Rebecca Bollwitt is one of those rare people who doesn’t need an introduction. Her Vancouver blog, Miss604.com, is well known in Canada and parts of the United States, and has been voted the #1 Vancouver blog for the last four years. Rebecca has organized several conferences in the Vancouver area, including two WordCamps, several Twestivals, and several blog-until-you-pass-out 24-hour sessions of Blogathons.
Not only is Rebecca actively involved with Vancouver and her website, but her and her husband also co-founded a WordPress-centric design and development company called Sixty4Media. She even co-authored a business book that contains some powerful business, blogging and WordPress tips: Blogging To Drive Business. And like me, Rebecca can perform both of her jobs while travelling, something I find more and more people are adjusting their lives to accommodate.
Rebecca also does a great deal of travel, both personal and sponsored trips, all the while writing for Miss604.com. While I see Rebeecca and John around the Vancouver area from time to time, I’ve also managed to meet up with both of them in the sunshine of the Dominican Republic, the rainy tarp-covered campsites in British Columbia, and the coldest winter we ever spent that summer down in San Francisco a few years ago.
I recently had a chance to ask Rebecca some questions related to travel and how she juggles it all with marriage, charity events, and her responsibilities within two of her own companies.
Enjoy this week’s traveller profile, Rebecca Bollwitt:
Question 1: I know that both you and your husband enjoy travelling. As a business owner, have you consciously made decisions or restructured your life/business to make it easier to travel? If so, how?
My husband John and I met (on purpose) while traveling, in Boston’s South Station no less, so it’s always been a big part of our lives and a reason why we started our own business. We were holed up on Salt Spring Island in late winter when we worked on our very first client project as a gas fireplace roared on our balcony overlooking the harbour.
John’s family also lives in Iowa so when we take 2-week vacations to visit, we also stay connected and do work from there so being productive on-the-go is an integral part of our business plan.
Pretty much everything we need to operate can be accessed through our laptops, from our online accounting system to our company wiki and Google Drive for project notes, to our publishing platforms and development websites.
For the blog (Miss604.com) side of my business, I also find that travel content keeps me unique. There are hundreds of blogs in Vancouver that could potentially all write about the same event but when I have an in-person experience and tell my own story, that makes me stand out.
Question 2: Do you find when you travel that you can still be as effective when you write on Miss604.com as you are when back at home? Does being out of the country make writing content more difficult, either from a technical perspective (such as access to internet) or logistical perspective (such as communicating with people back in Vancouver)?
There are pros and cons to both. I love being in another time zone because chances are I’ll be ahead of Vancouver. This means I can wake up in the morning, do 3 hours of writing, and have my entire day scheduled for publishing by the time the morning rush hour hits back home.
However, if I am on a hosted press trip with an itinerary made by a tourism association, the days are usually pretty jam-packed. I have enough time before bed to download photos from my camera, perhaps edit a few and write a few notes for a post. My eyes will probably shut on me until morning until I can get some posts composed for the day ahead.
My writing frequency does diminish when I’m on the road. I post about 2 times a day instead of 3-5. It helps to have weekly themes (like Vancouver Photos of the Week, Vancouver History profiles, etc.) so that I don’t have to waste time thinking about a topic.
Question 3: What are some of the online services or tools that you when you are in a different country and working on your website or Sixty4Media?
My top tools to keep me publishing while traveling and being disconnected are WordPress and HootSuite. With WordPress powering my blog I can compose posts and schedule them to publish at specific times in the future. I can also schedule tweets on HootSuite, often scheduling a full day’s worth (about 15 tweets) a few days in advance. While there are other scheduling services for Twitter (and Facebook), I like HootSuite’s dashboard, analytics, and the fact that it’s a made-in-Vancouver service. We also have a corporate account so my husband and I can publish from both of our personal Twitter profiles as well as our business’.
Question 4: You have traveled previously for charitable or philanthropic purposes, one of which was a trip to Ghana. Can you describe how you ended up taking part in that trip, what it meant to the children involved, and what it meant to you personally?
There are those opportunities that pop up in your email inbox that you simply cannot ignore. This happened in November of 2009 when I was invited to Switzerland to tour the IOC and Olympic Museum ahead of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games and then again in February of 2011 when Cadbury invited me to Ghana.
For this trip I had to carefully consider the relevance to my audience. They probably won’t be traveling to Ghana any time soon so it had nothing to do with the travel angle on the story and it was solely about the Cadbury Bicycle Factory. This online campaign allowed Canadians to enter UPC codes from their chocolate and candy products into an interactive online game that converted each code into a virtual “bike part”. When enough parts were created, a REAL bike was built in Ghana, for Ghanaian children.
Given that Vancouverites a) love chocolate b) love charitable causes c) are huge into bike culture I knew it would be a good story — that and I really wanted to go to Africa. What I didn’t anticipate was some backlash about the cocoa trade however I found that Cadbury educated me enough, showed me enough, and introduced me to so many people that I could provide adequate responses to the comments.
I have helped with local causes, both with online campaigns and in person serving holiday meals at the mission in the DTES, that I wanted to take part in something global.
When we arrived in Nsiana, Ghana and the children were cheering for “Canada!” and the teachers were asking us to “send more food” I knew this was a bigger deal than I had ever expected. We were bringing hundreds of bikes to villages so that boys and girls could get to school, and wells to provide their families with clean drinking water. There was an emphasis on education and learning. I even met a gentleman in the market in Accra who asked me if I knew where “Nanaimo” and “Campbell River” were in Canada because he read about them in books at school that were donated by Canadians.
