Want To Write Trip Reports? Here Are 9 Tips

I’ve published over a thousand reviews here on OMAAT, which I’m very proud of. Hopefully my trip reports have improved significantly over the past nine years, or else I’m really in trouble. 😉

Of course I’m not the only one on the internet who enjoys writing trip reports, though I often get asked if I have any tips for those just starting out. I figured I’d share some tips based on my experiences, which some of you will hopefully find interesting or helpful. These apply whether you’re publishing them on a blog, forum, or wherever else:

1. Understand that writing trip reports is very time consuming

Trip reports are a huge time investment. You first have to document your trip, then you have to select pictures, then you edit and resize the pictures, then you write the actual report, and then you have to format everything. Trip reports can look pretty effortless, but they’re the most time consuming things I write on the blog.

So when people try writing trip reports for the first time, their biggest takeaway is typically how time consuming it is. Be prepared.

2. Decide what your goal with writing reviews is

There’s no right or wrong way to write a trip report, whether you want it to be 200 words or 4,000 words. However, if you’re just starting out with trip reports I’d recommend deciding beforehand what kind of a strategy you want to take, and staying consistent.

For example, while I’ve long writing detailed trip reports, for a while I’ve been adding “10 picture” posts which I publish shortly after my flights, which are intended as a teaser to share my initial reactions. Much to my surprise, in many cases they get as much traffic as the longer reviews. That’s not just a way to boost traffic, but more importantly it’s something many people find useful. Some people are bored out of their minds by my 3,000+ word flight reviews but love the 300 word teasers, while others like the teasers while they’re waiting for the more detailed trip reports. Then there are others who hate all of them.

3. Take notes while traveling

My general strategy is to take notes in my iPhone “Notes” app during the travel experience, rather than actually writing in a Word document at that time. I write down the things I’d otherwise forget — how full the flight was, how long it took for the meal to be served, anything that was unusual, etc. I write all of this in shorthand, so I doubt anyone else could even figure out what my trip report notes mean.

That way my memory is jogged when I sit down to write the full review.

4. The smaller the camera, the better

Others will disagree with me on this, but personally I find it useful to have a small camera. I even take pictures with my iPhone sometimes. That’s because you want to fly under the radar as much as possible. While I doubt you’ll get any questions on Cathay Pacific or Emirates about a bigger camera, on some more random airlines that could sometimes cause a problem. Airline employees react differently if they think you’re just trying to document your trip so you can share it with Facebook friends, vs. documenting it so you can publish it publicly somewhere.

As far as cameras go, I use the Sony RX100.

5. Most of the stress is before takeoff

I wrote about this in a previous post, but for me the main stress with writing trip reports comes before takeoff. Why?

  • I want to be first on the plane, if possible, so I can get a picture of the cabin when it’s empty (which often requires being “that person”)
  • Boarding is the moment of truth where you’ll find out if the crew is friendly and open to you taking pictures, or if they’re going to be a pain about it
  • If I can get great, crisp pictures of the cabin, seats, etc., before departure, then I can approach the rest of the flight with more ease

air-tahiti-nui-a340-business-class-2

6. Get an empty seat next to you if you can

It can be really awkward trying to document every aspect of the experience when sitting next to a stranger. They’ll look at you like you’re crazy when you try to take pictures of the TV screen, 17 pictures of the meal, etc. So whenever possible I try to select a seat that has the best odds of having an empty one next to it. In business class that typically means I book the last row when possible, and then on the day of departure I’ll look at the seatmap and try to adjust my seat as necessary.

Of course if a flight is sold out in business class it’s a moot point.

Fiji-Airways-A330-Business-Class - 2

7. Embrace that you may be treated like a newb

If I board a flight and am concerned they might have issues with me taking pictures, I’ll usually right away smile and say to them  “this is a beautiful cabin, can I take some pictures of the seats?” I’ll do that even if the cabin isn’t actually beautiful. For that matter, just photographing every aspect of the experience may make it seem like you’ve never been on a premium cabin before.

