What do you do when life leads you to a dream job, which beautifully syncs with the values you hold dear? You’ve worked hard your whole life to get yourself to this position; working alongside people you admire, doing what you love. It’s wonderful. Then boom, just before you turn 50, your job is taken away, with it a great deal of the industry you’ve spent your life in.
If you’re Yolanda Edwards, you take stock, make a small pivot, and propel yourself forward into the unknown, creating Yolo Journal and a whole new adventure.
“This summer is the one of slowing down to appreciate everything that surrounds us”
You and I have a great love in common, summer. This summer is different than others though. What’s your biggest wish for this summer?
Last summer was the first summer that I didn’t have to rush back to do face time in my office job, since I lost my job in 2018 and have worked on my own since then. We spent the summer in Europe and, when I look back, not rushing was probably the highlight. The greatest luxury was having no plans, and having one day bleed into the next. Sounds very familiar now — and I’m trying to hold onto that feeling…that this period of not rushing is such a gift. And while I wish I could be hugging my friends at our annual meetup in Patmos, drinking ouzo at lunch, I know that we will have that another time, and this summer is the one of slowing down to appreciate everything that surrounds us — and that maybe we have overlooked in our busy life.
Starting a New Creative Venture
You were the Creative Director of Condé Nast Traveler, a dream job, and then that position ended quite suddenly. What was the most challenging/scary part of starting your own creative venture? How did you stay inspired?
For years I had forecasted that the ride was going to come to an end — not just for me — but for legacy publishing. But after years of waiting for it all to collapse, I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I had been wrong all those years. And just as soon as I started to get comfortable with that, I got the call that my position had been eliminated. I was so worried about how this would affect our family financially financially (I was the primary breadwinner, and my job provided the health insurance) that I couldn’t even talk about how scared I was, to anyone. I did talk to my husband, of course, but the depths of anxiety, and shame — I didn’t let anyone in on that. Losing my job at a place that I had idolized for so long — was so hard for me. It was so hard to not think of myself as a failure.
My personal survival instinct was to not talk about it – and jump right into a new creative venture that I could talk about. And I was fortunate that I had a consulting job that I’d started several months before. It meant double work, but I was able to launch a men’s lifestyle magazine, Wm Brown, with my husband that fall, now on its 5th issue. Shortly after, I launched Yolo Journal. I made sure I surrounded myself with people who were dreamers, and not too practical, because had I talked to my dear friends who were extremely practical, I would never have done it, and would have instead spent hours on LinkedIn. It was really hard to go through this period — but I tried to think of it in the way that I think about air turbulence when I’m going through it (yes, I get scared on flights): I always visualize the plane coming into the gate, disembarking, getting the luggage, into the rental car, and arriving at the destination…and how once you’re there, you don’t even remember the turbulence. But in the middle of the flight when the plane is rocking and rolling, you just can’t imagine you’ll get out of it. You always do.
Three Women “Magical Thinkers”
I love that you’ve referred to some of the women who have shaped your path as “magical thinkers.” Who are some of creative women in travel that you admire?
Marie-Louise Scio is the creative director of the Pellicano Hotel Group, and just launched Issimo, an e-commerce-meets-content site devoted to the love of all things Italian. We met when I visited the Pellicano to write about it for Traveler, and we became fast friends. I admire her so much — besides being such a love, she is such a creative force. She gets an idea and she actually carries it out, instead of talking about it to death and never doing it.
Lucy Laucht is an amazing traveler and photographer. Her work has the elements of Slim Aarons that I like, but with a sensitivity, an eye for identifying the beauty in the seemingly mundane.
Karla Otto launched one of the biggest PR agencies in the fashion/beauty/lifestyle world decades ago, which means she has probably spent more time on an airplane than anyone I know. We met in Greece and became fast friends, and I always ask her about how she travels — I joke that she is my Guru Karla since she knows everything, from what is the right detox diet after flying a lot, to the best doctor for whatever ails you in whatever city you’re in, to the best sunscreen (Water Soul Eco Sun Cream SPF 30!), and the best books on health and wellness.
“When we’re traveling we are the best versions of ourselves. Why can’t we channel that excitement and enthusiasm around where we live?”
Traveling is not just about seeing new places, it’s also about being the “you” that loves to discover new things. Do you miss this feeling?
I always say that when we’re traveling we are the best versions of ourselves. We’re outside of the daily norm, we are open, and we are looking for the magic. Why can’t we channel that excitement and enthusiasm around where we live? How can we do more of that?
I think back to things like morning walks; that sort of meditative moment where you may be seeing the same things but you start to notice the change of the season, and how the tide is different, or there are different birds today…I’ve never stayed in one place to see a season happen, and that happened in Upstate [New York] because of the pandemic. That kind of passage of time.
Research Creates Deeper Travel Experiences
What is the one vision for the future of travel that you’re holding onto fiercely?
I always have to start with the personal, because I know the things that I’d like to change in the way that I travel. When I used to travel on an assignment, I would do a lot of research. We don’t need another Marrakesh story, but what if it’s a Tangier to Fez road trip, with Sashan in the middle?! In the building up, I’d deep dive into every story that I could find. It was a richer trip because of that. That’s what I would like more of for myself. Reading more books before I go to places, instead of going to so many places that I can’t breathe in between. This is my fantasy.
“I love the idea of seeking in your own neighborhood…the other is actually here, too”
There will be a day when we are all traveling again. What do you think it will look like?
More thoughtful. In places for longer. Slowing down. Not squeezing everything into five days. If it needs to be squeezed into five days, then maybe it is not the right time to go. It’s a lot of impact on your finances, health, the planet, that doesn’t need to be done until you can actually make it count. And maybe take those five days and spend them in your own community, finding a way to make an adventure where you are, because there’s so much that we don’t do.
