Latifah Al-Hazza: Freelance Journalist and Co-founder, Femscape Sojourns

 

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. Today we’re talking with Letiifah Al-Hazza. She is an Emmy Award-winning travel journalist and documentary filmmaker. Her work can be found in Vogue, CNN Travel, Harper’s Bazaar, Frommer’s Travel Guides, and The Manual just to name a few. She is also the co-founder of Femme Escapes, Sojourns, a boutique women’s travel company, and has been named Travel Massives 100 Inspiring Women Travel Founders. Welcome, Latifah. Thank you for joining us today.

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  00:58

Hi, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited.

 

Angela Tuell  01:01

Yes, me too. I have to say I find your background fascinating. You grew up living a bicultural lifestyle between Kuwait and the United States. Were you born in Kuwait?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  01:11

No, I was actually born in the States but moved to Kuwait when I was three months old. So I lived in Kuwait until I was six and then moved to the States for all of my schooling. But ever since then, I’ve traveled back every single year for anywhere from two to seven months, depending on kind of what I have going on. And so going between the two, especially as a kid, you know, kind of learning about other cultures learning about the world, finding my own self, it was really interesting just, they’re obviously very different cultures. So it was just really interesting to, see aspects of, of the American culture and a Kuwaiti culture, and to kind of pick and choose things that I thought were right in society, things that I thought were wrong. It kind of also enabled me to kind of have a really open perspective on people’s ideas and thought processes, processes, and ways of life. So yeah, that’s kind of how I feel like it shaped who I am today and how I view the world and others such,

 

Angela Tuell  02:15

Yeah, that kind of experience is invaluable. For sure. When did you know you wanted to be a travel writer?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  02:22

So this is an interesting question. A lot of people ask me this, and I’m not really sure. But I will say that. So I went to global studies and world languages Academy for high school. So we learned about the world. And obviously, we had also group trips, and school trips, as well. And so my last year of high school, we were required to do a capstone project similar to like a thesis. And I just, I knew I want to incorporate travel. And I didn’t know how, and I kind of just randomly selected, maybe I should produce a documentary. I have had experience working on the yearbook committee, I had experience writing articles for various local outlets, like local magazines, and local newspapers. And so I kind of had that little sense of I wanted to go into journalism, but I wasn’t really sure. So I decided, obviously, producing a documentary is one form of journalism. So I decided to give that a shot. And that’s what I did for my project. And then after that, I kind of realized, I think I do want to go into journalism. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into print journalism, or digital or TV. But that’s kind of how I chose my major for college. And then I just ended up loving it. And I’ve continued on ever since.

 

Angela Tuell  03:43

Yeah, and what was your first big break? Would you say during or after college?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  03:49

I would say my first big break was during college undergrad. I was selected to be a part of this group that traveled to Turkey to report and, each student had different topics. And so my topic was about a journalist who had recently been released for prison, from prison because he was jailed due to speaking out against the government. So I was able to do just a documentary about him. And I would say that was my first big break, won an Emmy for that. And, yeah, and then so then I went on to graduate school, and after graduating from my master’s, I ended up getting an internship with CNN in Hong Kong. And so I guess that’s also like my second big break, I guess.

 

Angela Tuell  04:36

Yes. And then how did you focus to narrow down into travel and travel outlets?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  04:42

Yeah. So I mean, I knew I’ve always loved travel, but that’s not what I originally went in for. I was kind of reporting on more hard news, politics, and such. But when I had my internship with CNN, which was also hard news, the travel intern did not show up for the internship. And so they asked me if I was willing to cover some of her topics. And I said, Yeah, of course, why not? You know, I love to travel. I never really thought that was kind of a thing I could go into, I guess, right? And so I ended up covering some of her topics, and I covered them. First of all, I enjoyed them a lot more. And I was so much better at writing about these travel topics than I was at writing anything I was assigned. So they ended up just kind of transferring me over and I became the travel intern instead. And kind of just went on from there. And I’ve never, I’ve never looked back. I’ve I rarely write about anything other than travel now.

 

Angela Tuell  05:37

Isn’t it amazing how these things happen in our life? And we, yeah, we were hoping for it but didn’t even know, right?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  05:43

Exactly.

 

Angela Tuell  05:45

What has life been like as a freelance writer?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  05:48

So it’s been different. So I started out, and after my internship with CNN, they hired me. And I stayed with them for a while. And then I worked for Frommer’s Travel Guides. And then I ended up going freelance because my mother and I decided to launch a travel company. So I figured it would, I would have more time and be able to kind of schedule my arrange, I guess you could say my schedule, to be able to accommodate also working with my mom. So I decided to go freelance. And I also loved it because I still love it. Because, obviously, now I see my name in various outlets, not just one specific one. I also don’t have a specific schedule I have to adhere to, besides my deadlines. So I am loving the freelance life, but I still travel constantly. And I don’t have to, you know, let anyone know that I’m traveling. I just work from wherever I am. And obviously, it’s, it’s a bit more of a struggle as far as trying to secure an article in a magazine, or on a website, as opposed to if you’re working for one company. But um, but I love it. It’s, I love it personally.