Often I’m asked “is this your first time in business class?” At a minimum, I’m sometimes treated like a super inexperienced flyer. I used to try and explain myself, but nowadays I just embrace it. If anything, it’ll make the crew happy to see that someone is excited about their service.

azerbaijan-airlines-business-class-787-70

8. Don’t procrastinate

So you’ve taken the flight, you’ve taken pictures, and you’ve taken notes. Don’t procrastinate on the rest of it. My general strategy for staying motivated with actually following through on publishing trip reports is as follows:

  • I start selecting, editing, and resizing pictures on the actual flight, or right after the flight, when I’m in a car or train to the hotel
  • The second I get to the hotel I’ll already upload the pictures to WordPress

That way I “only” still have to write the text for the review. It makes me feel like I accomplished the cumbersome part, and keeps me motivated.

9. Writing trip reports can be satisfying in and of itself

Back in the day I used to fly the same first class products over and over, and that was fun. In a way it’s tough to go from flying the world’s best first class products to in some cases flying some pretty crappy business class products (I know, first world problems).

However, I’ve found that the process of documenting and sharing the experience of a new product can be fun in and of itself, and adds a new dimension to flying.

When I fly an airline I thought would suck, and it turns out it’s actually great, I’m excited to write about it. When a flight really underwhelms me, I’m excited to write about it. When a product is just plain sad, I’m excited to write about it.

Bottom line

Those are my top tips for writing trip reports. I guess to sum it up, the most important parts are to recognize that it’s going to be really time consuming, decide what your goals are, and don’t procrastinate.

To fellow trip report writers, do you have any other tips to share? Do you agree or disagree with the above?

Enjoy this review? Check out hundreds of other reports on airlines, hotels, and airport lounges worldwide!

Comments

  1. These are all great points – I especially think #8 is the biggest one. Once you start procrastinating, it becomes increasingly harder and harder to get around to writing things (especially if you start traveling AGAIN somewhere else….)

  2. Hey Ben I’ve written the odd trip report myself and yes, it’s incredibly time consuming.
    I assume after years of doing it you’ve become more efficient at it? Ie you wouldn’t need to delete or edit so many photos because you’d know how to take the ones you want?
    How long does it take you to write a trip report for a normal flight?

  3. WordPress resizes the photos for me so they appear nicely on my blog…is that just me?

    I guess the most important thing is to develop your own style. I used to copy section for section off your blog and replace everything with my own words, people can just come here to read that and that makes me a wannabe. Now that I’m writing whatever I want to every time I actually get views.

  4. Don’t procrastinate? Where are your ANA biz and first class reports you published previews for (and promising full reports later) from a month and a half or so ago?

  5. @ Bennett — I’m not perfect. 😉 I was providing tips based on my experience. That’s exactly the problem with that trip report — I didn’t resize the pictures right away, so now first have to do that, then have to write the actual report. But I’ll cut myself some slack, because overall I’m happy with the pace at which I’ve been getting out reports this year.

  6. @ Alvin — Great points, and you’re right about resizing. That’s something that takes just minutes. I do it out of habit, though in theory it’s not even necessary. It’s the editing that’s time consuming.

  7. @ Ben — I’ve gotten really fast at the actual process of writing trip reports. I’d say a 3,000-4,000 word trip report about a single segment takes me maybe 90 minutes to write, proofread, etc. Then it probably takes another hour to pick out pictures, edit them, etc. I actually take more pictures nowadays than ever before, since I always want to be able to pick out the best ones. So while I might include 60-80 pictures in an actual trip report installment, I usually take 300+ pictures.

  8. In line with comment 8, when will you stop procrastinating and post the trip reviews of Ford’s birthday trip. There were a lot of “10 photos of X” but no reviews since. As you’re not travelling some overdue trip reviews would be welcome.

