Mary Jo Manzanares blogs at Traveling with MJ with a focus on value luxury travel, helping readers learn when to splurge and when to save. She has a weekly podcast at Where Else to Go where she helps listeners decide where to go. . . and where else to go. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The Travelers Way, providing practical information for baby boomer travelers. She combines her love of travel, wine, and her home state of Washington in Seattle Bits & Bites which she founded 2016. Mary Jo has been a speaker at numerous tourism industry events and also consults with tourism clients on social media and working with bloggers. She joins us this week to talk about her life as a blogger and her varied projects.
What led you to the world of travel blogging and what’s the journey been like for you?
I came to blogging fairly early back in March 2006, originally as part of a blog network. As a flight attendant, I traveled thousands and thousands of miles each year and was always getting questions about where to go and what to see, travel tips, recommendations, etc. Other flight attendants would often ask me questions about what to do on a layover when there was time to do something, but not enough time to do everything. Eventually, I was promoted to the editor of the Travel Vertical, and then went it was sold, continued on for the new owner. At some point, it became obvious that instead of building a business for someone else that I needed to build a business for myself, and that began in earnest in late 2009. I’ve been at it ever since, and while it’s been a twisting path, I’m pretty happy with where I’ve wound up.
You’ve done a fabulous job of branding in the “value luxury” realm. What advice would you offer to others when it comes to establishing a personal brand?
When I started out, I didn’t really have a brand and I was all over the board. Part of that was just wild enthusiasm about sharing travel with other people, part was having no clue that I could build a business out of the new medium of blogging. Some time and maturity (professionally and personally) eventually helped me refine my travel preference, in turn leading to the concept of value luxury.
To me, value luxury is knowing when to save and when to splurge. It’s about more than what’s affordable, it’s about identifying the things that make travel a wonderful experience for you and making sure that you budget time and money to include those in your plans whether it’s enjoying a fabulous glass of red wine at a cafe in Italy or having breakfast in bed with a view of the Eiffel Tower. It’s different things to different people, and I try to share those without judgment as to how readers prioritize their experiences. I couldn’t have done that when I started blogging.
Despite the miles I had logged, I hadn’t developed my writing and influence muscle to know how to provide someone with the information to help them make a decision. Over time I’ve realized that the biggest service I can provide a reader is not telling them what to do, but giving them sufficient information to help them make their own decisions. I think establishing a personal brand takes time, time to develop and evolve.
We hear a lot about developing multiple streams of income. What has been your strategy for doing this?
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! I’ve been there, done that, and won’t make that mistake again. To help my business become more well-rounded, I’ve incorporated revenue streams that include multiple blogs, advertising, affiliate sales, syndication, sponsorships, product placement, campaigns and ambassadorships, and consulting work. I do very little freelance work (Tim’s Hotel Scoop site is my only freelance gig currently). It might sound like that type of diversification is complicated and a lot of work, but it’s not. What is far more work is focusing on one revenue stream, watching it dry up, then having to start all over again. Keeping nimble and on the lookout for new opportunities will reduce that risk.
In addition to multiple streams of income, you’ve developed multiple sites in addition to Traveling with MJ, including Seattle Bits & Bites, the Travelers Way, and most recently, The Yums. Can you share a little about The Yums?
I’m the founder and editor of The Yums—a restaurant review site. We’re just about a year old in concept but much less in actually getting out content. I have multiple writers who contribute reviews. We’re more gourmand than gourmet, so our information and recommendations are practical. We’ll let you know what’s worth the splurge and what’s not, and where to get good value your budget—no matter what your budget is.
I set the first year to build content and authority, and we’ve been slowly doing that. We’re just starting to roll out some monetization strategies.
If you had to choose 3 top travel memories, what would they be?
This is such a tough question because as soon as I write down three, another couple will crop up. These are the ones that are top of mind right now:
Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1967 – My grandmother took my brother and me to visit our cousins. It was my first flight experience. While I didn’t fall in love with Fairbanks, I did fall in love with flying.
San Francisco, California, in 1973 – A youth group bus trip from Seattle to California resulted in a couple of days exploring in San Francisco. As Tony Bennett crooned, “I left my heart” there and it’s one city that I’m happy to return to again and again. The trip also provided me with a chance to do my own thing, rather than constantly being part of a group, and I developed confidence exploring on my own and wanting to see something different from everyone else.
Rome, Italy, in 2008 – It was my first trip to Italy and the beginning of what would be a continuing love affair with the country. After a long night of travel, we came out of the subway at the Colosseo stop on a beautiful spring day. Across the street was the Colosseum. I stood there awestruck at seeing this historic site. It brought tears to my eyes.
What’s up next for you in 2018? Projects, travel, etc.
I launched two new initiatives for 2018 – A travel reading list and Goodreads group which has been a lot of fun, as well as providing me with inspiration about what to read on my next trip. I’ve also launched a monthly series on places that we’ve discovered and never want to leave on my Traveling with MJ site.
I’ve also just completed a site re-design which was a major project. I’m going to breathe easy for a while and make sure everything is settled into place before tackling any major new projects. The rest of 2018 is full of editorial and social campaigns, including a cruise with Viking Ocean, a trip to Barbados, and a wine trip to Napa. There are also a few ideas that may trickle to the top later this year (a new niche site and possibly a book idea), plus I’m already busy developing a couple of big initiatives for 2019.
Mary Jo’s travel ethos is value luxury—that sweet spot where experience and price intersect to create WOW. When she’s not on a trip, Mary Jo resides in Seattle where she’s always busy planning or researching the next one. She always has a bag packed, ready for the next great adventure. Follow her on Twitter.