 

Angela Tuell  06:59

What are some of your most memorable stories?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  07:02

Oh, that’s a good question. So obviously, the one I wrote about, or I guess, the documentary produced in Turkey, was very memorable to me, since that was my first kind of big, big break. For my master’s thesis, I also produced a documentary in Nicaragua, about students, and Nicaragua, and about how their mothers create bracelets and sell them in the States so that they can raise enough money to send their children to school. And I really, really loved writing that story, I was able to go into the homes of these children and the families were able to go into the schools and kind of really get a sense for their way of life. So I really enjoyed that. And I in general, enjoy the stories that I write where I can really interact with the locals and put my feet in their shoes, I guess you could say, I mean, I’ve also written fun stories, like, I stayed in an extremely luxurious hotel in Greece, and I was able to write about the hotel. So obviously, that was very fun to write as well. But I get more out of the stories that I really can interact with a local and, and learn about their hardships and their way of life.

 

Angela Tuell  08:12

Yeah, the stories that touch you when you’re writing them and reading them.

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  08:16

Exactly.

 

Angela Tuell  08:17

And I know this is another tough one, especially for travel writers. But do you have any favorite destinations?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  08:23

So I’ve every time people ask me this, I’ve always said the Galapagos Islands. It’s been quite a while now since I’ve been, but it’s always really had a special place in my heart. And I think at the time, it was definitely the most unique place I’d ever been to. It was really interesting seeing the wildlife. It was really interesting. I mean, the locals – since it’s such a small community – and at the time, they didn’t really have frequent tours to the Galapagos Islands. So I felt like it was definitely territory that was, was untouched, not many people knew about. So that’s definitely one. Again, I’ve loved everywhere I’ve been, but I guess you could also say, in Asia, I love Vietnam. I loved Iceland. I’ve honestly I’ve loved just about everywhere. But if I were to live somewhere, I’d probably say Spain.

 

Angela Tuell  09:14

Okay, I like that. Why Spain?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  09:16

So I grew up studying Spanish. A lot of people think even I’m Arab. A lot of people think I’m Hispanic. So that kind of drove me to learn how to speak the language. And I don’t know when I was young, my mom studied in Spain. And so I kind of spent a few years of my childhood there. And then when I was in college, I studied in Spain. And it’s just a culture of just a really passionate, vibrant, warm culture. That I think if I were have if I had to relocate to another country, that would be the country I want to live in.

 

Angela Tuell  09:49

So how do you like to find your stories?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  09:53

It really just depends. You know, sometimes someone tells me a little tidbit about an area or about, for example, I guess, a few years ago, I remember someone telling me about how in Egypt, there’s this whole community that is built out of trash like recycled trash. And that’s all. That’s all they told me, they didn’t give me any more details. And after that, I was just extremely interested. And so ended up kind of digging into that to write a story. So it could be something as simple as someone has just felt like that was a stranger, like on a train. So it could be something as simple as that to, you know, maybe I’ve seen the story written, and I kind of want to explore it with a different angle. Or most of the time, it’s just, I’m on a trip, like on my own, or maybe even for a different story, and I come across a unique angle, and then I decided to go kind of deeper into that.

 

Angela Tuell  10:55

Okay, so how about PR professionals? How, how can they best help you do your job? Do you tend to get ideas from them? Do you have pet peeves?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  11:04

So I don’t really have a lot of pet peeves when it comes to PR agencies reaching out to me, but something that does really bother me is when we’re working on setting up a press trip or individual trip or whatnot. And they want to know the specific, the specific angles I’m going to write about. Me, that is a pet peeve because I could, I could make up an angle, or I could use the angle that was pitched to me. But that’s not usually the angle I ended up writing about. Usually, I travel there, and there’s like a really unique experience I wasn’t expecting, or I might meet someone that’s really unique and, and kind of write about them. And so I actually really enjoy receiving emails. And when they reach out to me, I mean, I always read every email I receive. So sometimes I will get a story out of maybe a press release a PR agency has sent me but not often, honestly, just because obviously, it’s being sent to a lot of journalists. So and the hardest part is like finding a unique angle for my editors. So I don’t always go with that. But for example, if I know they represent a tourism board or a client that I think would have a unique story, then that’s when I really like working with them in order to kind of figure out an angle or get me out there or something like that. So that I can come up with a different story than what they’ve maybe already sent me if that makes sense.

