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 senior editor for Travel + Leisure, Sarah Bruning. Sarah has more than a decade of writing and editing experience, and has held staff positions at national and regional publications, including women's health, Food Network magazine and Timeout New York. Currently, at Travel + Leisure, she co-edits experiences, that middle of the book section dedicated to immersive first person stories. She is also the editorial lead for Travel + Leisure's World's Best Awards. When she's not working on a story, Sarah spends her time cooking and baking, honing her photography skills, and exploring the world. I've worked with her personally, and I'm so excited to have her on today. Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today.
Sara Lieberman 1:12
Thank you for having me. I'm really excited to be here with you.
Angela Tuell 1:16
Yes, we're very excited as well. So we'll jump back in time. I know you went to Madrid for a Spanish language summer intensive while in college. Is this where your love of travel began? Or did it start somewhere else?
Sara Lieberman 1:29
I did. Yeah. You know, I've always loved traveling. But up until that point, it had really been mostly North America. I grew up in Los Angeles, in the Los Angeles area. And you know, my family did quite a few summer road trips up highway one. So that was really a lot of what I did. And you know, my earliest travel memory, I was trying to think back when you asked me before the interview, and I think my earliest travel memory is probably a Disney Cruise from Florida to the Bahamas. So, you know, I think what studying abroad in Madrid did was shift the way I travel. You know, I really love anchoring myself in one place for an extended period of time. And living as much as I can like a local. I think one of my favorite things to do at a new destination is still going to the grocery store. I love looking at the local brands on the shelves, and especially chips and candy and those kinds of things. The other thing that it did was really underscore the value in learning how to communicate in the local language, again, as much as possible. So you know, before I go anywhere, I always like to learn basic phrases like Hello, goodbye, please and thank you. So I think it was more of a perspective shift than than anything else.
Angela Tuell 2:41
Yeah. Do you still enjoy cruising? Was that an area that you gravitate to?
Sara Lieberman 2:48
You know, I love being on the water and I love boats. I'm certainly down to cruise. My husband and I did a river cruise in Egypt. That was probably the last I I've been on. But I think that it's not really his style, I think we very much like to be mobile. And we'll do a road trip to drive around or hop on public transportation or things like that. But there are certainly, you know, I'd still love to do an Alaska cruise and going to the Galapagos.
Angela Tuell 3:16
Peru Amazon Rainforest?
Sara Lieberman 3:18
Absolutely going to Peru and to see the Galapagos, I think that the expedition cruising hadn't really been on my radar up until quite a few years back. And so I think with all of the innovations in that area and all of the places that you can get to I love that it's a smaller, more intimate setting. And I love that you can get up close and personal, more so than, you know, some other styles of cruising. So to me like I would, I would probably be down to do that kind of thing. I think that's what I would - would be my next cruising adventure.
Angela Tuell 3:51
So you attended the University of Southern California. And it looks like one of your final internships was at the Hearst publication Teen magazine, which we all read when we were in that age rang? How did you end up in New York- go from one coast to the other?
Sara Lieberman 4:09
So funny story that I will try to keep as brief as possible. Teen was actually based in Santa Monica at the time. So you know, I was kind of living on the east side of LA, in Pasadena at home and commuting to the west side to Santa Monica, which is a cross country journey sometimes. Three hours and bumper to bumper traffic was no joke. But you know, they've been owned by another media company. So that, you know, when they first bought the brand, they never moved the editorial offices to New York. You know, but that said, it was very much my gateway to New York. I had interned there the summer before my senior year and all the editors were incredibly supportive. I don't think I'd really considered moving across the country until they were like, you could do this. They were amazing. They gave me writing assignments while I was there. I continued freelancing for them through my senior year and the summer after. And at that point, you know, the editor-in-chief Jane and the managing editor Heather were so kind and introduced me to HR reps and editors that they knew. So I went out at probably, I don't know, late summer after I graduated, for a handful of informational interviews. And at that time, I said, I was living with my best friend who had already relocated to New York. In my defense, this was common practice at the time, you really couldn't get a job if you didn't already live within your daily commuting distance. So right, it was very much par for the course.
Angela Tuell 5:40
Did your best friend really live there?
