by Rebecca Holland
I met Justin Walter in the Dominican Republic last year, where we bonded while planting seeds on a volunteer trip, and over the fact that he grew up outside Chicago. In the year since, I’ve been lucky enough to hang out with him a couple times and keep in touch with his life via texting and Instagram. His love for travel and meeting new people is infectious, and he’s no exaggeration one of the friendliest and most adventurous people I’ve ever met. Of course, when travel writers get together they end up talking travel and work, and Justin and I have had long conversations about work/life balance, how to make travel a sustainable career, and favorite destinations. He has a really cool day job that supplements his travels, and some great tips for anyone thinking about solo travel. In his own words, he’s “a Midwestern guy from a big Italian family, who grew up on Lou Malnati’s and Survivor, and a love for adventure and travel.” I can’t think of a better way to describe him myself. He’s Midwestern nice, with an amazing career in LA and a definite future in travel (if he doesn’t get cast on Survivor first, which seriously, someone please put him on the show!). If you’ve ever wanted to travel on your own but need that little boost of reassurance, look no further. Read on for Justin’s travel tips, favorite destinations, and how he makes it all work.
Hi Justin! Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Justin Walter and I’m a Midwest guy, currently living in LA. Growing up I loved a couple of things: adventures, competition, reality game shows, and traveling.
When did you first fall in love with traveling?
I have fond memories of trips to Florida and New Jersey where we visited family and went to the beach. We also took road trips to the Wisconsin Dells and other family vacations around the US. It wasn’t until studying abroad and interning in Australia that I felt like I really traveled in the sense that I think of it now. On weekends I would go all around the country. I chose Australia because I’m obsessed with Survivor, and when I saw the Australian Outback season I knew I wanted to go. Except, when I was in Australia, no one else wanted to go to the outback, so I went alone. It was my first solo backpacking trip, and I realized how awesome it was traveling alone. It was amazing and incredible to meet people from all over the world. If there’s a place I want to go, I don’t allow someone not being with me influence my decision of whether to go or not. I fell in love with the idea of traveling as a solo backpacker because you’re not limited. I’ve had a lot of great trips with friends and family, but also alone.
When did you first know you wanted to make travel a bigger part of your life?
When I was in Australia, I wished I could make a life for myself where travel was a vital and important part. One of the things I struggled with was how in the US the traditional career path doesn’t lend itself to living a life with travel. I remember seeing all these Europeans and other people traveling all the time. They get like six weeks a year of vacation compared to 10 days for us.
Now travel is a huge part of your life. How did you make that happen?
I built a dual career for myself where I work in TV and freelance, which gives me the ability to take time off between gigs to make travel an important and bigger part of my life. I usually work for about seven months, then have five months off. I work as a freelance host and producer in LA, so over the past eight years I’ve hosted a variety of different local shows including travel and lifestyle content. I did an outdoor adventure show in LA where we explored the great outdoors of the area, from surfing to kayaking to hiking. In Santa Monica I did a lifestyle show were I went to bars, restaurants, workout classes, museums, etc. I also freelance as a producer on a variety of shows including entertainment news, travel and talk. That’s the foundation of how I support my living, and in between I travel, which is how I built up content to shift into the travel landscape. Over the past few years I’ve been able to put my travels into my blog, become a travel writer for different publications, and work as an influencer. My bigger picture goal is to morph it all into one, where I’m traveling but also hosting and producing on a bigger scale, ideally on travel related shows.
Tell me about Around the World Justin. What can readers expect to find there?
Over the past 10 years I took a lot of adventure trips. They were mostly backpacking trips, and a lot of them were solo and adventure based. During these trips I documented them with tons of photographs. Two years ago, I thought, ok I have all these great travels and I keep going on awesome trips, but I should be sharing these experiences and what I’ve learned with others. So now the blog is a mix of sharing my adventures and a resource for people who want to do the same trips. I tried to think about what I would want to know before going on each trip, and then give people all of the information I wish I would have known, sharing my experience. My niche is adventure travel/backpacking/solo travel, so that’s what you’ll find.
What has been the biggest challenge of this lifestyle so far?
The biggest challenge is that even while putting out great travel content and having great experiences, the marketplace for travel writing and blogging is saturated. So many people are doing it. Finding a way to be unique and stand out can be a challenge, and finding travel opportunities that actually pay. You can’t support a lifestyle if you’re not getting paid. The biggest challenge so far is to get to the next level of opportunities that actually support travel as an income and a lifestyle, because having a travel blog and Instagram looks like a glamorous lifestyle, and sometimes it is, but at the end of the day it’s a very small percentage of people who are supporting themselves doing just that. For most it’s a supplement and side passion, and it can be very challenging to turn that into something profitable.
And the most rewarding thing?
The most rewarding thing is when I have people reach out to me who have been inspired to go on specific trips based on my blog and work. I’ve loved getting feedback from people who have read about my trip to Torres del Paine or wherever and say you inspired me to take this trip, or to travel solo. I love getting people to go out of their comfort zone and take trips they might not have done otherwise. It’s the reason I wanted to start the blog, and it’s still the most rewarding part.
Do you have a favorite destination?
I have many! I would say one, for someone in the US who is looking to have an international experience but is weary of traveling too far, Central America is underrated. I have had amazing trips that were so easy. It’s easier to get to than some places in the US even. Belize, Guatemla, Costa Rica are all great options. It’s the first place I recommend for people who haven’t traveled much but want adventure. Beyond that, I loved Patagonia. I trekked for three weeks and had an incredible experience doing crazy camping, ice treks, and other hikes. I’m a big fan of Southeast Asia as well.
What do you love most about travel?
One of the things I love most is that as many places as I’ve been, it makes me realize how many places I still haven’t been, and how big the world is. I’ve literally scratched a tiny surface of what is out there. I have a scratch map above my desk that shows different colors for each continent when you scratch it off, but to start the whole world is in gold. Everyone thinks I’ve been all over the world, but when I look at that map and see all that gold I realize how much more there is to see. I’ve been lucky to meet so many different people and experience so many different cultures. It takes me out of my comfort zone from when I’m in the US. Small things in LA can seem like big problems, in my work or relationships or daily life or whatever, but those things seem so minute when traveling. You get a bigger perspective of what’s important in life. One of the most important things, I’ve realized, is human connection. Whether with someone I meet on a day trip or have known 30 years at home, connecting with people who love travel and have that sort of travel mindset is really important to me. Around the world I love connecting with likeminded people.
Finally, what’s always in your carry on?
I tend to be low maintenance and a minimalist, but there are some things that have to be in my carry on. One, my GoPro. I love and live by traveling with my GoPro, which is also my selfie stick. I always travel with my laptop and use it when traveling to download photos and keep track of that stuff. I always travel with my Survivor buffs. I use them to sleep on airplanes, in cars, hostels, etc. If I’m out of country, I’ll love using Lonely Planet guidebooks and enjoy the hard copies because I keep them on my bookshelf at home as collector’s items. I also typically have a book for recreational reading, headphones, and a DSLR camera which I actually find I’m using less these days because my phone and GoPro take such great photos.