I think what hit me the most was that people can really make a difference with the click of a mouse. The very least you can do is sit behind your computer and make a donation or enter a code, and even that tiny bit helps. It puts smiles on faces and helps a child, who lives in a hut and has to walk 2km barefoot on a red dirt road, get a lift and get a lift up in this world.
Question 5: You have a profession where you can mostly set your own hours, but your husband does not. How does that affect your decision of when and where to travel, especially when it concerns promotional trips where you can often go on your own and experience a new location for free?
While I am productive on the road, I’m only at about 75% of what I can do when I’m at home. I love the travel experiences and getting unique content that sets me apart, telling stories with my own voice and photos. However, I am very careful when selecting the excursions in which I take part. Here’s a quick list:
Is it useful for my audience? Anything in BC, the Pacific Northwest, and Cascadia is automatically something of interest. Other destinations like Southern California, Mexico, and Hawaii are very popular with Vancouverites so they are also a good fit for my audience.
Once the experience/destination is deemed a fit and I get a proposal for the trip (what is included, where we’ll be going, etc.) I check my calendar and see if I’m free — I suppose that should be the first thing I do but if it’s not a fit then there’s no point so I’ll carry on. For group trips with perhaps 5 writers from publications across BC or Canada, it is very rare that a partner is invited along so I always discuss the solo trip with my husband first. For individual invitations, where partners are invited, we’ll look at his work schedule and see if he can take time off to join. If he can’t, but I can still bring someone with me, I’ll ask my sister or her children as I did with a recent trip to California with Disney Canada where I took my niece.
Although media trips are often fully hosted, there are expenses that can be incurred so I look at my budget as well. Will the spend, and losing 25% of my full work capacity, be worth the trip? Expenses could be internet in hotel rooms, some meals or alcohol, some transportation. The host will usually list these up front. On a recent trip to Maui my husband was invited along as long as we paid his airfare, which we did. The timing and content were a perfect fit.
Question 6: This topic came up in a recent travel conference in Toronto, and I thought it was a good one. Often you, and most other travel bloggers, are given free hotels, passes, and even entire vacations that are free in exchange (or with the hope at least) that they will write about their experiences in a positive light after the event. How does a professional blogger balance the need to be objective about an experience, for the sake of their readers, vs the desire to do a positive review , for the sake of their sponsors, that may lead to additional free trips in the future?
I have been on hosted trips, where a tourism association will cover the cost of a hotel, attractions, and transportation, and the expected editorial coverage is discussed in advance. For example they can and will ask for an article and ask when it will be published. Most of the time I get out at least 3 articles from a longer trip (5-7 days). I will write about the hotel and one or more of the attractions, for example. Never is it implied or expected that only positive coverage will be provided.
I think that above all, everyone wants good honest feedback. If I have an issue with a place I visited, I will talk to the tourism association (or host) before posting coverage.
I may mention the attraction or experience as being less than favourable (in a general blog post about the whole trip) and only provide full posts for the ones I enjoyed. Even with the latter, I often post a list of what to see/what to skip to be as useful as possible.
I have never feared that being honest about an experience will get me blacklisted from future media opportunities. If anything, a good host will want to make sure future experiences blow your socks off. I don’t think it’s the review or coverage that can get a blogger blacklisted from trips in the future either, I think it’s their attitude, transparency, and professionalism above all.
For bloggers, disclosure is paramount. In the US, it’s required for tax purposes but in general, I think it builds trust with your audience. They want the same honest feedback and recommendations and grow to trust your knowledge and experience.
Question 7: People always ask me what my favourite destination is out of all the places I’ve visited, and it’s an answer that I find hard to answer, mostly because every place I have visited has had memorable elements to it. Do you have a favourite place in the world you have visited?
My best travel experiences are with John and hosted or not, our trips to Salt Spring Island in BC have always been the best. We call it our “happy place” – even when we get bikes from our inn and end up on a 20km ride that’s far from flat. Walks through the forest that lead us to an outcropping of boulders that touch the sea as a porpoise swims by. Visiting the Saturday market to pick up a bath bomb from Salt Spring Island Soapworks to enjoy in the room later. Having a 4-course meal at Hastings House where every single ingredient is sourced from the island — from the lamb to the garlic, edible flowers, and beer. Flying over in a seaplane and touching down on the water after seeing each Gulf Island from 1,100ft. It’s an amazing local getaway.
That, and Maui. The Haleakala sunrise experience was unforgettable (and unforgettably COLD) and well-worth the 3am wake-up call. I guess we love islands.
Final Question: Many of my friends have a ‘Travel Bucket List’ of places they want to visit before they die. If you had to pick a few for yours, what would they be?
John is a HUGE English football fan so we’d love to get to London together (I’ve only ever been for weekend trips). From there we’d go to Southampton to check out where my Nan was born then we’d take in a Saints match before traveling by train to various other destinations my family has recommended (like my father’s birthplace) eventually getting up to Scotland. Aside from the UK, we want to visit my family in Germany as they are located all over the country. There are also a few Belgian breweries that we’d love to visit so perhaps a big European tour is in order.
As for a bucket list, I’d love to get to the Canadian Territories and all 50 states but I wouldn’t be quick to delete an email pitch from Madagascar or Japan.
Where To Find Rebecca
A big thanks to Rebecca for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer all of these questions. If you want to follow along with Rebecca, you can find her at Miss604.com, Sixty4Media, @Miss604 on Twitter, and Miss604 on Facebook.