Sara Lieberman 5:42
Yeah. Oh, yeah, she did. So okay, good. Funny enough, she married her high school sweetheart who was a year ahead of us in school, and had already moved to the city. So they were already living there. They were in Manhattan and I had stayed with them when I went out to those informational interviews. And so long story short, you know, I was taking tests and doing interviews and all this stuff, went back to LA, and applied to several job postings that I had seen. I ended up getting a job offer on a Friday morning. And I needed to start that Monday.
Angela Tuell 6:16
You're back in California at that point?
Sara Lieberman 6:19
I was, I was in LA, I was living at home in Pasadena with my parents and my car had been broken into that morning, it was like such a chaotic day, I got the call from my would be boss Friday morning, LA time. I got packed in two giant suitcases with everything I could and moved in with my best friend and her new husband.
Angela Tuell 6:44
That's quite a story, I love it. And then along the way you worked for Food Network magazine and Women's Health before Travel + Leisure. So you've done a little bit of everything.
Sara Lieberman 6:56
I really have, you know, I think that first job I ended up getting and then my second job was on the features team at Time Out New York. Those were the places I really learned to be a jack of all trades, while still carving out a few different beats that I was interested in, you know, I always loved Health and Science, this is like way before, you know, wellness and self care were trendy, right? You know, so I did quite a bit of that, and New York is such an incredible Food City. So I really started expanding my horizons on that front and talking to the food and drink editor at Time Out New York at the time, you know, who saw the interest in me and really nurtured that, you know, my mom always laughed, because I was a very picky eater as a kid. So that was different to hear, you know, and with Us Weekly, it was really an opportunity to lead and, and try to elevate all the lifestyle content and that wove together, you know, all of those interests in health and entertaining and food. And, you know, I also got to introduce travel coverage into the mix, my bosses were really supportive of that. So that was a lot of fun. It's been, I think, really good practice. And, you know, I think that the old adage goes, like, a good editor can edit anything. And, you know, I think that's really true, as long as you're a curious person, you know, so it's been really fun to dabble in all those different spaces.
Angela Tuell 8:24
Yes. And find out what you really love and where your passions are.
Sara Lieberman 8:27
Yeah, for sure, you know, it's been really, I think I really did get to do a lot of everything, because I also, you know, I love careers and mentoring. And I did that at Time Out New York and Women's Health. And you know, it's just the different brands force you to kind of put on a different lens and think about what that means to a particular set of readers. And so, again, it I think it all just goes back to curiosity.
Angela Tuell 8:52
Yeah, and talking about editing Travel + Leisure, you co edit the experiences section, right, that first person pieces, which I know with travel writers I work with is very popular, a lot of them love first person pieces, and I know the audience loves reading them as well. What drives your decision making on those stories?
Sara Lieberman 9:12
Yeah, it's such a great section to work on. Um, you know, I think a few different things drive our decision making in terms of the story next in each issue. You know, first we look at our inventory, what regions and destinations are we covering? Or what have we covered recently? What are we missing? We also think about the angle of a story, is it offering a different take on a familiar destination? Is there some kind of news hook? You know, what is a particular writer bringing to a story in terms of their perspective and their experience? And why are they the right person to write a particular piece at a particular time? You know, it's a very voicy section and it requires somebody who not only has strong reporting skills, which I mean that's a given for writing for Travel + Leisure. In general, um, you know, but this section, you know, I think of a lot of it as kind of miniature features, you know, the stories they really also require strong narrative skills. And I think it's very different. You know, in particular, I've been editing the intelligent traveler section previously, which is our home for consumer news. And you know, sort of like all of the strategy and logistics stuff, like all the travel hacks and loyalty and travel tech and all these things and translating them like the, you know, what does it mean for the reader? In for experiences? You know, it's definitely a shift in terms of thinking about what a story scope is going to be. And again, like, what is the reader going to get out of it, in terms of opening their eyes up to maybe a different place that they might not have thought of, or a different way of thinking about a place that they really love? Or an activity that maybe they wouldn't have considered? Or maybe that's one of their favorite things, that it really runs the gamut in the section? I think that's what keeps it so fresh and interesting to both writers and readers.
