Carley Rojas Avila: Travel writer for Associated Press, MSN and others

 

Angela Tuell  00:05

Welcome to Media in Minutes. This is your host Angela Tuell. This podcast features in-depth interviews with those reports on the world around us. They share everything from their favorite stories to what happened behind the lens and give us a glimpse into their world. From our studio here at Communications Redefined, this is Media in Minutes. On today’s episode, we are talking with Carley Rojas Avila. Carley is a syndicated freelance travel writer. She is an MSN publisher and regular contributor to The Associated Press wires. She’s been featured online and in print in over 100 different regional and local newspapers across the United States and abroad. She also owns two travel websites Explorers Away and Home to Havana where she writes destination guides, shares travel tips, and inspires adventure for travelers, expats, and digital nomads. Hi, Carley. I’m so excited to talk with you today.

 

Carley Rojas Avila  01:04

Hi, Angela. Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

 

Angela Tuell  01:07

Yes. I’d love to know, how did you get started in travel writing? I think like a few of our recent guests on the show you didn’t start your career as a journalist, right?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  01:18

Yes, I did not start my career as a journalist, I definitely would have never expected to take this path. But I’m happy. I’m here now. So I actually got started working with nonprofits. So I have a Master’s in Public Administration. So I’ve worked with a bunch of different nonprofits, abroad and in the United States. But during the COVID, lockdown, I started my own website and was just thinking so much about travel and how I couldn’t travel at the time. So I just started writing destination guides and itineraries and things to help people once they started traveling again. So that’s kind of how I got started.

 

Angela Tuell  01:59

Wow. So tell us more about how you became a regular contributor to The Associated Press wire and MSN.

 

Carley Rojas Avila  02:07

It was kind of a roundabout way to get started, I would say. I think one of the things about, especially this path, I mean, I didn’t know any full-time writers or travel writers or anything like that prior to just meeting people recently. So connecting, I think with other website owners and other people who are doing this has been really huge. And that helps me get these opportunities with MSN and Associated Press wire. I joined a group of website owners called Insiders. And it’s been like a really great community of people who have been great with the sharing opportunities and sharing connections and things that they’re doing that it’s working. So through that group, I was actually able to start these opportunities just based on people working their butts off to try to get them and then opening the door for others. So I’m super grateful for that.

 

Angela Tuell  03:07

Wow. So do you see the stories that go to like AP are those from your website, ones that you’ve put on your website, those ones or not, those ones don’t go on my website, actually?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  03:18

So those ones are stories that I just write from, whether it be a press release that I get, or somewhere that I’ve traveled, or something that a PR person has sent me. So those ones are a little bit different because they’re specifically for the AP wires, and they’re a little bit more tailored kind of more with like a statistical background or some type of relevant, like fact that makes them very timely for people.

 

Angela Tuell  03:52

Okay, so what types of stories – I mean, you mentioned just a little bit there, the statistics and timely – what types of stories do you look for, for those outlets?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  03:58

For the Associated Press wires generally, trying to link it back to us travelers. So whether it’s a travel trend or a new destination, or something that is relevant to us travelers, I generally try to keep it in line with that. For MSN, it can be a little bit different. It can be more destination-focused or like a listicle-style article. So it’s pretty different between the two outlets.

 

Angela Tuell  04:30

Okay, what have been some of your favorites, to write?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  04:34

I think stories that I’ve gotten based on leads from PR people or destination reps or what have you that you can just feel their excitement and their passion. I feel like those ones are always the most exciting to write. Just because, yeah, just starting it off with that kind of spark that you get from people. It’s a great motivator I think. I also really like covering eco-tourism and like ethical travel, and feeling like I’m making an impact not just in sharing something that’s going to be a great opportunity for travelers, but it’s also going to do some good in the world. I feel like those are some of my favorite topics to cover.

