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Business Traveler Interview: Melanie Waldman

This is part of a new series here at WhyGo Business Travel featuring brief interviews with people who travel for work, asking them about what they do and some of their favorite travel tips. This way, if you’re looking for a career that will require travel, you’ll get to read about people doing some of the jobs you might consider – and you’ll also learn a few great travel tips from the travel pros!

Travel blogger Melanie Waldman on the job in Hawaii
This week, we’re talking with Melanie Waldman. Melanie is an LA-based travel writer whose site, Travels With Two, is all about couples travel.

What do you do?
I write (and take many, many photographs for) Travels With Two, the travel blog for couples. Through narrative tales of my travels and those of other couples, as well as planning resources, occasional product reviews and money-saving tips, I encourage working couples to get away for a bit and travel in a spirit of exploration and romance.

In other words, I hope to pry double-income couples out of the workaholic rut that might just cause their relationship to stagnate like algae on a pond.

Though I’m often traveling, I’m based in Los Angeles — where I have a lovely home, a hard-working husband, a dog, a cat and a perennial garden that I rarely tend anymore. Good thing about perennials? They just sort of grow. Perfect plant choices for a travel writer. Pets, on the other hand, require a bit more work.

What kind of travel do you get to do for work? Do you get to choose where you go?
My work travel is a combination of sponsored press trips and self-financed vacations. I don’t always go exactly where I’d like to be most at any given moment, but I never say yes to — or plan — a trip that doesn’t interest me in some fundamental way and fit my niche.

Because of that niche, I’m most often sent to Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean, and usually put up in big-chain and boutique hotels and beach resorts. However, I’m most comfortable in woodsy or urban bed and breakfasts and lodges, and feel happiest when a sponsored trip includes one. I love the feeling of being in a cozy home away from home.

I’m fortunate that my personal travel style is to get up in the morning and see everything that I can until I fall into bed at night, because that’s a lot of what a travel writer does. (It also helps to be a morning person.) Sometimes I’m on a group trip where the entire itinerary has been planned by my hosts, but I’ve come to prefer some alone time so that I can slow down a bit and go find my own adventures. That said, over the years I’ve enjoyed trying out some exciting things through organized excursions, like zip-lining through the jungle, parasailing 300 feet above the sea, and swimming with sharks. (Okay, they were gentle nurse sharks…but still.)

I don’t always get to choose exactly where I’d like to go, but I can sway my odds. For instance, I recently wrote about a post about how excited I was by Taiwan’s vibrant displays at this year’s Travel & Adventure Show in Los Angeles, and now I’ll be visiting the country in November as an invited guest of the tourism bureau.

Do you add any extra “fun” days on to work trips? Why or why not?
I absolutely do. Every time that I don’t, I invariably end up missing one of the main things I’d wanted to see or wishing I’d had time to do something innocuous and/or random. Truth be told, it’s small, quiet experiences — like discovering a dusty old bakery in Philadelphia that makes handmade cannoli or a jungly, half-hidden river walk in Bali — that tend to keep me hooked on travel.

Just recently, I tacked two extra days onto my journey to Vancouver for my annual travel bloggers’ conference, and I was able to putter through the leafy West End, stroll beside Coal Harbour to see seaplanes land against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains, walk 1/3 of 1,000-acre Stanley Park, check out the scene in a local pub for one of the Stanley Cup final games, have dim sum in Chinatown, check out the steam clock in Gastown and have sunset cocktails at Granville Island — all before the networking really got started.

How often do you get to travel for work?
I’m on the road approximately five months of the year. Some months pass without a single stop at home, but sometimes, like now, I’m home for a couple of months at a stretch. Who knows? I might actually get some gardening done this summer.

