some fabulous resort enjoying the high life for free.

Because I’m a travel writer who’s had work published in numerous newspapers and magazines over the years, I’m often invited to resorts that want guys like me to visit and write about all they have to offer.

I learned about this years ago from a crafty old editor who said he could teach me how I’d never have to pay for another vacation for as long as I lived.

Had I listened throughout my school years as intently as I listened to what he told me next I’d probably right now be some well-off doctor. My tan wouldn’t be nearly as nice and my smile lines not nearly as deep, but I’d be a doctor.

He told me that resort public relations and marketing departments need to satisfy their bosses by showing they’re engaging travel writers who’ll write about their destinations. They’ll gladly host any travel writer for a couple of nights in the hopes that the writer will help publicize the resort with an editorial product.

They teach ethics students in journalism schools that this is a shady exchange, that the story is tainted by the cozy freebie.

Back then, that was one of the many lessons from journalism ethics that I routinely ignored. I immediately had business cards printed up that read, “PALM FEATURES” because I believed it connoted swaying palm trees in luxurious tropical isles.

In fact, it’s Palm Features because my upturned hand was always outstretched for the next freebie. And it was great. I had lots of fun and used many of the unique trips to land stories in prestigious publications that helped build my career. Most of them have policies forbidding stories generated from free trips, but they’re worldly enough to observe a don’t-ask/don’t-tell policy regarding

Today, compared to many travel writers, I consider myself a pillar of ethical conduct. I don’t take free trips unless I can snag an assignment or am fairly confident I can land a story from the trip. That means in just the past six months, I’ve turned down trips to Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, Dubai and dozens of nifty spots in the U.S.

It’s likely that, had I taken all that was offered, I could have been away for three consecutive months of elegance, free golf and spa, and sweet piles of swag waiting back in the room. And all I’d have had to pay for was parking at the airport.

But I accepted this trip to the Wintergreen Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains because I’d never heard much about it (I sensed opportunity), and I could use it as a launching pad for a family vacation to Nashville to visit my brother (and to cover another non-travel related assignment), and to visit Santa Claus, Indiana, for stories in a place that for years has been a reliable source of offbeat inspiration.

I thought of all this as the kids bounced on the beds and Valerie and I stepped onto the scenic porch of the free condo on the appropriately named Overlook Drive where we could enjoy a 50-mile view of some of the most spectacular scenery in the eastern U.S.

And as I drank it all in, I felt a flush of self-righteous pride knowing that I could rely on my ethical foundation to ensure I’d do all I could to justify the free accommodations, meals and activities my friendly hosts were graciously offering.

And that I wasn’t stupid enough to worry about dainty things like ethics when I was taking the steps I needed to help me get to that lovely perch.

1 comment:

A.J. Jacobs said...

Mmm-mm! That sounds delicious AND nutritious.