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Mary Cecchini has a passion for travel and a dedication to “Living Big.” A few years ago, she combined the two and started her own women’s-only travel agency. In her experience, the idea of traveling alone was holding some women back from experiencing the world, so she put the work into curating amazing, one-of-a-kind adventures for women. So she gets to meet awesome women, plan great trips, and then take those trips. Her job is literally what dreams are made of.
Name: Mary Cecchini Location: Portland, Oregon Title: Founder Company:Living Big What it is: Inspired adventures for women, by women. Educational Background: Bachelors of Science, Political Science and Business Administration, Portland State University
What inspired you to get your start?
After a year of deep self-assessment, and nearly losing someone that was very close to me, it finally hit me just how precious and short life can be. I decided to take the leap to pursue my passion because I wanted to take a proactive approach to how I lived my life. It’s this approach to life that I call “living big” and why I named my business after this philosophy!
What does a typical day look like for you?
When I’m not traveling, and in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, I’m quickly bouncing between responding to client questions about upcoming trips, finalizing logistics for hosted adventures, designing adventures for clients, scheming on my next research trip, connecting with potential trip hosts/clients/partners, and navigating the myriad of needs involved with being a solopreneur: website updates, working on marketing plans, updating my QuickBooks records, etc. Days are full and long, but when you’re doing the work you’re passionate about it’s all worth it!
What separates Living Big from your average tour company?
Living Big hosted adventures are made up of highly curated experiences, full of personal connection, and focused on building community among women.
Why are you passionate about small group travel?
I’m passionate about small group travel because it opens the door for people to see/do/experience what’s on their travel wish list without the pressure of going solo (if that’s not what someone wants to do) or missing out on an experience (because of missteps in the planning process) and without the high cost of hiring a private guide.
Along that same vein, why are you dedicated to women’s trips?
I decided to focus on women’s trips because I relate to the women I support. I’ve been the woman who wants to travel but lacks a person, partner, or friend to join. And I’ve been the woman who is juggling too many balls and doesn’t have the time to plan a trip. I know these barriers (and there’s more!) that prevent women from pursuing their travel dreams, and I hope Living Big can be a resource to combat these barriers.
If you could have given yourself a piece of knowledge or advice when you started what would that be?
If I could go back to the beginning, I’d make sure I fully realized just how special the opportunity of Living Big is to myself and to my clients. When I started Living Big, I knew that travel was at the center, women were the focus, and connecting women with authentic travel experiences was the goal. But what I didn’t fully realize until my first trip was that the opportunity was so much more; it’s about demonstrating a new way of living, engaging women with a global community, instilling confidence about how to be a savvy traveler, and helping women cultivate community at any stage of life. Bringing all of this – and more – to life is now my ultimate goal and I feel so blessed that it didn’t take much time to see the real opportunity of Living Big!
Would you do anything differently?
From day one, I’ve followed my gut, and when that has led me down a path that doesn’t turn out to be THE path, then I know there’s just a lesson to be had in there!
How do you define success?
Happiness — when I feel happy, I know I’ve found success. I know I’m doing something right when I have all the energy and enthusiasm I need to work through the hard parts of owning a business, when I pop out of bed before six a.m. to get a jump start on my to-do list, when I’m excited to talk about Living Big for hours and hours at trade show, when I feel the buzz of excitement waiting for clients at the airport, and when I feel like my business gives me the flexibility to be there for my family, friends, and community.
What’s been the hardest part of starting your own business?
I often equate the unknown challenges of starting a business to those boxes that stack inside one another; you open one box and find 10 more you didn’t expect to find. Not a day goes by that I don’t face new questions and challenges to work through. The added difficulty is that most of these questions and challenges have no connection to the passion behind WHY you started the business in the first place! Such as insurance, legal, admin issues, HR, etc. I always advise people considering a new business to make sure it’s something you have a HUGE passion for because you’re going to need to lean on that passion in order to unpack all the “boxes” you’ll discover along the way!
What has been the most rewarding?
The most rewarding part of my job is when I have a “Santa” travel moment. It’s the moment of anticipation just before I know my clients are about to see/do/experience something really amazing. I work tirelessly to craft these moments, and when I see them unfold and the smiles of pure happiness, tears of joy, and sounds of deep laughter, I know that I’ve done my job.
How has social media helped shape your brand? How do you stand out?
Social media has had a huge impact on my brand, as it’s given me a chance to share travel experiences and my point of view on travel on a platform where my clients are already spending their time (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, etc.). The way to stand out is by being authentic, sharing relevant content, and offering genuine invitations for people to join the fun.
What are your hobbies? What do you do when you’re not working?
When I’m not working, I enjoy quiet weekends trying new restaurants, going to movies, being outside on my bike or snowshoes, going to studio classes, and spending time with my family, friends, and adorable nephew.
How do you balance your work with your personal life?
Finding this balance is really tough, especially when my work life represents such a personal passion! Because my work takes me away from home quite a bit, I make a concerted effort to really show up when I’m home. For me, that means genuinely connecting with my family and friends, pursuing interests close to home, finding ways to support the people that matter most, and keeping traditional “office hours” as best I can!
What’s next for you?
Living Big is growing! Over the next three to five years, I’ll be training other women to host Living Big adventures so that more women can share in the experience (and I can continue to balance work and my personal life!). I’m also looking to launch new programs that will help cultivate communities of women and teach young women how to travel and be responsible global citizens.