Rebecca Treon: Freelance Food, Travel and Lifestyle Writer for Hemispheres, Thrillist, BBC, T+L and others

 

 

Rebecca Treon: 0:05

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. In today’s episode, we are talking with Denver based food and travel writer Rebecca Treon. For more than a decade, she has written for some of the top publications on the market, including Hemispheres, Thrillist, BBC Travel, Travel + Leisure, HuffPost, AARP and many more. Rebecca is also the author of the forthcoming book, Colorado Food Trails, which will be published by the University of New Mexico Press this fall 2024. Hello, Rebecca, how are things in Denver? Frigid, cold, and hopefully by the time this airs, that is not the case anymore. Keeping warm. How about where you are?

Angela Tuell: 1:06

Yeah, it’s cold here too. I’m in Indianapolis, they’re not quite as cold as where you are, maybe. But you have – sometimes I feel like the snow cushions things a little bit more. My husband thinks I’m crazy, but you know, makes it feel a little warmer than when we just have wind and, you know, no snow and brutal cold, so…

Rebecca Treon: 1:23

The nice thing about Denver is we do get, you know, 300 days of sun a year. So the sun is out, even though it’s 13 degrees. And we, you know, it’s nice that I know in some climates like we don’t, you won’t see the sun for six months, and it’s just overcast, cloudy. And so I much prefer, even if I’m inside and you know, can’t really be out and about, at least it’s sunny outside.

Angela Tuell: 1:47

Yes, we have the complete gray, don’t see the sun the whole winter so that’s pretty tough. Yeah. Well, I’m really looking forward to talking with you today. In preparing for a conversation, I learned that you always wanted to be a writer. But you didn’t start your career out that way. Could you tell us more?

Rebecca Treon: 2:06

Yeah, so I, um, I think my first actual published little piece was in first grade, and I wrote a book about a raccoon. And it’s my first grade teacher invited me to go to like an author’s conference. So I got to meet different authors of children’s books. And that was sort of this moment where I thought, well, this is what I want to do. But you know, life happens and kind of gets in the way or whatever. So I majored in art history in college, and knew that I wasn’t really able to, I wasn’t ready to go pursue a master’s degree. I wasn’t really sure what types of jobs would be available to me. And I was having trouble, you know, finding something that was in my field, and my neighbor at the time, worked in Denver Public Schools, and she said, you know, we really have a need for bilingual teachers. And so I went back to school for education classes to get my teaching license. And then I moved to Mexico and lived with a family and learned Spanish. When I came back and was a bilingual teacher for like, six years before I got married to my ex husband in state. We decided it was best with, you know, the, with what you’re charging for daycare, or nanny or whatever, to have me stay home with the kids. And he moved. We moved around a lot with his job also. So yeah, that was sort of the pre, the prequel to my writing career, I guess. Yeah, so it was when I was staying home with my son, who’s now almost 17 that I sort of, well, that was when blogs were just starting to be kind of a big thing. And like the Julia and Julie blog was kind of a big sensation at that time. So my ex husband is from Argentina, and I started a blog based on my mother-in-law’s recipes, all about, you know, Argentinian food and our experiences there. And, and then that sort of became, you know, an opportunity for me to show editors like I have a platform that people follow. And I’m able to string two sentences together grammatically correct.

Angela Tuell: 4:11

Right?

Rebecca Treon: 4:12

And then I just started getting, you know, various, writing freelance writing things and kind of learning that world of how to become a freelance writer.

Angela Tuell: 4:23

Yeah. And how long ago was that? When you started that blog?

Rebecca Treon: 4:26

Um, yeah, I would say probably, I mean, 15 years, I haven’t been hanging, supporting my family full time, the whole 15 years, but for sure, for the past 10.

Angela Tuell: 4:37

Okay. So then you started the freelancing, but then you also did some in house positions, right?

Rebecca Treon: 4:44

Yeah. So my, my first sort of real magazine experience was at our local city magazine, which is called 5280.

Angela Tuell: 4:52

Okay.

