This Travelling Foodie Quit His Job To Pursue Full-time Travel And Food Blogging & Shares Some Of His Favorite Restaurants From Around The World
What is GAFFL?
GAFFL connects solo travelers with similar itineraries to explore destinations together. Whether you are backpacking in Asia, road tripping in Australia, or exploring national parks in the US, simply type the destination you are traveling to, find travelers who are going there at the same time as you, connect with them, plan trips, meet, and travel together.
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Table of Contents
In this post, we are featuring Raymond Cua, who is Toronto-based full-time food & travel writer, blogger, content creator, and founder & publisher ofTravelling Foodie.
Raymond loves to explore the world while highlighting culinary experiences as a way to enjoy destinations. He has traveled in over 25+ countries and more than half of the United States and Canadian provinces.
My Inspiration To Be A Full-Time Traveler & Food Blogger
My journey as a traveling foodie goes all the way back to my childhood. I was born and raised in the Philippines and, almost every year during summer break, we would travel for vacation. With an Asian culture revolving around food, in which a typical greeting is “Have you eaten yet?” and parents who run a fast food business, my upbringing revolved around food, even in travels where we always explored food as part of it. I learned at a young age how culinary is an integral part of travel, and you can learn so much about a destination’s culture, agriculture, and history just based on food, the universal language.
I was already taking photos and videos even before I thought of running a blog and was privately sharing them on Facebook since 2007. In 2014, I decided to start posting publicly on Instagram.
I was just sharing my normal food and travel content on Instagram that was already normal for me to do because I was already doing them on Facebook and Yelp before. That’s when local restaurants started inviting me to their place. Similarly, that’s also when I got really lucky and got featured on social media by a lot of big global media outlets like Travel + Leisure, BBC Travel and Huffington Post. It just started progressing from there.
Come 2017, I’ve reached the point where I wasn’t excited and passionate about my job anymore. I was surely quitting already so the question for me was: what do I do next? I can look for another job, or I can try doing Travelling Foodie full-time. This was a big turning point, and I felt that this was the only window for me to try something different but something I’m passionate about. I figured, if this doesn’t work out, I can always just go back to a corporate job. But at least I have the peace of mind in knowing I tried and learned it wasn’t for me. What I feared the most was the regret of never knowing if this could’ve been something if I didn’t try (since I’ve always wanted to have my own business). So I took a leap of faith, quit my job, and did Travelling Foodie full-time. I haven’t looked back since then.
Did I know I was starting something that could one day be my full-time business? No. I started long before the boom of the influencer industry. I had no background in marketing, journalism or social media. I studied Computer Science and was in a software development role when I started Traveling Foodie. I was just posting for fun since I was eating and traveling so much already. Being able to do this full-time is accidental but a dream come true!
Food and travel are two things I am passionate about so as long as I’m able to keep doing it full-time, I will continue to do so. Travel opens you up. You learn so many things about yourself and of others, and how the world works. I love that I also get to connect and inspire people to enjoy two of life’s greatest pleasures. The world is beautiful and is meant to be explored, tasted, and enjoyed.
How Often I Travel
Even before I started Travelling Foodie, I was traveling at least three times a year for a personal vacation, and I typically eat out multiple times a week.
Since doing this full-time, I’m traveling at least once a month, on average. There’s really no fixed length and it depends on so many factors like budget, schedule, who I’m with if it’s a partnership, and more.
If I was traveling purely on my own, I typically prefer to be at least 3 full days in one city (a week for a bigger city) and at least a month if exploring a country. This allows me to get a better sense of being in the city and immersing myself better with the culture, people, and, of course, the food scene.
After I know my destination, the first thing I do is decide what I want to eat. If the destination has its own cuisine, I research a list of local dishes, pick the dishes I want to try, then I research restaurants specializing in those dishes.
I always have a nice handy list already. It’s usually broken down between must-visits and back-ups. And when I start doing the itinerary, I schedule the planned visits but also make sure I have room for unplanned visits. Planned visits are the ones that I know I want to hit for sure. It will be on my itinerary and may have reservations (if necessary). Unplanned visits are the spontaneous ones that I may just come across that look interesting, or something a local you met during the trip recommended, etc. It can also be your backup restaurant in case something happens to the planned visit.Always leave room for spontaneity
How I Select My Next Destination
Where I travel next is based on these factors as how it fits into my schedule:
● What’s next on my bucket list
● Personal obligations
● Professional obligations
● Partnered trips
Once I decide on a location, the first thing I do is decide on dates that work, then book a flight because the most important thing in travel is arriving at the destination. Then it’s a lot of research on the destination.
Next is deciding where to stay. Everything becomes much easier after flights and accommodations are done. I then research things I want to do and places I want to eat until I have a nice list. I map it all out so I can visualize everything. Based on the map, I create an itinerary out of it starting from landing at the airport to the accommodation to the rest of the trip.
