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My First Experience Using a Travel Agent // Heather Christopher Travel

May 9, 2019

Hi Friends! Today I’m SO excited to share all about our family’s experience using a travel agent for the first time as we planned our trip to Iceland! But first, let me back-up and give you a bit of background on our travel history and how this all came about. Because a year ago I would have told you that a travel agent was absolutely NOT for me, and now I’ve totally changed my tune. Here’s why:

First things first, I am someone who loves to plan trips. I’ve always been the trip planner in our family – I planned our pre-baby trip to Italy all on my own, I planned a trip to Spain with my mom and cousin while in college, and have always been the coordinator of all our family vacations in the states. I love finding a great hotel and all the details that go into planning a great trip.

That said, as we looked up against our family’s trip to Iceland and how busy work and life had become I didn’t feel excited to plan our trip, I felt daunted by coordinating a trip with two littles to a country I had never been while also trying to juggle all my work and life responsibilities. I started crowd-sourcing suggestions on Instagram and Facebook, and that’s when Heather of Heather Christopher Travel reached out to me about outsourcing my trip planning to her and her amazing team!

I nearly said “no!” but then the busy, overwhelmed side of me thought it would be really nice to give Heather our travel dates, budget, and hopes for the trip and let her do the rest. And you know what? I’m SO glad that I did! I have never felt more relieved to hand something over to someone who is an expert in her field and had real-life experience in the country we were going to travel to. Going forward, I can say without a doubt that I would hands-down use Heather again for any larger trip we plan to take as a family.

I asked Heather if she would share a little bit more about how she got to where she is today and why you, too, might want to consider using her services for your own trip!

BONUS: There is a great deal on Heather’s trip-planning services at the bottom of this post just for Espresso and Cream readers!

Q: Hi Heather! Can you tell me a little bit about your background, company and how you got started with you company, Heather Christopher Travel?

A: The short version is that my family used a travel agent growing up and I was always a driving force behind our family vacation plans alongside my dad!  

I lost my dad to cancer my senior year of high school and had a dream before he passed that I became a travel agent (crazy, right?!) so I woke up that following morning, immediately researched schools and within a week had changed my college plans.  My future was sped up even faster by my then boyfriend-now husband being in the Marine Corps so when I decided the traditional college route was not for me, I got a travel agent diploma online (I even learned to handwrite airline tickets #thisdoesntexistanymore), got married and found a job at a brick & mortar travel agency in Woodbridge, VA all in six months!  I spent ten years working there; I earned awards, traveled and managed the agency before having our second daughter. We then decided to move closer to our families near Gettysburg, PA in ‘15. I opened my own agency on May 15, 2016 and here we are three years later!

Our goal is to help time-starved couples and families plan seamless vacations!

Q: What is the value to a couple/family in hiring a travel agent like yourself vs. doing it themselves?

This could be a ten-page paper so I’ll point out the highlights:

  1. Stress-Free Travel: Imagine not having to google 5000 things and get 10,000 results. Along with knowing that someone, an actual human you know, has your back in case things go wrong.
  2. Trusted Advisor: We all love to crowdsource via the ‘gram or Facebook but then you’re getting an answer that reflects that person’s experience, not necessarily the one you want to have or fits your needs/budget/time of year. Travel advisors literally travel and plan trips for a living – we are in the “trenches” day in and day out versus your well-meaning family & friends who plan one or two trips on average a year or every other. We’re getting industry related e-mails on a daily basis to keep us up to date on what’s open, what’s closed, and what’s changing in the world of travel!
  3. Time-Saving: This goes hand in hand with the first one, but most of our clients are busy professionals and/or parents that don’t have the time or energy to dedicate to planning their vacations.
  4. Value-Added: The travel industry is the business of people – it’s all in who you know. We spend a lot of time with hotels from around the world and their sales teams, meeting guides, trying out transportation companies, learning about new companies as we’re trying to match up you to the right on the ground partner! With that we get other value-added amenities at a lot of hotels – that means comped breakfast, room upgrades, early check-in and late check-out (all subject to availability + property policy, of course).

