I first met Joanna Franco at Hosteling International in NYC, where she worked reception. She’d recently launched a YouTube channel with her friend Damon Dominique called Shut up and Go. As they explained it, they were “two 90’s kids who got tired of cheesy travel shows and cookie-cutter travel hosts, so we took off around the world and made a travel show for the social media generation.” After years of hard work their channel has started blowing up, reaching 200k subscribers this year and then quickly snowballing; they’re now closing in on half a million.
The Inner Lives of Badass Travelers: Joanna Franco
What is your earliest memory of travel?
It was a purple hazy night in Rio de Janeiro. I was five, walking to a local pizza place holding my mom’s hand. She looked down at me and asked how I would feel about going to the “Estados Unidos.” Back then, I didn’t even understand the concept of a country, let alone what it would mean to leave yours and start a new life elsewhere. Flash forward, I’m in the window seat of a chilly plane en-route to the American Dream.
When did you start writing?
I remember having to write this essay on something important to me in the fourth grade. Luckily, it was once I had graduated from the ESL program and had enough vocabulary to express myself with more substance than what I had learned while watching Barney.
The theme I picked was probably heavier than any of my other classmates; I wrote about leaving my family behind and not being able to go back to my old life in Brazil. I put my all into the piece. There was so much emotion within the paragraphs that I ended up busting out in tears as I read them out loud in front of the class; embarrassing. I learned that day that if I really felt something I had the ability to communicate that emotion with my writing, even if I was the only one touched by the words.
Taking pictures, vlogging?
Let’s keep it real; I’m not exactly an “artsy” person. Till this day, I do the amazing images I see in real life no justice with pictures I take. I love editing videos though, because I can fix the crappy production value of what I’ve filmed. Putting together videos with the right music, comedic cues, and text is a puzzle. Molding an otherwise crappy video into something entertaining is gratifying.
Which form gives you the most satisfaction?
Writing… then vlogging.
Which is the hardest and why?
Technically speaking, taking a beautiful picture is extremely hard for me. Writing is more mentally challenging because I feel like I can always do better, so the process is never-ending. Vlogging and editing is the most time consuming. They’re all hard, but worthwhile in their own ways.
Who is your biggest mentor (living or dead)?
Is it bad if I can’t name one person off the top of my head? I have to say my experiences and the experiences of others mentor me. The mentoring constantly changes, and situations or people present themselves in my life to prepare me for the next step, or at least I like to believe that.
In a single sentence, how would you define your travel style?
The goal in all of my travels is always to create connections with people in the deepest way possible (bonus if it’s in their native language) to gain a deeper meaning about life.
Describe your routine, what you did today, and will be doing for the rest of the day.
On a less intense note, I woke up today and looked around my messy room, how does it always get this bad? Oh, right, because I’m never home long enough to clean anything. I barely unpacked the suitcase from my last trip, and I already have to repack for another trip tonight to New York and then Montreal, livin’ the dream.
I’m currently writing this in a dimly lit coffee shop in Larchmont Village in Los Angeles where no one will judge me for deeming Bricks and Scones my impromptu office for the day. After scarfing down a chocolate chip cookie and chugging an iced coffee, I got sidetracked from answering emails and started searching flights to New Orleans for a few weeks from now. Why not, right? I could always use a little ragtime jazz. I’ll spend the rest of my day looking over contracts for future projects, blogging, editing, running errands (like maybe packing finally), then jumping on a plane to NYC tonight. It’s been years of fighting for this dream, and yet I still can’t believe I live this jet-setting lifestyle.
What’s the hardest trip you’ve ever been on?
Egypt. Being a woman there profoundly affected me and took me out of the “you can do anything you want despite being a woman” bubble.
How do you choose where you want to go next?
The downside of working as a travel vlogger and blogger is that a lot of times I don’t get to choose where I go. Companies will have initiatives or plans in specific places, and we’ll go to work. But the minute I have my own time to travel, I book tickets on impulse mostly. I love learning language while I travel, so that helps point me in specific directions. I also enjoy traveling for long periods of time, it’s an injustice to try to portray a place when you’ve only experienced it for about a week.
What would you like potential sponsors to know?
They need to know we’re not robotic puppets. We’re personality-driven creators who usually have unique ways of looking at things, more than just from an on-camera perspective. We like to produce real experiences; eye crust, sweat stains, missed flights, racist interactions, funny encounters, language barriers, you name it, we show it unfiltered on our channel. We love to show all of the realness, and we believe it’s a part of why people watch us. We’ve learned the hard way that partnering with companies who want us to look polished won’t do anything to grow our audience. After all, there are a million cookie cutter travel shows showing you sexy beaches, but there’s only one Damon and Jo.
What is your biggest guilty pleasure when you travel?
Dancing my heart out with strangers and drinking good wine.
What is the most overblown illusion people have about travel?
The obvious one that kills me; all travelers are privileged, and rich. Or that the world is a scary and dangerous place, so you shouldn’t even leave your house, let alone the country.
When have you lied as a traveler?
I’ll play the citizenship game a lot when I travel; I’m a dual citizen so I kind of swing whichever way gives me more respect or benefits. Sometimes I’m only American, sometimes I’m only Brazilian. It’s funny how people will treat you differently with those labels.
What would you change if you could go back 10 years ago?
Not a damn thing.
What project / photo / travel moment are you the most proud of so far?
Honestly, I feel like I’ve barely reached 30% of my capacity as a writer, vlogger, and business woman. The best is yet to come. I did like my Hello Havana blog though, it came from that passion place that was first unleashed in the fourth grade.
Who are the heroes you’ve met traveling?
Anyone who travels solo. Especially women.
Where would you like to be in 10 years?
I’d love to make a year round schedule where I know exactly when I’ll travel for work, and when I’ll travel for my own personal reasons. It’s hard to plan your life when you can get a call any minute that changes your next six months.
I’d love to build a business out of all of this; that was always my goal. On a creative level, I’d love to have published a book or two, master the art of public speaking, and have started up an awesome non-profit for entrepreneurs in travel. I also really want to give back and support causes like education for girls overseas and clean drinking water. Joprah in the making.
What languages do you speak?
English, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and Italian if I try hard enough.
Name 3 books (any genre) that have influenced the way you’ve thought / written?
Of course, The Alchemist, because it’s a travel classic. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, for the humor. The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts, because it’s freaking Alan Watts.
What are you most afraid of?
Since I was 6, I was always so afraid of not having enough time.
What are the words/expressions you overuse?
In English: No worries — it’s a habit, but deep down I guess it’s me reminding myself and others not to worry.
In Portuguese: Excelente — for some reason, everything is excellent to me while speaking Portuguese.
In French: C’est tellement dur — “it’s so hard,” because isn’t that French in a nutshell?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
I’m in love with the ability to create something out of nothing.
I’m in love with people and places I’ve never met or seen before.
I’m in love with constant movement.