Where are we going next?

As we slowly reemerge from our lairs after the pandemic, the world we thought we knew appears under a whole new light. It’s up to us to find new ways to discover it, as Yolanda Edwards, founder of Yolo Journal, says. Travel, not tourism. Suggestions, not directions. Deep diving, not island hopping. And if you can’t take a trip right now, you can always imagine it.

“The industry machine is back up and running now, but I’m not interested in the three-day trip any more. If I go somewhere, I want to properly learn about it and feel it.”

The interiors of Palazzo Daniele, an exclusive hotel in a 1861 palace in Salento, Italy. Photograph by Adrian Gaut, Yolo Journal, issue 3.

You do what for many people is a dream job. How does somebody cut their teeth as a travel journalist?

I started at Condé Nast Traveller in New York in the 1990s. It was one of my first jobs. I was the junior kid on the team in the photo department. I didn’t really know anything about photography or travel at that point, but I knew what I liked and I learnt a lot on the job because I did all the photographer portfolio meetings in person. This was pre-internet; there were no websites. Photographers would drop off their portfolios on a Wednesday, and come and pick them back up and meet with us on a Friday. At that time, we shot with the bigwigs – Helmut Newton, David LaChapelle, Philip-Lorca diCorcia. I met with the younger photographers trying to crack into the magazine, which was notoriously hard. I’d sit with them and ask them to tell me about the places they had photographed – what they were actually like in real life. 

How did it feel to end up as Creative Director at Condé Nast Traveller?

I was frequently frustrated because it was still a traditional set-up, when I knew what amazing stories there were out there that were left untold. I developed my own way of interviewing photographers when they’d come back from their assignments, and then writing the stories of their experiences. I didn’t care so much for beautiful writing – I chased great stories. As money drains out of publishing, and there’s less budget to send writers everywhere, my unusual method has become more popular. Photographers can be interviewed and we can turn that into something beautiful. 

Tell me why you launched Yolo and how it sits in the market?

I launched Yolo to celebrate travel in a more holistic way. By this time I knew a lot of photographers, and I knew they had huge bodies of work that were unpublished. If we commissioned someone to shoot somewhere, we’d publish a fraction of what they had captured during their trip. Yolo is about the mood of travel, not the industry of tourism. It has a suggestive, rather than prescriptive approach, which we hope is more compelling. There’s an opportunity with digital and print together to create something that feels alive, not just recorded or documented. We are all still learning how digital media can enhance the experience of travel. It’s an ongoing, constantly evolving landscape that I find exciting.

Do you still get excited about discovering new places, or is the thrill more about returning to familiar favourite haunts?

It’s a balance between the two for me. I feel guilty sometimes about the many places I haven’t been. There are some big holes. I’ve never been to New Orleans, or Texas for instance. The possibility of discovery is always wonderful. I went to Chile a couple of years ago for the first time and it was incredible. But there’s something to be said for doing what makes you feel comfortable and I guess I’m a creature of habit at heart. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been to Italy.

Ethics, the environment and tourism are tricky bedfellows. Discuss.

During the pandemic we all thought much more deeply about what our travel patterns were, asking ourselves what is selfish and what could we change. Travel was reckless and glutinous for many people, hopping on planes across the globe for the opening of a shopping mall. Thinking about our behaviour and our impact is so important. Proper engagement matters. For me, I like to go to places and go deep. It’s the opposite of cruises, where you drift into ports, offload and skim the surface before getting back on and going elsewhere.

How can we be more responsible as travellers?

People travel in all sorts of ways, if I can do anything to help people feel they can travel and that travel will change their lives then that’s my mission. I want to empower people not to go on cruises: go on a walk; take a train; explore another neighbourhood. Connect on a deeper level.

The coastline of Positano, on the Amalfi coast, in summer. Photograph by Lucy Laucht, Yolo Journal, issue 9.

How was your Covid experience of being in one place for so long?

We have a country house in upstate New York, which we spent most of the lockdown in. For entertainment and relief, I did an imaginary road trip through Italy on Instagram with two friends, Emily Fitzroy (of Bellini Travel) and Marie-Louise Scio (MD of the Pellicano Group). We posted a whistle stop tour of our favourite places using photos from previous trips. It was such fun. Though we received messages from so many people asking how we’d managed to do this with restrictions in place! Few people read the words, it seems. 

Has it shifted how we think about and approach travel, do you think?

I think we are slowing down and taking stock and that’s a good thing. The rush of pre-Covid life feels old fashioned now. The industry machine is back up and running now, but I’m not interested in the three-day trip any more. If I go somewhere, I want to properly learn about it and feel it. We can be less transient and transactional in our travel and everyone benefits.

One place you could live out the rest of your days in.

I’m living here in Rome at the moment, and I’d have to say it’s pretty good. It’s manageable, by comparison to New York or Paris. You don’t hear sirens constantly. The scale is so wonderful and there’s so much to discover. I can’t live in the middle of nowhere, I need community and connection.

The sunset through the palms of Round Hill Resort, in Jamaica. Photograph by Sean Gale Burke, Yolo Journal, issue 9.

The cave-like room of the Bürgenstock Hotel in Switzerland, where you float on salty water. Photograph by Jonathan Ducrest, Yolo Journal, issue 3.

The entrance hall of Palazzo Daniele in Salento, Italy, suspended between history and the contemporary. Photograph by Adrian Gaut, Yolo Journal, issue 3.