    Ignore the haters and whiners and include the reviews of the Amans.

  9. I think deciding on your focus is important too. Obviously for this blog you’re writing about the flights and hotels. Personally I almost never take any pictures on the plane or of the hotel room. I focus on the destination and what I did and saw. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other. I also typically will talk (probably to much) about the planning process, flight booking, how many times the airline changed things on me, etc.

  10. I’d expand a bit on #2 by saying “know your audience”, particularly in terms of the level of detail you include in your report, and particularly if you’re posting on someone else’s blog or on a public board. I like Ben’s level of detail, and since it’s his blog he can select the format and detail he wants.

    OTOH, if you’re posting over on airliners.net (I’ve posted a few over there), it’s common to includea LOT more detail, particularly about the more…”mechanical” aspects of a flight. Tail numbers, which livery the plane was in (if an airline has more than one, particularly if they’re in transition), specifics about the taxiways and runways used and the course flown (it’s not uncommon to see waypoints noted), and so on (and sometimes on…and on…and on…)

    It also depends on whether you want more of a “report” or a “review”. I usually like to write more about the unusual, funny, and just plain strange things and people I encounter, and not as much about the onboard service, particularly the food. But I’m usually in coach, so there’s less onboard service and food to write about.

    Then there’s the question of whether the reviewer wants a more of an educational role for the review, the “how I do it” aspect. Ben provides quite a bit of detail on how he books the flights and hotels, which makes sense and works into the “mission” of the site in that he concentrates on earning and using miles as effectively as possible and, more recently, has been really focused on using a variety of airlines, which means he has a lot of good information to share. My flights were (and still are) mostly domestic, mainly with cash, and so the booking usually amounts to “I went to Kayak and found the cheapest fare that didn’t include a ridiculous layover or flying on Southwest.” (I have a – largely irrational, I’ll admit – disdain for Southwest.)

    On pictures, hitting the right balance can be a challenge. I’ve seen reports over on a.net where there can be a dozen or more (not an exaggeration) virtually identical pictures taken out of the window in a manner of a minute or so. This gets dull. But I’m usually in an aisle seat, so window photography is usually not possible for me, and being in coach means it’s harder to take pictures of the food, IFE, and such without people looking at you strangely. (I’ve done it, but not nearly as much as Ben.)

    And if I could add a #10, it’d be “take criticism with a grain, or more, of salt.” Sometimes you’ll get great feedback, with lots of helpful suggestions. But a lot of the time, especially if you have your own blog, you’ll get a lot of comments that amount to “you suck”. Or show that readers just aren’t understanding your viewpoint and goals in writing.

  11. Well done, Ben. When I left my earlier and admittedly, snarky, post about procrastinating, I never thought it would see the light of day after I saw that it was being reviewed before being posted. But it was indeed posted and you didn’t shy away from responding to it. Kudos! Looking forward to the reviews (and yes, I agree, your reviews are generally posted with light speed) as I have been accumulating points and lusting after ANA international award travel in first and business.

  12. All good points and although I’m in a completely different business, I write a lot of trip reports about wine and one thing that helps me with time management is drafting a shell of my report on my laptop prior to the trip. While actually doing wine evaluations, I take notes in a small bound blank book, about the size of an iPhone and like you, they are in code. The code is easier to hand write than to type on a phone. I fill in the report every night in the hotel or on trains, etc as it develops.

    Another practice that has saved me is having excellent organizational skills. There is a lot of data in my work and everything needs to be super organized and this also saves time. I am so thankful for iCloud and the ability to retrieve and back up my work without the risk of losing everything in the event of theft or computer breakdown. All this gets easier every trip thanks to technology. Thanks Lucky!

  13. Great post and I couldn’t agree more about taking notes. Too many times have we found that we have tons of great photos but struggle to remember the “fun” point about the experience to put into a good trip report that keeps it entertaining.

