Molly O’Brien: Travel & Lifestyle Journalist


Angela Tuell  00:05

Welcome to Media in Minutes. This is your host Angela Tuell. This podcast features in-depth interviews with those who report 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 Molly O’Brien. Molly is a Los Angeles-based journalist who writes and edits for a variety of international travel and lifestyle outlets, such as the Washington Post, Travel and Leisure, and Conde Nast Traveler. She’s lived on both coasts of the US from Massachusetts to California and has made Greater Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, Barcelona, and Los Angeles her home over the past 25 years. When she’s not writing or traveling, she enjoys outdoor adventures, local coffee shops, community breweries, and boutique hotels that tell an interesting story. Welcome, Molly. Thank you for joining us today.


Molly O’Brien  01:06

Thank you for having me.


Angela Tuell  01:07

Yes, I’m excited. I love to start with you telling us a little bit about how you got into journalism. And why you decided on the travel and lifestyle beats.


Molly O’Brien  01:17

I’m used to being the one interviewing people rather than the other way around. So this is refreshing. Um, how did I get into journalism? Well, I have always been a writer. I’ve been writing books since I could hold a pencil. And I love travels. So I actually also started off my career in public relations. I knew that it wasn’t quite the right path for me, but I live in Los Angeles. So I needed a job to support myself. I was lucky, I landed a job at a travel and hospitality PR company. And I learned so much. And I bounced to another travel PR company after that. But then I got laid off due to COVID, as a lot of people did in the travel, Hospitality Tourism Industry. And I took it as the opportunity to really force myself into the editorial side since I knew that’s where I always wanted to be. And I now had the connections that I had made during my time in PR, to start pitching but from the other side.


Angela Tuell  02:14

And that’s really interesting because it normally doesn’t go that route, you know, you normally start in journalism and then go into PR, not necessarily PR into journalism.


Molly O’Brien  02:23

Yeah. And it’s very similar. I mean, the R in PR stands for relations. So building these relationships is my favorite part of both sides of the industry. Yeah.


Angela Tuell  02:35

My into. So what are some of your favorite stories?  I love the ones you’ve done, where you interview people with amazing jobs that are pretty unbelievable.


Molly O’Brien  02:42

Those are always really, really fun to write. I’d have to say, some of my favorite stories that I’ve worked on. What I think stays are the No Drama Llama was my favorite story I’ve ever worked on. It was pretty early off in my freelance writing career. And it was about Cesaro, the No Drama Llama who was attending Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, in June of 2020. And he just offered this sense of peace that no- nothing else could. And I interviewed his handler, his caretaker, Larry, and we’re still connected on Facebook. And we still keep in touch so just the human connection that comes through these meaningful stories is important to me. And then what else as you said, there’s a lot of fun ones with people. Another one that I wrote was kind of offbeat for me was lessons for companies that have workers experiencing survivor’s guilt. That was also the beginning of the pandemic that was for Bloomberg. Because everyone was thinking about the people that did get laid off. No one was thinking about the people that do not get laid off. And they’re watching all their colleagues depart and feeling like why them why not me? So interesting, really interesting to dig into the psychology of that. And then just all the other stories where I get to write about these places that I personally know that aren’t, I can’t travel to them right now. So I kind of live vicariously through writing about them. Yes, yeah, I’m grateful for public relations, people like you who are able to share information with me. And then I mean, exploratory research trips are always really helpful. That’s actually where I find some of my stories because I’ll go somewhere, and I’ll talk to someone that I know is going to be a really, really good person that can share their story. My mom used to say that I was nosy, but she meant it in an affectionate way. Right? And of course, but now I think we realized that I was really curious about everyone’s story.


Angela Tuell  04:31

I love that. I saw that Travel and Leisure article, you know, in the 50 best places to travel in 2022 that you said Brazil, why did you choose that destination for this year?


Molly O’Brien  04:42

Yeah, that’s a great question. And that’s an important answer, too. So that’s one of the few stories that I was actually assigned by my editor at Travel and Leisure. So I didn’t actually choose it. But I learned a lot about the destination and I already wanted to go to Brazil. And this just made me want to go there even more.


Angela Tuell  04:57

What are the things you learn that were really interesting?


Molly O’Brien  05:01

I learned a lot about the culture. And I think that that’s, that’s why we travel is to kind of immerse ourselves in different cultures and different experiences, because that’s how we learn. And so even if I couldn’t travel to Brazil last year, being able to write that story and really dig myself deep into what made it special, it really made me excited for the opportunity to travel there in the future.