Q: How much do your services cost? Do you find people get more bang for their buck when working with you even though you have a planning fee for your services?

A: Our services range from $350 – $500 on average. We charge $350 for trips a week or less and $500 for trips longer than a week or anything within 30 days of departure. Our loyal clients pay even lower fees or nothing depending on their needs.

And yes! Our partnerships mean our clients are treated like gold and everything is taken care of so a lot less money spent on the ground because you were prepared and/or had everything pre-paid. Also, we rarely remember how much we spent on a trip unless something goes wrong, right? Most Americans take one vacation a year, so we focus a lot on how our clients feel because it’s got to hold them for an entire year, if not longer and we want you to remember how great it was!

I do want to mention that if you are a bargain hunter then working with an advisor is likely not the best fit. We want the best value for your budget, but use resources that we trust and have worked with versus just finding the least expensive price somewhere on the world wide web.

Q: Have you personally traveled to all the locations that you plan trips for?

A: 95.6% of the trips I plan, I have been there, but if not, I work with destination management companies (DMC as we call them) to plan vacations for places I haven’t been…it’s rare for me to be truly stumped on a location because of my colleagues. That being said, it is why I avoid planning trips to China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. I haven’t been and don’t have a driving desire to see those locations so I hand it off to a colleague who knows and loves it <3

Q: What is one of the biggest mistakes you see families with little kids making when deciding to take a larger trip?

Love this question! Trying to fit it all in! It’s really common, in general, for Americans to think I want to see Paris, Rome, Prague + Athens all in 10 days! We try to remind you that, you wouldn’t try to see Boston, New York, Philly + DC in 10 days – same deal in other locations. Take your list and cut 50% of it in most situations.

Going back to the above mentioned idea of memories + how you’ll feel, you don’t want to need a vacation from your vacation, especially when traveling with the littles! Room for grace is essential!

Q: What is your best piece of advice for traveling internationally with very little kids?

Snacks + low expectations! Expect the worst and I’m sure you’ll end up pleasantly surprised 😉

Q: Favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?

This is like picking a favorite child 😉

But the answer is always Hawaii.  I adore, ADORE Australia and New Zealand and can always go back to Greece and Italy, and I’ve loved every experience for a different reason, but Hawaii is my place of peace.

With over a decade of travel planning experience I have probably seen or heard what you’re asking for, I love nothing more than a couple or family saying “You made this so easy. It was amazing!”

Your vacation time and dollars are so precious and we’re appreciative of your trust with them!

SPECIAL DEAL FOR ESPRESSO AND CREAM READERS:
Heather has graciously agreed to offer all Espresso and Cream readers $100 off her trip planning fees for any trips booked between now and June 30th, 2019. Just reach out to her via email (heather@heatherchristophertravel.com) and mention that you read about her on Espresso and Cream!

Family

Making an Income as a Blogger

May 8, 2019

Back when I first started blogging nearly a decade ago (what?!) I had no idea that blogging was something you could make a living doing. I saw a few other bloggers at the time who blogging as a career, but the entire concept was a mystery to me. It wasn’t until a few years later that I started to dream about possibly making blogging something I could do as a career, or at least part of a career, if I worked hard and stayed consistent.

While I still wouldn’t say I “blog for a living” these days, blogging and this platform has been the foundation for which much of my revenue comes from as a freelancer, content creator and Beautycounter consultant. It’s allowed me to share + connect with all of YOU over the last decade and continue to share content to this day. It’s hands-down the best job I’ve ever had and although the content has changed over the years, creating content for Espresso and Cream continues to bring so much life to me.

You’re probably thinking, “That’s great and all, but how do you actually make money blogging?” Well, the answer for myself and for most others I know in the blogging world is complex. Because it’s difficult to make enough money with any single revenue stream as a blogger, most bloggers I know make money through various different revenue streams.

