Meet the Travelettes: whether based in Europe, snapping photographs in Asia, helping refugees in Jordan or volunteering in rural Romania; the Travelettes challenge the notion of a conventional life and chase their passion of travel around the world. Each of the 10 girls that compromise the Travelettes team do more than tell stories; they impact change, run their own websites, volunteer and can be found all over the globe.

Each month, we turn the spotlight on one of our girls and the passions that define their work. This month, we look at Nikki Vargas, who left a 9 to 5 job in advertising to become a freelance travel journalist and Editor of The Pin the Map Project. In this candid interview, Nikki shares what it’s like to be a journalist, how she got started and her best advice to aspiring writers.


1. How did you get started as a freelance travel journalist?

Writing had always been a part of my life – a way for me to sort through emotions and difficult times – so when it came to declaring a major in college picking journalism was a no-brainer. Admittedly, it took some time for me to figure out what genre of writing would captivate my interest. I wrote for fashion & beauty publications, started an epicurean blog, covered the city & state beat for my college newspaper and was a bit all over the place when it came to writing. It wasn’t until I started writing about travel did I really find my passion and niche. The inspiration I gained from travel was a perfect catalyst for my writing and inspired endless stories that I could share.

On assignment in Morocco and learning about Argan Oil. 

2. You actually used to work in advertising full time before you quit your 9 to 5 to become a journalist! Can you tell us about that transition?

When I first moved to New York City after college I had a hell of a time breaking into the writing industry. Blogging had burst onto the scene and it seemed that proper writing jobs were few and far between. There is a moment I had in journalism school that I think sums up the situation perfectly. One day in class, we had a heated debate over the topic of Tavi Gevinson who was then an 11-year old blogger. Tavi’s quirky online musings had landed her in the front row of New York Fashion Week alongside Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington, which sent ripples throughout journalism schools everywhere as we all collectively wondered the same thing: why in the world were we paying $40,000+ for a degree in journalism when this 11-year old just started a blog for free? When I came to New York, it seemed that everyone with a laptop could call themselves a writer and so – after a few months of applying for writing jobs – I stumbled into an industry I hadn’t expected: advertising.

Over the next 3 years, my foray into advertising would lead me to various job stints and opportunities at ad agencies, marketing firms and public relations companies as I indulged in writing on the side. I’d write in between conference calls, would jot down story ideas during meetings, would write for publications (paid and unpaid) during my lunch breaks and even started my own travel blog to have a platform for my work. Writing was always my constant; a rock at the bottom of an ever shifting stream and after 3 years I finally realized that writing is – and always has been – the only career for me. It was far from easy but I eventually quit my full time job in lieu of being a freelance travel journalist. Today, I write for various publications, manage my own website as well as take on freelance writing and advertising projects here and there.


3. What and where was your first assignment abroad and how did you snag it?

I owe my first assignment to advertising! One of the clients I was working for had recently signed on FOOD & WINE Magazine for their latest media campaign and so I formed a relationship with the F&W Sales team. Over celebratory drinks one evening, I gushed about my love of writing and the very next day my contact had made it a point to introduce me to one of their editors. Because of that internal referral, the F&W editor worked with me as I fine-tuned my story to their liking. Before I knew it I was in Colombia working on a short story for the FOOD & WINE website about the 10 best dishes in Cartagena.

nikki-vargas-travelette-4 Interviewing Chef Camacho in Cartagena while on assignment for FOOD & WINE.

4. What is your favorite story you’ve written so far and why?

If I had to write for just one publication for the rest of my life, it would be VICE. In my opinion, VICE News just does an excellent job of covering important, global issues while still retaining that authenticity that is so important to the Millennial generation. Unlike CNN and other news outlets that are swept up in politically charged coverage, VICE focuses on cultural issues and in turn inspires youth to care about what’s going on in Syria, about abuse against women in India, about global warming and other stories.

I have always wanted to write for VICE and after many pitches, I finally landed an opportunity to write for Munchies (the VICE food channel). Now, VICE is known as going off-the-beaten path and sharing quirky stories that diverge from mainstream so, unlike my previous work, I knew that this story had to be different. Being from Colombia, I chose to write about Cartagena again as I could lend a certain expertise that qualifies me over the thousands of other writers who might pitch a Colombia story to VICE.

There is a market in Cartagena called the Mercado de Bazurto where tourists simply don’t go. It’s characterized as being wild, ridden with petty theft, dirty but also the biggest market to get local ingredients from all over the country; and also where local chefs will source most of their food. I met up with a local Michelin-star chef to follow him as he headed to the market. With my camera, notebook and boyfriend/cameraman, I ventured into the throes of this crazy marketplace for one of my favorite stories to date.

5. You have a blog as well! Can you tell us about The Pin the Map Project?

The Pin the Map Project is an online destination I created that covers everything from destination guides to hard-hitting journalism to blogging advice to solo travel. When I started my website, my world had become inundated with blog posts and articles of how other travel bloggers had become successful in their work. Ultimately inspired by a gift I received – a National Geographic push pin map inscribed with the quote “to travel is to live” – I wanted to create a project for myself to add more pins to my map and prioritize seeing the world and indulge in my love of travel writing. I devoured tips and tricks to master the art of blogging, building traffic and increasing engagement until I realized that my speed date of jobs in PR, advertising and marketing had left me with 3 extremely valuable tools: how to market myself, how to work with advertisers and how to grow my brand.