Angela Tuell  05:26

Yes. And that’s a big part of travel, you know, that anticipation and the planning and the excitement before you go.


Molly O’Brien  05:33

Yes, absolutely.


Angela Tuell  05:35

How do you like to find your stories?


Molly O’Brien  05:37

I like to find my stories and a variety of ways I can be something as simple as I’m just out with friends. And something comes to me with a conversation with them or with someone that I’m talking to, like if I’m at a restaurant or at a hotel. And also, it is really great to be getting pitches from people that work in PR about interesting stories that we can work on together. And I can tell you having been on both sides, it makes it a lot easier to work with someone who can provide an expert source and coordinate those interviews and help you with photos because it’s more time-consuming that people know from behind the scenes.


Angela Tuell  06:18

Yes. And we know the more we can give you the easier it is to do your job.


Molly O’Brien  06:23

Yes, absolutely.


Angela Tuell  06:24

How can – you know talking about public relations professionals – What are some of the pet peeves that you may have?


Molly O’Brien  06:30

Yeah, that’s again, PR is about relationships because relations isn’t the title. So I think just it’s important to be kind. I remember when I’m speaking with someone or emailing with someone, whether they’re just genuinely nice to me, or whether I feel like I’m being used to getting a story out for their client, which, I mean, it happens. But I think also, it’s just important to remember that there’s a person behind that story. Um, something else, something that’s small that kind of bothers me is if someone pitches me, and they suggest a certain outlet for my story that they think could be a great fit for, like, insert the outlet here. I wish that I could just play something in that outlet. Like I would say, hey, Travel + Leisure, let me write this for you. But unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. I wish that it did. And then I’m kind of related to that. I love sharing the links to the stories with people who helped me with them. And sometimes they take it as an opportunity to pitch me something else, but they’re trying to push and I’m like, Guys, let’s just enjoy the story right now. Bask in the glory of this story that just came out. I’m not ready to move on to the next thing quite yet.


Angela Tuell  07:40

We all have clients like that that are, you know, “Okay, this is great. What’s the next one?”


Molly O’Brien  07:45

Exactly, exactly. That’s the nature of the industry. It’s fast-paced. You want to move on. Yeah.


Angela Tuell  07:51

So we all know what travel is. But lifestyle is such a broad topic, and how do you describe that beat to others? And what types of lifestyle stories are your favorite to write?


Molly O’Brien  08:02

I think, to me lifestyle – It’s about the way that people live their lives. And some people live some pretty spectacular lives. That they wouldn’t have gotten to be where they are today without facing challenges, and I just want to be able to share their stories. Does that kind of answer your question?


Angela Tuell  08:18

That’s great. Yes. And so you really like to focus on the personal aspect, personal stories on the lifestyle side?


Molly O’Brien  08:24

Definitely. Yeah. I think that if someone is doing something that’s meaningful in their life, it deserves to be shared.


Angela Tuell  08:32

Yeah, that’s great. I have to ask about some of your favorite destinations. I know that’s a hard one as a travel writer.


Molly O’Brien  08:41

Absolutely got it, it’s really hard. And when I ask other people this question, oftentimes, they can’t answer it. And I realized I should probably have an answer to my own question before I answer it. So now I do. I have to say, I studied abroad in Barcelona when I was in college, and I just really appreciate it. I loved the culture. It was just a really, I was there in the summer, I was gonna say it’s a warm place to be but simply as a warm place to be. Greece was also gorgeous. And actually, these past couple of years, I’ve had the chance to explore a lot more of our own country that I wouldn’t have necessarily been able to or known about, except through this travel writing experience. There are a lot of places here in the US that you wouldn’t necessarily think of that have come to light these past couple of years that are absolutely worth the drive or the train ride or, or the flight.


Angela Tuell  09:32

Yeah. What are some of them that you think?


Molly O’Brien  09:34

I guess? Here’s an example. I’m going on a trip to North Carolina later this week. And it’s somewhere that I’m originally from the East Coast, actually, but I had never been to North Carolina and it’s just, I have learned so much about the state through writing about it these past couple of years. I learned about the three different regions of the state and I learned about how many I mean everything from small, locally owned businesses to history. There’s just so much to explore that it wasn’t on my radar before, but it definitely should have been.


Angela Tuell  10:05

Yeah, I love those that that is something positive that’s coming out of everything we’ve gone through the last few years and many more Americans have explored what’s in their backyard, which has been, which has been fun. How do you prefer to experience a new destination?