Angela Tuell 11:10
Yes. What have been some of your favorite stories you've either written personally or been a part of as an editor?
Sara Lieberman 11:16
Yeah. There are a lot. Um, you know, I think one that stands out is it's so hard, you know.
Angela Tuell 11:24
It's like which child is your favorite, right?
Sara Lieberman 11:27
Right, like Solomon's baby, you know, but that said, I will play favorites a little bit. You know, I think the one feature that stands out is one that I assigned and edited about food and culture scenes in Tijuana and Guadalupe and it was an idea inspired by my brother's wedding down there, the year prior, and it was actually an idea I pitched on my edit test for the job. So for people who are maybe less familiar, when you go out for a staff job as an editor, one of the common steps is to present ideas and kind of demonstrate your skills in a test. And so I pitched this idea, and it took a while for it to come to fruition. But, you know, once I got the job, but I got to work with David Amsden, who is one of our editors at large and has become one of my absolute favorite writers to work with. And he did a really beautiful job capturing how those two places have evolved in recent years, because I think people often have a very set picture of Tijuana in their minds, which is very different to how it is now. And Guadalupe is really quick. It's a short drive from Tijuana. And there's such a dynamic food scene there and wine scene. And it's just, it's phenomenal. And he really, really captured it beautifully in terms of, you know, the people who've made it happen and what the landscape is like and where it's going. And so that one is very near and dear to my heart. So I love that one. And I loved working on our destination of the year Australia package, I think, you know, my love of thinking about how different elements in the story all play together still stems back from my time at Time Out, and Australia is one of my geographic beats at Travel + Leisure. So I've learned a lot about it over the past three years, and it's been fun to highlight different aspects of each state within the country - was a really fun challenge. And I sort of had this like pie in the sky idea about this Western Australia road trip. So I wanted to - proof we've covered a lot, you know about the ways that it's changing and evolving. But Western Australia is a part of the country that there's a lot of land and a lot of nothing but the scenery is really striking. And there are these great towns along the coast. And so I pitched it, it ended up getting approved. And when the writer got back from his reporting trip, he said it was one of the coolest experiences that he had had, professionally. So that felt really good. I was like, Okay, great. That worked out, you know, and it's one of those countries that I think is on everybody's list. And there are such different experiences to be had. And the people are so warm and so friendly. And so that package was a huge celebration of that. So that one also is a standout for me. Yeah, I'm also really proud of our World's Best Awards. I think that's our brand's biggest temple. And this will be I guess, my third year, you know, leading the editorial efforts around it. And it's, you know, it's a huge deal for the travel industry, because our readers have really high standards, you know, and they take a lot of time, and invest a lot of energy in their ratings in their responses. And so, you know, to get that recognition from really seasoned travelers, I know, it's a big deal, and especially when, you know, people have this untapped wanderlust that we're all experiencing right now. And really are so eager to get back out there and want, you know, that kind of trusted guide for the places to go and the things to do and, you know, I think that it'll be really interesting to see kind of where people's heads are at?
Angela Tuell 15:01
Yeah. So what have been some of the recent trends that you've noticed in those awards? I know they are highly anticipated, as you mentioned.
Sara Lieberman 15:08
Yeah, yeah. I think we all really look forward to them. And it's very cool to see how the awards, you know, themselves have evolved over time and how readers, interests and preferences have evolved over time last year was actually the 25th edition. So a whole quarter of a century is pretty major. And your readers definitely have their favorites, and Charleston and Florence have been longtime winners in their respective categories. But, you know, I think what has come through to me, in the past couple of additions is seeing how people are really prioritizing experiences and companies that offer a distinctive sense of place. You know, people seem to really be, you know, whether they go for hotels that are part of big brands, whether they prefer independent boutique hotels, you know, all of the honorees on the list. And obviously, the winners in each category as well, really connect travelers with the destination, which I think is you know, as someone who very much travels that way, it's really enlightening and fun to see. And I think that it's certainly showing that, yes, there are these longtime favorites. But I think in the surprises that come up from time to time, you know, whether it's Sri Lanka winning the Best Island in Asia, or something like that, it really shows how our readers are adventurous and getting to places that, you know, may not have been top of mind a few years ago, but that offer really dynamic experiences. And you know, just kind of seeing those evolutions is really cool.
