Do you dread Mondays? Or maybe you’ve been stuck in the same old routine for years. Well, if you’ve ever thought you’re doomed to the same lifestyle forever, just chat with Jen Ruiz from Jen on a Jet Plane! This lawyer-turned-full-time-travel-blogger knows a thing or two about making a massive career switch.
Jen may be a full-time travel blogger now (and No. 1 Amazon bestselling author and TEDx speaker), but she didn’t start out that way. She actually started traveling as a way to recoup from the stress of her career. Despite her love for practicing law, the work was beginning to weigh on her. Travel was the thing that brought joy back into her life. Eventually, she made it to 12 countries in 12 months!
We sat down with Jen to learn how she took her blog from a hobby to her full-time job by learning about search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing. She also shares how Perlu has taken her blogging career to the next level with networking and collaboration opportunities.
Whether you want to know how to become an Instagram travel influencer or just need some motivation to make a 180 in your life, Jen has advice for you!
Interview with Jen Ruiz from Jen on a Jet Plane
Perlu: Welcome to the Perlu podcast. I am Alexis Trammell, and today we’re speaking with Jen Ruiz. Jen is a lawyer turned full-time solo travel blogger. Jen on a Jet Plane is a blog helping people travel for less and experience more. She is a No. 1 Amazon bestselling author, a TEDx speaker, and she was named Top 40 Under 40 by the Naples Harold. Jen, thank you so much for joining us today.
Jen: Thank you for having me, Alexis.
P: Such a pleasure. So tell us a little bit about yourself and Jen on a Jet Plane.
J: Well, like you mentioned, I’m a solo female travel blogger. I started the blog when I started taking small trips around the world while I was still employed, and then right before my 30th birthday I took on a challenge to take 12 trips in 12 months just to have a big personal accomplishment under my belt by that milestone, and I ended up taking 20 trips in 12 months.
Then I realized that that was actually my passion – that I really enjoyed traveling. I really enjoyed writing; it was part of what made me like law in the first place – that ability to really just move people with words and writing. So I decided to write a book. I wrote my first book, The Affordable Flight Guide, because so many people kept asking me how I was able to afford to travel so much because I worked in nonprofit law, not corporate law. So I think people knew right away that there was something I was doing differently since I was able to afford all these trips.
So I put all my best secrets for finding cheap flights into a book. Everybody really enjoyed it. They really found it helpful. And then I realized I could pursue this as a living. I had taken on a job teaching English online on the side while I was still working to help fund my travels. So I switched to writing and traveling full time and then also using that remote teaching gig to help fund some of the transition. And I’ve been traveling now for almost a year. I’m just doing this full time, and I have a second book that came out, and I’ve been working on the blog, and it’s been a great experience.
P: That’s amazing. That’s so very cool. So what made you pursue this dream job in the beginning and what made you make the switch from law?
J: Well, especially with law, it’s such a tough field to get into. You have to go through so much education and a lot of going through the ringer to get a good job in the first place. I know it took me years before I finally landed the legal aid job that I was working at, which was a great job because it paid your student loans after 10 years through a public service loan forgiveness program. A lot of us have a lot of student loans.
So it took me a long time to get there. And I think once you get to that point where you’ve already put in so much effort and so much work to get to a career path, you really do feel stuck there. And that’s a sentiment that I’ve seen echoed throughout many different attorneys at all different fields – where they enjoy what they’re doing, but at the end of the day, they feel like they wouldn’t be able to make any kind of switch. They feel like they’re kind of stuck on that path.
For me that was problematic because I enjoyed being an advocate for the less fortunate; especially as a legal aid, my work was very rewarding, but I fought with people every single day – every single day! So it was like, imagine your worst customer service phone call where you just hang up the phone and you’re livid and you’re like, “I’m done with this company.” And that’s how I felt essentially at the end of every day, and it was good in that I could help other people, but at the same time, it really wore on me. So I knew this wasn’t something I could do sustainably for a long time.
I still value my legal knowledge, and I value my degree, but I knew that I was at the point where I had kind of paid for an education to give me more flexibility, and I didn’t want to feel stuck – I wanted to feel like I’m well trained and well educated. I can pick up things quickly, so I should be able to make a switch if I wanted to, to a career path that really suits me better and that doesn’t stress me out so much every day. So I just decided that’s when I started to travel, just to try to find some kind of joy – some things to look forward to daily.
So instead of feeling like I’m constantly stuck in a struggle or constantly seeing the worst of people – because in the law you do see the worst of people, and that’s with everyone in the situations that they’re in and the way attorneys sometimes treat others – that was very disheartening.
