Freelancers, Interviews, Journalists

Balancing the Grind With Sofia Levin, Food & Travel Journalist

July 22, 2019

Sofia Levin is a Food & Travel Journalist who has written for publications such as Fairfax’s Good Food, Lonely Planet, Domain Review, delicious. and in-flight magazines, among others.

In addition Sofia also runs Word Salad, a content marketing company that specialises in copywriting, editorial and social media.

This conversation is brought to you by HelloFresh, delivering delicious ingredients and simple recipes straight to your doorstep each week.

1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’m a food and travel journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. I’ve been freelance since I graduated university – the Global Financial Crisis and state of print media didn’t create the most welcoming work environment!

Currently I write for a number of publications including Fairfax’s Good Food, Lonely Planet, Domain Review, SBS Food, in-flight magazines and more. But like many freelance journalists, I dabble in other areas. For the last eight years I’ve run Word Salad, a small copywriting and social media business.

2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

There is no typical day, and that’s what I love about my job. Writing about food and travelling often means a lack of predictability.

When I’m at home in Melbourne, I’m up at 5.30am to go to the gym, at my desk checking emails by 8am, and writing in chunks until dinner, sometimes later. Often these days are broken up with interviews, work-related meals out, site visits and industry press events.

Dinner is usually out at a new restaurant or somewhere I need to cover for a story. At the other end of the scale, a typical day could also involve visiting upward of 25 places a day in a foreign city while writing a Lonely Planet guidebook, filming food-related content or eating my way through Texas.

The line between what I enjoy doing in my spare time and my work is incredibly blurred, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

I work for myself, which means I choose my hours and location. As a travel writer, I need my work to be able to follow me across the world. It can be tiring, but it’s always exhilarating.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

I’m a big believer in research and just putting your head down to get things done. Taking a deep dive and gathering as much background on a place, person or brand as possible is correlated with success. The more prepared you are, the easier the task ahead – and the better the results.

5) What does work life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I think “balance” is a term that’s trending because the average person is overworked in a job they don’t like. If you’re doing something you love, you’re less likely to feel overworked. Balance is overrated – if you’re craving it, you’re probably doing the wrong thing.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

I’m highly organised. I pretty much have lists of my lists. My work is deadline driven, so for me it’s important not to leave things to the last minute.

Although having a short deadline is the ultimate motivator, if another opportunity comes up and you’re disorganised, you have to turn it down because you’re trying to finish off something else.

Being organised and getting on top of deadlines, rather than letting them control me, is what’s enabled me to be a ‘yes person’ – my editors know they can reach out to me with a last-minute story and that I’ll almost always be able to squeeze it in.

As for balance, based on my previous answer, I don’t spend energy trying to seek it – I just do what feels good.

For me, that can be making time for yoga or boxing, staying up late overseas to experience more when I know I have to rise early for sunrise, or the buzz I get from being in flow working late into the evening at my desk. I think it’s important to not be too hard on yourself either way.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

As a writer, it’s important to read – and not audio books (although I love them, too). The words sink in better and turns of phrase are more inspiring when you can see them.

I love reading the late Jonathan Gold’s work and reviews, a summary of which can be found in his book, Counter Intelligence: Where to Eat in the Real Los Angeles.

I adore the vivaciousness of New York restaurant critic Gael Greene in Insatiable: Tales From a Life of Delicious Excess; Table Talk: Sweet and Sour, Salt and Bitter by A. A. Gill and The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten. This short glimpse into my mind is probably more of an indication of my belief that you can never have too much of a good thing if you truly love it.

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

I make sure I have something that I’m excited about. That could be an article I’m looking forward to pitching, putting time aside to plan an overseas trip for work or play, discovering a new restaurant or just a casual dinner at my parents’ place.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

I’m a big believer in the power of words. If one puts pressure on themselves to achieve balance, doesn’t that have the potential to achieve the opposite? As a freelancer, it’s a luxury to be busy.

Being busy only becomes a negative experience when you’re unhappy. My advice? Don’t focus on balance. Focus on doing something that brings you fulfilment, because at the end of the day that’s what genuine success feels like.

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