Rachel Chang: Travel and Pop Culture Journalist as seen in Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Airbnb Magazine, Lonely Planet & The Washington Post

Angela Tuell: 0:05

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, I’m thrilled to welcome travel and pop culture journalist Rachel Chang. Her editorial career began chasing celebrities as a magazine editor. And along the way, she also started chasing passport stamps, writing for publications including Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Airbnb magazine, the Discover, Lonely Planet and the Washington Post.This Californian turned New Yorker is also a solo travel advocate, dumpling addict and reluctant runner who managed to finish the New York City Marathon three times. I’ve worked with her personally and am so excited to have her on today. Welcome, Rachel.

Rachel Chang: 1:08

Hi, Angela, how are you?

Angela Tuell: 1:09

Great. Thank you so much for joining me, I have to say I love reading your articles and adventures, and even in 2020, during a pandemic,you wrote 290 stories for 24 outlets, among editing magazines and other content creation. That is impressive.

Rachel Chang: 1:30

Well, thank you. It was definitely an interesting year with a lot of challenges and definitely hard. I felt the word pivot was on everybody’s mind. How do we pivot our attention? I think I had been stuck on this idea of diversification. How we diversify our investments and we diversify other parts of our life, and I just started realizing that I should diversify my career. I think it really paid off when the pandemic hit and I was able to stay quite busy, which I’m very, very grateful for.

Angela Tuell: 2:10

So were you able to pivot very quickly or at what point did you think, okay, this is the time to pivot?

Rachel Chang: 2:16

Well, I’d actually been a magazine editor with a full-time job for 15 years and had been wanting to go into freelancing. But you know, I wanted to have all my ducks in a row, have my finances in a solid place and have kind of everything set before I took that leap. So I just was nervous about that moment of being like, what’s next? Oh, my gosh, what if there’s no work. And so in order to do that, I kind of started carving out different places. Obviously, travel is my greatest love and really was where I wanted to spend most of my attention. But I come from an entertainment background. So I kind of wanted to also keep that in my back pocket. And then some opportunities came up in other spheres that I just hadn’t even considered writing in. But I didn’t have anything down. So I started writing for a tech blog that I had no idea what some of the stories were really about. But it was such a different use of my brain. So I think just learning and experimenting, and as having done that I finally went full-time freelance May of 2019. I was just not quite a year into it when the pandemic hit. So I had just enough time experimenting with different realms that it all came together right when everything hit and I was able to stay quite busy. I’m very lucky that I had actually over-committed before the lockdown first started in March. For better or worse, I was editing three magazines at the time, and I just kind of got into this groove. Obviously, most of my focus was always travel but also being open to things outside of it, which obviously also helped my travel stories because, in essence, it’s all lifestyle and everything ties together.

Angela Tuell: 4:18

So what was your favorite this past year that you worked on?

Rachel Chang: 4:21

Ooh, good question. I feel like in the moment, I was already a germaphobe before the pandemic and just as lockdown started, I had just written a story about what I carry in my pack in my carry on bag, which I understand is completely ridiculous because I’ve traveled with a mask for the last 10 years. And I used it maybe twice.

Angela Tuell: 4:44

You were ahead of time!

Rachel Chang: 4:49

So I just happened to write that and that ended up helping me kind of springboard into writing a lot of germaphobe related stories at the beginning of the pandemic like how to clean your luggage add how to pack your car to avoid messes.So I kind of accidentally had that going into it. A lot of those were kind of written from home. And you know, of course, armchair reporting is not what you want to do. But the pandemic really forced us to exercise that muscle and figure out how to do reporting remotely, accurately and still feel like you were putting a first-hand spin on it. So I think a lot of it was reflecting back on past travels, and using that as a springboard for stories. But I did eventually get out of the house. I was grateful to have a car here, I live in Hoboken, New Jersey, and I started exploring a lot. And my favorite story I wrote was that I was able to go down to a cranberry bog.

Angela Tuell: 5:51

Those photos look amazing, by the way.