Travel brought this light into my life where I could have something to look forward to, and I would have some kind of escape and release. It was just so wonderful and warm; it was something that I looked forward to so much. I realized that maybe that was something I should be pursuing instead – what fills me with joy and happiness as opposed to dread. So that’s when I decided to start traveling, and then, once I realized I could do these trips and I could work remotely, that I could make a living off of writing books.
I discovered everything about self-publishing and marketing in general. I learned a lot about that industry, and I’m still learning every single day. That’s another thing I really like about it, is that it’s a constant challenge. That’s what made me decide to pursue traveling and writing instead. And I really love writing.
I had an article that came out in the Huffington Post about why I quit dating to travel the world full time, and that was something that went pretty viral. I had women contacting me from the Ukraine, contacting me from Mexico saying, “Oh my God, your words really reached me – I felt like you were speaking right to me, like you were looking into my life,” and that’s when I realized that I had this power with words to really impact and reach people and affect them for the better. And I wanted to pursue that through travel writing.
P: Wow. Wow. How impactful. That’s amazing. So what was it like when you were first getting started in your career? I mean, Perlu is full of some up-and-coming influencers and some more well established ones, and I think they’d love to hear what it was like getting started for you early, early on when you were trying to grow that audience.
J: I think a lot of people, especially now, they look at me and they think, “Oh, she has like the best life. It must have been so easy. Her growth happened so quickly.” In reality, that’s not the case. I actually started blogging back in 2014. I had moved from Maryland to Florida. Maryland is where I went to law school, and then Florida is where I’d gone to college, and I wasn’t crazy enough to go from Florida back up to the cold!
So I moved back down, and I passed the Bar in Florida. My license for Maryland didn’t translate there, so I was working as an attorney, as a law clerk at affirm making $12 an hour – just really below what I should’ve been making at that stage. I needed a creative outlet, and that’s when I started the blog. My blog was not Jen on a Jet Plane at first.
I think when it first started it was something more targeted towards helping people get through that transition in their twenties where they’re kind of feeling lost; they’re kind of feeling like they’re trying to figure themselves out. But it wasn’t really a sustainable blog. Obviously I’m already not in my twenties, so that didn’t last long, but that’s what helped me get started with writing and blogging, and through that I was able to find other channels and publish my work – Elite Daily and things like that – and that let get me into freelance writing as well, which has been really instrumental for me in growing a following and reaching a new audience. From there, I rebranded again to What’s Jen Up To? which I realized wasn’t really niche enough, and this is as I was learning about blogging, and I really didn’t know much when I started.
I just thought, you know, get on the computer, put your thoughts out there and the people will come, and that’s just so far from how it works! So years later, in 2016, I finally transitioned to Jen on a Jet Plane. It took a lot of brainstorming. It was after I had taken a half dozen trips that year prior to my 29th year; I went to Machu Picchu and Barcelona, and I’m just hiking by myself and in Colorado in the Rocky Mountains, and all of those things really sparked my love of travel and helped lay the foundation for me to be able to take the 12 trips in 12 months challenge that following year.
So when I had done all of that, that’s why I decided to rebrand to Jen on a Jet Plane. So it took years before I got to Jen on a Jet Plane, and that’s when I really started to take the blog seriously because I felt like, “Okay, this is finally falling into place.”
But before then there were points where I was like, “I don’t even know should I keep on with blogging, it’s taken a lot of my time. It’s not really giving me much in return. Maybe I should just focus on freelance writing solely.” So it was a lot of confusion – a lot of uncertainty whether or not I should continue and a lot of trying to retrace my steps and see which way I should go moving forward.
So, when I finally landed on Jen on a Jet Plane, I just realized that was it. I love brainstorming with my friends to make sure the name was travel niche, and then afterwards what really started to make a difference for me was going to blogger conferences – travel blogger conferences specifically. That’s where I met so many other people in the field and I realized I’m not alone, and travel bloggers are probably are the most wonderful, quirkiest, weirdest people you’ll ever meet.
They’re really just fantastic, fantastic people. And I’m so grateful to have all these people from around the world – these friends that really share that common passion for discovery and adventure. So going to conferences made all the difference to me because I could finally start learning more about my field, start honing the craft, start learning everything.
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The more I learned, the more I realized I knew nothing. Like SEO – search engine optimization – things like that. How to get people to your site, how to optimize articles so they’re showing up on Google, how to make sure that you’re in, that your work is actually relevant to people. So there’s a time and place to write stories about your travels, and then there’s a time and place also to write list posts, and you have to learn where that appropriate.
