In this edition of Celebrity Travel Addicts, we speak with Mar Pages, the former Google employee and strategy consultant behind the travel blog Once in a Lifetime Journey. We chat with Mar about what sparked her passion for travel, why travel is important, the work she’s doing to help other bloggers and content creators, and much more. Check out her favorite destinations around the globe and find out where she’s off to next!
How did your passion for travel get started?
When I was still living in Spain I got headhunted to work for an American conglomerate with hundreds of factories and companies across the world to join their internal auditing team. The job was based in Barcelona, but it involved weekly travel for 4 weeks at a time in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, followed by 2 weeks in the office. The team was very diverse, with around 100 people across the world and over 30 nationalities. Working side by side with colleagues from such different cultural backgrounds to mine in a third-place was fantastic and it uncovered my true fascination for places I had not been to before. A year later I was offered a strategy consulting job in Dubai and the weekly travel was enough for me to say yes. I then spent 8 years traveling every week for work in 30 different countries while living in Dubai, Johannesburg, and Singapore. Lastly, I joined Google in another global team.
What does travel mean to you? Why do you feel it’s important?
Travel feeds my soul and planning a trip always lifts my mood no matter how bad a day I may have had. It is a constant education that helps me learn and discover new things on a daily basis. But above all, travel gives me perspective, a different point of view, a different way to do/see what you always did/saw the same way which will undoubtedly help you reconsider your stereotypes and preconceptions, make you more tolerant and more respectful, but also more grateful for what you have.
You run two travel blogs, Once in a Lifetime Journey and Singapore n Beyond. Can you please tell us a bit about them? How did they come about and what makes them stand out from all the other travel content out there?
Once in a Lifetime Journey is the natural evolution of the type of travel that I do and have done for almost 15 years: luxury and out of the ordinary. I like to combine spectacular hotels and experiences with the least visited places. This is the result of the type of work I used to do as a consultant in the telecom industry in emerging markets when I got to work on what is an essential service connecting people across Africa, the Middle East and Asia in the 2000s when mobile phones were not available. You can equally find me lost in a place most can’t locate on a map or on an exclusive hotel somewhere.
Singapore n Beyond is the answer to a lack of weekend plans for those living in Singapore with curated itineraries written by locals.
In 2018, you left a corporate career you’d been in for fifteen years. How did that impact your travels?
My travels have changed in frequency and length. As an employee, I was limited by my vacation days so I used to take lots of shorter trips more frequently to maximise long weekends, public holidays, work travel and working from other offices, my job gave me a lot of flexibility in that regard, but it also limited me to 17-24 days of holidays.
Now I try to take fewer trips of longer duration typically being away for 2 to 3 weeks at a time then staying put for 4 weeks.
Other than that, I visit the same types of places and travel in the same fashion. I only left my job when I was sure I could maintain the lifestyle I had, and could continue to stay at luxury places and visit remote destination, on my own dime.
I work with very few brands every year, preferring to monetise my platform in other ways and still traveling my way, the same way I did when I was a consultant or I worked at Google.
You’re currently developing a digital influencer and marketing consultancy. Can you tell us about it and what you hope to do with it?
I have been working with brands for almost 3 years now in various capacities and roles, from large projects like Touring Bird, where my company was in charge of sourcing all thousands of pieces of content, to managing the blogger outreach of other clients, to advising agencies who want to work with content creators.
I started this because I realised that I was uniquely positioned to help both sides work better and get more out of the collaborations. This is because I am a blogger myself and I have worked in the corporate world for 15 years, oftentimes taking interim CMO positions or otherwise advising C-level executives and Boards of Directors, so I understand very well their mindset and objectives.
For each project, I will hire suitable specialists if necessary, or deliver it myself with my current team. I keep the number of projects to a maximum of 1-2 at a time to ensure that I can be involved myself directly while still handling the blog.
My goal by doing this is to advance the industry. I hope that by helping brands effectively work with bloggers/content creators/influencers I will help the industry move forward and faster to win-win collaborations. I also speak at conferences and events to both audiences, this is something I have years of experience doing from my time in consulting where I had weekly presentations and spoke at several events.
How many days/weeks do you travel in any given year? What types of places do you like to visit?
I have been traveling around 150 days a year for the last 6 years, almost to the day, without even planning. As mentioned above, I travel to either places nobody visit or to experience luxury hotels/destinations. Often times, the two things overlap. For example, I was in Shanghai which is a very well-traveled city, and stayed at 6 different luxury hotels in the city because it’s something I am passionate about and want to write about, I also booked my Singapore Airlines business class seat on the new A380 to experience their double suites. At the same time, I got out of the city to spend 5 days at two Alila properties in the countryside, combining luxury with lesser-visited parts of China. After that, I went to Turkmenistan which is indeed a rarely visited place. Earlier in the year, I went to three of the least visited countries in the world: Nauru, Kiribati and Tuvalu and in June I spent a week in Sicily staying in the best hotels and getting away from the popular places.
What do you want audiences to gain and learn from your work?