Rachel Chang: 5:54

Yes, it was just like, first of all, to have an in-person experience after having been in quarantine for so long was definitely just a joy in and of itself to be able to get a behind-the-scenes tour, and really have that time since, you know, normally a lot of these cranberry bogs would be having tour travelers come by and experience it during the season. And that wasn’t happening this year, I got a little bit more of an intimate experience. And this was just the most delightful cranberry bog farm like it had been in the family for, I believe, five generations. And they’re part of the Ocean Spray collective. It was just so fascinating to learn how it all worked. But of course, I have no balance, and I have no coordination. So I just figured I was gonna fall in, but as soon as we stepped into that bog, instead, it was the opposite reaction of a complete sense of relaxation. And I didn’t expect that. So being able to experience something so emotional and tangible like that, in real life was such a blessing. And that was definitely one of my favorite stories I’ve written just because I was able to highlight the local agriculture and how a local farmer – just things didn’t stop for them. The cranberries still grow during a pandemic – it didn’t stop the cranberries from growing. So it was just fascinating to understand how the industry works, tie it into local tourism, and also have a first-person experience there.

Angela Tuell: 7:28

Oh, that’s great. So this is going to be an even harder question. Favorite story of all time since you’ve been writing? What would you say there?

Rachel Chang: 7:43

Ooh, that’s a good one. I think I have to go with Bermuda. So I was sent there for an assignment to do a first-person solo travel story. And I pitched a bunch of different ideas. But I also knew the one I was most scared of would make the best story. And of course, that was the one that they sent me to focus on, of course. So I have a weird fear of fish.

Angela Tuell: 8:16

Really? We need to know a little bit more about this.

Rachel Chang: 8:20

I do eat fish. I do eat sushi and sashimi. I have a fear of looking at fish, but I don’t know what it is. I might actually be afraid of the scales. It’s like a knee jerk reaction. Coworkers at my first job had goldfish and beta fish on their desk and I couldn’t go near them though, I just terrified. So of course I pitched the idea of Bermuda. It has clear waters so is great for snorkeling and scuba diving. So of course, I pitched that idea thinking, oh, please don’t pick this one. That was the one they chose. For better or worse,Mother Nature was a little bit on my side, in that the conditions weren’t suitable for scuba diving the days I was there. So the original thought was to for me to learn to scuba dive and conquer my fear of fish. But instead, it was a little bit pre-season because obviously the challenge of writing for long lead magazine was to make sure the story would come out by the time the season started. So I was there I believe in March, a couple years ago. And so, when they said that the scuba diving boat wasn’t going out. I just started calling every water sport on the island because I just thought you know, I’ve been sent here to do this task, but I can’t do it.I just felt like I can’t go home without a story and give up. I have to create an experience which is difficult. So fortunately, I found the most delightful gentleman who taught wakeboarding which I wasn’t even sure what it was before. He said he would take me out on the boat. And so basically I realized it’s kind of like the snowboarding of the water, right? It’s like, instead of water skiing, it’s on one board. So, but when I got there, I couldn’t find him. I was like, oh my gosh, what kind of situation am I in, and I suddenly heard a loud scream. And I realized he hadn’t even -It was so early in the season -that the boat hadn’t gone out yet. So he was cleaning off the boat for the entire season just to take me out. And something was really sharp. And so he just totally cut himself. I felt horrible. But he was so amazing. So luckily he took me out and I actually managed to stand up for and go for a mile, which I guess I didn’t realize that the biggest part is just being able to stand up. But eventually ended up that the next day, I found a place to go snorkeling. And the third day I was there, the scuba diving trips were on. So it ended up being kind of a lovely narrative of skipping the waters, then taking a shallow dive and taking a deep dive. So it ended up being a lovely story in that. And I think what really made it was that I was not successful with the scuba diving, I will come to a spoiler that it did not go well. Because I was so nervous that when I stepped into the water, the tank hit my head. I didn’t take a big enough of a step. So I hit my head and then I also get seasick. So between that and being nauseous, I ended up throwing up into the water.

Angela Tuell: 11:44

So needless to say, you won’t be doing that again, or you haven’t done that again?