 

Angela Tuell  05:20

Yes, and you do a lot of as you mentioned, roundup listicle-type articles that are very popular today with our, with our lives, and you know, the busyness of everyone. How do you choose what you will include in stories like those?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  05:35

So I do a lot of those articles. I think more than I realize sometimes. Mostly those go to MSN on my own websites. I think they’re just so digestible for readers and they just kind of play well into the way that people read nowadays, I guess. Deciding what goes into them – I know for me, personally, at least if I’ve been to a destination, I’ve worked with a brand or had some type of connection to like a good connection with a PR person. Those are always the type of things that come to my mind first when I’m working on these articles. So if I do a press trip or something, and I have an opportunity to cover it again, like even months or like years, I guess down the line, that’s definitely something that I would go for first. And then I think yeah, just connecting with PR people that I know that are kind of on the front lines of getting like good news and different destinations I’ve never heard of or resorts or what have you. I think building those relationships has been huge for me as a writer, and it just makes the process a lot easier.

 

Angela Tuell  06:47

Yeah. As far as press trips, do you prefer group or solo trips, and anything else you prefer when it comes to them?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  06:56

Um, I think there are benefits to both. Either group or solo. I don’t know, I’ve met so many interesting other writers through group trips, that I think that’s one benefit that I wasn’t necessarily expecting prior to starting to do press trips. I don’t know, I think there can be benefits to both. I think one thing that is important to keep in mind for people who are planning the trips is to build in a certain degree of downtime. I think some of them can get so busy that it’s hard to truly process everything that you’re experiencing.

 

Angela Tuell  07:32

Right.

 

Carley Rojas Avila  07:33

So building enough downtime into where the people that are on the trips are able to kind of like digest what they’re doing and even like get started on writing something or, or something like that. I think that’s an important thing to keep in mind.

 

Angela Tuell  07:47

That’s a great tip. Have you done a lot of traveling before you became a travel writer? Has that always been a love of yours?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  07:52

Definitely. Yeah. So I studied abroad when I was in college, and I traveled a fair amount growing up with my family as well. And when I graduated from college, I moved to Ecuador for two years. So I got to travel a ton through Ecuador, a lot through South America and Latin America during those experiences, and it’s always been something that has been important in my life. And that’s kind of what I thought during the pandemic when I got started travel writing, which is an interesting time for that just on all of those experiences.

 

Angela Tuell  08:28

I thought you had a lot of foresight to let you know that obviously, people are going to travel again. So let’s focus on that. Do you have any favorite destinations or places that surprised you?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  08:41

Destinations that surprised me. I think actually, Bolivia. So you definitely don’t hear a lot about Bolivia as a travel destination other than probably like the salt flats, which make that crazy, giant mirror reflection of the sky. Those are amazing. But I think there’s so much in the rest of Bolivia that people have never heard about and don’t know anything about it being a really affordable destination. There are a lot of interesting ruins and cultural activities to take part in like the Amazon rainforest and the desert. And yeah, I would just I would go back there in an instant.

 

Angela Tuell  09:20

That’s awesome. Have you written about them?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  09:23

I have. I always like keep in the back of my mind that I want to go back again and experience more than I did when I was there. But yeah, I always try to it’s one of those things. I always try to include where I can.

 

Angela Tuell  09:35

What destinations are on your bucket list?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  09:38

Oh my gosh. So I have a few trips coming up to the Caribbean that I’m really excited about. Some of the like, smaller islands, so I’m going to Dominica, Antigua maybe the Dominican Republic that’s more that’s more I feel like a well-known destination, but…Other bucket list places outside of that I would love to go to Guatemala, I’ve never been to Guatemala. But I’ve heard so many great things. So –

 

Angela Tuell  10:09

Those are great. That will be, that will be a lot of fun. With the outlets that you write for, do you ever need to pay attention to affiliate marketing? And you know, who is part of a network?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  10:21

So not specifically for MSN or the Associated Press wires – no. Um just because you can’t include like affiliate links in those articles. So for those, it’s pretty off-limits. I do use affiliate marketing on my websites just to, like and support the rest of this stuff that I am able to, to provide for free for readers. So I sometimes keep it in mind. But I wouldn’t let that stop me from recommending a place that I loved and had a great experience and isn’t part of some affiliate network or I tried to keep a balance between like, figuring out how to monetize things, while not kind of going overboard with just adding links everywhere.