Rebecca Treon: 4:53

And when I was going through my divorce, I met with I was friends with, you know, the dining editor at the time and I met with her for coffee, and I was like, I really don’t know what I’m going to do now because, you know, this has not had to be a full time thing where I’m supporting kids and myself. And she said, Well, my, my intern just left because she was gonna go, you know, do sort of a backpacking trip, and she wasn’t able to, like finish the commitment at the magazine. And she’s like, What if you can be my intern? And I was like, Well, that would be amazing. But I learned so much. I always like to joke because I was 38 years old. And all of the other interns were, you know, in their early twenties…

Angela Tuell: 5:30

A 38 year old intern.

Rebecca Treon: 5:30

I was like I was paid by Robert De Niro in the movie. I was like everybodies mom. But I really learned so much about how magazines function about how deadlines work. And then after that, I worked at a magazine called Dining Out. And their model was, it’s almost like a, I want to say, like a franchise, because they had several different cities, that were each owned by individual owners, but then published out of our office in Denver. But all dining focused, and we had a great team there that, you know, worked really well together. That was probably one of the best experiences. You know, I made friends that I’m still friends with to this day. So…

Angela Tuell: 6:09

Yeah.

Rebecca Treon: 6:11

And then once I was able to kind of, you know, realize how like, I could do the business side of freelance, then that’s when I was like, oh, yeah, I really would love the flexibility of not having to be in an office or I would like the flexibility of being able to take a press trip without taking vacation days or whatever. So that was when it was just made it made more sense for me.

Angela Tuell: 6:32

Okay, that’s – Wow, that’s fascinating. I love that you were a 38 year old intern. Way to chase your dreams, right at any point in your life.

Rebecca Treon: 6:40

Yeah, it was. It was learning experience for sure.

Angela Tuell: 6:43

Was it unpaid?

Rebecca Treon: 6:44

Oh, no, no, they paid me. I mean, I think it was something like $9 an hour, but it was still better than –

Angela Tuell: 6:50

Hey, that’s good. All of my internships were unpaid. So that’s, that’s nice, at least. So when you went into freelancing then, or since then, looking back at the ten, at the last 10, 15 years, what outlets have you written for?

Rebecca Treon: 7:05

I would say it kind of goes into like a couple different buckets, I have the people that I work with regularly. So that would be like, Livability magazine. And there’s a few travel trade magazines, under the group Travel Leader umbrella that they’ve got, like four publications. And so I will write or like The Tennesseean and I write for them, you know, consistently every single month, and those are sort of my like bread and butter, but they’re also not the things where people are like, wow. So I guess my wow, that I don’t write for as often, but I’m happy to you know, tuck the feather in my cap are Travel + Leisure, Hemispheres, BBC Travel, Thrillist, Timeout, HuffPost. I know I’m forgetting some fun ones, because some of the publications are not around anymore. But I wrote an article one time about a place in Mexico City. That’s a very like, tourist destination called Sochi Milko. And it’s these kind of gondola boats, and the gondoliers push you through all of these kind of beautiful canals and with all these little islands and stuff, and you can eat, there’s a picnic table on the gondola. And there are people that pass by that are, you know, live musicians passing by on their own boat. And, but when you go kind of further into the back, it’s actually a bunch of organic gardens that provide the produce for some of Mexico City’s best restaurants. And there’s somebody that actually leads farm tours back there. And after you take the farm tour, and the you know, boat ride and everything, you get to sit down with the families and like have a meal from their farm, which I feel like is like a step beyond the tourist experience. And I loved being able to write about that. That’s like one of my favorite stories ever.

Angela Tuell: 8:58

Yes. Oh, that sounds amazing. You’ve sold me on it. So you do talk, you do write about travel quite a lot. And also food and lifestyle, correct?

Rebecca Treon: 9:08

Right.

Angela Tuell: 9:09

So what type of stories are your favorite? And how do you choose your next story?

