Travel is more than just a vacation; for many, it’s a way of life. According to a 2016 survey by group travel provider Topdeck Travel, more millennials are willing to cut back on their wedding budgets to travel more. If you, too, have an incurable case of wanderlust, consider turning your affinity for country-hopping into a full-time gig. In this week’s How to Quit Your Day Job series, we chat with Mary Cecchini, the founder of Living Big, a travel resource company for women, about how her travel blog changed her life.
Meet the Travel Pro: Mary Cecchini
Mary Cecchini had no idea that a solo trek through Europe would someday lead her to quit her corporate marketing job and start a company that helped women achieve their dreams of traveling solo. Five years ago, she blogged about her European adventure, and through her blog, she heard from women who wanted to do the same thing, but didn’t have the time to plan and were worried about traveling solo. After hosting a Costa Rican adventure in 2014 for 10 women, Cecchini knew she wanted to turn these women-focused adventures into her full-time job. (Check out past Living Big trips and her current adventures schedule.)
Brit + Co: What’s your morning routine?
Mary Cecchini: My morning routine, when I’m not on the road, generally starts around 5am with a quick workout, coffee, and shower, and then the day is off and running to tackle the to-do list of travel research, booking logistics, client calls, business administration, etc. But I do like to take a break late morning for a full breakfast at home when I can. Avocado toast and sautéed kale with a fried egg are my favorites.
B+C: What inspired you to start your company?
MC: About five years ago, I was traveling solo through Europe. I set out on this trip after abandoning my Plan A for work, which was in the corporate marketing world. I looked to travel for space and guidance to figure out a Plan B, and that’s just what I got. During this trip, I kept a blog and shared stories about where I was going, what I was finding and learning, and who I was meeting. In response to these posts, I heard from women all over the world expressing how they wish they could travel like this, but they don’t have enough time to plan, don’t have a companion to travel with, feel insecure about traveling solo, or are overwhelmed by all the destination and hotel options, etc. When I returned home from this solo trip, I tested a lot of new professions, including leading trips for small groups of women, inspired by the feedback from my blog readers. The first adventure I hosted was a trip to Costa Rica in 2014 with 10 women, and I haven’t looked back since. I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity to pivot from a Plan A to find a Plan B that brings me so much joy.
B+C: How do you challenge yourself as an entrepreneur?
MC: Challenges are every single day in entrepreneurship! There are so many things to handle, such as taxes, insurance, liability, finance, HR, digital marketing. These aspects of entrepreneurship challenge me because they’re not in my wheelhouse and are slightly removed from the core of my business and what brings me joy, but I face them every day because without them, Living Big can’t grow and continue to serve women’s ambitions to travel. I must say that working through these challenges has been incredibly rewarding. I’ve personally grown so much, and I’ve also had the chance to work with and learn from other women who have great skills in the areas I consider my challenges.
B+C: Tell us about how your family and friends help support your business.
MC: They 100 percent support me in chasing my dreams, which isn’t always easy on them. Because of my travels, I’ve missed milestone birthdays, celebrations, parties, and more, but they never waiver in their support. The name for my company, “Living Big,” was inspired by my mother and how she taught me to approach life. My stepmother has been on a half-dozen trips and is a major advocate in my family for what Living Big Travel is all about. My father and I co-host annual glamping trips. He’s the camp director and in charge of all the meals. My stepfather has helped build trade show booths and so many other projects. My brother handles a lot of the company insurance and liability needs, and my sister-in-law designed the logo and creates all the graphics and marketing assets. And my boyfriend Zach is not only a stellar travel research buddy, but also my absolute rock that brings an abundance of love, joy, balance, and support into my world! Without a doubt, Living Big Travel would not be here if it weren’t for my family.
B+C: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
MC: It’s easy to get distracted by new opportunities, fast growth, the promise of money and fame, but more than anything: Keep your eye on your North Star. I’m constantly thinking about what role this business plays in my life, and I hold myself accountable to make sure everything I do is in pursuit of my North Star, which is to do work that brings me joy, do work that contributes to the lifestyle and culture I want for myself and my family, and do work that serves the needs of my clients and community.
B+C: What do you love about your job?
MC: I’m so inspired by the women I travel with, and the people I meet on my journeys. Because of them, the lens I use to view the world is so much bigger, more empathetic, patient, and kind.
B+C: Name two female heroes who you think should get a shout-out.
MC: I’d like to give a shout-out to the women who push social norms and boundaries to fight for the equality we enjoy today at the ballot box, in the workplace, at home, and in public discourse, such as Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Malala Yousafzai, Condoleezza Rice, Sheryl Sandberg, and the women courageously leading the #metoo movement. Many of these women, and the groups that rallied to their cause, were at one point in time, or considered by some, as radicals for the fairness and justice they pursued. I view these women as pioneers who laid the path to equal opportunities that we’re enjoying, albeit still fighting for, today.
The second woman is Brené Brown. Since I first heard her on the TED stage I’ve followed her work, books, and research on vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. Her words have changed how I view myself, the world, and the circumstances that come my way. I think everyone can use a little Brené in their life.
B+C: If you could tell aspiring creative women anything, what would it be?
MC: Take the time to figure out what brings you joy. Figure out what it is that you love more than anything — something that you’re willing to move through the scary parts for, the topics you know nothing about, and the questions you can’t immediately answer. Then, decide if you want to monetize this passion. If the answer is yes, then start by finding small ways to test the concept to ensure you’re still as passionate about the work when you’re trying to build a business around it! Save every spare penny you can to invest in your dreams.
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!
(Photos via Living Big)