Angela Tuell 16:45
Yes. And when you look at editorial coverage and assigning it, do the ideas usually come from your past experiences, from the travel writers themselves, or from public relations people that work with the destinations? Or the areas? Or is it a combination of all of those?
Sara Lieberman 17:01
Yeah, I was gonna say, it's really it's such a mix, I think we're so lucky to have both editors and writers who are really interested in the world and want to get out there and beyond the ground, you know, in terms of freelancers, people who are stationed and living all over the place, who are really keenly attuned to what's new, or what's different, or what's going on, in a particular place, or kind of trendspotting in that regard. You know, but certainly, a lot of Intel comes from publicists as well, in terms of, you know, what hotels are opening or the timelines and things shifting? You know, it really, it's a collective effort, you know, in terms of spotting kind of what's going on and what people are going to be interested in.
Angela Tuell 17:50
And if you're not following Sara on Instagram, by the way, you must, we'll give her handle a little bit later. But I saw that you've been daydreaming of a few places like in Peru, the Bahamas? What are some of your all time favorite destinations? I know, we talked about a few of the stories you've really enjoyed. But what about your personal favorite destinations? And why?
Sara Lieberman 18:12
Gosh, I think when people ask me this question, I instinctively kind of want to ask them like, well, what are you interested in? And like, where do you want to go? Because I think it's really fun connecting with people on those levels. And I always kind of want to have a framework for what they're interested in. Because different places stand out to me for different reasons. I think the central California coast will always be really special to me, those road trips I took as a kid, you know, are really ingrained in my mind and I think it's a part of the country of California at least that has again really kind of grown and evolved in recent years. It's just so beautiful. That's one thing that Maine is somewhere that I've kind of gotten to in recent years and it's again a combination of the scenery being so spectacular and the food just being so fresh and delicious. A lot of the places that our destinations - I love probably revolve around things that I've eaten. Which you know, I think it's fair a lot of people are traveling these days there are a lot of people who really love food and the stories that different dishes tell because I think you can tell a lot about you know, you you can glean a lot about a place from food traditions and ingredients and I always love like chatting people up about family recipes and all those things anyway. I think Spain is always going to be a favorite. And because there's so much of it I haven't explored but also India. My husband is Indian so I've gone there a few times and again just really love it you know, it's one of those places that is incredibly vibrant and there's great food and the textile history is really incredible. And there's so much beautiful architecture and craft tradition and those things. It doesn't hurt to be a place for you and have people who can show you around. That's always, that's always helpful. You know, I've come to really love Australia, as I mentioned, I've been lucky enough to go a few times, it was actually the last big kind of personal trip vacation that I took before things started locking down was Thanksgiving before the pandemic. And so that is, that was an incredible experience. We, my husband and I went to the state of Victoria, and that's where Melbourne is. And again, the incredible rush like any kind of food you want, you know, whether you want a fancy formal dinner, or go to a little bar and have some cocktails, or you know, and again, like just this incredible scenery, our big splurge experience for the trip was doing a tour of the Great Ocean Road with these wonderful guys, I met at a conference a couple years back, they run a company called occasion luxury tours. And so we drove with them because also its opposite side of the road driving which terrifies me, okay. And I didn't want to stick my husband with the whole but the whole drive because I'm sure, exactly. And the two guys who run it are just the loveliest guys, there was one leg driving out and stops along the way and learned a lot about the history of how the road was built. And, you know, got to learn a lot about the train and why the coast is the way it is and did that and then on the way back. So it's a, it's a really long drive, we really can only do we only had about a day to do it. So this is also kind of building into the timeline. So it's about a day trip, if you drive there and then take a helicopter back. And it's such a different view of the scenery, the colors seem brighter, and you can you know, you see the topography up close, obviously from the ground, but then you, you know, it contextualizes it in a whole different way when you're, you know, 1000 feet in the air. And so it was, we did that. And then we went down to Tasmania, which is another just incredible. It's really short flight. But again, like the scenery is beautiful, the food is fantastic. It's much more accessible than people think. Everything goes like an hour and a half flight maybe from Melbourne. So that's we split up about 10 days, and it was really worthwhile because you feel like you're at the end of the earth. And we drove out to the the southernmost tip of it to the ferry to an island and then bruny Island is just in the south of the of the state, and you take a ferry, and then there's a lighthouse base. I mean, it really does feel like the end of the world. I don't think there's anything between you and Antarctica except for the Southern Ocean. And it was a really epic trip. And so that's one that I like recommend to anybody and everybody.
