2022 November Featured Journalist of the Month: Joanna Kalafatis

I have over eight years of experience and 45 countries on five continents under my belt. My work has appeared in Time Out New York, Matador Network, Greek Reporter, and others. I most recently finished my first travel guidebook, “Best of Greece”, for Moon Travel Guides on the Greek mainland. It was a wonderful experience reconnecting to and writing about my homeland, and I can’t wait until it’s published next year.

1. What got you into travel writing?
I started keeping a personal blog during my study abroad program in Brazil and South Africa. This got me into freelance writing after college, much of it travel writing, and later on the development of a new travel blog to start cataloging my experiences in my own voice.

2. What’s the most challenging part of being a travel journalist for you?
Balancing doing the work (writing, photos, note-taking) with being present in the moment and getting the fullest experience you can on the road. It’s very easy to go to a place, especially on an itinerary-crammed press trip, and come back feeling like you sped through a city looking at it mostly through your viewfinder, without immersing yourself in anything.

3. What is one thing [equipment or personal item] you can’t go without on the road?
My notebook. It’s the one old-school thing I love holding on to! Whenever I’ve had a busy day full of activities, sights, and experiences, I sit down for lunch, coffee or dinner and always take the time to write out my thoughts, sensory perceptions of a place, and impressions in my notebook. I love being able to reference it later to refresh my memory about what truly piqued my interest or impressed me in a destination, and writing my thoughts out by hand helps imprint them on my brain.

4. What’s your most unusual and/or memorable travel experience?
Too many to count. My most memorable was definitely my 9-day trek to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. My most unusual is being chased by a thunderstorm in Jujuy, Argentina, near Salinas Grandes, in a complete area with no signal where I also did not have a hotel room booked and literally could not return to my friend’s residence because the thunderstorm was that terrible and made the precarious cliffside road on the return journey impassable. After an hour and a half on an empty road, we (me and the three friends in the car) found a family-run hotel with warm alpaca wool blankets and a still-open restaurant. I almost couldn’t believe our luck; I thought it was a mirage in the desert.

5. How did you learn about NATJA and why did you join?
A travel journalist I follow, I believe Gary Arndt, highly recommended it. I wanted to connect with other journalists, as our job has some peculiarities it’s hard for others to understand. I also wanted to keep up with the constantly changing trends in our industry, from how to approach digital publications to the changing integration of social media into my business strategy.

6. What is the best piece of advice you could give to a rookie travel journalist?
Take good care of your physical and mental health on the road. “Travel journalist” seems like a dream job to so many – and let’s be clear, it’s GREAT – but the long, exhausting hours and constant travel can wear down your physical health if you’re not taking the time to rest, stay active, and eat properly. Also make sure to take care of your friendships, family bonds, and community back home. Frequent travel can make you feel like you’re missing out on life changes back home, so stay connected, because there’s nothing better after a long solo travel day than catching up with a good friend.

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