I am seeing people on Instagram finding all these corners of New York that they’ve never discovered, because now they are really seeking. I love the idea of seeking in your own neighborhood. There was one woman who posted a picture that looked like she was in the South of France, and she was in Brooklyn. That is so inspiring. We need to do more of that. The other is actually here, too.
“We have to fight against that kind of compare and contrast from grade school”
I love this idea of the other being here, too. Can you say a little more about this?
There has always been the status of being at the “x” hotel, or the “x” place, sipping your Aperol Spritz. That is a real thing. We have to fight against that kind of compare and contrast from grade school. Trust me, I’m the one who finds the thing! It can be exhausting. Maybe you just go to your local liquor store, figure out how to make that Negroni Sbagliato, and you realize that it’s ok to do that thing on the stoop with your neighbor.
We have to learn how not to get that heightened sense of being alive only when we are not in our real life.
What does this mean for you personally?
People often say to me, “Oh, you’re such the travel person.” With my new awareness, though, I’m asking myself how I want to live my life, and not fall into the expectations of others. Allow myself to slow down, too.
“The daily rituals of the locals are always so much more interesting to me than the checklist”
What is the secret to connecting to a place?
I would say don’t think of any trip like it’s your one time there and you’ve got to do it all. Research the place. Read a book, some poetry, listen to some music. If you do all of that before, you are living in the reality of where you are, rather than “I’ve done all my research and now I’ve got to go and do all of those things.”
I try to do a morning run when I am in a place, or a morning walk to see people opening up their businesses and see how do they interact. The daily rituals of the locals are always so much more interesting to me than the checklist. Like, why is it that in France they have the most thoughtful nosegays, for just five dollars, and it’s the most perfect thing to bring to a friend. Just a little handful of flowers. Why not here? The simple things that you see when you are not rushing to an itinerary. It’s the act of noticing.
Find the Childlike Wonder
Is there a silver lining to not being able to travel for a while?
We travel to see other cultures, we travel to become better people. Each trip is different for each person, but we need to find that “traveler openness” in our everyday life, and bring that to every kind of situation that we find ourselves in. Being open, being caring, thoughtful and enthusiastic, appreciative and kind. So often I hear people say “Oh, everyone is so sweet in Italy.” That’s because you’re sweet in Italy, too! If you’re curious and have a childlike wonder there, like, tell me about this red orange juice, find the childlike wonder here, too.
Yolo Journal Taps Into the Senses of Travel
I just received my copy of Yolo Journal. It transported me back to Greece and conjured up all the things to feel and bring home with you in your cells. What was the initial spark for Yolo Journal?
We have to go back to the beginning a bit. As a junior photo editor, I was often in the position of meeting with photographers, and I knew nothing about photography, so I would make small talk by asking them about everything I saw in their photos. They would show me the most amazing things. And then out of 200 images we’d use fourteen. I would think to myself: “How about we do a completely new story?” There was so much good work, but no one would ever see it. I wanted to create a platform that is a journal, a place where people can have their work live.
“Timeless stories, personal experiences, and emotional storytelling”
In a way, Yolo Journal is not really a travel magazine?
The premise of Yolo Journal is timeless stories, personal experiences, and emotional storytelling that is about place. It’s not about the be-all end-all guide to the South of France, it’s literally about the photographer telling me how she was obsessed with meeting the founder of Domaine Tempier Rosé, and she goes and meets the hundred-year-old founder who is still alive, and learns how to make bouillabaisse with her. That’s the story, and that can be a lesson about anywhere in the world. It’s about letting passion lead you into a story.
I wanted the printed magazine to be this pretty thing that you can have for a long time. Everybody who contributes is listed on our contributor’s page. So, if you’re reading a story about Rome and you feel, wow, this person really knows a lot about Rome, and you want to connect, you can. Yolo is your jumping off point.
Formative Years in Mykonos and Kalymnos
Why Greece? What does it mean to you?
I spent my formative years in Greece, so I have a lot to say about it. My first trip to Europe was to Greece, when I was about 16. I somehow convinced my parents to let me go. I love my parents, but they are very different from me. So travel for me was about creating my identity from the outside world. I always found the person in school whose parents were really into food, or travel, or cars, or watches. I was like a culture seeking device.
My best friend’s parents invited me to come to Mykonos with them. I had never experienced a totally international crowd, partying till 6 am, open and free, and so fun. When I was 17, I went back, with money I had saved from teaching piano lessons, and we partied for a month. We were so broke, we literally had tomato sandwiches every day.
Then, I found this cultural immersion program in Kalymnos. It happened because someone had the foresight to ask me where I was going to college. I wasn’t thinking about that! Kalymnos was the opposite of my Mykonos experience. Nothing fancy, no jetset, no beach time. I got immersed into this weird little island and fell in love with it. I didn’t want to be a party girl anymore, I ended up studying Classics at Berkley! The time in Kalymnos put me on a different path.
If you could go anywhere in the world right now, with anyone, who would it be and where would you go?
I would go on a long road trip with my husband — there is no better travel companion than Matt! And honestly, I’d go anywhere — as long as it involves lots of back roads and we can stop as many times as I want to take pics.
You’ve reminded me of an idea I had for a children’s book! The There is Here. Maybe I’ll dust that off and write it!
About Yolanda Edwards (@yolojournal)
Yolanda Edwards is the Founder and Editor of Yolo Journal, Creative Director of her husband’s men’s lifestyle magazine Wm Brown, and a creative consultant. Previously, she was the Creative Director of Condé Nast Traveler, Executive Editor at Martha Stewart Living, Travel and Lifestyle editor at Cookie Magazine, and a photo editor at W magazine.
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