(If you want a really detailed break-down of revenue streams, my friend Jess Keys (who also happens to be on my larger Beautycounter team) did a great post recently on how she makes money blogging.)

What is looks like for me has changed and evolved over the years. About two years ago, right before Collins was born, my freelance income was pacing nearly the same as my growing Beautycounter business. You can see above the breakdown of my income through the end of 2016 and where my revenue was coming from. Full disclaimer: At this point I was losing my mind trying to do ALL THE THINGS in equal measure. Freelance deadlines always looming, constantly saying YES to all the opportunities that came my way because I was afraid to say NO and lose the income potential. Figuring out how to do each thing well with a limited amount of time and childcare. I knew that something had to change for my own health and the health of my family.

What I did love about this season: The diversity of income. If you looked at my pie chart in 2018, it would include very little amounts of freelance, select blogging partnerships, increased advertising revenue and a large portion Beautycounter. Sometimes I wish I could still be as diverse in my revenue streams as I was in 2016, but in this season of life, I have such limited time and capacity to give to work (a choice I’ve intentionally made while our girls are little) that I’ve had to focus and hone in on where I’m spending that time.

So, let’s do a bit of a deep dive into each of the revenue streams listed above:

Advertising Revenue //
Although advertising revenue used to be the core of the way that some bloggers made money blogging, these days the piece of the pie that traditional advertising revenue makes up is very small for most bloggers. I work with Mediavine to run advertising on Espresso and Cream which you probably have seen and noticed at the top of my site, toward the bottom and on the side bar of the site. It’s not a huge amount of money, but it does add up over the course of the year.

Blogging Partnerships //
Blogging partnerships are the type of content you may see when a post is sponsored on the blog or on my Instagram. I work with The Women Bloggers for most of my blogging partnerships and work with brands individually as well. The way it works is the agency sends an email when they have a campaign they are hiring for. Bloggers review the campaign requirements and what the campaign entails and decide if they want to apply to be selected for the campaign. You’ll usually have to fill out a form about the size of your readership and social following; additionally there may be restrictions as far as the store that you regularly shop at or the ages of your kiddos or the stage of life you’re in. Basically the goal of these campaigns is to create natural and authentic partnerships between brands and their core customers/demographic.

Sometimes when I love a brand, I will approach them about working together, which is another super authentic way for partnerships to come about and works well for both the brand and the blogger/bloggers readers because it’s so natural and authentic.

Freelance //
This category was so big for the first years of my “blogging full time” career because of the jobs I had held prior to going out on my own. I had done a lot of work in content marketing and recipe development and was able to leverage those connections to get work right out of the gate.

Let me be the first to say that I LOVE freelance writing + recipe development work and sometimes I wish I could still keep up the pace of freelance work with my other obligations. It’s so energizing to me to use my professional skills and background in this way and I hope that once the girls and their baby brother are older I can take on more freelance work again.

Note that the content that I was creating in this category never saw their way to the blog. This was content that was entirely separate and usually never carried my name along with it, and if it did, it was usually a small byline.

Affiliate Marketing //
This is just a fancy way of saying that when I link to a product through something like Amazon or ShopStyle, I get a very small percentage commission on the sale should you decide you want to buy that product. It’s not a large percentage and makes up a very small part of what I do, but I figure if I’m already going to recommend a product, I might as well link it. Most of the time these products I’m linking are things that I’ve paid for with my own money.

Beautycounter //
I save this one for last because it’s not my primary revenue stream and because all of the things listed above led me to seek out something like Beautycounter in the first place. I joined Beautycounter right after making the leap to full-time freelance/blogging because I was looking to add in another revenue stream to support my somewhat unpredictable freelancing career and modest advertising revenue. I was already using the products (and had been for over a year) and figured I might as well share with you all + my in-person friends and family more about the products and company I had grown to love. Additionally, I had become increasingly convicted about the quality of the products I was using and the ingredients I was putting on my body. Beautycounter offered a solution to everything mentioned above.

