To kick off our weekly series of travel industry interviews we caught up with Kristin Luna, a travel & lifestyles journalist and owner of the Camels & Chocolate brand. What started off as a scrapbook of her travels, Camels & Chocolate is now a travel resource for others in search of an off the beaten path getaway. The 31 year old Tennessee native has been published in USA Today, The Guardian, Redbook, Glamour, Southern Living and Entrepreneur, just to name a few. We appreciate a good read that which is why Kristin’s writing appeals to us as she often covers topics not normally found in guidebooks. She has entered Cuba illegally and had an unfortunate incident with a triggerfish in Borneo. She likes chocolate and Zumba, though she assures us not at the same time.
Who or what gave you the travel bug?
That would be my mom. At the age of 20, she had graduated from Vanderbilt and moved abroad to flit about Europe for a couple years; she was working on contract with IBM, and as it was the 70’s, they needed her computer knowledge everywhere—from Germany to Paris to Austria.
At the age of 20, I found myself studying abroad and backpacking all over the continent in the months leading up to my semester in Edinburgh (no one needed my expertise, ha, so I just paid my own way). I didn’t mean to follow in her footsteps, but I guess I did! Eleven years later, and I’ve traveled through more than 100 countries; lived in Scotland, Holland, Denmark, New York City, San Francisco and Nashville; and chronicled my journeys for a bevy of guidebooks and international magazines and newspapers.
What made you move from hobbyist to professional?
Honestly, I never had any grand aspirations to be a travel writer until after college. In high school, I started working at local newspapers, writing news and features. In college at the University of Tennessee, I got more into sports reporting and thought that was my calling; I was a collegiate athlete and even worked in marketing for a year for basketball legend Pat Summitt.
After graduating, I did a brief stint at Newsweek in New York—then wound up contributing to the magazine for the next four years—before moving back to Europe for a one-year, post-grad degree program. While there, I started pitching my Newsweek editor hotel and restaurant openings and found myself writing a couple (small) pieces a month for her. Toward the end of my tenure abroad, I saw a job posting for a new guidebook series produced by Frommer’s; I applied, was one of a handful hired and got sent to Spain on my first “big assignment.” After completing the book, I moved back to New York, hopped around among magazines, met as many people in the industry as I could during my time there, and my career sort of snowballed from there.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
It depends on what I’m looking for. Edinburgh, Scotland is the city that has most captured my heart, but I can only handle the cold temperatures in short spurts. I love parts of Southeast Asia—like Vietnam and Cambodia—for the culture, the people, the food and a lifestyle so different from my own. I absolutely adore South Africa for the all-around package: It’s got an impressive array of extreme sports, a great urban scene, gorgeous wine region and a fantastic culinary side; similar could be said for Switzerland. But typically, if I were to go somewhere on a whim, it would be a tropical destination—again, I’m a warm-weather kind of gal—so I’d probably pick the Bahamas (Exumas or Abacos) or Hawaii.
What three things can you not travel without?
My iPhone. My MacBook Pro Retina. My Canon DSLR.
Describe your dream trip if money was no object?
Somewhere where I can sleep in a luxurious oceanfront bungalow that has amazing diving and just as amazing food. I’m a beach girl at heart and love to dive. Unfortunately, you often have to sacrifice good food and drink when going to some of the best dive destinations around the world, so if I could find an island, no matter how remote, that had just as good culinary offerings as dive draws, it would be my dream. Maybe a small island off Bora Bora or Fiji? I’m woefully undertravelled when it comes to the South Pacific, so a goal of mine is to spend more time exploring that region at length.
Who would be your ideal travel companion?
My husband Scott and my dog Ella. Even though she’s a six-pound “lap dog” (a Maltese), Ella goes everywhere with us domestically and loves being in the outdoors, whether it’s chasing cows in Oregon or frolicking among the rock formations of Utah. Due to the nature of my work—I’m often only sent somewhere for four or five days and with little notice—and the fact that Scott has an office job, the three of us don’t get to travel together nearly as much as we’d like.
What is your top travel trip for our readers?
It sounds so cliché, but your life will be significantly easier if you learn to pack in just a carry-on. I’ve gotten it down to a science and if I’m traveling for 10 days or less, I only carry on in one small rolling back and forget checking a suitcase entirely. Are you really going to wear that pair of heels? Change purses for a dinner out? Probably not. Leave the bulkier items behind and pare down; your jetsetting lifestyle will change dramatically—for the better—as soon as you learn to travel light.
Thanks for your time Kristin!
If you think Kristin is as cool as we do you can follow her through a number of platforms.