  14. Could’ve used these tips BEFORE my Maldives trip back in April 😉
    Time consuming indeed. And I’m a procrastinator, so I’m only up to Abu Dhabi. I’ve forgotten a ton, and there were times I took fewer pictures than necessary to avoid stares or confrontations.
    But I only do the blog for self-reference and interested friends/family.

  15. All of your points are valid 100%, and I would add two things:

    1. SAVE YOUR WORK. It doesn’t matter how, having it saved somewhere is way better than the soul-crushing feeling of losing thousands of words, and those that make this mistake never do it again. (I learned this the hard way)

    2. Use an app like FlightTrack 5 for iPhone to keep track of the details, so that if you procrastinate, couldn’t get reg, forgot flight time, etc. you can take the hassle out of getting this info. It will make your life 100X easier, trust me on this one!

  16. Nice post, I have written a few TRs on Flyertalk and enjoyed doing that, more as a way to remember some nice details of the trip than actually sharing it with others.
    The only downside to me isn’t the time it takes, it’s the fact that I’m not just enjoying the flight/hotel/lounge but keep taking notes or pictures of everything.

  17. All good points Ben. I find that using a phone for shots of buffets in both hotels and lounges helps a lot. On the other hand I have no problem at all whipping out a larger camera or gopro on a plane or in my hotel room.

    Number 8 is my biggest issue right now. I hardly ever get a few moments to myself to write TRs and perversely I work best when on a plane… Which means I then have another TR to add the queue.

    It took two hip surgeries knocking me out of work for a month to get one of my larger TRs written. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that again!

  18. Great post, Ben.

    What do you use to edit and resize your pictures?

    Can this all be done on an iPad any way?

  19. #10 – Don’t worry about the commenters that feel free to criticize your reports when they haven’t invested the equivalent of 100’s of hours worth of work in the photo, preparation, linking and posting of what you have written. It’s one of the worst parts of the internet that people can fling unjustified criticism then not stick around to participate in the discussion.

  20. I find it so difficult to get photos without people getting weirded out. I recently had an FA come to my seat and ask me to delete all my photos.

    I’d rather have people’s permission (even though in many cases it’s not required) than have to be stealthy and sneaky.

    So far, what works best is acting like a total newb who’s all about taking pics of everything (hard to do this as I age out of the Instagram demographic) but I haven’t found a better way yet.

  21. Time consuming to edit the photos is my biggest issue. I laugh when readers say “I didn’t realize what I’m missing in the lobby experience from your report” In my former role as Corporate Travel Manager/Buyer involved, I had to be extremely picky to add to our preferred list for clients/staff and even now I leave engineering notes in hotels. I treat each part of the trip (air,hotel, tours, activities) with that level of detail to help my clients plan their trips.

    On my last flight BA First and Concorde Room it helped that it was Moms first trip to Europe as I was taking a ton of photos everywhere without a problem to document her trip (and my blog)!

    I appreciate the detail you include to set expectations as well as your readers comments to add context to their experiences as we all share to have a fantastic memory of our travels.

  22. @bilal really? Save your work? What is this? 1995 and the disk drive is a novel concept? I think most people know to “save” their files. But I will say that Ben seems pretty technologically chslleneged. I don’t he uses any type of cloud backup.

  23. Perhaps a slight variation on item 2, is finding an original take on subject matter that’s been covered to bits. Every experience is of course subjective, but making the write-up interesting, descriptive and compelling while also giving the audience something new to chew-over is a formula that takes time to decipher.

    And without wanting to sound like a sycophant, people come here for a reason. Whether its going outside your norm to travel on obscure airlines for review purposes, or in the outlandishly creative routings you fly, it has plenty to do with the fact that you keep the content interesting, so well done.

  24. SUCH great points, Ben! The procrastination issue is real. I’ve got enough material for probably 50 different reviews and tons of trip reports and unfortunately, I just can’t bring myself to do them. Thinking about it is quite daunting. I applaud you for providing such detailed reports so regularly!

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