So, I joined on a whim, entirely unsure of what it would hold for me and entirely blown away four years later and what it’s done for my family + my business.

In addition to the heart and mission behind the products and the transparency of what Beautycounter was doing to produce safe and high performing products, I was also drawn to the way it could fit into what I was already doing online. Beautycounter was similar to the affiliate marketing opportunities I had leveraged before (where I get a small percentage commission if something is linked and someone decides to purchase with that link) but they paid a higher percentage commission, gave me the opportunity to grow and mentor a team of like-minded women, and it was a brand I could see myself partnering with and getting behind for the long haul, not just as a one-time-only thing.

Additionally, I could see how partnering with a company like Beautycounter – that I was already purchasing with my own money – would/could allow me to become even more selective with the sponsored content I took on and give me more freedom to create content here on Espresso and Cream. And, four years later, it’s proven to do just that. I feel like this space has been able to become very free for me to create content that suits you all and my interests and I get to talk about ONE brand I love so very much.

PS: Regardless of if you have a blog or social following, Beautycounter is hands-down my best recommendation for making a real, substantial living from home with flexible hours and schedules. If you’ve been thinking of joining the Beautycounter team, I would love to talk any time! Just email me (madisonjanemayberry@gmail.com) and I’m happy to chat.

OTHER QUESTIONS
I asked on Instagram for questions and the most common question I got was how to start a blog and make money. I think that’s a really loaded question. You can, of course, utilize all the tools mentioned above. But if you asked me “Should I start a blog in hopes of leaving my full time job?” My honest answer would be no.

Not that it can’t be done – it can! – but for most people it takes a LOT of work for years without making much of any income before you ever start to see any tiny bit of profit. I’ve been doing this for a decade, and I think for the first half of that decade I worked part time hours (like many many hours outside of my full time job) and made zero money. So if you’re hoping to start a blog and quickly turn a sizeable profit, I think there are much better was to do that.

In my mind, blogging has to be something you do because you love it and have an undying passion for the topic(s) you’re writing about and the content you’re creating, rather than hoping to make an income and using blogging as that solution, if that makes any sense.

I hope this was helpful! It’s been a very long and winding road to figure out how to get to where I’m at today, and I’m so thankful that you all have continued to stay here for the ride! This work is something that I love to do and it’s incredibly rewarding to get to do work that I love and make a living doing it!

Family

Flexible Work Schedule // How I Make It Work

May 5, 2019

Sometimes I look at my life these days and I can hardly believe how different it is from what it looked like just four years ago when I was working full time, blogging and Joe and I didn’t have any kids. It’s amazing how much can change in such a relatively short period of time, isn’t it?

I’ve always been someone who loved working and wanted to continue working after we had kids, but as a child who watched my dad run his own business, I had always been drawn to a more flexible work schedule. I think it’s secretly why for years and years (nearly a decade now!) I plugged away at this blog, making little to no money but hopeful about what this work online could someday become. Over the last four years, my work has looked like many different combinations and

When Joe and I decided to move to Iowa shortly after Ainsley was born it felt like my one big opportunity to leave corporate American and give myself a shot at making a living working from home. Let’s be clear: I didn’t have a very clear idea of what that work would look like but I figured I could probably piece together enough work to make it work. Our move to Iowa – with a much lower cost of living – also set the bar much lower for what I would need to make for it to work for our family.

Over the last number of years I’ve one many different types of work. I have continued to make a small income blogging, I’ve worked part-time for my cousin’s start-up energy bar company running marketing and social media, I’ve freelanced a lot and now, to my surprise, Beautycounter has become a big part of what I do every day and how I make a living. Over the years I’ve also learned a little (lot) about what it means to work a more flexible schedule, how to make it work best for our family, and how to set reasonable boundaries on that time so everyone can stay sane.

