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My Unexpected Trip to the Cook Islands (Courtesy of Air New Zealand)

air-new-zealand

I’ve been home from my trip to Haiti and South America for about a week now, and I didn’t expect to go anywhere for a while.

Then all of a sudden, I got an email from Air New Zealand… offering to bring me along with a group of journalists going to the South Pacific for a press event. The offer came via Chris Brogan, who recommended me to Air New Zealand – big thanks to Chris for that.

The interesting thing was I only had about five days notice before the trip (and 24 hours to decide). I liked the idea of heading out to the South Pacific on less than one week’s notice, so naturally I said yes.

Lesson: if you get an email from Air New Zealand offering to fly you down to the Cook Islands, take a serious look at it.

I’ll be writing about the press event while I’m there, and will post updates on Oregon Live and Huffington Post, as I do at least once a week now. Of course, live updates are also on Twitter from wherever I am – so far I’ve posted from about 35 countries, I think.

Where Are the Cook Islands?

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of them – but by all accounts, the Cook Islands are an interesting place. This group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean is a “self-governing democracy in free association with New Zealand.” What that means is that the Cooks are not really a country by U.N. standards (New Zealand is responsible for defense, for example) but the islands maintain their own foreign relations with other countries around the world.

If it sounds complicated, that’s how it can be for a number of places around the world with varying degrees of independence. For my own travel goal, I chose to focus mostly on the U.N. list not because I agree with all of the politics, but mostly because I needed to go with some kind of list and it seemed easiest.

Anyway, here’s a map:

I’m going over on the Sunday night red-eye from LAX, so by the time you read this, I may already be there for the p.r. event on the 18th. Afterwards I’ll stay around for a couple of days to see the rest of the main island (and hopefully one other island) before coming home. Other than the 18th, the schedule is open-ended, but that’s good since it’s just a short trip.

Disclosures

This is the first time an airline has ever offered to host me on a trip. As mentioned, I said yes because the dates fit my schedule and I’ve never been to the Cooks. Since they don’t want anything from me in return except for an open-ended commitment to write about it, I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t hop on the plane.

However, now that airlines are offering to host me (well, at least one airline so far), I realized I should create some kind of disclosure policy. I’m not a real travel writer – I write more about the process of travel, the practical aspects of how to go anywhere, and the random things that happen to me around the world.

I pay my own way everywhere I go, but that’s mostly because no company has ever offered to help out. As long as I disclose any relationships that come up, I don’t really think it’s a problem to accept a trip like this. Travel companies of the world, feel free to send me partnership offers. I like the upper deck of the plane, but I don’t mind sleeping on the floor of the airport. (Well, not all the time – just once in a while.)

Unfortunately, I doubt that any sponsorship opportunities are forthcoming from Congo Airlines or Air Guinee – many of the places where I really need to go are fairly difficult to get to on major carriers.

OK – Time to Head Out

Six days notice is more than enough time to go anywhere, and what I pack doesn’t really change from place to place. I hope your week is amazing, and I’ll see you next from Rarotonga in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

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Image: Air New Zealand

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    34 Comments

    • Suru says:

      Dude,

      You’re an inspiration!! This proves that good things happen to good people :-).

      Have fun and post a lot of pics.

      Cheers,

      Suru

    • Of course, it’s not an issue to accept a trip like that! Rock on!

      I’m super interested to hear about your experiences and opinion on the Cook Islands. My wife and I are moving to Australia, but we hope to visit New Zealand, as well.

      We hadn’t considered the Cook Island, but would certainly be up for adding in a stop. Keep us informed!

    • Chris-

      “I realized I should create some kind of disclosure policy”

      It’s been my experience that these free junkets are more or less the journalistic equivalent of condo seminars — sit through a few hours of the tourism board’s spiel in exchange for some free plane tickets or hotel rooms.

      I would suggest a blank policy of “no thanks.” Not because they necessarily directly sway your take on things, but the free aspect is rarely worth any perceived bias among readers.

      But I’m curious to hear how your experience goes, I recently turned down a similar trip (mainly because I’ve been conditioned by my job at Wired that anything free is strictly off limits) so curious to hear what I missed out on.

    • wilsonian says:

      Haven’t been to Rarotonga in nearly **cough** 20 years **cough**.
      Still have fond memories of memories of winning a grass skirt dancing contest.
      Wonder if I still could…? 🙂

      Enjoy!!

    • Aximilation says:

      Awesome, congrats on the trip, I’d love to snag something like that, freebies are always great, not to mention last minute ones. (as long as you’re not forced, that is)
      Looking forward to hearing about the trip, best of luck on getting more offers!