Rachel Chang: 11:47

I haven’t done it again. I’m very mad at myself that there was a beautiful shipwreck right under my feet.And I didn’t get to see it.Because I mean, the photos I saw from the others on the trip,were absolutely gorgeous. I was just like here, right? Get me off this boat. Oh my god, I can’t believe you guys are on the same trip. We had such different experiences.Angela Tuell: 12:12

Oh, that sounds like quite an experience. So what about a story you wanted to tell that didn’t make it into print?Rachel Chang: 12:22

Oh good, juicy stuff. I was in Turkey a couple years – oh, gosh – couple years?Yes. I guess my sense of time is off because we lost a year. But yes.Angela Tuell: 12:34

Feels like five years doesn’t it?Rachel Chang: 12:38

And I went with Intrepid. And it was an absolutely amazing trip where we went. I just was completely unaware of Turkey’s coast, I just thought thought of it being Istanbul. And I just never thought about the coastline. And during one of the stays on the cities on the southern coast, we went to this abandoned city called Kayaky, I hope I’m saying that right. And it was just completely spectacular because it was an abandoned city that was still intact. It was from last century and I was just so taken by it, we were there at sunset and the story behind it was definitely heart wrenching because it was part of a population exchange, because of the tensions between Turkey and Greece. So when I got back, I pitched a story. And I started writing it, and as I started reporting it out, I just realized that there wasn’t very much information anywhere. And I started contacting, you know,every source I could think of from professors at universities to tourism representatives and just kind of across the board.And I just either wasn’t getting an answer or I’d be pointed in other directions. There was so little information that I couldn’t understand how this gorgeous place that reflected such a kind of turning point in history had so little out there.So in the end, I realized that even though I brought my own personal experience there and thinking about what had happened in this place, and kind of tying that to the haunting past, there was just not quite enough to to be able to back it up substantially in fact, and I think the tensions are still there about this place and I think it just represents so much. So I do hope I eventually- but doing it remotely from abroad was very difficult and not being able to kind of be on the ground and really find the ins and outs of it.Angela Tuell: 14:48

I’m sure we’d all love to hear that story too.We’ll watch for it. What about where have you traveled that has really surprised you? I mean,obviously that sounds like one of them, but what about any others that you could talkRachel Chang: 14:58

It’s even being in places that are what you expect,about?but then finding little surprises within them, and just following your instincts. I did a funny experiment when I went to Portland, Oregon, gosh, two years ago now, right. And I purposely didn’t do any research on the city. AlI I did was book a hotel and a flight. And I just go and started walking. And I didn’t let myself use my phone.And I think that really allowed me to travel in a different way.And I’m lucky I picked, in retrospect, because I didn’t know anything at the time. I mean, I’m grateful I picked a safe location. And such a walkable city to, I mean, I was able to get to some of the places that I eventually ended up at one of those information booths where they were like,trying to tell me all these like secret places to go. And I was like, I’ve been there. I’ve been there. I’ve been there. And I like hadn’t even looked at a map till they were showing me a tangible map because I didn’t want to use my phone. So I think sometimes it’s just even taking a place like that and I was just going off instinct of what I thought I knew about the city.So I think it’s sometimes just about finding, taking place, you know, and finding the unexpected there if that makes sense.Angela Tuell: 16:19

Yes, yes. I think that a lot of us tend to over plan our travel and to see what everyone else does and follow that same plan. And I’m sure we could learn a lot from not doing it that way.Rachel Chang: 16:32

Yeah, I think we’re all very used to what I’ve been calling checklists travel,where we’re like, okay, I have to go to Paris, I have to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.But it’s the moments when you’re walking down the back streets and you discover that little Bistro and you discover that little sandwich shop, whatever it might be, where you really, I feel like those are the most memorable experiences and the surprising delight.Angela Tuell: 16:56

How do you tend to find your stories?Rachel Chang: 16:59

I think – I don’t want to keep using the same point – I really do think a lot of it is just instinct. Like,especially when you’re in a place and you’re just kind of following your instinct about what could become a story.Sometimes it is just like, oh,look at that cafe, look at that person behind it. I wonder what their story is, or being in a place. Once you’re immersed in a place, I feel like the story is kind of emerging, when you kind of separate yourself from that idea of I have to see this at this time, which I am so guilty of too, because I am like if I came this far, I have to pack in everything. So I think I am trying to kind of split myself apart from that and learn how to follow my instincts. I feel like I can find stories better that way when I’m in a place. But from afar in the last year,finding stories obviously has been different. And I’ve depended a lot on on publicists,like yourself. And while the virtual and remote events have been so exciting, and a great way to experience places from afar, I feel like the eyes and ears of actually being somewhere like you can’t make up for that.So a lot of it is just connecting with people and really trying to find find the best stories and build stories out of that. So you know,obviously, as I’ve talked about this year has been quite the challenge.Angela Tuell: 18:26