My Favorite Restaurants Around The World
Here are some in alphabetical order:
● Alinea in Chicago, US
● Can Majo in Barcelona, Spain
● Hainanese Delicacy in Singapore
● Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound in Nova Scotia, Canada
● Il Grottino All’Aventino in Rome, Italy
● Kushi Tempura Dandanya in Tokyo, Japan
● Kuromon Ichiba Market (not really a restaurant) in Osaka, Japan
● New Janani Mess (parotta spot) in Madurai, India
● Pai in Toronto, Canada
● Fishman Lobster Clubhouse in Toronto, Canada
● Seascape Village in Manila, Philippines
My Inspiration To Start A Blog
In 2014, I was on a trip with my siblings across the United States. The main purpose of the road trip was to visit the National Parks in those states, but also enjoy local cuisine along the way.
That’s when I decided to start sharing religiously on Instagram @travellinfoodie. I realized that I was seeing all these beautiful things and thought why not share them with people who might be interested or inspired by them, instead of just family and friends on Facebook.
I try to make my content as useful to my readers as much as possible. I typically include the name of the restaurant/place, price (if applicable), and some of my thoughts, along with great imagery/video of course! I also love that I get to help and support local businesses and tourism doing what I do.
For example, after I wrote an article on Ontario cottage country,Haliburton Highlands, some of the establishments emailed me after saying they had customers who visited and said they were there because of my post.
When I visited Osaka, I found this really cheap but delicious conveyor belt sushi that Ishared on Instagram. The restaurant was all in Japanese so I had to really do research to find the English name and address to share in the caption. A follower from San Francisco went to Osaka a month after and visited the restaurant because of my post. I found out because she made an Instagram post and tagged me on it, thanking me for sharing about the place. This makes me very happy.
My blog’s mission is to highlight culinary experiences as a way to enjoy destinations around the world.
Compromises I Made To Continue Full-Time Traveling
Too many to count. The biggest compromise I had to do was quitting my cushy software development job. Doing Travelling Foodie as a full-time business was a leap of faith because, even though I’d been creating content as a hobby since 2014, it was purely a hobby for fun and passion. When I quit my job, I wasn’t earning money that replaced my income. I was pretty much starting from zero, but I knew I could earn a living out of it because I had full-time blogging friends who were successful. So I devoted 100% of my time to learning how to run the blog and social media as a business.
When I worked in my corporate job, I didn’t have enough time to learn how to be a blogger full-time because I was either in the office or too tired and busy with the hobby part of blogging or personal stuff. So take that leap of faith allowed me to hunker down and learn the ins and outs from scratch with free resources. Doing this kept my expenses very low and, at the same time, gave me incredible knowledge and advantage. But this also meant I had to be very mindful with spending, even for food and travel, until I knew what I was doing.
My Favorite Restaurants That I Have Tried
I would say if I can’t decide on what to eat, my usual default is Japanese food with sushi being high up there. But generally, I love trying and learning different food and would try any cuisine and any dish.
I’m not a #ForTheGram foodie. I’m pretty adventurous when it comes to eating as I want to try things I’ve never tried. Some of the most exotic ones I’ve had are: bear heart, tamilok (woodworm), balut (duck embryo), haggis, lamb brain, grasshoppers, agave worms.
My range of food is very wide from street food and cheap eats to Michelin-starred restaurants and World's 50 Best restaurants. Some of the best foods I’ve had around the world will reflect this:
● Tasting Menu at Alinea (US)
● Tasting Menu at El Celler de Can Roca (Spain)
● Brisket at La Barbecue (US)
● Churros at Churreria Manuel San Roman (Spain)
● Curry Goat at Miss T’s Kitchen (Jamaica)
● Parotta at New Janani Mess (India)
● Dungeness Crab at Taylor Shellfish (US)
● Tagliolini Al Tartufo at Il Grottino All’Aventino (Italy)
● Tempura at Kushi Tempura Dandanya (Japan)
● Sushi at Tsukiji Sushidai Honkan (Japan)
● Lamb Baklava at Bar Raval (Canada)
● Rotisserie Chicken at La Reine Chicken Shack (USVI)
● Fried Chicken at Kipp’s Chicken (Philippines)
● Lechon at Kamayan (Philippines)
● Okonomiyaki at Okonomiyaki Kiji (Japan)
● Lobster at Five Fishermen (Canada)
● Digby Scallops at Ed’s Take-out (Canada)
One Of My Most Traveling Foodie Experiences
I’m sharing the most traveling foodie experience I had. Back in 2012, after my first year working in corporate, I took a vacation to visit Europe for the first time. It was a 17-day multi-country trip where we visited the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Greece, and Norway.
For Spain, we were spending 3 days in Barcelona but, for the first day, the agenda was to take a bus to the remote town of Girona (an hour away) for dinner at El Cellar de can Roca which was 3 Michelin Star and No. 2 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants at that time. We were very excited when we got the reservation. This would be the highest-ranked restaurant we’ve been to following Alinea in Chicago and Oud Sluis in the Netherlands.
Dinner started at 9 pm. After 15 courses with wine pairing, plus getting to meet the legendary brothers Joan, Josep, and Jordi and getting a tour of the kitchen, it was 1 am already. We had missed the last bus back to Barcelona, where we had paid for accommodations already!
