Ever read travel stories which are so well written that you can clearly visualize and feel what the author is talking about?
Lola Mendez (@MissFilatelista )has been traveling the world as a writer since 2015 and it does not seem like she will be stopping any time soon. Her work has been featured in publications like InStyle, Lonely Planet, and Upworthy. Lola is ambitious, independent, and the ultimate go getter! I would not be surprised if we see her featured on Condé Nast and National Geographic next. I had the pleasure to chat with Lola and learn about what a bold decision, like leaving her NYC fashion job, has led her to!
I’m sure this is one of your most asked questions but I must begin this interview with it, what does Filatelista mean? And why did you choose that to be the name of your brand?
The day I decided to move to Spain I started a blog and social media profiles. I took out a pen and paper and started writing various travel-related words in English and Spanish. I wanted to create something that represented my Uruguayan-American heritage but also related to travel. I tried hard to avoid something cliche or offensive. I ended up thinking about how many pages I had left in my current passport which got me thinking about passport stamps. This led me to look up the Spanish name for a stamp collector, which is filatelista. In English a stamp collector is philatelist. The word for stamp collector is similar in other Latin languages, but funnily enough, hardly anyone knows what filatelista means, even native Spanish speakers! It’s quite an old-school word. This is the story of how Miss Filatelista was born!
The idea of stamp collecting and folding that into my brand identity is actually to honor both my maternal and paternal grandfathers. My maternal grandfather was a true stamp collector, of the postage variety and passport sort. He was also lifelong voyager which began during WWII when he was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. He continued to travel after the war ended and I grew up hearing his stories of exotic places and adored the handicrafts he’d bring back. I traveled with my grandpa often, most memorably on a month-long cruise around Latin America during which I got to cross the Panama Canal with him, one of his favorite travel experience. My paternal father was a mailman, and although I didn’t know him as well, the symmetry in these two patriarchs of my families dealing with stamps felt important enough to honor it through my travels.
So essentially Miss Filatelista is about my collection of passport stamps. I do regret not going with something more simple and easy to say such as Livin’ La Vida Lola! But, if you want to say filatelista correctly you can watch the ‘Meet Lola’ highlighted story on my Instagram, @MissFilatelista.
Tell us a little about your background?
I was born in California but moved to Uruguay when I was a kid. We came back to the USA unexpectedly when my mom got pregnant with my sister and decided she wanted to give birth at home, Uruguay wasn’t even a decade out of a military dictatorship at the time and medical care wasn’t as excellent there as it is today. I spent most of my childhood in Kansas City with frequent trips back to Uruguay to see family.
Growing up in an international Uruguayan-American family exposed me to travel at a young age and sparked a sense of wanderlust which has percolated throughout my life. I left Kansas behind for good when I was 17 and moved to Los Angeles. I never felt comfortable in the Midwest, it never felt like home, everything was just so…similar, there was no diversity. After just over a year in LA, I moved to NYC on a whim when I was 19. I became the woman I am today in NYC and enjoyed a fruitful career in the competitive NYC fashion industry. But, when I was 25 I couldn’t shake the feeling that my life wasn’t meant to be lived at a desk and that there was so much of the world that I needed to see. So, I resigned from the career I had dedicated a decade to and loved and made my way out into the great wide wild world.
How long have you been nomadic for?
I left New York City in March of 2015 and have been on the move ever since. The longest I stayed anywhere was 8 months in Madrid, Spain, which was also my first base and initial taste into living life overseas. Back then I would have never imagined my life would be nomadic the way it is now! I continue to surprise myself with the choices I make but they’ve mostly worked out so far!
How are you able to keep up a nomadic lifestyle?
Initially, I had a job in Spain, and then Italy. I had a few remote freelance communications clients but didn’t delve fully into freelance until about July of 2016. Slowly but surely my career started to shift from PR and marketing to journalism. Today I work as a full-time freelance reporter. I’ve written for various publications such as Lonely Planet, Explore Parts Unknown, World Nomads, Matador Network, and others. All of my published work can be seen on my blog’s published articles page. I usually write about travel, food, fashion, wellness, culture, etc.
What countries have you lived in?