    • Sean says:

      Gotta hand it to you Chris…I look forward to the day when airlines start sending me offers to take exotic trips! This is just a testament to your hard work and recent successes, so keep it up!

      Sean

    • Erica says:

      Who would say no to a great offer like that? I hope you’re enjoying your trip to the Cook Islands!

    • Heather says:

      Chris, if you aren’t a “real travel writer,” then no one is!

    • Ian hickman says:

      I’m so jealous!! I was lucky enough to go to the Cook Islands about 8 years ago and would love to head back, it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen and the people are genuinely friendly.

      Take your motorcycle driving test there (seriously, you can’t fail – my girlfriend at the time went the wrong way and still passed!) and hire a scooter to tour Rarotonga, it really is the only way to see the entire island.

      By the way I love your writing, you blog is one of the few that hit my rss feed that I always take time out to read.

    • Sounds great! Have a wonderful trip. I can’t wait to read about it.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Chris, I just returned today from four days in Rarotonga and I hope you have as much fun as we did. We live in NZ so it’s a short flight for us but the change in weather was what we really needed. Raro is wonderful and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a relaxing and laid back holiday.

    • Sandra says:

      I’m also in Rarotonga, and I’d love to meet you if you have time. My husband and I are on a sailboat called Aquila in Avatiu Harbour. Feel free to drop by and say hello.

    • The cook islands sound like an interesting spot to visit. I for one am excited to read about your visit. I don’t think there is any problem whatsoever about accepting freebies as long as you’re up front with your readers about it.

      Now, if only someone would give me a free trip to an island paradise. I would be on the plane in 5 minutes and gladly write pages about the experience.

      Have fun!

    • Nomadic Matt says:

      congrats chris. great opportunity.

    • Erin says:

      The Cook Islands are stunning! I would definitely recommend trying to visit the stunning lagoon in Aitutaki and the fascinating island of Atiu (very few tourists make it there).

    • Erica says:

      @Carla, I totally agree with what you’re saying. As long as you include a disclaimer stating that a trip was sponsored and you’re completely honest in your blog post/article, I don’t see why it would be any problem. The same applies to reviews of other freebies such as books and travel guides. Or travel products and gadgets. As I see it, it’s a win-win situation!

    • I would jump if I were asked! Congratulations!

      I think there is a world of difference between getting a plane ticket you tell everyone about before the trip (and after, presumably) and accepting envelopes of thousand dollar bills in hotel rooms (I’m looking at you, Brian Mulroney).

      I hope you have fun!

    • Chris – enjoy the Cook Islands, and I hope you make it to Aitutaki. I think it is a fab place to visit. By now you have discovered island time.

      Nice disclosure.

    • Lucky you! lucky first because you’re flying Air NZ and THEY ARE THE BEST AIRLINE in the world! and no I don’t work for them but am a kiwi so naturally biased! But I travel extensively and they really are very good!
      Secondly, you get to go to a paradise not just in it’s physical beauty, but because the people there are beautiful; in nature, spirit and attitude.
      Have the best time, and Kia orana
      Siobhan
      New Zealand

    • Inspirational man…I love the fact that you got picked up by CNN, but even more impressive, although probably less of a surprise, is that social media/networking gave you a bigger boost than CNN traffic! Keep kicking it man.

    • KB says:

      Wow – Air New Zealand costs us locals an absolute FORTUNE! Costs more to fly around NZ than to Australia in some cases. Hope you had a great time!

    • Rockshell says:

      Congrats on the trip.

      I do work for AirNZ so am a little biased but I do hope you enjoy. I love the Cook Islands.

      The company are daring to do things a bit differently lately. The CEO is in body paint on the latest TV advert. You should check it out on your tube.

    • Hey Chris congrats! You deserve a free trip every once and a while! I’ve heard the Cook Islands are unbelievable. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about them.

      Good luck as always.

      Dan

    • Congrats on the trip! Six days is an *eternity* for getting ready… you only need 56 minutes 😉

    • Melanie says:

      OK, your trip all makes perfect sense now — and is about the coolest thing I’ve heard all month! It bears mentioning that my friend once threw together a lovely wedding in 36 hours…so six days can be considered an aeon.

      That said, I won’t be in the Cook Islands ’til August, so I look forward to hearing more about your experiences…especially the food. Travel safe!

    • Dillon Ross says:

      Cook Islands always sounded exotic to me. So do tell us more.

