This week’s Meet the Travel Bloggers interview is with independent journalist and travel blogger Jeanine Barone of J The Travel Authority.
You’re a travel journalist. What was the impetus behind starting your own travel blog?
Actually, it was because my friends, colleagues and acquaintances kept bugging me to start one. I didn’t really want to have a travel blog because I knew it would take up a lot of my time. But everyone wanted to hear about all the hidden treasures I manage to find even in the well-traveled cities, such as New York, my home town where even very savvy residents don’t realize that there are two waterfalls smack in the middle of midtown Manhattan.
When did you start your blog?
Near the end of 2008. It was close to the Christmas holidays and I was in New York City with no travel plans and few deadlines. Most of my friends had left town. It seemed like the perfect time to start the blog and also star Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. It was a very geeky Christmas for me.
How did you name the blog and what does the name mean to you?
Because my nickname is just the letter “J,” everything I do has that letter, including my Twitter account: jcreaturetravel. I knew I’d want the “J” in my blog name and, because my friends have long called me an authority on travel, the name of the blog was a natural fit. I also wanted a blog name that gave me a wide berth in terms of what I’d blog about in the travel arena. I didn’t want to be hemmed in with a blog name that narrowed my blog post choices. My blog includes everything and anything to do with travel as long as it’s a hidden treasure. I have blogged about a wine region in Portugal that’s noted for its young, crisp whites, the underground bar scene in Jerusalem, fashion design in Reykjavik and architecture in Chicago.
What is the thing that keeps you the most jazzed about travel writing in general and about blogging?
I love the entire creative process, from being open to all the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and other sensory experiences when I’m on the road; meeting and interviewing chefs, sommeliers and designers; and then being able to craft a story that’s very evocative. I want the reader to feel like they are transported to the land that I had the pleasure of visiting. And I also want the reader to come away with what I call the “Who knew?” factor, aka be surprised.
How do you juggle your journalism career and the blogging when it comes to traveling?
When I travel, I usually have an assignment with a newspaper or magazine. That’s my priority. However, I gather an immense amount of material that I can use for additional assignments that come up after I’ve returned, as well for a blog post on that venue. Because I not only have a journalism career but I’m also a designer, inventor and entrepreneur — I’m creating a line of clothing and accessories for women who travel as well as several products, including a first-aid kit organizer — I only have time to blog about once a week.
What excites you about travel?
I love being surprised, whether it’s a food I’ve never tried — the fermented shark meat in Iceland tasted like household ammonia — or the sight of the pine forest clad Methow Valley in Washington where the wind blew puffs of sparkly snow across my face. Travel is also one of the best learning experiences: When I walked across an original Roman bridge in Merida, Spain, history took on a new sense of excitement for me. Hiking hut to hut in the Japanese Alps, I found out about their myriad customs that kept things neat and tidy, including special slippers that are reserved for the toilet. Around every corner, there’s always something new.
What kind of traveler are you? Luxury, bargain, backpacking, a mix and why?
All of the above. When I’m in Portugal, I’ve stayed in hostels where the focus is on design as well as five-star pousadas. I’m interested in spa experiences, as long as they have some connection to locally sourced products or traditions. The only luggage I ever travel with is a backpack, which I never check. This allows me to get off the plane and get on the move quickly. I’ve got my hands free and I don’t have to deal with rolling luggage wheels breaking on cobblestone streets or having to lug the bag up flights of steps. I also travel by bicycle where I have all my gear loaded in panniers. This allows me to be very self-sufficient. My mix-it-up travel style just reflects my personality; I enjoy a variety of different experiences that can only be found by traveling in different styles.
On the road, do you seek out some experiences more than others?
I’m interested in anything to do with food, wine, art, design and architecture. In addition, because I’m a tree hugger, every trip has something to do with experiencing nature. Even in places that might not be known for their verdancy, such as Macao, I’ll seek out a park, garden or trail. Finally, because I studied Native American religions at Barnard College, I’m keen on any travel experience that involves a respect for indigenous people.
Is being in your comfort zone important to you?
As a native New Yorker, I’m pretty spunky. And, though we all have a comfort zone, I try to push mine as much as possible. So, for example, one night in Valletta, Malta, I walked dark cloaked streets that were completely desolate to hunt for a cool bar. I found it but getting there (and back) alone certainly felt freaky, even though I knew this neighborhood was very safe. I had a similar experience in Dubrovnik where, yet again, I was searching for a bar down a street that was even blacker than the one in Malta. And, again I was the sole pedestrian on the street, which also was known to be fairly safe. Normally, I’m not one to walk alone down dark, desolate streets so this definitely was way out of my comfort zone. But, in both cases, I’m glad I did it for the discoveries I made.
What’s your most memorable travel experience or favorite trip ever and why?
I’m often asked what’s my favorite trip and I usually say I love all my trips, whether they’re in far-flung locales or in my backyard — for different reasons. That being said, since cross-country skiing is one of my favorite activities, I’d have to say it’s my lodge-to-lodge Nordic ski trip to the Methow Valley in Washington State. Over several days, I traveled alone with just my backpack in this idyllic land, gliding past towering Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines that were newly draped in white, and watching the wispy clouds brush across the distant peaks. I stopped for a snack whenever I felt like it, and arrived at each lodge with plenty of time to soak in a hot tub or sip a glass of wine by the fireplace. Everything about this trip satisfied my love of nature, from the eco-friendly North Cascades Base Camp to the trails so rimmed with tree branches that the birch, red cedar and cottonwoods almost formed a tunnel.
What’s your favorite place on earth?
Again, this is difficult to say because I have four favorite places that I specialize in: Spain, Portugal, Israel and Iceland. But, of these four, the one that combines a vast quirkiness with a contemporary sense of style and a great respect for preserving nature is Iceland. When I spent a month there, I went on a self-guided elf tour, hiked among sulfurous springs in a volcanic area, attended a codfish festival where I ate cod 12 ways, and met designers fashioning accessories from codfish skin.
Where are you off to next?
I’ll be in Cuba in January where I’ll be checking out the art and music scene.
What is the biggest fantasy on your bucket list?
I’d like to do a round-the-world trip but not all in one swoop; I prefer to break it up into four three-month sections, visiting large swaths of Africa and Asia as well as parts of South America.
Independent journalist, Jeanine Barone blogs at J The Travel Authority. Her travel articles can be read in National Geographic Traveler, Conde Nast Traveller (UK), and dozens of other top-tier magazines and newspapers. She’s also the author of a new travel tips e-book, The Travel Authority: Essential Tips for Hassle-Free Travel, providing more than 200 tips to help everyone from novice travelers to road warriors, whether they’re traveling on business or in the backcountry. It’s also available on Amazon.You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.