What do you feel,from what you’ve learned this year, the future holds for travel?Rachel Chang: 18:31

I feel like a lot of us or I should say, at least for myself, I was so focused on always going on a trip, planning the next trip, and just always looking ahead at or being in the moment experiencing and never taking that time to pause and think about the impact I was having when I travel. So I think this year has actually been a welcome pause. I mean, I think about some things that I do at home that I don’t do on the road, like I don’t use plastic straws and then when I’m traveling on one trip, how many plastic straws do I go through it? Like little things like that? Also, where do I find my souvenirs? You know, when I’m in a place, I always think oh, I’ll never come back here I need to just buy it from the easiest place. I’ll just buy it from like the souvenir shop, when I probably should be really looking at where this came from and really supporting the local artisans. So I think it’s been a welcome pause into community engagement and how we can better how we are as travelers. I feel like part of our jobs in a way is to highlight what impact the local communities have on our world. And we do that by our dollars and where we choose to spend them. So I think that, I hope that lesson will go forth when we start traveling more in the coming year and coming years, I hope. And I also just think, in terms of the way we travel, like, how many times did I like, go back and forth to Europe when I could have combined them all in one trip and really spent more time in a location and really got to know it. So I think this advent of slow travel had been talked about, but I think we will hopefully start practicing it more. I think our mentality was always go, go go. And instead of that, I feel like when we start traveling again, it will be more, what can I bring to a community? And what can I gain from that community that I can bring back into my life?Angela Tuell: 20:41

Yes, yes. I’m sure everyone wants to hear a little bit more besides travel and talk about you personally. You said you were a reluctant runner, but how is that possible? If you finished the New York City Marathon three times?Rachel Chang: 20:58

I hate running,like, I probably need to go for a run today. And I just like,don’t want to I can’t like, I just can’t, I will. I am really good at excuses. I just can never get out the door. I hate it. And when I’m in the moment,I don’t want to start. But if you give me a plan, and tell me to stick to it, I will and I will get to the goal. And then the way it’s kind of like traveling, right? It’s like you come up with it and you stick to it, and you get to the end of the trip. And so I I’m like by no means a runner, and a friend of mine was so confident that I could run a 5K, I was like, what are you talking about? I can’t do this and so I ran a few races with her. And I loved crossing finish lines as silly as that is. And so it just started building from there. And one year I was like, oh, I’ll just enter the lottery and see what happens. And because it’s so hard to get into the New York City Marathon, right? Of course,I got it. I was like, oh gosh,what have I gotten myself into.But I learned that it was eight that most people do an 18 week training plan. And my official day one, I was actually in Rio.So I think that made it fun that it was an activity that I could do anywhere I was. So I ended up going for Rio in Argentina during the first few weeks of training abroad. And that just made it exciting that it didn’t matter where I was, I would be able to, to keep on going towards this goal. And then the race itself was the best tour of New York City I’ve ever had. It was like every borough came to life when you go through it kind of like as if you’re going through the small world at Disneyland, every country comes to life, it was the same thing,just the personality and the essence of every burrow – like the spirit – like the music in Brooklyn and the people dancing in the streets in Harlem, it was just an experience that you can only get by going through it. So I ran it in real life twice and was done. Like that’s enough.26.2 miles is not fun on your body. I couldn’t walk properly.And then this year during the pandemic, I decided to do it virtually because I thought this will at least give me a goal and a reason to get out of the house. And I ended up running up and down the Hudson River which actually wasn’t in and of itself. But it’s a totally different experience because I did it by myself. But it was also very fulfilling in a different way.Angela Tuell: 23:29