In the dead of night, we were wandering the streets of Girona looking for a place to sleep. We finally found a hostel at around 2 am and, luckily, they had lots of room so we were able to stay the rest of the night.
We only slept for 6 hours because we wanted to wake up early to catch the first bus back to Barcelona plus take a look around the town in the morning since we didn’t get to do any exploring the previous day.
Countries I Have Visited So Far
I’ve been to 25 countries and half of the United States and Canadian provinces. Bucket list experiences are never-ending, but below are some (trying local cuisine in each destination is a given):
● Pyramids (Egypt)
● Petra (Jordan)
● Machu Picchu (Peru)
● Noma Restaurant (Denmark)
● Lyon (France)
● Gaggan Anand Restaurant (Thailand)
● Cappadocia (Turkey)
● Angkor Wat (Cambodia)
● Wine Regions in France and Italy
● Napa Valley (Wine Region and The French Laundry)
Challenges That I've Faced While Traveling
As a full-time food and travel blogger, the line between travel and work can get easily blurred at times. Most people only think the work is the things we do when we get home after traveling (or when we reach the hotel).
What a lot of people don’t realize is that during the trip itself, I’m constantly working as well, thinking and creating content on the places I visit. And while I’m traveling (which is work already), the website and social media platforms are still running and open 24/7 for clients, existing commitments, technical problems, etc. I need to be ready for anything that happens.
The major challenge is to not let myself get sucked into the black hole of working the entire time, which can lead to burnout. Some boundaries really need to be drawn to maintain a balance of work and being in the moment. I’m constantly learning how to better manage this every time I travel, but here are some good ones I’ve learned so far:
● I try to finish as much existing work as I can before the travel starts so they’re out of the way, especially if the travel is a partnership trip instead of my own project. I also try to schedule/prepare things beforehand if I need to deliver something while I’m on a trip.
● I put an out-of-office message on my email that informs people I’m traveling so they don’t expect immediate replies/work until I’m back or have free time.
● While traveling, I try to minimize the work to things I’ll naturally do anyway, which is usually keeping active on social media and checking some emails first thing in the morning (but only replying to urgent ones).
● The most important one that helps is planning and strategizing what I want to do for content based on the itinerary prior to the trip. If I know I’m not including a spot in my post, then I’m not bringing my camera to that spot anymore. If I know I’m only doing photos, then I don’t need to bring a microphone and even a tripod. Bringing less helps put you in a better frame of mind in separating work and travel. Because the simple fact that you brought a camera will always make you feel that you should take a photo/video since you brought it already.
Some other challenges:
● When I’m with family and friends, it can be hard sometimes to take in content because some do not understand what I do, or do not have the patience for it (e.g. waiting for me to take photos/videos), or some just forget and eat the food right away. I try my best to take in content fast because I don’t want to inconvenience people and also want to make sure I am able to try the food/drink the way it’s meant to be tasted.
When I travel alone, it’s hard to try as much food as I want. And the food is also more enjoyable when shared. It’s also harder to take content with me in the frame since there’s no helping hand or to take content that looks better with a hand model.
How Can GAFFL Help Solo Travelers
I don’t really use any fancy apps. I’ve just been using what’s convenient and easy:
● TripAdvisor (for looking up restaurants and things to do)
● TripIt (to centralize information when traveling with family)
● Google Drive (to have documents handy online and offline)
● Google Translate (for non-English speaking countries)
● Google Keep (for notes)
● Google MyMaps (I use this to plot my stops)
● Google Maps (a lot of people don’t know you can save offline maps)
I think GAFFL plays a role by allowing solo travelers to find travel buddies when needed. Though solo travel is a great way to travel, there are some experiences that are better enjoyed with more people (some don’t even allow for solo).
Friends and families are not always available to travel with, and sometimes the interests do not align for travel. Or sometimes you just want to socialize while still being solo most of the time. I think GAFFL helps solve these problems.
Advice To Other Fellow Travelers
The most important thing when it comes to food is to be open to trying! Once you start traveling, you’ll be exposed to food that you’ve never tried before or something that you're not accustomed to eating. Remember that you are in a different destination with different cuisine and culture. You want to learn and try what the locals eat. It’s part of their cuisine for a reason.
If there’s a fear of trying new foods, start by picking a local dish that’s very close in flavor to the food you enjoy already. In this way, it’s easier for you to try since the taste is familiar while still tasting something completely new. Then do the same for that dish you just tried. Keep doing it and you’ll find you’re trying many new dishes and growing your palette to new flavors.
I wish I’d known not to skip an experience I really wanted at the destination because of the costs. Before I used to say to myself I can always just come back and do it next time. In reality, it’s hard to know when you can revisit the same destination again, which means you may never get to experience what you wanted and that causes regret. If you have to debate long and hard if you want to do something or not when traveling, it probably means you should do it regardless of costs. You are potentially saving yourself a future cost of not having to travel back anyway for it anyway.
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