University of New Mexico - B.A. in English
University of New Mexico - Minor in Film/TV + Art History
We all love to get away. The new sights, the adventures, the photos, the food … even the travel itself can be exhilarating. For Alysia Gray Painter that adventure is part of her daily routine. No, really. As the blogger for NBC LA's "The Scene" and "Worth the Drive" on NBC LA, San Diego and San Francisco, she gets to write about the greatest getaway destinations, restaurants, museums, hotels and places to be for legions of readers.
Alysia has been with NBCLA.com since October 2008. Previous to that, she served as the West Coast managing editor and Los Angeles editor for AOL CityGuide. In addition, her writing has appeared in Bark magazine, McSweeney's, Modern Humorist and in various PBS programs and publications. Alysia also pens young adult novels in the evenings. Read on to hear more about the perks of her job, as well as the top five California destinations you just can't miss.
Do a little something every day to further your interests and strengthen your writing.
How did you discover your current job?
Two of my wonderful former colleagues at AOL City Guide suggested me for it. Funny enough, I believe I got my AOL job -- I was at AOL for about five years -- through my McSweeney's pieces; the man who hired me said he'd seen them and liked them. That's why I always recommend a person do all the writing she can, even if it is unpaid. It can lead to something full time. Things have a funny way of paying off down the road, often in unexpected ways. So I always take the long view. (Oh, and do the writing because you love it! Not just because you think it will lead somewhere in a few years. That's of paramount importance.)
What is your typical day like? What types of things do you do in your job?
I post seven to eight times each weekday about LA cultural happenings, theater, food, trends and festivals; I also write about California travel and hotels. Bloggers often describe the daily process as running little sprints, and that is accurate. But I sometimes feel as if I'm running simultaneous sprints. I may be writing one post, but I'm working on photos for three others, and thinking about the eight I'll write tomorrow and two major ones I'm planning for the coming week. So the bulk of my day is writing, yes, but thinking and planning and emailing and talking with people fill the spaces around the writing. It's like a jar loaded with big rocks -- the writing -- and little rocks -- everything else I must address to get to the writing. I like my jar -- big and little rocks alike.
You also write young adult novels in the evening, so how do you balance your two jobs?
Any fiction I do, from McSweeney's to humor anthologies to my own stories, is fed by my day. When your job is a great fit you still feel energized in the evening; if you're constantly sapped you're probably not in the right gig. Growing up in the hotels my dad managed gave me the idea for a hotel-set series. I thought it would be fun to give a young woman her own fancy highrise and see how she manages it. Or how she discovers the power she needs to do so. Keeping a kind heart while not ceding strength is a theme in the books, which I'm publishing on my own. I've loved the challenge.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
I'll often write about a smaller event or spot, a topic that doesn't get a ton of attention elsewhere. The organizer or owner will sometimes drop me a line later to say that my post upped attendance and got people jazzed about the location or happening. I adore getting those notes. I cover the bigger places and to-dos, but the quirkier motels and bingo nights and pickle farms need a little affection, too. The most challenging part is keeping seven plates spinning in the air each day while simultaneously lining up all the plates I'll be spinning tomorrow and in the days ahead.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
My sacrifices have been few, so I'm grateful. I will say I never truly feel away from what I do. My off time is semi-on, in other words. When you deal with what people do in their free time, that means a lot of your own free time is work. If I'm out around LA, or I'm driving up the coast, I'm forever taking notes. If I see a theater marquee or a new venue, I stop and text myself. If my husband and I are on a road trip I'll shout "pull over" seven times a day; we'll pass a turn-off to an organic winery or wristwatch museum and I'll want a look. But I relish what I do, so this isn't a grind.
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
Paths cross again. Even if you change careers or cities, the same people have a way of revisiting your sphere, sometimes years later. So always connect in a real and authentic way. And enjoy your working relationships, even if you anticipate they'll be brief or will end. "The End" has a way of not sticking in the working world.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
There are many amazing women working and writing in the travel or hospitality sector; I'd recommend pursuing this path to any girl with a strong interest in travel. There's a lot of headway to be made. But finding that niche is a challenge, and certainly for men, too. Do a little something every day to further your interests and strengthen your writing.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Connect with people. Listen closely and remember details and ask after the things that are important to them. Another rule? Write a paper thank you when a big thank you is warranted. Email notes are fine, and acceptable, but windows get closed in a matter of seconds. If someone writes me a thank you note it tends to stay on my fridge for a week. It's a courteous business practice, but more than that, it reeks of classy. We could all stand to reek a bit more of classy, I think. I know I could. Oh, and always, always, always send a paper thank you to your relatives. Grandma loves it. I love it. We all love it!