Perspective and respect for other points of view. I visit a lot of places many people don’t want to go to, have never heard of or have misconceptions about, I hope that through my unfiltered and well-researched pieces they can be inspired to consider or to at least see the country and most importantly, its people, in a different light.
What are the top three destinations you’ve visited?
Without a doubt, and in no particular order: Bhutan, a magical place that I visited alone traveling across 4 Amankora properties for 9 days. Namibia, I spent 9 days staying at superb and exclusive lodges with less than 10 rooms enjoying extraordinary experiences and taking lots of short 10 seater planes over the stunning landscapes. The Pacific, it’s a part of the world I love and I have been to all but one of the countries there on 6 separate trips, from Bora Bora to Guam, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Cook Islands, Solomon, Vanuatu and the three countries I mentioned above, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Nauru.
Give us your ‘Top 5’ list for one of your top 3 destinations. Like a mini-guide or a to-do list of sorts. It can be anything from your favorite hotel, the best place to have lunch, the best sightseeing, etc.
For Bhutan, you should indeed make sure to hike up Tiger’s Nest, a truly special place, spend some time in Pukhara, the lower lying valley with the famous temple, go to Gangtey for the magical forests and views and definitely stay at all the Aman properties. Make sure to go in the right season so you can stargaze, the lack of light pollution makes for amazing views of the Milky Way.
How many countries have you visited so far?
I am at 112 countries at the moment, and I add about 10 new countries every year, 15-20 visited in total (I revisit some of them every year (Spain) and others I go to often (Indonesia, Thailand, India)
What are your top 3 favorite cuisines?
Luckily, I live in Singapore where you can find any cuisine in the world, but I always find myself drawn to Spanish, Mexican and Lebanese. I like all the dishes of these three cuisines.
What is your favorite restaurant in the world? What dish do you recommend there?
Lasarte or Disfrutar both in Barcelona. They have set degustation menus and no matter how many times I keep going back, they are memorable and they are amazing every time. Disfrutar has a small bite set menu with molecular cuisine components that will surprise you and if you are Catalan like me, the dishes incorporate nods to childhood memories.
What is your favorite travel movie?
I have zero memory for movies or books, I can watch the same movie several times over and over and not remember I already watched it. However I do love Out of Africa, Africa (and Kenya in particular) is a continent I spent a long time in and which brings back lots of warm feelings.
What is your favorite international airport?
Changi, there is no airport that comes close to how efficient, amazing, practical and fast Changi is, it’s the best airport in the world for years for a reason!
Which city had the friendliest people?
The Philippines as a country, I would think Manila then. I worked there every week for over 2 years and people always smiled no matter how shitty a day they had, it is contagious and I found myself happier the moment I landed and spoke to the immigration officers, how amazing is that?
Who is your favorite travel companion?
This is a very easy question: My best friend Edwin. We have been together to dozens of countries and travel several times a year for the last 11 years. He shares the same interests and affordability as me and has been to even more countries, but most importantly, he is the easiest person to travel with, I have never seen him angry or losing it, ever, and can always tell you lots of interesting things about any place, I tested him!
What is the best way to kill time while traveling?
People watching, assuming you don’t have a phone with internet. I am a very curious person, probably the reason why I love to travel so much as it helps satiate my curiosity, and people-watching is a fascinating activity anywhere.
What is the most exotic place your career has taken you?
Lots! Because I used to work in telecoms in emerging markets I got to work in many countries that most people don’t visit or see for short periods of time or with a specific travel lens, living and working there for extended periods means you have a very different perspective. In that sense, I worked for long in Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
What is your best bit of travel advice for someone who wants to, or is about to, embark on a life of travel?
Carry something with you that reminds you of the comfort of a home. In my case, during the many years when I was traveling every week for work, waking up and not being able to remember where I was, even for a split second, was very stressful. To maintain a sense of consistency on the road I had a small teddy with me and I switched on the BBC World to listen to the news, no matter where I was, every morning as soon as I opened my eyes.
Additionally, stay in touch with those you care about and who care about you, traveling all the time or being away from home is not always glamorous and nostalgia and solitude can hit anytime.
What are 4 things you could never travel without?
My phone, because of my work and staying in touch. A massive battery pack. Sunglasses, the sun really blinds me. My credit cards. With these four things, I can basically go pretty much anywhere 🙂
What is your ultimate dream destination?
Antarctica, but on a very luxurious and exclusive trip that actually stays on the ice and with the proper gear, I have lived in the tropics for too long!
What is your favorite travel quote?
Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer because I genuinely believe in it and it is also the only thing I spend money on!
Where are you headed next?
Rajasthan with my family. This was my Christmas gift for them last year and we are finally making it happen with 5 stops at amazing hotels and exploring a part of the world that I love with my mum, sister, brother-in-law, and baby nephew.
Mar is an x-Googler and strategy consultant turned online entrepreneur. She is the publisher behind Once in a Lifetime Journey, a luxury and out of the ordinary travel website and a digital media consultant helping brands and bloggers, content creators and influencers design, implement and track successful collaborations.