I'm sitting in one of the cheapest seats (with my back to the window facing the toilet door) on a local commuter train crowded with commuters and students travelling between Stockholm and Norrkoping at 6.50am on a Monday morning. It's another day in the life of a travel writer and I wanted to explain a bit more of how this mysterious job works.
I'm fulfilling a commission for the Mail on Sunday newspaper/website to write a piece on the traditional steam boat trip on the Gota Canal that links the Swedish capital with Gothenburg in the south. It's a new angle for a cruise holiday piece.
I know the MoS run a lot of cruise reviews because they are such big advertisers. So I have been pitching the Travel Editor and Deputy Travel Editor for about 18 months with alternative cruise ideas that they might take and I would like to do.
I wasn't that keen on spending a week plodding along the Rhine with a load of pensioners doing communal singing and talking about the war so I spent a lot of time researching cruises in North America, like the paddle boats on the Mississippi or the cruises along the St Lawrence seaway and into the Great Lakes. They came to nothing but this idea gradually came to fruition.
Brief pause there while I peer over the shoulder of the bloke next to me to see a particularly scenic view of trees water and boats (typical Sweden view) racing past the window.
Okay, I got the commission in the form of an email from Travel Editor Frank Barrett in January. It was simply him saying "okay" to the idea I'm sent him by email. I'd chosen my timing carefully. The Mail on Sunday travel department had just held their great Christmas party at a swanky London Hotel.
I'd been there in my ironed shirt trying to stay sober as minor celebrities like the Hamiltons, Nigel Planer and Annika Rice got most people's attention. Afterwards I'd emailed to say 'thank you'… and then 'here is an idea for a piece' at the same time. It worked.
Now it's June. It took six months to get the trip organised. I'd contacted the London agency who handle Southern Sweden's PR. They arranged the canal cruise and transport to and from Stockholm (like this little two-storey train I'm on now), but passed me onto the press officer at Visit Sweden who provided flights and a night's accommodation in a hotel in Stockholm at each end of the cruise.
The rest was up to me: getting to Heathrow, airport parking, food and drink. There's no free dinner at the hotel and I'll hardly be able to eat out in Stockholm, it's so pricey. I'll stuff myself on the free hotel breakfast and eat fruit and flapjacks for the rest of the day.
So with the pitching, researching, arranging, preparing and writing and photography this simple job will add up to more than a week's work. Nice work, but still work. If I'm very careful I can keep extra costs down to around £100 for the four-day trip.
That's about 15% of the fee. If the incidental costs are any higher you have to start questioning whether it's worth doing the job. On the other side of that there's always a chance of selling a spin-off feature although the hotel last night didn't seem a very promising subject. Yet, as the man next to me with his ear-phones-in falls asleep, and I've no idea where in Sweden I am at the moment, I'm rather enjoying myself….