Did you choose your job at least in part because you love to travel? Would you make the same job choice again, knowing what you know now?
I chose my job because I truly love sharing my excitement about the world with other people. That said, I’m also an incurable travel addict. Even after a long stretch of schlepping across the Earth, I generally feel like I could keep going. What usually keeps me home is a desire to see my loved ones, give my life a sense of routine, and get some serious writing done. After a few outings with my friends, some trips to the dog park and clearing out my DVR, though, I’m often ready to go again.

My husband travels with me about 50% of the time, and certainly the best perk of my gig is being allowed to bring him along on sponsored trips. I don’t make anything resembling a fortune from my travel blog and various freelance assignments, so this is a wonderful gift to be able to give him in exchange for all the hours I spend researching, writing, editing, formatting photos, tweeting…and not cooking.

I would certainly choose this job again, but it’s sometimes a challenge that I’ve turned my passion into my work. It makes it hard to take a true vacation, where I turn off social media and the more analytical side of myself. Every trip I take, no matter how it’s funded, becomes research fodder for my work.

What are some of your favorite travel tips that you’ve picked up?
I always keep my travel gear stowed the same way, in the same places, so that I can avoid the stress of scramble-packing.

I keep most of my technological gadgets, aside from my point-and-shoot camera and iPhone, stored in a zippered pouch in my laptop case. (This has been my protocol ever since I found myself on a work trip without, um, my laptop charge cord.) Into the pouch goes an ethernet cable, camera battery charger, three-format camera-card reader, iPhone charge cord, and um, my laptop charge cord.

In a soft-sided carry-on, I store my mesh packing cubes, shoe bags, waterproof bag (for sailing trips and post-beach bathing suit storage), passport and travel document folder, and a soft, zippered pouch (that I once received in business class) stocked with noise-reducing headphones, hand lotion, lip balm, a roll-on perfume dispenser, a nail file, gum, an eye mask, tissues, socks, a few over-the-counter sleep tablets, and a homeopathic remedy called No Jet Lag.

I put the packed carry-on inside my rolling suitcase, then store the whole shebang on an overhead shelf in my closet.

In my toiletries case, I have a separate just-about-everything always ready to go — razor, skin and hair care products, toothbrush, toothpaste and more. I use a tri-folding case that features clear plastic pouches so that I can lay it flat on top of my packed bag, buy myself a few inches of room and breeze through security.

And yes, I keep my closet organized by clothing colors — and I don’t care who knows it. Laugh if you will, but I can be packed for a two-week trip inside of an hour.

Oh, and I’ve discovered that whenever a plane features Economy Plus seating, it’s a worthwhile expense; more legroom and better service than coach for about half the price of business class.

What advice do you have for someone who’s interested in doing what you do?
Read the work of other travel bloggers to find your community; you might just find yourself traveling with these folks someday.

Plan on early mornings and late nights both on the road and at home, and spending at least as many days writing about a trip as you have on the trip itself.

Take the time to learn the basics of programs like WordPress and Photoshop. It’s important to know how to properly format your own blog posts and make your photos look their best, no matter where you are or how likely it is that your favorite computer geek is still awake.

Consider getting a credit card that earns you miles in a global airline collective like OneWorld or Star Alliance, and use it to pay for as much as possible in your everyday life. That way, if the trip of your dreams includes everything but airfare, you’ll have a financially feasible option of getting yourself there. Also, when airfare is being booked for you through travel industry public relations agencies (and this will, more often than not, be in coach), you can provide your frequent flyer number and use your miles for upgrades. Check out a blog called The Points Guy for great tips on getting the most out of your miles.

Never go rogue while on a pre-planned, sponsored trip. This is a job, not a vacation, and a business or bureau’s investment in you should be treated with respect.

Read things outside of the travel sphere whenever possible. Not only can this better inform your writing, but it can give you something else to talk about at cocktail parties. See, when you meet someone new and tell them you’re a travel blogger, it’s entirely possible that two hours later you’ll still be answering questions about your job.

Find out more about Melanie by checking out her website Travels With Two, and you can also follow her on Twitter @travelswithtwo.

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