What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?
Girls who dig travel have so many available tools right now, tools that can truly help them grow as a destination expert. It's thrilling. My advice is to pick your favorite site --Tumblr or Twitter or fill-in-the-blank -- and master a specific area. Focus on Denver chili restaurants or Florida roadside attractions or the world's best rainy places. The reason a lot of people seem to start, then quit, a blog or a site, in my opinion, is they've gone too broad. Don't be a generalist. Pick a topic that fascinates you -- even possesses you, in a way -- and zero in. Then write and write and write, all while honing your voice and your point of view. Then, in no time, you'll have a big backlog of juicy, interesting dispatches. I can't say enough in favor of building your online world in a conscientious, forward-thinking way. Consider every word you type to be part of some future resume. Remember that some in-law you don't yet know may read what you're writing today. Be proud to put your name on whatever you post, be it a photo or tweet or letter to the editor or review.
Who are your role models?
My parents are big-hearted, hilarious, and hard-working; talk about class acts. My father managed hotels for more than 50 years. It's a high-stress, 24-hour-a-day business, but he met every challenge with aplomb, patience and cheer. His particular polish and verve very much influenced his kids' careers and work styles. My mom is one of my stars, too; she's a lifelong volunteer and tireless in her projects. She also knitted entire new wardrobes for nearly every person in the extended family, all while running her busy life. Not even joking.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I'm fascinated by guest experience. And that can be for any location, a hotel, a restaurant or an attraction. People often save for a long time to go somewhere, and, as a business, you want to wow them right away in the right way. What I do now is tied to that experience, so I hope to do it for a long time to come. Being optimistically opinionated suits me, as does advising those who need a little rest and relaxation, two important things in our swirly, chaotic world.
What are the top five California destinations or events every woman should put on her bucket list?
Let's start with our fantastic state parks, since they need some TLC. Humboldt Redwoods State Park is home to the Avenue of the Giants. The grandeur and mega-hugeness of the trees will make you laugh and skip (if you don't laugh and skip, ping me and let's discuss). That's one. Two? The tourist road. Anyone who clucks that a destination is "too touristy" needs to laugh and skip more, in my opinion. Put your hands in the cement handprints at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, head for the theme parks, do the wacky family pose in front of Yosemite's Half Dome. Now that I've mentioned Yosemite, let's talk national parks. That's three. If I didn't have an awesome husband I'd probably date Death Valley (he knows this). Four? Don't tell Death Valley, but I have a major cable car crush. I'm absolutely besotted with those hill-chugging symbols of San Francisco. And I'm mad for the Cable Car Museum, which puts the inner mechanics of the cable cars on display. Welders weave thick metal cords as they keep the system, a system that's now operated in three different centuries, up and running. It's fascinating and it's free. And five? The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City. If you've been, you know I don't intend to say much. If you haven't, and you love mystery, history, and the elegantly odd, please go. Just be forewarned that laughing and skipping may occur. I like being transparent in my recommendations, but it is a place best visited with an open heart and little knowledge of its backstory. Find me at @GrayPainter and tell me what you thought.
Anything else to add?
There's a misconception that travel or entertainment writers spend their days scarfing freebies and lolling about plush suites. That's definitely not the case with me, and not why I do what I do. I'd recommend pursuing this field if you're the bossy friend who schedules every weekend getaway to the minute. Pursue it if you're the sort of person who tacks a map to the kitchen wall even though that big trip is still a year away. Pursue it if the anticipation of a vacation, and the later memory of it, sustains you during difficult periods. Extra cash and free time are both in short supply for many of us, so I take any recommendations I make very seriously. Leisure is a fun subject, yes, but it is not a light matter. I strive to make the best picks and to talk about those picks in a real, warm, and lively way. See you on the road!