A mix of luck and preparation

A love for travel and a passion for journalism combine in Traveler features editor Amy Alipio.

By Maddy Simpson | Web Editor

Amy Alipio was in the right place at the right time, armed with the skills and huge motivation. Currently acting as the National Geographic features editor, Alipio is an expert on all things travel.

Can you tell me about your journey to your job as the features editor of Traveler?

“I wish I could say I had a clear trajectory to my career that helped me get to Traveler. I don’t think I ever had that conscious goal of “I’m going to be a travel editor when I grow up.” But like a lot of people in media, my journey was a mix of luck and preparation, which is appropriate because actual physical journeys are like that too. You prepare to travel somewhere by reading guidebooks and blogs and scrolling through Instagram, but when you get to that place, the best experiences end up being the serendipitous ones, the ones you didn’t plan for. The conscious preparation part of my career was (majoring) in English in college, and then (getting) a Masters degree in Journalism. The unconscious preparation for working as a travel editor was the fact that from an early age I was bitten by the travel bug.

“My journey was a mix of luck and preparation, which is appropriate because actual physical journeys are like that too.”

“After graduating I quickly realized that news reporting wasn’t for me. I was always more interested in cultural or features writing. So I moved to Budapest. I got a job at an English language weekly newspaper where I got to do a lot of writing, and I learned how to cover a city and honed my editing skills. I had lived there for two years when I went home for the Christmas holidays and saw a job opening for an editor at WHERE Washington magazine, a city magazine franchise. I got the job and after a couple years there I saw the job opening at Traveler.

“So, I think it was a case of being at the right place at the right time, but I did also have that global life experience from being a travel geek and the very specific expertise from working at city/travel magazines. And I think all of those things helped get me here to Traveler.”

What happens during a typical day on the job?

“My day is broken up into stuff I need to do for the current issue, stuff I need to do for the next issue, and stuff I need to do for future issues. Most immediately, I do the granular editing of stories and writing captions and headlines. Then for the upcoming issue I am usually doing a lot of communicating with authors to give them feedback on their stories. And for future issues, I’m reading story pitches sent to me from freelancers via email, brainstorming story ideas of our own, finding and contracting writers, giving them direction on their stories, and thinking about what the shape and direction of our magazine needs to be, big picture kinds of things. So the day is really packed with a variety of timeframes.”

What kind of hours do you work?

“I work regular nine to five, … but I work at home after the kids are asleep.”

Do you have a mentor or someone who most inspired/impacted your career? How did this person influence you?

“As I mentioned, I didn’t have one person early on, but there’s a program that I participated in as a junior editor at Traveler that really influenced me. It’s a program run by the Asian American Journalists Association called the Executive Leadership Program. And basically its goal is to teach rising journalists how to be comfortable as a leader: what it takes to lead and being confident enough in yourself to see yourself as a leader. I always try to keep what I learned there in mind.”

What is your favorite part of your job? Least favorite?

“Favorite part of my job is being able to think, write, and read about travel every day and of course being able to occasionally travel to some place cool for work. I’ve been to Qatar, the Azores, Curacao, Grenada, Machu Picchu, and Churchill, Manitoba, “the polar bear capital”, among other places.

Least favorite is that I wish I could travel a lot more; the big myth is that travel editors travel a lot. We actually don’t, because otherwise who is going to be putting out the magazine every issue?”

“Specialize in something you love … and along the way to becoming an expert, you’re indulging in something you love anyways.”

If you weren’t working at Traveler where would you want to be employed?

“I’d probably want to be a travel agent, helping people plan meaningful trips. Or a writing teacher, helping people express themselves in the best way.”

What advice would you give to journalism students starting to look for internships and experience?

“Two things I always tell students: specialize in something you love, whether its travel or sports or food or whatever. Get knowledge and expertise in one (or two) topics so that people begin to know you for that subject area. When they want a writer who can do a story in your area of expertise your name should pop into their heads. And along the way to becoming an expert you’re indulging in something you love anyways. The other thing is not to wait for someone to give you a reporting or writing job or an assignment to travel somewhere. Just go and have your experiences and write the stories you want to write. Put it up on your own blog or publish your own e-book. And when you’re writing from a place of passion, people will recognize that and start coming to you.”

I’m a futuristic thinker. As I close in on my graduation, I am constantly thinking about the path my life will take post-college. My mind creates a logical sequence, A to B to C with hard work and planning. In my plan, the risk is minimal, but the rewards are huge.

My interview with Alipio sheds light on the flaw these thoughts. Alipio’s path to Traveler proves the old adage: “The greater the risk, the greater the reward.” Sometimes, taking a risk — like moving to Budapest — leads to an expertise that may not have been gained elsewhere. Planning can only take you so far. Success is sometimes, as Alipio said, “a mix of luck and preparation.”

This interview has been editing and condensed by Maddy Simpson.

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