There are just so many things that I learned along the way and I’m still learning today. You know, every single day I wake up, and I learn something new, and there’s another level to it, and it’s so nuanced because, essentially, bloggers are self-taught, and they do everything. You’re your own marketing; you’re your own content writer; you source your own images – you do everything! You do all your social media management.
There are so many hats we have to wear that it can be tough to perfect them all, especially all at once. So it’s taken me a few years. It’s 2019 now; I started in 2014, so it’s been a while, and I think just now I’m really starting to get into the flow of things, and it’s through that – through that professional networking, through being able to go to the conferences and sitting on a lot of sessions.
I paid for a lot of different courses and things of that sort so that I could learn better, and that’s what’s helped me really bring the blog to what it is today. But it hasn’t been overnight, and it definitely hasn’t been easy.
P: Could you tell us a little bit about some of the mistakes that you felt like you were making early on before you knew about search engine optimization or fixing your content for readers or anything like that? Some of your largest mistakes?
J: Absolutely. I have so many! So for instance, I didn’t know anything about keyword research. I didn’t know about long tail keywords, anything like that. So I had a post that I wrote on one of my first trips in that year where I took the half dozen trips. One of those trips was to Amsterdam, and I had come back, and I’d written about the Friendship canal cruise I had taken in Amsterdam.
I just had the best time with them, and I really wanted to rave about them, and add a lot of information about them. But I had used the key word Amsterdam, which is just ridiculous because that would never in a million years rank for the keyword Amsterdam. It’s just too flooded. Too many people fight for that keyword. It’s just never going to happen. So my posts didn’t even show up on page 50 of Google, you know? Once I started to learn about long tail keywords, I went back in and I revised that old post. I just added a word, and I made it the actual name of the canal for. I changed it from Amsterdam to Friendship Amsterdam. And almost overnight my posts went to page one of Google for that long tail keyword.
And then that brand had actually found me because they saw my article and when you update on WordPress, it changes the date. So they thought, oh, this is a new article that I wrote. And they were like, “Oh my goodness, thank you so much. We saw your article; we’ve shared it with our channels,” and that’s when I realized the power of ranking, because now I’d had this article up for years; essentially, no one had ever found it, and now within a couple of days I was getting contacted by the company themselves who is presumably Googling themselves, and then they see my article and they had shared it for me.
So I’d seen how easy it is to make that connection and have people actually find your work if you’re able to target the right keywords. That was a big thing for me. So learning about long tail keywords, learning about keyword volume, that’s another thing. So maybe you have a keyword that has 10 searches a month, and that’s not really going to help you.
As another example, just recently I did an article reviewing Next Vacay, a flight alert service. I talk a lot about flight alerts in my book, and in general it’s one of the methods I endorse for finding cheap flights. I had a lot of people who had been asking me about Next Vacay, and they’re not even necessarily new. They’ve been out for a little bit now, but I just postponed writing that review, thinking, “Oh, it’s not really going to be that beneficial.”
And then one day I just sat down and I wrote it. There was absolutely no competition for that keyword. I think maybe one other blogger has actually written about them, and she did so in a very shining light. So it looks almost as if she’s affiliated with them in some way. I didn’t have any affiliation with them, and I took advantage of that, and I used a catchy title.
So my title is “Too good to be true?” My Next Vacay Review.” So anybody strolling is going to see that and be like, “Oh, I don’t know, is it too good to be true? Let me click.” So within a week it was not only on page one, but it was getting massive traffic because this is a high volume keyword that not a lot of people have written for.
So that was very instrumental for me – to be able to realize how this system works – but I didn’t really have any idea when I was starting, and those are two great examples of articles that have really been great for my site, and they’ve helped me get exposure; it made me more reputable with brands, and it’s something that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do if my posts had remained in Google obscurity as they were.
P: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. That is so powerful to have that kind of knowledge. So Perlu being the only network built specifically for influencer collaboration and networking, how are you personally using Perlu right now, and how has it helped you accomplish some of your goals?
J: Well, I joined Perlu a few weeks ago, and I was so impressed because, right off the bat, immediately when I logged in, I had so many opportunities on my dashboard. I could scroll through and see people looking for collaborations, people looking for guest posts, different freelance writing opportunities. I was just overwhelmed with how many things there were right off the bat without me even having connected to that many people on the platform yet!
So right away, I was able to get different collaborations. I think I’ve got at least five through Perlu in the last couple of weeks alone where I’ve been able to get backlinks from some of these other sites with just small guest posts or contributions to their site. And that’s something I’ve also learned throughout time. It’s very important for ranking – getting backlinks back to your website to improve your domain authority.
So that’s all I’ve been working on, and Perlu helped me facilitate that easily right off the bat. I actually have a post that I’m working on now that’s about Puerto Rican food and empanadas. I’m from Puerto Rico originally, and it was for a contribution for a woman on Perlu who had been soliciting those types of articles based on food from around the world. So it’s just been great, and connecting me with people has given me these opportunities to get these backlinks without having to search for them.
P: That’s great. So what has the community been like that you have interacted with so far?
J: So far? Very supportive. It’s so easy through the messaging platforms. I’ve been able to talk with people personally one on one, get pretty solid material on there, get a set deadline, respond. They’ve been very supportive if I’m applying for different kind of freelance work that is advertised on there. There was a different piece for somebody looking for experts for from Southeast Asia, and I happened to be coming here. It’s where I’m currently; I’m in Bali. So that was helpful to find somebody there that could put me in contact with the organizers and give me more information about what they were looking for. So it’s been really helpful in that regard.
P: Wonderful. That’s great. So you’re in Bali right now, and you’re just all over the world all the time. I’m curious, what is your secret to this nomadic lifestyle? How do you stay connected to your roots?
J: It’s definitely a challenge. I sold everything, so when I decided to move and do this full time, I had a whole apartment of stuff and I said, “Okay, well, I can’t take any of this with me.” So I just sold everything! It got to be full clearance at my house – a dollar for a bookshelf, that kind of thing.
I got rid of everything that I had, and I just decided I could really, for the money that I was paying to live in Naples, Florida at the time – which is a higher end area of Florida; usually a lot of retired people go there so it’s not necessarily affordable to live in – I knew that keeping my apartment there would hinder me from being able to travel around the world. So instead of paying $1500 for rent and expenses every month, I could use that money and really live much more affordably and other places.
So where I’m at in Bali currently – I’ve been at this place for about three weeks – I think at the end my full bill’s going to be about $240. I have strong enough Wi-Fi to do teaching online. I have free breakfast every morning. I’m five minutes from the main city here. So it’s been really phenomenal. And I’ve found that there’s just so many places around the world like that – that are much more affordable for digital nomads and become this kind of digital nomad hub.
So for me it’s been a struggle, definitely being able to balance both: seeing the place that I’m in and and creating new content for the place I’m in, because when you travel, it can take up a lot of time and energy because you’re nonstop all day. You’re trying to update all your social media channels and post the latest stories and make sure you’re keeping up with all kinds of daily demands of your blog which, when you get to the point that you’re really trying to bring traffic, can be very demanding.
J: At the same time I’m still working. So I took on a 30 blog posts in 30 days challenge here in January just because I really wanted to get a big boost to my traffic and capitalize off of those people who are searching for travel in January. And man, it has been tough to write an article every single day. Yesterday I got home at like 10:00 PM and I was just like, “Nope, I can’t,” and I knocked out. So this morning, actually, when I’m done with you, I’m going to be working on that. So it’s been a struggle to find a balance, but it’s so worth it because every time I think like, “Oh man, this is tough,” I just think, “How tough is it, Jen? Like, really – you’re in Bali. Is it really that tough of a day?”
J: And that was something I went through yesterday. “Oh man, it’s been such a long day. My spa was canceled, and had that appointment for two weeks,” and I realize now as I say this, this doesn’t sound like a problem. So it’s just a lifestyle that I’m happy to embrace, and it’s something that it does require sacrifices. I don’t have a lot of belongings or things like that anymore.
I can’t really have any of those things holding me back from being able to travel, since I travel with a carry-on bag, ideally, because you never know what’s going to happen with flights, and I really have to narrow my life down into minimalism and the fewest things that I can bring with me. But at the same time, it’s been so rewarding and has given me so much abundance in return just in terms of experiences and being able to meet people around the world and have these wonderful connections.
At the homestay I’m staying at here, there’s been a lot of festivals here in January – I guess for the New Year – and they invited me to come and pray with them in their family temple, and they gave me their traditional attire. So the lady of the house dressed me up and in her clothing, and they were just so welcoming to me. They really just accepted me like one of their own here readily, you know, without barely knowing me. And it’s those things and those experiences that make me so grateful for being in these places and make the 28 hours I spent on the airplane to get here just so worthwhile. And that’s why I travel.
