Lilit Marcus is a travel writer, an author, and currently the editor for CNN Travel. Her book Save the Assistants: A Guide for Surviving and Thriving in the Workplace was published in 2010 and she has contributed to publications like the Wall Street Journal, Vogue and Vanity Fair. Lilit is blunt, yet kind, and we are lucky to call her a member of our Leadership team.
When I inquired about a quick Q+A, she answered "only if it can be funny." Lilit was kind enough to allot some time to dish on the scary reality of sexism in the travel industry, what indie hotels are getting right (and wrong) and the cure to writer's block.
You get to travel to some pretty interesting places. What is one city or town abroad that really surprised you?
I went to Valletta last fall and absolutely loved it. (You can just ask all of my colleagues, who are really sick of me going on and on about it.) It’s this fascinating mix of Italian, North African, and Middle Eastern food and design, and with way fewer people. If I could move there, I would.
What’s the most underrated U.S. City, in your opinion?
My quick answer is Raleigh, because it’s my hometown and I’m re-delighted by it all the time. But maybe Cincinnati. They have amazing beer, nice people, and Fiona, the world’s most beautiful hippo. I literally cried when I met her.
You have a very entertaining Twitter account. What’s your secret?
When I was growing up in the dark days before the internet, I was into all these dorky things and thought I was the only person on the planet who liked Anne of Green Gables books (Team Windy Poplars, don’t @ me) and the first two Belly albums. Then, the internet came along and I very quickly realized there were tons of other people who liked those things. Basically, that is how I approach my Twitter. I say increasingly dumb and weird things, and it turns out I am not the only one who likes being dumb and weird.
Alright, a quick bit on hotels. What are independent hotels getting right?
If I hear one more hotel PR person use the words “live like a local” I am going to throw something out a #curated window. For me, a great hotel is like great writing: show, don’t tell. Independently-owned indie hotels don’t have to tell you how independent and indie and local they are — they just show it.
Now, what are they not ‘getting’ at all?
Making things complicated for the sake of being cool or quirky. I don’t want to flag down a bartender and say a secret code word in order to check into my room — I want a person at a desk to give me a key and tell me what time breakfast is.
Do you have a favorite hotel? Are you allowed to tell us?
No, and no. But if I did have a favorite hotel, it would definitely have a nice bathtub in it.
I had the pleasure of seeing you speak at the Women’s Travel Fest last March. You eloquently (and bluntly) addressed sexism in the travel + journalism industry. Can you tell us about an experience you might of had while on the job? How did you handle it?
Because I don’t do group or FAM trips, I tend to travel on my own. Sometimes a male PR or hotel GM or restaurateur assumes that a woman traveling solo, even though it’s for her job, must be doing so because she wants to hook up with someone on the road. I’ve been flat-out propositioned more than once. When I was a freelancer, I didn’t have the “protection” of a big corporation behind me, and it was really scary. Several times I waited until I was back home to tell the person they had behaved inappropriately, because I was scared of their reaction in person. There’s also a whisper network in the travel space just like there is in so many other industries — I have done my part to talk to younger women and people just getting into the business about who they should keep an eye on.
Did you have a mentor at any point in your career? If so, what did that mentorship look like?
Tons! Many of my best mentors have also been peers. My best friend is also a reporter, and we rely on each other a lot — it’s so incredible to have someone to talk through story ideas with, figure out how to handle issues creatively, prep for interviews, etc, who isn’t one of your colleagues and can be neutral. I’ve also been lucky to have some great female bosses. At CNN Travel, I work with Brekke Fletcher, who is really honest and transparent — it makes a world of difference when you don’t just hear “yes” or “no” and instead understand the process of how decisions are made.
You’ll be interviewing the bad ass Kat Lo, Founder of Eaton Workshop, at ILC this October. What are some questions you’re eager to ask her? What’s that convo going to look like?
My interviewing style is pretty loose and casual. I don’t like the format of just going bam-bam-bam down a list of questions so you can show off how much homework you did beforehand. I like to see which things the subject responds to and go from there — oh, she wasn’t that into the question about X, but she seemed engaged on the topic of Y, so let’s push a little deeper on Y with some follow-ups and see what other interesting stuff is there. This isn’t a college lecture hall. I want people to enjoy themselves. UNLESS you stand up during the Q&A section and say “I have a comment” and try to just babble for ten minutes.
Lastly, what’s the cure to writer’s block?
Try talking it out. Sometimes when I feel stuck I talk into a voice recorder and pretend I’m telling my sister or a friend why I’m so excited about a story and what made it fun to report. Often I figure out the actual point about two minutes in and everything clicks.