Angela Tuell 23:01
You're making me want to go for sure.
Sara Lieberman 23:03
I grabbed the passport now. I can't wait. Can't wait to get back and get back out there.
Angela Tuell 23:09
Yes. Speaking of that, so in 2020 it's also on Instagram that you did venture out a little bit drive distance to the Catskills from your home in New York. You know, as a professional traveler. Also, that should be another title of yours, right? I'm sure you never imagined that there'd be a year or more that you wouldn't be exploring the world?
Sara Lieberman 23:35
Yeah. You know, I think that it's one of those, I guess if there has to be a silver lining. I hope that people you know, it's so easy. I think our editor in chief Jackie Gifford talked about this in one of our editors letters, you know, I think that there's an opportunity for us who love travel, you know, it's so much about like, the next and how far can I go. And, you know, there's so much of the world to see that it's really, especially with social media, it's really hard not to feel like you're chasing kind of the far in the distance. And it can be really easy to forget what's around you. And I mean that literally like for, as you mentioned, the Catskills, which is just about a two hour drive from where I live. But I think just domestic travel in general. And I think, you know, we've seen anecdotally an uptick in people thinking about domestic travel and I think that will be a lot of people's kind of first foray back into getting out there when it's safe. And I think people are realizing there's a lot you can do safely within driving distance and national parks have been, you know, hugely popular this year. I know I went up to Acadia last summer for some outdoor fresh air socially distanced fun, and I think that hopefully given us all a new appreciation for experiencing our own proverbial backyard and you know whether that's the great American road trip or you know, just county over I think I mean a lot of different things to a lot of people.
Angela Tuell 25:06
We've been seeing that a lot with our hotel clients and destinations and that the drive distance has expanded a little bit longer than normal. They're already starting to fill up and get just so many people that are ready to go. They're ready to get away, and still do so safely.
Sara Lieberman 25:27
Yeah, I think there's a lot of pent up demand, which, you know, work in the travel space is exciting to see. And I think that, you know, so long as people can, can stay safe and take the appropriate precautions, I think there's a lot people can do safely.
Angela Tuell 25:42
Yes. So I know, we've all seen travelers become more conscious of spending, you know, their travel dollars with companies that are sustainable, we've seen that for a little bit of time now. We'd love to talk to you about Travel + Leisure's Global Vision Awards, and how you feel your travel will change moving forward or has changed?
Sara Lieberman 25:58
Yeah, you know, it's a franchise that we used to do several years ago. And I think we're inspired to revive it. For those reasons that you were talking about, for multitude of reasons, I think, social happenings going on around the world, the heightened awareness around climate change, and, you know, just general, as you said, responsible consumerism, it's really influencing the, the companies and brands that people want to support. And so we've seen that play out in the travel space, in, you know, I think it was, first with plastic straws, and single use plastic water bottles and things like that. And it's it's really, you know, picked up the pace in terms of the initiatives that a variety of companies are implementing, you know, six senses, I think it's really one of the leads in this in terms of thinking about how different initiatives work for different locations, you know, they've got conservation efforts around certain animal species and some of their properties. For others, you know, it's all about organic farming or animals that can contribute, you know, various products, milk, cheese, that kind of a thing. You know, other companies have kind of sprung up around, you know, like tour operators are another good example intrepid travel, they are looking at carbon offsets, and thinking about, you know, from a travelers perspective, what they can be doing in terms of no Leave No Trace, and the types of interactions that they provide for their customers, and their travelers and apparel companies in terms of sourcing materials, other hotel companies, in terms of social responsibility policies, and, you know, the well being of their staff and what they're doing around Health Access and mindfulness. And, you know, again, it means so many different things to different people. But I think that, you know, more travelers are seeking out these companies that align with their values and wanting to travel in a way that, you know, at minimum leaves a destination, it doesn't negatively impact destination safe that way. And more often, it's actually becoming the kind of next phase seems to be regenerative travel. So how our how our company is how are people improving the environments that they're in and the communities that they're a part of for the long haul? And, you know, I think that, again, different companies are looking at it well, maybe, for one, it might mean, local community employment and how they're, you know, they're training kind of the next generation and the people who live around them so they can have jobs and create sustaining, self sustaining incomes and things like that. So I think that's something we'll continue to see. As time goes on. It's something that we're trying to recognize what the awards.