 

Angela Tuell  11:07

Yeah, there’s such a fine line. You know, it’s a hard balance. You just mentioned you also own two travel websites Explore Away and Home to Havana. Please tell us more about those.

 

Carley Rojas Avila  11:19

Sure. So I started, my first website was Home to Havana. So my husband is originally from Cuba. So that was what kind of inspired us to start the kind of Cuba travel website. But as I started writing there, I realized that I had a lot more that I wanted to say in different destinations that I wanted to cover. So I started including more destinations on that. But it got a little confusing branding-wise, especially as I started working with other outlets and different publications. So at the end of last year, beginning of this year, I started Explorers Away. I took all of the content that was on Home to Havana that was not Cuba-related and put it onto Explorers Away. So those two websites are – I was talking with a travel writer friend recently who also has her own website, and she said that it’s the bane of her existence and the love of her life. And that’s kind of how I feel about the websites, there’s so much work and there’s so much to always be doing. But at the same time, it’s, it’s great. So –

 

Angela Tuell  12:26

So you mentioned your husband – and I saw on the sites, it says Jose and Kylie. So do you work together on the travel writing?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  12:35

So I mostly do the writing for the websites. But he does a lot of kind of the back-end stuff that makes it all come together, which is great. He started coding, he taught himself how to code during the lockdown period.

 

Angela Tuell  12:53

Oh wow. That’s just a little easy hobby, right?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  12:57

I know. So yeah, that’s been very helpful in terms of figuring out all of the tech stuff that I don’t have the patience to learn.

 

Angela Tuell  13:07

Right. I’m with you.

 

Carley Rojas Avila  13:08

So he’s able to work on that, which is great. He does for Home to Havana, he does a lot of kind of background and research and stuff for articles that we have there. And he is always making connections with people in Cuba and using his time there as kind of a base for everything that we work on. So he’s involved in different ways, which is great.

 

Angela Tuell  13:30

That is great. So what else are you working on currently? Or what’s next for you? I know, you mentioned some of the destinations, but what else?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  13:37

New projects that I’m working on…So I have a couple of press trips coming up that I’m really excited about trying to keep relatively shorter. But I’m working a lot on growing both of the websites currently because I feel like having those is, as a source of income lets me work on different articles that I’m really passionate about. For other publications. So trying to balance those things. It can be challenging, but it’s definitely exciting. And there’s always something to do.

 

Angela Tuell  14:09

Yeah. So you’re based in upstate New York, right? Have you – well, you haven’t always lived there – how long have you lived there for?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  14:17

Yes, we’re based in Rochester. Which is actually where I grew up. And it’s funny growing up, I like never wanted to come back to Rochester after I the way, I’m done with Rochester. But coming back as an adult, I’ve definitely found that there’s so much to love here so it’s great.

 

Angela Tuell  14:37

And coming back with I’m sure coming back with a family and a toddler.

 

Carley Rojas Avila  14:42

Yes, definitely. That’s been very helpful. I feel like the only true parenting hack that I have learned so far is to live close to your parents. So they’re great babysitters, so that’s awesome. Yeah, there’s so much love in upstate New York and spending time with family but also hiking and beautiful scenery and the fall is great. So yeah –

 

Angela Tuell  15:04

You’re okay with the winters?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  15:06

For the most part yeah, I feel like after living in warmer climates, I definitely do miss them during the winters here, but it’s not all bad.

