For those who are not familiar with you, what is your story?
My name is Raymond Cua, and I’m the founder and publisher of Travelling Foodie. My journey as a travelling foodie goes all the way back to my childhood. I’m originally from the Philippines, where I was born and raised. My parents run a fast food business, and, growing up, we would travel every year for vacation. Since Asian culture generally revolves around food, it became normal for us to integrate food as part of our travels. The Travelling Foodie lifestyle has always been part of me because of this upbringing. 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 and history just based on food.
I moved to Canada in 2006 to study computer science at the University of Waterloo, so my background has nothing to do with what I’m doing now. My blog was built from a passion for travel and food. I was travelling about three times a year for vacation and eating out multiple times a week, then I shared my travel and food experiences on my personal Facebook when it was taking off.
During a road trip with my siblings in 2014, I started sharing my experiences on Instagram under Travelling Foodie (@travellingfoodie). I saw all these beautiful things and thought, why not share them with more people who might be interested or inspired by them instead of just my friends and family on Facebook. Luckily, Instagram back then was community-based. There wasn’t an influencer industry, so it was only people who wanted to share pictures they were passionate about. Travelling Foodie grew, and in 2017, I left my corporate IT job in software development to run it full-time. I’ve never looked back since then.
What was the most important thing that you learned this year?
During the pandemic, the most important thing I learned was to make decisions that benefit my business as a separate entity from me as a person. When I first started, my blog was a hobby, so my decisions were mostly for personal reasons. Then, I realized that some decisions that may be good for me personally aren’t necessarily good for the business. For example, if a client offered something complimentary for a post, it may be good for me because I’m receiving a free product, but it’s not necessarily good for the business because I could’ve used that time to drive more revenue instead of doing free work for an item. Making these decisions involved many other important things I had to learn. First was knowing what makes my business unique or the value I bring to the table. The second was working with clients that value that part of my business, and the third part, which is the hardest lesson, is learning to say no.
After I started doing this properly last year, it became easier for me to grow the business. I focused more on decisions that would drive revenue and learned to work with long-term clients who see the value of working with me and Travelling Foodie specifically, rather than seeing me as just another blogger or influencer.
How do you stay resilient in these uncertain times, and how have you adapted to this new norm?
Before COVID, I was always on the go and, when I was at home, I focused my time on creating content. When COVID happened, I accepted that I was stuck at home for an unforeseeable amount of time and took it as an opportunity to focus on the things that I couldn’t do before when I was busy. This connects back to the question about being motivated by losses (below).
Last November, I launched my merch shop for Travelling Foodie, fixed the back-end operational efficiencies of running my business, and made my website faster than before. I created projects from the tasks I wanted to work on, which kept me busy and benefited the business in the long run.
I also had to learn how to pivot my content because travel content became useless, and my income was affected dramatically. So I thought of ways to make content while staying relevant to COVID times, with the biggest pivot being writing recipes. Recipes are useful for Travelling Foodies to make food at home and explore certain cuisines when they can’t travel.
Another project I did last year, called Toronto Restaurants Signature Recipes, supported and celebrated the local restaurant industry. I worked with many businesses that generously shared their signature recipes and curated them into a collection. The recipes are on my website as a way to celebrate the love for each restaurant, allowing people to try them at home before visiting the restaurants when they open again. At the same time, travellers who planned to go to Toronto but had to cancel due to COVID can try the dishes to see if they’d like to visit in the future.
How do you stay motivated in your losses and grounded in your wins?
I always find losses as an opportunity to learn and change, which keeps me motivated to move on from the loss. My mentality is that a loss is an investment for a future win that I’ll work towards eventually. I perceive wins differently. I know how much struggle and work I’ve done to achieve those wins, and because of this, I see it more as a successful result of my time and effort. I think this helps me stay grounded automatically.
What was it about your National Park road and food trip in the USA in 2014 that led to the beginning of Travelling Foodie and sharing your experiences outside of your personal social media?
It was really all about timing. The trip was very memorable to me and was the longest road trip I’ve ever done so far (at 14 days) with my brother and sister. It was also the first nature-heavy trip I did. I was in awe of how each National Park was so breathtakingly unique as well as how the culinary offerings changed as we crossed states. The trip made me want to capture and share the beauty of what we experienced with people and hopefully inspire someone to travel; the world has so much to offer.
Even before 2014, I always toyed with the idea of starting a blog or website. But I’m more of a visual person than someone who loves to write, so I prefer taking pictures and editing them. Luckily, during my road trip, Instagram was taking off with a focus on visuals and shorter texts, which became a good platform for me to share. Wifi was also prevalent in public places in the U.S., which made it easier to quickly share posts at pit stops.
Additionally, when I posted on Facebook originally, my family and friends wondered why I kept posting pictures of food. This helped me decide to move to Instagram, where I could reach people who were inspired by (and wanted to follow) the content, so friends and family who weren’t interested didn’t have to follow.
Can you describe what you mean by the leap of faith and what that felt like to you?
Starting Travelling Foodie was a leap of faith because, even though I’d been creating content as a hobby since 2014, I did it for fun as a 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 make money out of it because I had full-time blogging friends who were successful. So I devoted 100% of my time to learn 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 taking 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.
How has your background in computer science helped you start Travelling Foodie?
Even though my background in computer science has nothing to do with writing or creating content, it helped me a great deal with the technical aspects of running the business. Most people think running a blog is just writing and taking pictures, but there’s so much more you need to learn, like search engine optimization and how to run your servers properly. Knowing programming has allowed me to be more efficient by doing things programmatically instead of manually. It also lowered my expenses because I never needed to hire a technical support person for my website since I can analyze, diagnose, and normally fix issues myself.
For example, most people just see the front end of the blog on their screen while using the blogging platform. So if you needed to make changes across all your pages, someone with no technical background would need to go to each page and update them manually. Whereas I know how to go into the server, access the database, and run a query that will update everything.
Another side to it is understanding algorithm changes on platforms like Google, Instagram and Facebook. I’m better positioned to understand how algorithms apply to these platforms because I’ve studied and coded them before.
What has your favourite meal been so far, and do you have a favourite vegan dish to recommend?
It’s hard to pick a favourite meal, so I’ll share stand-out food experiences for me. First off, I love Japanese cuisine. It’s probably one of the top cuisines that I normally eat. So going to Japan in 2019 and exploring all their food was a favourite culinary experience of mine. The restaurants and chefs there make sure every dish they create is perfect as it’s part of their culture to be a master of their craft, and you can really taste the difference.
The second experience was back in 2008, during my second year of university. I went to Chicago to eat at a Michelin star restaurant called Alinea that was number 17 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants at that time. It was my first expensive fine dining experience, involving a molecular gastronomy tasting menu experience, and the experience blew my mind. You get to try dishes you’d never have anywhere else in the world. After that experience, I started seeking more dining that combined creativity, science and art.
In terms of a vegan meal, one dish I tried last year that blew my mind was the fried watermelon at DaiLo in downtown Toronto. The dish isn’t necessarily vegan because there’s a pork floss garnish, but you can tell the restaurant to remove it to make it vegan. Everything they put on that dish worked together (bean sprouts, basil leaves, pickled melon rind), giving something crispy, juicy, savoury, and sweet. It’s truly a must-try!