Rebecca Treon: 9:15

You know, I think sometimes, and this was something that was really challenging for me, like at the beginning of my career was trying to think like how an editor thinks. And so sometimes I will sell those stories that are like, you know, here are the top things to do in a ski destination if you’re not a skier, because you know, that’s in my own backyard. That’s something that’s a I already have that information from personal experience. And then sometimes I find like really interesting stories when I’m, you know, traveling that I think are just really unique niche pieces, and you just have to find the right editor for those and if you can’t, if the one person that you pitch the first time doesn’t work, you have to kind of tweak that for the next publication until it finds a home. So, um, that’s, you know, there’s always a few of those, like on the backburner that, I feel like would be perfect. But I guess what interests me is, you know, I’m so fascinated, probably like yourself of people’s individual stories, and like, everybody has a unique life, you know, a unique story and a lifetime. So, I think that, um, that’s just, what fascinates me is learning about people’s lives.

Angela Tuell: 10:27

Yes, no, I like that. And so what is your advice for PR professionals that want to, you know, get you interested in this story? And do you have any pet peeves of pr, the PR people?

Rebecca Treon: 10:39

That is actually such a great question. I think one of the things that gets my attention, I mean, there are some agencies that will send kind of almost like a listicle of like, here’s what’s happening and here are several clients and what we’re doing with each one of them, which I always actually take the time to read and just see if something pops out at me. Like I’ve gotten a lot of great story ideas from those types. And then I feel like the other thing would be if, especially at a local level, we have some wonderful PR people here in Denver that I’ve actually developed like personal relationships with so they’re very tuned into, like the types of things that I actually work on, and will send kind of personalized emails that are not just a standard press release, which I feel like to me, right, brings it to my attention a little bit more, because I’m familiar with who the person is, and I can put a face to a name. And, um, I pet peeves, I think the only thing – and this is sort of the danger of like, writing in general, so if I wrote one piece five years ago about you know, strollers, and I’m totally not a baby gear writer. I keep getting those emails anyway. And so I think my only peeve is things like that. You know, sometimes I get things that are like, totally out of the wheelhouse that are like, a person keeps emailing me about these pasties, like boobie pasties. And so I’m like, I’m never gonna write about your boobie pasties but I love getting her emails, because it’s such a riot to me. So I –

Angela Tuell: 12:14

So you’re not telling her to stop then?

Rebecca Treon: 12:17

No, no, I’m just I’m like, I always I just respond. And I say, “I just love getting your emails. I don’t have a place for this right now. But please keep sending because” I, you know, it just allows my brain to expand that there’s a market out there for all types of things and all types of people instead of just kind of like, I don’t know, luggage or shape or the things you normally kind of get sent.

Angela Tuell: 12:42

Wonder how you got on that list, right? You got on the baby gear one.

Rebecca Treon: 12:46

That’s a great question, actually. How did she get on that list? Yeah, one of the things that the dining editor at 5280 that I worked with taught me that I feel like was one of the like, most important lessons is, I think, as a PR professional, sometimes you are sending emails out into the void, and you don’t know whether they’re being delivered. You don’t know whether they’re being read. And I always take the time, like, even if it isn’t something that is of interest, or that I’m not working on, I will take the time and just say, Hey, thanks for reaching out, like I don’t have a place for this right now. But I’ll always keep it in mind in the backburner. And whether I keep it in mind or it’s ever a fit or anything…

Angela Tuell: 13:28

Right.

Rebecca Treon: 13:28

I feel like at least acknowledges that the PR person is like a human on the other end of things just trying to do their job as well. And so I feel like that’s just really important. And I’ve often gotten replies back, they’re like, Wow, thank you so much for even responding, because I know that people just don’t respond.

Angela Tuell: 13:45

career as much as a freelancer, when you’re sending pitches to editors, you know, I’m sure you’ve experienced it.

Rebecca Treon: 13:53

It’s true. Yeah. And I know, people just get, you

Angela Tuell: 13:54

Yeah. know, 200 emails a day, and they’re totally overwhelmed. And

Rebecca Treon: 13:58

What am I going to do now? So yeah. maybe it’s not all getting through and it ends up in a junk folder, but it is like disheartening to kind of just not hear anything, or like you hear something at first, and then they don’t respond to emails after that, and you just get ghosted, and you’re like, that. It was a good idea.