 

Angela Tuell  15:15

That’s good. And if you – okay, if it wasn’t for Rochester, where would be your second choice to live – anywhere in the world?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  15:22

Um, we’ve talked about spending more time in Cuba for sure. Just to have that connection with my husband’s family and maybe escape the winters a little bit. That was kind of part of when we started Home to Havana. Something that we were thinking of was being able to split our time a little bit better and spend more time in Cuba but that wasn’t really possible with a pandemic. And Cuba had some pretty strong lockdowns for a couple of years with that. So I don’t know, maybe, maybe it’s something that could work in the future. But who knows at this point?

 

Angela Tuell  15:57

Who knows, right? I would love your advice for PR professionals pitching you stories. And if you have any pet peeves.

 

Carley Rojas Avila  16:05

I think for me, two pieces of advice are things that really stand out. For me, the first one would be the passion that you have for the story. I know that can be really hard sometimes when you’re just going through the motions. But I think really spending a little bit of time just puts that extra touch of excitement on the press release or the story or the pitch or whatever it is. Sometimes that just makes all the difference. And you never know. So I think it’s worth it. It gives writers something to latch on to which is good. Another recommendation I would make is to try to see if you can get any type of stat or fact or unique detail. I think – it’s not something that every type of outlet requires. But it’s something that stands out and I think it’s I think they’re easier to come up with than most people realize like having maybe talking with a client and looking for Okay, so what are your year over year numbers? Or are you seeing more travelers from this destination? Are more travelers interested in this type of excursion? It can be easier than I think a lot of people realize to kind of like come up with that newsy angle that can be good. And then a pet peeve. I wouldn’t say this is a pet peeve. But I think I get a lot of good pitches that are for maybe time sensitive topics. So maybe like, like Valentine’s Day, but I’m getting them like February 1.

 

Angela Tuell  17:41

Right?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  17:41

Yeah, I don’t know. For me, at least I think I have to plan things out so far in advance that I get really cool, interesting ideas from these pitches, but I just don’t have the time in my schedule to use them. So maybe stuff like that. Scheduling those out, maybe a month, a month and a half. I think that gives writers a little bit of a better chance to jump on some of those opportunities.

 

Angela Tuell  18:05

Yes, those are good tips. And there’s some that work even farther out. You know, with print four or five months, you do have to always be thinking ahead. And before we go, I would love to know what would someone who didn’t know you well be surprised to learn about you?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  18:20

I think a lot of people – my last name can give it away sometimes. I took my husband’s last name when we got married, but people would be surprised that I speak Spanish so well. After living abroad and speaking for the majority of my time for two years. And then now speaking at home, I think it’s not something that people expect, which has created some funny moments where I’ve overheard things or conversations. But yeah, so –

 

Angela Tuell  18:50

I love that.

 

Carley Rojas Avila  18:51

And it’s definitely a surprise for people that don’t know me.

 

Angela Tuell  18:53

I love that. So how can our listeners connect and follow you online?

 

Carley Rojas Avila  18:58

Um, I’m pretty active on LinkedIn and trying to keep my profile as updated as possible. And my Muck Rack as well has my email. I’m not too active on social media, whether it’s for myself or for either of the websites. That’s definitely a goal down the line. But I’d say probably LinkedIn or Muck Rack are the platforms that I’m using the most.

 

Angela Tuell  19:22

Great, and we will link to those on your websites in our show notes. Thank you so much for talking with me today.

 

Carley Rojas Avila  19:29

Yeah, this was so great. It was great to talk to you and share kind of the things I’m working on and tips I’ve learned. So thanks so much for having me.

 

Angela Tuell  19:38

That’s all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined. Please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe to our show. We’d love to hear what you think. You can find more at CommunicationsRedefined.com/podcast. I’m your host, Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.

Founder of Home to Havana and Explorers Away, Carley chats with Angela about her transition to syndicated freelance travel writing, her interests in eco-tourism and ethical travel, as well as some of her favorite destinations.  

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