On assignment in Oaxaca, Mexico. 

I began building The Pin the Map Project from scratch – taking notice of what worked for other bloggers and using what I had been paid to do to grow the following of my own budding travel site. Since I started this website a little over four years ago, both my blogging and journalism career have grown. I have been on assignment around the world from Morocco to Jamaica, grown my following and have been published in VICE, Matador Network, Roads & Kingdoms and more. Becoming a full time travel journalist and blogger has opened my world and not only gave me the priceless gift of travel but taught me the countless ways to make travel affordable now even as a twenty-something woman living in New York City.


6. It looks like you straddle the line between blogging and journalism; what is the main difference between the two?

In my opinion, the main difference between travel blogging and journalism comes down to flexibility. In travel blogging, you are the Editor of your own website and have the flexibility to write what you want, when you want, however you want. In journalism, you are writing for someone else and so your work is subject to change, editorial schedules, re-writes, edits or being scrapped all together. One might ask why bother with travel journalism then? Although travel journalism can be strict as it adheres to the ethics and standards of journalistic writing, it also can be more respected and reputable as well as have more impact. If I write a story about fake orphanages in Cambodia for my blog, it may get some traction but will likely just be considered another post; but if I write that story for The New York Times or Huffington Post; it holds more weight because of the publication’s standing. While I like having my travel blog, I also like to keep up my journalism because it does allow me to reach a larger audience, give a story the attention it deserves and practice my writing at a more elevated level than is necessary in the blogging universe.


7. You recently launched Pin the Map magazine! Can you tell us a bit about the magazine?

I think sometimes the world of travel blogging can be very surface level with blog posts such as 10 Things to do in this or that destination, 20 Things I have in my carry-on bag, etc. It is a necessary evil of travel blogging to write these sort of top level stories but my passion is to write in-depth, journalism pieces that explore larger cultural issues around the world. I often feel like I straddle this line between “Nikki the Travel Blogger” and “Nikki the Travel Journalist” and so decided to launch Pin the Map Magazine in an effort to marry my journalism side with my blogging one.

Pin the Map Magazine is a digital magazine that is released 2x a year and shares long-form stories from my staff writers as well as select contributing writers. Each issue highlights a different theme with the first issue focused on “Dispatch” style reporting including articles on women’s rights in Colombia, interviewing agave growers in Oaxaca and finding oneself in a shaman’s Temazcal. The second issue will be focused on “People” and share stories about people who have inspired the writers, who are making a difference in their local communities or have a powerful story to tell. Take a peak inside the first issue here!

8. What is your best advice to both aspiring journalists and bloggers?

Funny enough my advice to both aspiring journalists and bloggers is the same: start a blog! For journalists, editors want to see your published work – whether in other publications or your own site – to get a feel for your tone and style of writing so having a blog is an excellent way to showcase your work, social media savvy and flex those writing muscles in between assignments. For aspiring bloggers, simply starting a blog is the first step of this incredible journey.

On assignment with Visit California in Mono Lake Reserve. 

9. Travel journalism sounds like the dream! What is your favorite part about the job? How about least favorite?

My favorite part of travel journalism is the ability to share a story that has the potential to inspire change and make a difference. Whether I’m reporting on a co-op of female artisans in Nicaragua who are redefining what it means to be a woman in their villages or am sharing a story about the conflict surrounding Virunga National Park in the Congo, I love being able to give a mouthpiece to the people whose voices are often unheard.

nikki-jeff In Paris with Jeff, who came with me on assignment to review hotels.

My least favorite parts of being a travel journalist are being away from home and flying. Most of my assignments are short (at most 10 days) and sometimes I’m able to bring my boyfriend, Jeff, who is a documentary filmmaker and comedian to help out with filming. More often than not though, I am leaving him, our home and our fat tabby cat, Peeps, in New York City and can get homesick. Thank God for Skype is all I can say! As for flying, I’m a travel journalist who doesn’t particularly like flying! The irony does not escape me.


10. What’s next for you?

I literally woke up this morning to an email from the Philippines tourism board inviting me on a press trip this upcoming Saturday. Yesterday my upcoming weekend plans consisted of Netflix and writing stories at my local coffee shop and now I’ll be flying to Asia! June will be a crazy month for me as I’ll be traveling to the Philippines, Dominican Republic and Chicago before coming back to NYC for the rest of the summer and going back out on assignment to Israel and Costa Rica in the fall. In terms of writing, I have recently just joined The Huffington Post as a contributing writer and look forward to writing for them. I will also continue to work on The Pin the Map Project and prepare for the second issue of Pin the Map Magazine coming out in October 2016!


Follow Nikki on her upcoming assignment to the Philippines on her Instagram & Snapchat (PintheMap). For more from Nikki, visit her website, The Pin the Map Project and for questions about travel journalism and/or blogging, you can email Nikki directly at: