Jen Ruiz is a lawyer turned full-time travel blogger and author. In 2017, she set out to complete 12 trips in 12 months while employed as an attorney. She surpassed her goal, completing 20 trips in 12 months. In the span of one year, she visited 11 countries and 41 cities, all while managing to be back in time for court by 9 am on Monday morning.During her self-proclaimed “year of adventure,” Jen was able to find airline deals like a $16 flight to Ecuador and $38 flight to New Zealand. To meet the growing demand for tips on flying for less she wrote her debut book, “The Affordable Flight Guide: How to Find Cheap Airline Tickets and See the World on a Budget.” It became a #1 Amazon bestseller in 8 categories and was named a 2018 Readers’ Favorite Award winner. Jen has since authored three more books. She is a two-time TEDx speaker and has presented at conferences like the Women in Travel Summit and New York Times Travel Show. She was named “Top 40 Under 40” by the Naples Herald. Jen speaks Spanish fluently and is currently living in Humacao, Puerto Rico.
What got you into travel writing?
Funnily enough, travel writing found me. When I started blogging and freelancing it was on general lifestyle content. I was a young attorney and talked about the pressures recent graduates faced to excel and have it all in their twenties. I had more than 50 articles published on Elite Daily, with several going viral and garnering millions of views and social shares.
One day, the editor from Paste Magazine’s travel section contacted me out of the blue and asked if I’d be interested in working for them. They’d seen my articles in Elite Daily and were looking to expand their contributor list. I was shocked, primarily because I hadn’t really traveled. The first article I wrote for them was on how to have a staycation in your own city.
They say everything happens for a reason, however. Motivated by the prospect of being published (and paid!), I started to venture out. In 2016 I took a half dozen trips to locations like Rocky Mountain National Park and Machu Picchu. The next year, I set out to take 12 trips in 12 months before my 30th birthday while still working as an attorney. That was the beginning of a life-changing journey that led me to transition from law to travel writing and blogging full-time.
What’s the most challenging part of being a travel journalist for you?
Coming from a traditional field, I’ve had difficulty adapting to the unsteady nature of freelance writing work. Not knowing when a piece will be published or when I’ll be paid for my submission is frustrating. I also straddle two worlds. During press trips I’m often the one without a buddy since the staff journalists and influencers automatically form their own groups. I need to take pictures for my social media channels but I also need detailed notes to pitch to editors.
Additionally, I’m a self-published writer. All of my books have been #1 bestsellers in multiple categories on Amazon and recently sold out at the New York Times Travel Show. Yet I constantly feel like I have to prove myself and show people in this industry that I’m a “real writer” because of my professional background. Coupled with having to assert my legitimacy as a blogger, it can feel a bit Pinocchio-esque.
What is one thing [equipment or personal item] you can’t go without on the road?
My cell phone! I’m fighting the urge to be hip and say a fancy camera or old school moleskin notebook but that just wouldn’t be the case. The number one thing I need before I hit the road is my cell phone and a minimum of 3 backup batteries. It’s practical! On one 6-inch device you can take pictures, notes, get directions, look up questions and share content online. It’s tough to beat the many functions of a smartphone. When I’m overseas my first stop is a local phone store to pick up a SIM card, before even checking into the hotel.
What’s your most unusual and/or memorable travel experience?
I have many, which is why I love traveling alone! You never know who you’ll meet or where the day will take you. Some of my most memorable experiences include flying over the Great Blue Hole, descending into a volcano in Iceland and volunteering with elephants in Thailand. Some of my most unusual travel experiences include joining a 9-person Italian family in their minivan to see monasteries in Meteora, Greece and being nursed back to health by a police couple from Spain after swinging off the edge of the world in Ecuador.
How did you learn about NATJA and why did you join?
I learned about NATJA from friends in the industry and joined because I was looking for a sense of community. I have always been involved in extracurricular activities and professional associations. I was president of my elementary school! It is important for me to feel like I’m contributing to my field beyond producing content and getting a paycheck. I want to stay on top of industry trends, network with my peers and be part of conventions and special events.
What is the best piece of advice you could give to a rookie travel journalist?
Keep going. Particularly if you’re a freelancer or coming from a background that’s not journalism, your success will directly correlate to your persistence.