Travel writer Q&A: Julia Dimon

Travel journalist and television host Julia Dimon lives the sort of fast-paced traveling lifestyle that most people, even quite experienced travelers, fantasize about. She’s visited over 80 countries and she’s been featured as a travel expert for countless print, online, radio, and television sources. Dimon’s excitement as a traveler is palpable. I asked her about her background, her move from writing to television, some of her favorite destinations, and her top tips for travelers and prospective travel writers both.

Q: Describe your profession.

A: I’m a travel journalist, host of several travel TV shows and hard core adventuress with a blog called Travel Junkie Julia.

Q: Tell me about your family background as a traveler.

A: My mom is a travel writer. I guess that adventure is in the blood! I had the privilege of traveling with her on assignment when I was growing up. As a family we went to Costa Rica, China, Europe, Cuba. I got the travel bug at a young age.

Q: For years you wrote about travel for the Toronto Star and then for Metro. How did you make your move from writing to television? Do you expect to remain in television or return exclusively to the writing at some point?

A: I started out as a travel writer and columnist, freelancing for many publications. Then, while in Turkey on a round-the-world trip, I met a fellow Canadian travel writer named Robin Esrock, who is now my co-host. Robin thought it would be a cool idea if we had our own TV show. I agreed. He pitched a concept to a production company, who took it to a Canadian-based broadcaster. From there we collaborated and developed a show about the real lives of two young travel writers, under pressure and on deadline. The show is called Word Travels and we’ve shot 40 episodes over three years.

TV, like travel writing, is also in my blood. My Dad is an Emmy-award winning producer, so I suppose it was fitting to blend travel and TV. Getting on a full-time travel show was a combination of luck, timing, my strong reputation as a travel writer and a helluva lot of work. Since filming Word Travels, I have shot a travel series for MSNBC and am hosting a new show with Ethan Zohn (winner of Survivor Africa) for the new adventure network Outside Television. I really enjoy the medium of TV and am moving more into that direction but writing is a part of who I am. I’ve been a writer since I was 12. I wrote movie reviews for a kids page in the Toronto Star for over a decade before moving into the travel section. Writing will always be a part of who I am and what I do.
Q: As travel writers we are often asked about our favorite places. I don’t know about you, but I always find such questions impossible to answer. But I’d like to tweak this question and pose a few variations on the theme: your favorite destinations for beaches, street food, budget travel, splurging, and mass tourism?

A: Beach: Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, is one of my all time favorite spots. Sugar white beaches, amazing fresh seafood and a fascinating blend of Arabic and African cultures against a very cool capital city.

Street food: Thailand has some of the best street food. Steaming dishes of pad thai, green curry, red curry, chili mango and the occasional deep-fried grasshopper make for an interesting and extremely affordable foodie destination. As for street meat, you can’t beat a Toronto hot dog from a street vendor. Grilled sausage topped with a buffet of condiments, fried onions, pickles and bacon bits. Not good for you, but delicious.

Budget-friendly: Laos is one of the most beautiful and most affordable destinations out there. For those travelers who are concerned about making their money last, I suggest forgetting Europe and considering India, Cambodia, Bolivia or Peru.

Splurgeworthy: Jordan is a fascinating country but it’s not terribly cheap. Between spending a night in the desert at Wadi Rum, snorkeling the Red Sea, seeing the skillfully chiseled pink rock in Petra, floating in the Dead Sea, and soaking up the Roman ruins in Jerash, the country has a lot to offer the adventure traveler. You absolutely can do Jordan on a budget, but with so many five-star hotels and fancy Dead Sea spa treatments, it’s more tempting to splurge.

Mass tourism: Does Chernobyl count? Kidding… I was there last summer and I’m still waiting to glow radioactive. I’m a big NYC fan. After all the traveling I’ve done, I think New York is the most vibrant, dynamic city in the world. It’s my Number One city, closely followed by Paris. Number Three is still up for grabs…

Q: Top tips you’d offer to someone wanting to work as a travel writer?

A: I have written some tips for people wanting to break into the travel writing business.

Q: Top tips for regular travelers?

A: Go with the flow. Not everything is going to go according to plan so be flexible and take things as they come. Often the best travel experiences arise from the unexpected. Connect with local people and never turn down an invitation, within reason of course. Safety is obviously your number one priority. The people who know the country will be better than any guidebook and can give you insight into the local culture. Go local – where do local people eat, shop, play? Arm yourself with knowledge, be social and ask everyone you meet for recommendations on cool things to do. Learn some basic local language, try everything once, and always carry toilet paper.

Q: What are your essential carry-on items?

A: Laptop, iPod, all chargers, camera, a bunch of magazines to catch up on world events, an empty water bottle, snacks (almonds, dried fruit), sometimes a blanket.

Q: Where is your next trip?

A: I just got back from a palm tree-piña-colada filled weekend at the Gansevoort Turks and Caicos. Next I’m going on an Antarctic expedition, an 11-day voyage on a luxury vessel from Patagonia to the Antarctic Peninsula. Fjords, icebergs, glaciers and tons of cool wildlife are in my future. After this trip, I will have visited all seven continents. Whoo hoo!