Here are a few of my best tips learned over the last four years:

Work With Your Body //
I am a big believer that we all have hours that work better for us in terms of productivity and creativity. My best hours of the day are typically 4 – 6 am. I can get more done in those two hours than countless hours later in the day. It may seem crazy to some, but it’s quiet, focused and productive time for me and the way my body works. It’s also time that my family isn’t awake, which I love because I may be sacrificing sleep but I’m not sacrificing time with them by getting up early to work.

Additionally, my body really doesn’t do well working at night. I find I lose a lot of focus and drive past mid afternoon, and I don’t sleep well if I work in the evenings. Whereas I know some friends and co-workers who find their best hours of work are in the late evening hours. Finding what works for your body and using that to your advantage can save you a lot of wasted time when you manage your own schedule.

Invest in Childcare //
I’m so thankful that from the very beginning Joe understood and valued my need for childcare. While I technically could have done the work I was doing at the beginning of my freelance career in the margins of my day (early mornings, nap time, evenings) I truly believe one of the reasons I was able to grow my work and business to the degree I did in the time that I did was because I had the time and creative head space to invest in my business beyond the bare minimum time requirement.

It was also a HUGE sanity saver for me as a mom. Even though I was spending less time with my kids, I was able to be more present when I was with them and a less stressed wife and mom knowing I had the separation between work and family. Even if it’s just a couple hours per week of childcare that allows you to do more focused and challenging tasks, I can’t recommend it enough.

Set Boundaries //
You can only be available to so many people and so many commitments throughout each day. While there are plenty of days I wish I could be more available to my team + my family + my obligations outside of work + etc. the truth is that there are only so many hours in a day, and probably more importantly, there is only so much capacity I have to pour out to others before the well runs dry.

As an extrovert-introvert combo, I’ve realized that my emotional resources can quickly become depleted without healthy boundaries – which I think is true for nearly everyone. And that no matter how much you work, work will always expand to take up the time you allow for it to take up, so guarding those boundaries is so important.

I’ve had to become more focused and intentional with the time I make myself available to those on my team and the work that I do. Additionally, I realized that I was no longer able to keep pace with all that needed to be done in a week while still giving my best to my girls, so I made the decision a year ago to hire a personal assistant. Both of those things have been some of the best choices I’ve made yet! They have created space for me to be both more present at home + at work when I’m in my respective roles.

Make the Choice (again and again) //
Working a flexible schedule can often be painted as the ideal situation. You get to be home with your little people much of the week while also working a job you love from home. What could be better, right?! But when you have a flexible schedule and your partner doesn’t, it often means you become the default parent at home when kids get sick or childcare isn’t available because of snow days, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’m THANKFUL for this flexibility but it’s sometimes challenging not to feel like your work is less important, or that your work doesn’t matter when you’re the default parent for most of those inconveniences.

For our family, the key is communication. I have been working to do a better job of communicating my needs as it relates to work and sharing with Joe what I need to get done on those crazy weeks so we can find time elsewhere during unpredictable weeks to get the work done – even if that means heading to the coffee shop after Joe gets home from work some evenings or working on a weekend morning. My favorite phrase about my work is that it’s, “flexible but not optional” and that’s so very true.

Additionally, it’s important to keep recommitting to the choice you’ve made to work a flexible schedule and reminding yourself of what a gift it is to do work in the way that you do. Sometimes a little perspective goes a long way.

PS: My next post is going to be all about how I make an income working from home! I’m excited to share with you how I make it work and have continued to make it work over the last four years.

Family, Fashion, Uncategorized

Mother’s Day Gift Guide

April 30, 2019

Hi Friends! I can’t believe Mother’s Day is right around the corner. Crazy right? I feel like it’s snuck right up on me – paired with the fact that Collins’s birthday is ON Mother’s Day this year and we are getting ready for Iceland, I’m helping run a preschool fundraiser the six days leading up to our trip and getting ready to spend this coming weekend with my Beautycounter team leaders on our yearly incentive trip. Whew!

So, I haven’t done a lot of thinking about Mother’s Day. But today I’m doing a little thinking for you so you can spoil the moms/aunts/friends in your life or make a wish list for your significant other to gift TO you. These are my favorite gift-worthy Beautycounter items that feel a little more special than, say, a face wash or face lotion.