P: Wow. What a life. That’s wonderful. So where is your favorite place to visit?
J: People ask me this a lot and I have to stay consistent with it because, so far, my best, most joyous vacation where I just sat there and I thought, “I’m completely relaxed. I can’t remember the last time I felt this way. Is this heaven?” was actually in the south of France. I know it sounds a little bit stereotypical. I wish I had a more off-the-beaten-path place to give you. I’ve seen many beautiful places all throughout the world that have had similar effects, but there’s a place in the south of France called the Gorge River Don, and it’s like the Grand Canyon of Europe. It’s just this amazing place with turquoise blue waters and it’s in the south, so it’s maybe an hour north of Nice and then three, four hours south of Paris, and it’s just so secluded and so wonderful.
I went in peak season, in the middle of the summer in July because I knew that when I was doing my 12 trips in 12 months, that frolicking through those lavender fields in Province was a big bucket list item for me.
I did so while singing The Beauty and the Beast soundtrack in my head. So it was really wonderful for me; it was like a childhood dream come true, and I just learned so much about that area. And then it had everything I wanted to have – like art and it had the sunflowers and the lavender and just so much beauty there.
And so when I got to the gorge, I was just paddle boating through the water there, and I just realized this is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I’m so lucky to be here right now; I am so relaxed. It was on a Monday, so I just thought of all the Mondays I had woken up and hated my life, and I thought, “Oh, I have to go fight this person a day,” or, “I have to go into the courtroom, and I know that these people are going to look at me like, ‘Oh, you’re the lawyer.’”
I got that a lot because I look young. Man, I was young. I was practicing by 25. So I always looked like the paralegal, and I got that a lot, and a lot of older male attorneys would be like, “I’ve been practicing for 20 years.” They’d try to intimidate me in that way and I just had to get myself ready mentally for that fight every single day.
I just remember [France] was such a sharp contrast to that feeling of dread and, and feeling like, “Oh, I have to fight somebody today, and I have to really defend myself with every word I say,” versus paddling in the middle of paradise in the south of France thinking “I have nothing to do today except just paddle and enjoy the sunshine and be here in this paradise.”
So that was the first time where I really felt so peaceful – so at ease. That moment has stuck with me and probably will forever as one of the happiest moments. And that’s why I think that’s one of my favorite places to visit.
P: I love that. That is such an incredible story. So I have to ask, where haven’t you been that you’d still like to go?
J: I would love to go to Turkey, and I have been trying to get there for the longest time. I actually met a friend of mine, who used to be from Hawaii, and then she went to Turkey. She lived in the capital for a little bit, and she’s living in Istanbul now. I met her at a conference last summer – and she’s been encouraging me to come. I was actually considering going there for the winter break.
But I decided to go somewhere warm because I need warm weather in my life. It’s essential that I see sunshine to be my most productive, even if I’m melting like I am here in Bali right now. And she did mention that Turkey gets pretty cold sometimes during January. So I would love to go and visit during the summer or the fall.
Cappadocia has an Instagram that has brought it to fame, but I’ve been stalking the place before it became Insta-famous because they have these gorgeous hot air balloons that takeoff from an area that has all of these caves and things like that. So it’s just beautiful geography, and you get to go take a sunrise hot air balloon ride. And you can stay in one of the caves. They have cave hotels, so you’re kind of like a Fred Flintstone but in luxury at the same time! And it’s very affordable.
There’s just a lot of history there that I would like to see, and the hot springs that they have there and, it just seems like such a fantastic city. It’s where east meets west – you can go from Europe to Asia in the same city. And I think that’s so cool. There’s so much culture there, and I’ve been wanting to make my way there for the longest time. So I hope that this year it’ll be in the cards for me. And then hopefully while I’m there [I’ll also see] some other places in the Middle East. Egypt and Jordan have been really high on my list. They’ve been places that are a little bit tougher to reach just because airfare isn’t necessarily on sale to any of those places. Pretty often it’s tough to get there.
I’ve been kind of honing my skills as well as a solo traveler. So I think when I started out solo traveling, I was intimidated about the prospect of going to the Middle East alone. I think now that I’ve been doing this for a little bit longer, I feel more confident in knowing I could pull something like that off. I would love to go and visit this year if possible.
P: Sounds wonderful. That all sounds really exciting. I really hope that you can make it happen. I’m going to go buy your book now! Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Jen. It was a true pleasure.
J: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thank you. Thank you for having me.