Angela Tuell: 14:17

You know, I’ve started to to experience that in the last couple years, really, I don’t know why more recently, but as an agency owner of sales and marketing and you know, reaching out to me on that side, and I have thought about that, as I’m like giving them a quick response back of not just deleting and you know, throwing it in the trash. So, I do like that. It is tough when we have so much going on, you know, in so many emails and so many deadlines, but that’s really great. What challenges, you mentioned a little bit, but challenges have you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?

Rebecca Treon: 14:51

I think truly the biggest challenge for freelancers, and I’ve heard this from many freelancers that I know Yeah. It’s just sort of the cycle of it’s either feast or famine. So sometimes I’ll have, you know, 20 articles, and then sometimes I’ll only have four and then well how do you pay your bills in those like months where you only have four? And so I think that that is one of the things that makes it really difficult. And that’s something that is like my own personal work in progress. Because I know that there are freelancers out there who, you know, always are landing assignments and only work with top tier, you know, dollar word publications, but a lot of freelancers are not in that place. And so, you know, I think a lot of it has to just be boiled down to kind of the, that is one of the challenges, like, there are definitely days where I think like, oh, my gosh, I just want to go work at a gym and check people in and like not have to think of great ideas to send editors, you know, and then follow up. And it’s just a constant hustle. I think that’s a challenge. But yeah, I would say like the Oh, sometimes people are like, great story. Thanks for turning it in before deadline, we’re going to wait 60 days to pay you. But my mortgage isn’t going to wait 60 days. And so it’s just a real, a dance, I would say.

Angela Tuell: 16:08

Yeah. And all of that work, you know, the pitching all of that is unpaid. Which, you know, obviously, if you think about it, but so that’s the tough part and how much time you spend on that is how much, how many results you have than needing to spend time on the writing and the work part. So it is it is a balancing act. I hear from a lot of people. What about your proudest professional achievements?

Rebecca Treon: 16:34

Well, I sort of told you like the you know, the one of the stories that I really loved –

Angela Tuell: 16:37

Right.

Rebecca Treon: 16:38

Being able to share. I really think like, those are kind of my, my proudest professional moments are when I’m when I like see that story that I really loved and I really cared about, like, kind of see the light of day, then that’s super exciting to me. Um, yeah. And then I would say, you know, like, really, I’m just proud of the fact that I’ve been able to, like, sustain myself and my family for like, you know, over 10 years on my writing career, and I sometimes I think my mom doesn’t think I really have like a real job.

Angela Tuell: 17:09

Right, right. She’s wondering how you sustain everyone as well.

Rebecca Treon: 17:12

Yeah, but because, you know, she’ll just call me and moms everywhere probably do this, and just like chat, chat, chat, chat, chat chat, and I’m like, wait a minute, like, this is my workday. I have to, I have to get busy. But, but I think that that’s actually, you know, I still get invited on press trips. I still have editors that talk to me. So I think that’s a you know, that’s a huge achievement in itself. Yeah, I would say those have been my, I was in I

Angela Tuell: 17:34

Yes. was interviewed on NPR, that was really exciting. But that I mean, but that’s kind of like one of those, you know, like, one off kind of things. But I think just the daily, you know, just sticking with it and kind of seeing it through and then seeing how it grows. Like, I’m not doing the same thing I was 10 years ago, and every day is truly different, unless you want it to be the same. And like, there are times when I’m like, I don’t know, what would I do if I were to find another career? And I think, well, I have like the best job in the world because I can pick my kids up from school and I can, you know, be available to go on press trips, or whatever it is. Yes. Yeah that’s worth so much money, you know, being able to do those things as a mom and have that kind of flexibility. And I know you especially love the travel writing side, and you mentioned the trips a little bit. What – and you mentioned a couple adventures – are there any other great travel adventures that stick out?