    • Having done my website for a while now, a few years ago I decided to try and get press passes for the High Falls Film Festival (now the Rochester High Falls International Film Festival (RHFIFF)). The first year I asked, I demonstrated my coverage with what I had done in the past, and was given the equivalent to an all-access pass. I think I might have received another pass the next year.

      But the last year I asked, I was told I received a press pass, but when I picked it up, the envelope contained a “film only” pass which prevented me from attending some of the private parties and social gatherings. I asked about it and the people said they didn’t know. When I approached one of the organizers, they told me it was the new policy for “bloggers”. I knew of one other person who identified themself as a “blogger” and I don’t know what kind of pass they got.

      Anyhow, I do two things “wrong” as it relates to the press passes. First, I don’t review movies beforehand and write teasers to get people to go — I list what I’m interested in seeing (in the calendar portion of my site) and write about what I saw afterward. Second, I critique the festival itself in addition to the films — for instance, I brought up a point about how the scheduling prevented an attendee from viewing many pairs of movies because the end-time of the earlier and start-time of the later overlapped.

      This is clearly speculation on my part, but I think it’s grounded in logic outside my own bias (“look at me I’m a dangerous blogger” blah blah blah). Press passes are used as a way to get the event promoted. From a business perspective, a press pass should pay for itself many times over: by using the advertising budget to offset the cost, the number of attendees to the festival should increase enough to cover that cost. In my case, the direct effect of my website was less than that cost.

      This year, I didn’t even ask for a pass, instead purchasing one at a discount from the local PBS auction. I had felt the pressure of bias and I wanted to remove that pressure.

      What I took away from that, I guess, is to understand what I’m getting and why. Air New Zealand will never simply tell you what they hope to achieve by offering you this, but — if you want — you can deduce what their motives are. It’s important for me to understand this when I’m in that kind of situation, but for others, not so much. I feel very uncomfortable in a situation where I’m getting a better (or worse) deal than I think I should, I am confident that my deal is unusual, I am confident that the party I’m dealing with has reason for that aberration, and that party refuses to disclose their motivation for the aberration.

      So, I’d be uncomfortable if Air New Zeland said you’re getting a free ticket because you were selected at random. I think their motive is that you will find your flight so pleasant that you will write about them in a favorable light. Or that the Cook Islands tourism people paid for it. If it were me, I’d feel better if I knew.

      I’ll be curious to see your emotional reaction to that facet of the trip afterward and in the future.

    • David Cain says:

      Rarotonga is on a short list of possible stopovers on my way to New Zealand this fall; I get to choose between a week in Samoa, Rarotonga, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Shanghai, or Taipei. I’m leaning towards Bangkok, but I haven’t confirmed my itinerary yet. I’d like to hear your impressions of the place; photos make it look like paradise.

    • Joy says:

      Chris, great site, and congratulations on your success (and freebies!). It’s an inspiration to those of us living unconventional lives.

      I was reading recently about new regulations for credit cards, and the possibility of reduced rewards/miles on applying. I’ve been thinking about doing your FF mile challenge (I already have loads of miles, but could always use more), and am interested in what you think about the future of air travel for those of us who have relied heavily on FF miles for travel.

      Have a great time in the Cook Islands!

    • RK Dhanvada says:

      I always find it interesting to read your blog and keep track.. but this New Zealand trip is indeed an envy.. I have been planning to be there for a long time for mobike ride down the country roads.. And now this Cook Island.

      I am based in India have to believe the folks like you than the brochures and Travel agents .. Wish the New Zealand tourism can offer the 360 degree viewing of those exotic places like we get to see in India . See http://www.view360.in/ and how we can feel the Wow and be excited before reaching..

      Any plans to come India.. I am in Hyderabad .. Please do get connected via email at rk@dhanvada.com and the phone +91 9440179822 . Will tell you how to lose the way and discover in the place in a perspective never ever before..

      RK Dhanvada

    • Amigo, you’re authentic, and I can hang with the idea of you going on someone else’s dime once in a while…

      Travel on!

    • Chadd says:

      I still have some coins from the Cook’s with the extremely endowed god, Tangaroa – would make anyone giggle a little bit!

      If you find any cool Rarotongan Razor Blades bring them back and we can trade (be sure to check, no carry ons!) next time you are in Seattle or I am in Portland!

    • Wyman says:

      Chris,

      I hope you had a great trip. My family and I enjoyed teaching a year in American Somoa and a three day visit to Western Samoa. We then settled in the Bay area and ran into relatives of my students for years. Beautiful places and PEOPLE.

    • Genesis says:

      I see nothing wrong with taking a trip like this! It gets you closer to your goals, right? And it`s free . . . enjoy!

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