Glow Shimmer Oil //
I LOVE this shimmer oil because it makes me feel so pretty + glamorous when I use it. I’ve been known to be totally addicted to using this during my pregnancies in particular because there is something about a shimmery body oil that makes me feel beautiful at a time when I don’t always feel beautiful. It’s also a sleeper favorite because I don’t think many people know about this product and others aren’t likely to splurge on buying it for themselves.

Lemongrass Sugar Body Scrub //
Another pregnancy favorite – but really it’s a fantastic product for any person on your gifting list. It smells amazing and works to gently exfoliate and moisturize the skin. I use it weekly!

Velvet Eyeshadow Palette //
We have this awesome nine-pan palette in three different color combos/versions but the Romantic Palette is my favorite for springtime. It’s so feminine and lovely!

Lip Gloss in Rosewood //
This shade is a bit more of a statement than one of our lighter pink shades, yet still functions as the perfect neutral. I can’t get enough!

Sheer Lipstick //
The sheer lipsticks are an absolute favorite of mine! I don’t love an intense lip color but the sheer lipsticks are like a balm meets lip color in one. Rose, Terra, Twig and Petal are regular rotation favorites of mine! (Rose pictured in the above photo)

Satin Powder Blush //
Nectar (pictured above) is, in my opinion, the most versatile shade of blush we sell, but I also love Melon, Guava and Sorbet! Extra bonus? They last FOREVER.

PS: You have until May 2 to order any of the items listed with standard shipping in order to guarantee Mother’s Day delivery!

Family

Potty Training Round 2

April 29, 2019

We are currently deep into potty training (day 5!) with Collins and I thought it was worth putting a blog post together on the topic since I’ve gotten lots of questions on Instagram about the whole process. I’m NOT an expert, but I can definitely provide you with resources from those that are experts.

Book We Read and Loved // Oh Crap! Potty Training
This book is both super easy to implement and understand AND fun to read. I didn’t think that you could really enjoy a book on potty training, but her approach to the whole thing and her no-nonsense approach is refreshing. I LOVE that there are no sticker charts or reward systems involved and it’s an intense method, but it’s been pretty darn effective for both girls.

How We Knew Collins Was Ready //
We didn’t! Honestly, I wish I could say that we had some big signs that she was ready but that’s just not the case. The book said the idea time to potty train is between 20 and 30 months. Collins is 23 months and with what we have going on this summer, baby brother’s arrival this fall and knowing that things are going to be busy this summer we thought it was better to do it sooner rather than later. I was really not keen to be potty training Collins with a newborn around this fall and a husband with a busy schedule with work + football coaching.

How is Collins Doing? //
So far so good! She has done surprisingly well for how young she is! She has only had a small handful of accidents and really seems to get the concept of going pee and poop on the potty. I often hear her playing and then she sings the Daniel Tiger potty song and runs to the potty when she needs to go. She does occasionally need to be prompted to go, and putting pants back on her has caused some increased accidents, but I’m feeling like we are really on the right track and glad that we decided to do it sooner rather than later. We are just being careful not to bite off more than we should chew – meaning no long outings and staying home as much as possible for the time being until we get the hang of things!

Our Plans for Travel to Iceland with Collins //
This was a BIG question mark for us. Would it be better to travel to Iceland with a newly potty trained toddler or wait + travel with diapers. I still don’t know if we made the right choice, but we did invest in this travel potty that a friend highly recommended. It is collapsible and comes with disposable liners so we are planning on taking it with us everywhere!

Have you night trained her? //
No! We are going to do night/sleep training separately. She still wakes up with really wet diapers in the morning so we aren’t rushing that part of the process, and the book does have instructions for doing a two step training approach for daytime potty training and night time potty training. We have been making her go potty before nap and she has woken up dry for the last three days so I am hopeful we can be fully diaper free for daytime soon.