Rebecca Treon: 18:32

I guess when I, you know, sometimes I’ll even like think, Well, what did I do this past year, that was like, really exceptional? And then I’m like, well just go look through your Instagram. So I look through my Instagram. And I say to myself, like wow, like, unless I had some sort of super, you know, amazing job, my kids and I would not be able to do some of the things that we’re able to do. You know, we I haven’t done a lot of international trips the past few years, but I would say you know, every city, whether it’s like, you know, Nashville or Houston, or like, really anywhere has really cool exciting things to discover. And I it’s sort of a cliche, and every travel writer says like, my favorite destination is the last place I visited because –

Angela Tuell: 19:18

Or the next place I’m going.

Rebecca Treon: 19:20

Right, you’ll, you’ll just go to these places that you think well, oh, that’s like a flyover city or whatever. Or that’s a place that I really am not interested in visiting. And then you start meeting people who, for example, they’re like, we’re taking an old post office in Houston and we have converted it into a co working space with a rooftop garden and a concert venue and a food hall. And you’re like, oh my gosh, like you just meet people that have these wonderful stories and are so passionate about what they’re doing. And so that’s I think what makes a place my favorite destination is just getting getting to know people in the area and like being able to share those stories.

Angela Tuell: 20:01

I love that. How do you – what are your preferences on press trips? Are you able to accept them very often? Do you have anything you particularly look for?

Rebecca Treon: 20:12

Well, I love it when they can use my like airline miles. But other than that, I would say like I, you know, sometimes I will ask, like, how many people are going on the trip? And I try to figure out like, if I know anybody because it’s I mean, you do you end up on the same trips with some people that you’ve already traveled with before, which is really cool. And you make friends. I try to keep my trips like this – it’s really just personal preference, because I’ve got kids, like maybe one trip a month and under like five days. So that’s usually what just my own personal preference. Like what I’m because I don’t want to be away from my kids for too long. So…

Angela Tuell: 20:51

Yeah, at this point at this point in your life, right?

Rebecca Treon: 20:55

Yeah, I mean, hey, my, I’m only going to be 52 when my daughter graduates from high school, and so then it’s on!

Angela Tuell: 21:00

Nice. That’s great. I don’t want to think about how old I’m going to be because we had our our last one very, later than later than usual. So well, I want to make sure that we also talk about your coaching work, you are starting to help others learn how to have a successful career in writing. I’d love to know more.

Rebecca Treon: 21:24

Yeah, so right now I’m working on launching a series of ebooks that kind of are both, like the, I guess, technical side of writing, like the types of articles that are accepted in publications and sort of how to approach editors. But then also like the business side, like, here’s a spreadsheet that you can use to organize your assignments and when they’re due, and like, how to invoice and all those sorts of like nuts and bolts things. Yeah, I feel like it’s an I also will take one on

Angela Tuell: 21:52

Yeah. one coaching clients. And I think that yeah, it’s just one of the steepest learning curves in this industry is just those business parts, that, you know, the information is out there. Yes, because I also learned it somewhere, but you have to a lot of it just kind of comes from doing it over and over. And I’m learning like, what is an acceptable practice and what isn’t. And so my goal is to kind of, I mean, truly, like, if you just listen to my story, like if anybody can, you know, if I can do it, anyone can do it. I didn’t come from a journalism background or anything like that. And I’ve been able to build a successful career. So… Yes, and you know, if I was getting into it, what better place than to learn from someone that’s been doing it and been successful with it? So I really hope that goes, well. What is some of your advice not to give it you know, all away for free, but to those pursuing a career as a freelance writer?

Rebecca Treon: 22:53

My advice is to I mean, I think one of the hardest things for me, personally, was just getting rejected by editors. And and when I was new, I really, like I my feelings would be hurt. I’m like, but I think it’s a great idea. Why don’t you think it’s a great idea. And so to learn how to just navigate those personal feelings was something I had to figure out. But to learn that, like the editors job is to really find stories that fit their publication specifically, and that it’s totally not personal. And then I would say, my other piece of advice is just to, you know, keep at it and keep learning. And also, you know, try to be fluid in that. The industry is constantly changing. So like when I first started, it was like, print is dead. And that was something where everyone started to convert materials online, and everything became digital, and Kindles came out where you could read a magazine digitally. Now it’s chat GPT and AI, that people are going to have to figure out how to kind of, you know, work around and with too. So, yeah, so I would just say, you know, be flexible.

