Yolanda Edwards is…a traveler. Yet to call her that seems like both a gross oversimplification and an opportunity to expand our understanding of what it actually means ‘to travel’ as a way of life.
A NYC publishing veteran, Yolanda is perhaps most often associated with her tenure as former creative director of Conde Nast Traveler (which was preceded by years editing, writing, and art directing a range of publications from Martha Stewart Living to the beloved bygone Cookie Magazine). Last year, she branched out on her own to work as an independent consultant whilst launching her own printed travel magazine, Yolo. Its inaugural issue—themed around Italy—was released earlier this summer.
Yolanda is one of our favorite people to follow on Instagram — amid a collective confession of social media fatigue, her dispatches from the road are the ultimate inspiration-inducing refreshment. She’s a constant chronicler of her world, from blurry videos from the car window as she bumps along the remote French countryside in a Fiat Panda (to said Panda broken down in an Italian mechanic’s shop); to impromptu hotel room tours; sips of negronis, bowls of Amalfi lemons, creaking cathedral floorboards, stacks of beachside woven espadrilles; notebooks stuffed with the ticket stubs, postcards, and clippings that have chronicled her journey. No matter where she is, Yolanda’s perspective feels underwritten by discovery and awareness…she reminds us that our lives are not bracketed into “home” and “away.” Rather, we carry our experiences with us.
For this travelogue, we shadowed Yolanda on a week of her summer, on the heels of a road trip with her husband Matt from Lake Garda to the Italian Riviera to Southern France and finally back to the Médoc region of France where she and her family have been slowly renovating a home in tiny St. Yzans-de-Medoc. Below, these dispatches and a conversation about abandoning assumptions, what it means to live in “receiving mode," and her top travel tips for any journey.
“When I was young, I looked to movies and magazines to give me ideas and inspiration for the life I wanted to have. I knew that travel was going to be a big part of my education and my identity. I was lucky to have a friend in high school whose parents invited me to go on a summer trip with them to Europe—my first time ever—and I've been hooked since then.”
“Travel really feeds me. Once I'm on the road, I'm in receiving mode much more than I am when I'm at home in Brooklyn. I'm open, I'm curious, I'm the best version of myself. I'm so stimulated by the change in scenery, the differences in sounds, smells, colors, the signage, the language, the objects in the markets, the menus. I love all of it. Once I'm home, I try to get all the information into my notebooks, or my Google docs, or into the magazine, and then I'm working on the next trip. I'm kind of always in a state of travel, even when I'm not on the road.”
Pico Iyer wrote that difference between the “tourist” and the “traveler” lies “between those who leave their assumptions at home…” Can you describe a traveling recently that defied your expectations?
“We just did this crazy road trip from Italy to France, and about 10 km from our destination, the car started to putter. I quickly Googled "Fiat mechanic Alassio" and found a place that was open. We barely managed to get there, and in my mediocre Italian I explained to the owner what happened. He was very kind and immediately started working on the car, all about 30 minutes before closing. At the end, when I asked how much, he wouldn't take any money. I mean...talk about assumptions. A mechanic, in Italy, not charging me for time and work? A total stranger?! The next day we brought him a bottle of wine and some chocolate, and I think he almost cried.”
No adventure is too small:
Whenever I have a weekend with no plan, I try to go somewhere local that I haven't been before. This doesn't go down so well with my family who are frankly tired of always exploring. But on the occasions I have convinced them, we have had great afternoons at Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, and eating our way through Queens. I think exploring a culture that has a strong presence in your community, and really spending a day doing that, is so transporting.
One of my favorite memories was a morning at the Noguchi Museum and then eating at a lovely Greek restaurant in Astoria. I spend a lot of time in Greece, and I can honestly say I felt like I was there; it was that transportive.
Yolanda's tips for making the most of a smaller trip:
1. Check out car shares as a cheaper alternative to renting a car (a road trip is the best way to see a place!)
2. Don’t underestimate how special a 'random' destination can be. There are so many places around the country that no one ever talks about...but they are insanely beautiful.
3. Research! Once you start diving into researching a place you'll get lost in a rabbit hole of discovery. And always toggle between the information and the images.
4. Observe how you are when you travel, and strive to be more like that at home. When we travel, we look up: Everything seems fresh and exciting (and we are in vacation mode... our eyes and hearts are more open). We talk to strangers on planes and in lines. We are more vulnerable. Sometimes when I'm home in NY I go to the Wall Street area and it's so new to me. I allow myself to get lost and just wander around...I end up taking pictures like I'm on vacation, and it's a good mental break.
5. If nothing else, allow for a dose of inspirational armchair travel: Pick a country, watch a movie that is shot there, listen to some of its music, and find a new recipe and cook something from that place. Then order some books and continue the discovery...
You often advise on always picking the window seat… are there any other travel/life hacks you swear by?
I always bring a little homeopathic kit with me in case I get a food sensitivity, or a bad bug bite. I put them in an X-ray bag so they don't lose their potency (this is something my doctor told me to do!)
I never take a nap when I'm jet lagged; I just immediately commit to being in the time zone of wherever I am. And I drink lots of coffee. On the plane I always get some kind of alcohol as it helps me go to sleep (which I know is a very unpopular approach, but I think when it comes to this subject you have to do what works for you!)
When I'm somewhere I haven't been before, or in a neighborhood I don't know so well, I always find the cool store in the area and ask them where to get coffee/lunch/drinks/dinner...and what else is cool in the neighborhood. People in the stores are the best local guides (and it’s so much better than burying my head in my phone Googling or looking at saved Instagram posts.)
Save something to return to: Because I do travel so much, I don't always have time to research everything before I arrive. Prime example: I just left Saint-Paul de Vence without realizing there was a Matisse chapel right there...and I didn't go. It was only after I left did some friends message me and ask if I went. When things like this happen I remind myself that we are all always learning, and that missing something in a place just means that you get to return to it.