Molly O’Brien  10:19

That’s a funny question because I am not great at planning out my own trips to destinations. I like to immerse myself in the destination. I like to go there and just kind of walk around and explore. I feel like the best way to explore somewhere is by being there and just walking around and feeling the energy. And I mean, if you can even ask the locals there what they recommend doing.


Angela Tuell  10:46

Yeah, like many freelance journalists, you not only write for editorial outlets, but your day job is travel writing as well.


Molly O’Brien  10:54

Yeah, my day job, I am lucky enough to have a day job right here in Los Angeles. I’m a copywriter or writer for Metrolink, the above-ground train system. So I get to write about I manage a website called The Explore website, I get to write about all the fabulous places you can take the train to, from Ventura down to San Diego through Los Angeles and to the Inland Empire. And that’s another way that I’ve learned about so many places in my own area that I didn’t know existed that are literally accessible by train. So that’s my day job.


Angela Tuell  11:26

Do you get to go to those places as you’re writing about them?


Molly O’Brien  11:29

Yes, it’s really, really fun. We build itineraries, we create videos with our partners. Some of the destinations on this website are our partners. And so this week, actually, we’re going to the Pomona Fairplex, which is where the LA County Fair is put on every year. And next week, we’re going to film in Camerillo. So we’re going to go to Old Town Camerillo, which is a destination that is definitely a hidden gem. We’re going to walk around and we’re going to have cameras and we’re going to interview local businesses that are there and tell people about how you can get off the train and Camerillo and make a little day trip or a weekend trip out of it.


Angela Tuell  12:07

That sounds like so much fun. Yeah, you mentioned that boutique hotels are also some of your favorites, ones that can tell interesting stories. Do you have a few examples?


Molly O’Brien  12:18

Yes, I have so many favorites. It’s hard to narrow it down. But to name a few. I’d have to say there was a hotel called Hotel Earl in Charlevoix in Michigan, where I went over this summer where it was very historically based on the city, everything was mushroom themed. So I’d say look into that, if you have time read about Hotel Earl in Charlevoix, Michigan. And then I really liked the Autocamp brand, because it makes you feel like you can just immerse yourself in nature. But there’s also the luxury of having heat and a nice, warm bed. There’s one in wine country up in Northern California, which is gorgeous. So Joshua Tree, they have some really cool outposts to immerse yourself in nature, while also being pampered. Another favorite of mine was the Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley, which was really historic. It was very much somewhere that was bright and light and felt clean and new. But the history behind it was fascinating. It was more than 100 years old.


Angela Tuell  13:19

So those are really your preferences over big resort-type hotels?


Molly O’Brien  13:23

I think resort-type hotels definitely have their own offerings that boutique hotels don’t. But I think something that I’ve noticed is that coming out of these past couple of years, people are going to want to go somewhere where they have, they have more space, and they have more personalization to their experiences. And I think boutique hotels do a great job of offering that.


Angela Tuell  13:44

Yes, that’s true. What do you hope the future holds for travel?


Molly O’Brien  13:48

I hope that the future holds more opportunities for people to travel. I think that travel is about how we learn about the world, and how we can get educated about ways other than the way that we live our own lives. So I’m excited that borders are opening. And I’m hoping that there will be more opportunities for people to travel that haven’t that not necessarily even these last couple years, but opportunities for people to travel that might not have known that it was possible for them before.


Angela Tuell  14:16

Yeah, I think it’s on everyone’s bucket list now. Do you know?


Molly O’Brien  14:20

I hope so.


Angela Tuell  14:21

Yeah. And before we go, what are you currently working on now, and what are planning for the near future?


Molly O’Brien  14:27

I am always interested in hearing people’s stories. And I’d like to keep traveling as much as I physically can. I wish there was more time to the week the day to the year just keeping up with everything that’s going on, finding a balance between my full-time job and my freelance writing, and getting fabulous opportunities like this to have conversations with people like you.


Angela Tuell  14:49

Well, thank you so much. We really appreciate it and I can’t wait to keep working with you in the future.


Molly O’Brien  14:54

Yeah, I look forward to it as well.


Angela Tuell  14:56

You can find Molly on Instagram or her website at Metropolitan Molly. and on Twitter at Molly A O’Brien. We’ll have links in our show notes. 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 I’m your host, Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.

Listen to today’s episode as Molly shares with Angela about her motto, “If someone is doing something meaningful with their life, it deserves to be shared.”

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