Angela Tuell: 24:08

Yes, that’s great advice. This is kind of a fun one. But what would those who don’t know you be surprised to learn?

Rebecca Treon: 24:16

Oh, my God, I’m gonna out myself. My passports expired.

Angela Tuell: 24:20

Oh no. Well you said you haven’t been doing very much international travels, so…

Rebecca Treon: 24:25

I mean, during COVID I was just like, I’m not going anywhere. And you know, my mom and my mom and dad are older. I just didn’t want to chance it. My dad’s actually been sick. So I’d like I’m just not going like anywhere far away because I just don’t want to, you know, I don’t want to take the chance of something. And then the kids I feel like the kids are not quite completely independent where I could be gone for a couple of weeks and I get really bad jetlag. So yeah, the last international trip I think I took was, well it was I spent New Year’s of 2020 like, from 2019 to 2020 in Mexico.

Angela Tuell: 25:00

Okay, so right before. That’s just awesome. We’ll have to find that

Rebecca Treon: 25:02

Yeah, I mean, it just it just expired last year, and I just have not. Well, I mean, last year was only like a couple of weeks ago. But I’m just not Yeah, I just have like, really been dragging my feet. But now they have these services. I just heard from another freelancer for an article, she went through one of those, like, you can get your and share it in our show notes, too. So others, so others are aware. passport in a week services. I don’t know how they do it, but it worked. And she did it. And it wasn’t like some, you know,$600 fee or anything like that. So… Yeah. I’ll send it to you.

Angela Tuell: 25:38

Thank you. Thank you. So before we go, we have to talk about your forthcoming book, please tell us more.

Rebecca Treon: 25:43

So yeah, the book is called Colorado Food Trails. And it’s a Roadtrippers guide to the best food in the state. So yeah, over the last like year and a half, I have criss crossed the entire state and eaten my way through every city.

Angela Tuell: 25:59

That sounds terrible (chuckles).

Rebecca Treon: 26:00

I put up a bunch of weight. But we let you know that the story is so much more in Colorado, because we have

Angela Tuell: 26:06

Yeah. such a unique, like ecosystem of farms and ranch, ranchers and, and chefs that all actually collaborate and are friends with

Rebecca Treon: 26:12

And, you know, so we’re big on like green chili, each other. There’s not this sort of, like competition mentality that a lot of other cities have. And so I feel like that’s very unique. And our history is very unique. You know, we’ve got a lot of Southwest influence. We eat like my family eats bison every week, which I think is unusual for people in other parts of the country. and also beef is king here. And we just have a very interesting, you know, settlement history also. And so all of those things have kind of developed and bubbled into what our, our dining scene is. And so we have lots of really great hidden gems. You know, there’s a woman up in the mountains that sells pies out of a window in her house. So I mean, there, it’s all these kind of little personal stories.

Angela Tuell: 27:08

Yeah.

Rebecca Treon: 27:08

And just people that are doing really interesting things. And they really kind of care about we’ve got some incredible chefs here. So yeah, so it’s, it’ll be published this fall by the University of New Mexico Press.

Angela Tuell: 27:19

I love that. Well, we will we will be watching for it. Definitely. So how can our listeners connect with you online?

Rebecca Treon: 27:26

Oh, so I’m@RebeccaTreon on all of my platforms. So you can find me on Facebook and Instagram, which are probably the ones that I use the most. And I’m still learning how to work Tik Tok. My website is RebeccaTreon.com also.

Angela Tuell: 27:44

Wonderful. Thank you so much, Rebecca.

Rebecca Treon: 27:46

Oh, thank you. No, this was really great. I love chatting with you.

Angela Tuell: 27:50

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.

While Rebecca loves finding unique stories and highlighting other’s personal journeys, in today’s episode, learn about Rebecca’s unique path to freelance writing, what keeps her motivated and how she’s reaching out to help others on their journey.

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