I suppose that depends on how long you’d consider a stay to be living. I’ve spent extended time in many places. 4 months in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2 months in Hoi An, Vietnam, 3 months in Jodhpur, India, 3 months in Florence, Italy, and 8 months in Madrid, Spain. Now I’m at a point where I prefer to travel for 2 months, then have a base for 2-3 months, and repeat.
From your background I get a sense that you grew up really close to family. I have mentioned the digital nomad lifestyle to my Latinx parents and they think I am insane! How does your family feel about you your travel lifestyle?
My parents have always been a bit underwhelmed by my professional decisions–they still ask if I want to go to law school! Luckily my sister is about to start law school this week. I’m so proud of her and am a bit grateful she’s taken that burden off of my shoulders. I left home when I was 17 with a full-ride to study fashion in LA, something they weren’t thrilled about and felt was a misuse of my intelligence. I worked hard to proved them wrong and thrived in my career as a fashion publicist–I had a team of 3-5 people who I managed and made a competitive salary when I was 25 and walked away from it all.
I don’t think any of my controversial decisions have ever been shocking to them. I’ve been financially independent since I left for college so I haven’t really been a financial burden for them as I’ve supported myself over the last 11 years which means they didn’t have much control over the decisions I made for myself once I left home. I think now they realize that I’m always going to march to the beat of my own drum and follow my passions. I’m fortunate that they raised me in a way that encouraged me to think critically and be able to find ways to monetize my dreams. They’ve taught me how to persevere and most importantly, the value of a dollar. As they get older I do feel guilty about being away from home, but I know that they wouldn’t want to miss out on the life I’ve worked hard to create simply to be close to them. Fortunately, they’ve come to visit me in Europe and Asia and I plan to go back to the US in the fall of 2019 to spend a few weeks with them.
About your writing career, which topics do you write about that you think are important for people to check out?
My work centers around sustainable travel which also often parlays into culture and human rights. One of my favorite travel memories is the time I spent in the Chin state of Myanmar speaking to women with facial tattoos in Mindat. I’d heard so many awful rumors about the ink that I wanted to go there first hand to hear their stories, which was an incredible experience. I’m sharing the portraits I took in Mindat on Instagram now and think they’re some of my best work.
Lately, I’ve been trying to write from the heart more about certain things happening in the world that have impacted me, not all of which are travel related. In these personal pieces, I’ve written about my experience as a Latina and being the daughter of an immigrant, gun violence, sexual assault, women’s rights, and more. These have actually been my post read and shared posts. I’ve also started to get assigned more personal essays for mainstream publications so this form of writing has been really meaningful for me.
Tell us more about your Responsible Travel Series. What does responsible travel mean to you? Why is it so important to be talked about?
Responsible travel is not a trend, but a necessity, if we want future generations to be able to explore the incredible corners of the earth that we’ve destroyed by disrespecting, polluting, and exploiting culture, people, animals, and environment.
I have so much to say about this that this year I’ve started a series Responsible Travel Challenges. Each month I write about 3,000 words dissecting one aspect of responsible travel. My hope is to make this topic more approachable and digestible by mainstream travelers who aren’t sure where to start when it comes to being more ethical as they explore. I’ll include links to the first seven below! I’d love to know if any readers have suggestions for other topics.
January: Ethical Animal Encounters
February: Booking Mindful Accommodation
March: Respect Local Culture
April: Ethical Beauty Products
July: Plastic-Free Travel
What is your advice to other fellow Latinas whom may want to take on the digital nomad life but for whatever reason they have not taken the leap?
Congratulations! You recognize that you want to make a change in your life and that is a huge first step. So many people subconsciously know they aren’t happy with their lives but will never take the steps to make a major change as their fear full of leaving behind what’s comfortable for the unknown. You’re already halfway there to being a nomad by acknowledging that it’s something you want. My advice for aspiring Latina digital nomads is to find a niche within your industry. Hone in on your expertise and only take on clients that you feel passionate about. Without passion for the work you’re doing it will be impossible to skip out on a beach day or a night out to focus on remote projects.
Thank you Lola for sharing so much about your journey with us!
You can keep up with Lola online at the following:
Instagram – @missfilatelista
Twitter – @missfilatelista
Facebook – @missfilatelista