Angela Tuell 28:57
Yeah. And that's a place that we'll be able to go to see who's doing this. If you don't know where to start, if you're going to Google and figure that out.
Sara Lieberman 29:08
Yeah, it can be it can be really tough. I think that's, you know, we have a panel for the awards that helps point us toward companies, places, people, organizations that they think are doing really good work and relying on their subject matter expertise as kind of, you know, a basis for discussion and for reporting has been incredibly helpful because people, these people are so passionate about what they do, and about other people and really wanting to shine a light on all the good that's being done. And, you know, we have a fantastic editor at large, Jeff Chu, who has done the package for us this these past two years, is such a strong reporter in terms of knowing what to ask and, you know, really digging into the work that's being done. So it's, again, it's another group effort, but, you know, I'm glad that we can kind of sort through some of the noise and really spotlight some of the destinations people and organizations that are that are doing good work and that we hope readers will support.
Angela Tuell 30:07
Yes. And you all are doing that fabulously. Thank you. So before we go, I have to ask, you mentioned a lot of your social profiles that you are a robust snack drawer keeper. So if we opened up that drawer, what would we find?
Sara Lieberman 30:25
It's funny I kind of got a reputation around the office for my - there is really bins of things I think I had my like Mary Poppins bin of like pharmacy like band aids, Advil, sewing kit, like all that stuff. And then had the snack bins. You know, one was kind of like savory stuff like Trader Joe's chips and snack mixes and different like snacks. I also had like kind of a condament section like olive oils and salts, vinegar, hot sauce, sauce, tomato sauce. And then I had like the sweets - so I'm like a big gummy candy person like Scandi sour candy, and like salty licorice, like if anyone lives in New York, you actually do have a robust ecommerce presence too. But Sockerbit is fantastic. They have like all the greatest candy. Yep, you can get different sizes. It's my like, treat to myself when I go into the West Village. So a lot of that.
Angela Tuell 31:26
So you were the popular one to sit by. Everyone wanted to be next to you in the office.
Sara Lieberman 31:35
I think if there was ever a question of like, okay, does anyone have fill in the blank? I was probably a lot of people's first stops. You know, which is great for office chitchat like the embodiment of the watercooler.
Angela Tuell 31:48
Which is something we kind of miss right now. Right? It's great to work at home, but it's hard to too.
Sara Lieberman 31:55
I probably keep fewer snacks around me at home because the temptation is all the more real, it was probably a bigger snacker when I was in the office, but maybe I make healthier choices, I get a piece of fruit.
Angela Tuell 32:11
So next time you go to the office, you'll have to have a bin of healthier fruits and vegetables.
Sara Lieberman 32:17
I wish I could say that was the case. But I feel like I would probably be more inclined to double down on the junk.
Angela Tuell 32:25
We'll have to see. Hopefully that'll happen sooner rather than later.
Right. We'll see. I know. I'll let you know. I'll keep you posted.
Well, Sarah, thank you so much for joining us. It was wonderful to talk to you and I really appreciate your time.
Sara Lieberman 32:37
Thank you again for asking me. It's fun to revisit all of the places that you know we may not be able to get to right now. But again, same thing sooner so hopefully sooner rather than later. We'll all be back out there.
Angela Tuell 32:51
You can find Sarah online at Sarah with an h bruning.com and Sarah Bruning on Instagram and Twitter. That's all for this episode of Media in Minutes, a podcast by Communications Redefined available anywhere you get your podcasts, you can find more at communications redefined. com slash podcast. I'm your host, Angela Tuell. Talk to you next time.
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