 

Angela Tuell  12:42

Yeah. So I know that you’ve said one of your greatest accomplishments so far in life was launching the travel company with your mom. Tell us more about that.

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  12:51

Yeah, so my mom and I have always traveled a lot since I was a kid. And something my mom always found interesting. She used to be a professor. So something she found interesting was a lot of her colleagues thought it was crazy that my mom and I would travel to some countries such as Morocco, or countries that people like maybe think are dangerous or females shouldn’t travel to them alone. And we would do this on our own, and they thought it was wild how she was able to do that without my dad, for example. So my mom thought that was interesting. And then I’ve always thought it was interesting because my friends think it’s a crazy concept that I am able to travel with my mom for over three days, and still survive. So we took these kinds of two, two issues, and combine them and decided to come up with a travel company that caters towards women, and caters to like three different types. Three different groups, I guess you could say. So one, so we have trips for women ages 40. And up, we have trips for women in their 20s and 30s. And then we have mother-daughter trips. And everyone is free to join whichever age group they prefer to join. But it’s mainly just because women 40 and older probably want slightly different activities than women in their 20s and 30s. And then of course the mother-daughter scripts really catered towards Mother-Daughter activities. So yeah, it was combining those two issues along with I receive emails all the time or text messages, I guess from my friends, asking me to send them recommendations or create a mini itinerary for their upcoming trips. So we decided, why not create these trips? We create the itinerary. We travel with them as their guide since we know so much about the countries that we decided to travel to. And yeah, that’s kind of how we came up with this idea.

 

Angela Tuell  14:52

And has it been going?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  14:55

Well since COVID, it hasn’t been great. Before COVID We were doing well, we just launched in 2018. So we haven’t, we’re still fairly new if you don’t count the COVID years, right? So 2018 was slower since it was the beginning. 2019 was great. The beginning of 2020 was first few months was good. And then obviously COVID hit. So since then we actually haven’t had any trips. But we are currently working on getting some trips up for next year.

 

Angela Tuell  15:30

Okay, well, we’ll have to be watching. We must also mention that you were named Travel Missives 100 Inspiring Women Travel Founders. That is quite an accomplishment for someone who only graduated from undergrad about seven years ago.

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  15:46

Thank you. Yeah, it was exciting. I was shocked. But I love the Travel Massive community. And I love it a lot. I know a lot of the people on that list. And yeah, it is an honor to be side by side with them.

 

Angela Tuell  16:04

Yeah, congratulations. And here we go. I need to ask what are you currently working on. And besides the company, you know, with your mom, and any other plans for the future you can share with us?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  16:16

Sure. I’m working on a couple of different articles for magazines such as Bpg, and Travel + Leisure. And as far as upcoming what’s coming up, but that’s a great question. Honestly, I work. So last minute. So it’s best to ask me a week before because I just feel like sometimes I have trips in advance. Sometimes I don’t. I’ve been in Kuwait for a couple of months now. And I thought I was going to return like two months ago. And I just searched on a couple of days ago. So upcoming stories. Not quite sure. Yeah. upcoming trips. Not quite sure yet. I am headed tomorrow to Bonaire for scuba diving. Yeah, for a scuba diving trip that has been planned for quite some time now. But yeah, other than that, it’s hard to answer that question. Sorry.

 

Angela Tuell  17:03

Take it one day at a time, right?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  17:05

Yeah, basically, that’s what I try to do.

 

Angela Tuell  17:07

How far out do you want people reaching out to you?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  17:09

I guess it is easier for me not to plan far in advance. But that’s not always the case. I mean, I currently have a trip planned for Labor Day weekend for a story. So I can plan it out. I guess it just depends on the dates. For example, if you were trying to plan something in July, I know I’m not able to do that right now. But if you were to plan something after July I can. It really just depends, honestly.

 

Angela Tuell  17:37

Yeah. Well, thank you so much. And how can everyone learn more about your company and do for my company Femscape Sojourns?

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  17:46

Anyone can follow us on Instagram at Femscape Sojourns, or our website is also FemscapeSojourns.com. And my personal Instagram is Tifa Travels. I have links to my work on LinkedIn. And on my personal website. The URL has the adventures.

 

Angela Tuell  18:07

Oh, thank you. We’ll link to those on our show notes as well. Awesome.

 

Latifah Al-Hazza  18:11

Thank you so much for having me.

 

Angela Tuell  18:12

Thank you. 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.

That delicate balance of being in the now and planning for the future  – listen to today’s episode as Latifah talks about this with Angela.  She also shares how her travel writing led to becoming co-founder of Femscape Sojourns.

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