I bet. And before we go, we have to talk about dumplings. It sounds like you are an expert. So what are your favorites and any advice for dumpling newbies.Rachel Chang: 23:40

What I love about dumplings is that every country has their version of it. So whether you’re in Poland and having pierogies or you’re in Argentina having empanadas,there’s always something that involves substance being put into a doughie layer. I was growing up in an Asian American family. My parents are from Taiwan. You know, I just remember as a kid sitting around the table and we each had our job and we would do one part of hand making dumplings. So when I moved to New York and I first got here and I was so excited to find out that you could get like five dumplings for $1 so of course I thought it was the best thing ever. And I just started experimenting and tasting a lot of the places in Chinatown. And eventually I wrote one of my first travel stories about it -I decided not to do it on the timing or the taste. I didn’t do it about the price or the taste but I did it on how quickly you could get the dumplings. See how quickly it took for my order until it was in my hand just to put a little different twist on it. So that was one of my first stories and then a friend of mine who runs a college program saw it and asked me to give her Students a tour. My one little taste of being a tour guide was that I led a dumpling dollar tour of Chinatown in Manhattan.Angela Tuell: 25:09

Oh, wow!Rachel Chang: 25:11

I just think there’s something very comforting about it. And so many countries that I’ve been to whether I’ve been on a habitat humanity trip in Poland, or I actually went with a choir that I was in here in Hoboken, we performed in Argentina, making an empanada there and making pierogies in Poland, they were always part of the experience.And I’ve been to Turkey where we made Manti, and I just feel like there’s always something of that sort. And it’s, I think the making it and creating it is just as much a part of each individual culture as the final product is. And there’s just something very comforting that’s all wrapped up in a dumpling.Angela Tuell: 25:51

So do you have a favorite? Is that too hard to pick?Rachel Chang: 25:55

Well, I’ve been very lucky that a lot of places in Chinatown actually delivered to me in New Jersey, so I’ve been very well stocked. Here’s another fun fact, I usually have up to 200 frozen dumplings in my freezer.Angela Tuell: 26:12

And that’s not for large parties?Rachel Chang: 26:15

For me, I think because especially when I was traveling a lot, because I ended up traveling in 2019 at least once a month, often up to three times even. So when it’s hard to keep your fridge stocked with anything that won’t go bad. So dumplings became the easiest thing to always keep that if I was only home for a few days, I could just – there’s just so many ways to, I could either boil it or I could pan fry it.And I remember as a kid like my grandma would make my cousin dumplings for breakfast It was like four dumplings where it was breakfast and this many dumplings was lunch of this many dumplings was dinner so it can be every meal. So I think it’s just always a fun thing. So Nom Wah to my parents home in New York City, it has been has really pivoted to an amazing frozen delivery service. And they have all sorts of different kinds of dumplings, not just your traditional shape ones but also like soup dumplings and so does a little place I found right before the pandemic called3T imes they have even more different kinds and they come with very thorough cooking instructions and I’m so not a cook so I really need those. So three times and Nom Wah in Manhattan had been my main sources of dumplings during the pandemic.Angela Tuell: 27:39

Okay, that is going to be my first stop in New York City next time. I have to find both of those and try some of the dumplings.Rachel Chang: 27:46

Sure, and I can also take you on $1 dumpling tour.Angela Tuell: 27:50

That would be amazing. I cannot wait. I am going to hold you to that. I’m excited! Thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it, Rachel.Rachel Chang: 28:01

Of course. And thank you so much for doing this. Angela, this is so much fun.Angela Tuell: 28:07

You can find Rachel online at byRachelChang.com or on Twitter and LinkedIn at Rachel Chang and instagram and facebook at Rachel S Chang. That’s all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined. You can find more at CommunicationsRedefined.com slash podcast. I’m your host Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.

Rachel Chang is our first ever guest on Media in Minutes. Her editorial career began chasing celebrities as a magazine editor and along the way turned to chasing passport stamps. She writes for publications such as  Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Airbnb Magazine, The Discoverer, Lonely Planet and The Washington Post. In this episode, Rachel tells us about her emotional visit to a cranberry bog during the COVID-19 pandemic, how a scuba diving expedition didn’t go as planned and what story she has worked on that hasn’t made it into print.

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