An interview with Damon and Jo
I am currently living in Lisbon, Portugal for 2 months. I work as an intern at a mostly functional art space but I do not believe I’d be here if I didn’t watch the YouTube travel channel Damon and Jo.
From their YouTube channel, it seems that Damon and Jo were truly living: they had admirable friendships, emanated good vibes, had clear skin, and stories from 4 continents over. When I started watching them a year ago, I remember wanting to live just like that and, more importantly, feeling like I actually could.
Instead of writing a travel log, I’ve decided to speak to those who influence me on their way of living. So, I sent Damon and Jo an email asking for an interview. Here’s what they have to say:
Aidan: Just out of curiosity, what are you listening to at the moment?
Damon: It takes a really good modern R&B slow jam to get me to stray away from my 90s and early 2000s playlist, but right now it's Drake, Azealia Banks, DRAM, Russ, or Miguel.
Jo: I've been binging Drake's Views album; so mainstream of me lol! But I'm also constantly bumping Erykah Badu, Outkast, and A Tribe Called Quest, and whatever else is downloaded on my Spotify for those long plane rides!
Aidan: I’m in Lisbon and I’ve already experienced so much and gathered so many incredible stories. Can you tell me a story from your time in Lisbon?
We stayed in this amazingly cozy hostel, called Oasis Hostel, where we met about 10 international people who quickly became our Lisbon travel buddies. We decided to take the hostel's manager up on his offer to go on a pub crawl, next thing you know we're dancing in the middle of the street, drinking sangria, and mingling with people from all over the world. Somehow, the hostel staff randomly turned into the bartenders in Lisbon's nightlife hub. The next morning, we all laughed about the festivities over a chef-prepared breakfast. That hostel knew what was up.
Aidan: Tying into my Lisbon experience: I’ve spoken English a lot while here and I haven’t gotten much chance to flex my Portuguese. I think that there’s this idea that English is a “universal language,” and I don’t think that’s fair. I think it would do English speakers a huge service to learn other languages just as people of non-English backgrounds have to learn English. Can you talk about the ways that being polyglots and learning about other cultures have expanded your horizons?
We never expect people to speak English to us, in fact, we both get upset when someone switches to English when they hear a slight accent. Of course, there's good in the fact that there's a universal language; we've seen various instances where we might be in Poland, and a person from Slovenia tries to speak to someone from Hungary, and they both use English to speak to one another. We dislike the fact that English-speaking travelers potentially miss out on learning other languages because theirs is the universal converter. There's nothing greater than understanding someone's perspective in their native tongue; we truly believe that learning and practicing various languages help the world become smaller and more connected.
Aidan: My favorite thing about your videos is that there you have so much love for each other. I think that a lot of people would benefit from learning about how you balance your friendship. How do you maintain your friendship with each other?
After six years of being best friends and fighting for the same mission, to grow Shut Up and Go, we've become as close as siblings. It's great to have someone who's always on the same page; we barely need to speak to predict what the other one is thinking. On the other hand, we're two people who have different wants, needs, and we make sacrifices for the common goal. Something that's been helpful is taking solo trips to continue working on the channel and blog but to get a different perspective.
Aidan: Also, you both seem really calm and collected and really spiritually healthy. What do you do to take care of yourselves?
Damon: I watch FRIENDS every day. Literally every day. It's fun and light and I think it's a series that teaches you that life isn't all that serious and to laugh at yourself and the bad things that happen. Aside from that, I like to go to the gym and clear my mind or go for a walk or get an Americano and spend time alone.
Jo: I definitely analyze things more than the average person. I'm constantly talking about concepts I like to call "Mind Bangers," or things that normal people wouldn't think of that provoke the safe box people like to keep themselves in. I'm not afraid to think big picture, and to realize my time here is finite. I also have a solid group of girlfriends who are powerhouses and as diverse as I am, and I'm close to my family. Running always helps keep me grounded and get my endorphins going after long days of editing and writing on my computer.
Aidan: Just a random question: Who are your heroes?
Damon: I don't know if I have a hero, but there have definitely been people who come into my life who have taught me different things and in that sense, I look up to them. There's my mom who always supported the things I wanted to do - even helping me find a way to study abroad in Barcelona when I was 16. She always thinks I'm a bit crazy at first and then supports me 100%. There are also people I've met from random encounters who have made an unexpected impact, like my friend Toni, who I only see so often but who, every time, reminds me how good life is. She's just a well-rounded, genuinely happy person that you want to be like.
Jo: My bold mother whose a freaking power-house and taught me everything I know about being independent and fighting for what you want by example. She sacrificed all of her comfort by leaving everything behind in Brazil to bring her three kids (me included) to the US in hopes of bigger opportunities. From being a business owner, she swallowed her pride and became a cleaning lady. Today, she says I live the life she's always wanted to live; it keeps me going.
Aidan: As a vegetarian, I have an important question for Damon: What do you typically find yourself eating abroad as a vegetarian?
Oh, it's rough. I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me upset when I'm abroad and struggling to find something to eat. You can easily find french fries and kebabs but that's not my style. I do really like venturing in grocery stores, both in the US and outside of the US, so I tend to make my own meals out of salads, yogurt, milk, bread and cheese.
Aidan: Also, Damon, how did you gather the courage to follow your dreams and not follow the typical graduating college path? I have a lot of friends who want to follow their dreams but are afraid not to graduate college. What advice would you tell them?
I've always trusted myself, that no matter what happens, I'll figure it out. Most of the time, things work out, but I think the uncertainty is what throws most people off. It all comes down to the realization of "how happy am I?" and if you're not enjoying what you're doing, then you should stop. Period. For me, that meant dropping out of college because I knew the student loans would control my life for years - and that's messed up. I realized I would be the one paying them back and so it didn't matter really what anyone else thought. It's also important to realize that education does not stop after college. I'd say I'm learning just as much out of college than I was in college, just without a certificate - which is fine by me!
Aidan: I also have some questions for Jo, especially as a black girl: What was your experience like in Cuba, especially as an American? Also: What is it like for you to travel as a black girl?
My experience in Cuba was trans-formative. I definitely tapped into my journalist mode while there because everything had such rich history, and interesting sociological and cultural aspects. I blended in, which let me have even more of a local feel, everyone thought I was Cuban because of my brown skin and curly hair. The funny thing was that Cubans would tell me I was Brazilian before I even opened my mouth, so while I was reppin' the USA, they could see right through me.
Traveling as a black woman is just like traveling as any other person, only you'll look around and never see anyone who looks like you. Of course, there's racism here and there, but that's anywhere, not just when traveling. The frustrating part is that there are so few people of color traveling, that when there's someone like me going all over the world, I'm expected to give a full report on the condition of traveling for my entire race. It's unfair, and I hope it'll change in the next few years.
Aidan: What are some tips you have for people who live in international communities who don’t necessarily have the means to travel who still want to learn about people of various cultures/linguistic backgrounds?
The internet is your best friend. There are so many apps and websites dedicated to building communities of people who are interested in travel and language. Our channel has even become a watering hole for awesome young people who love to Shut Up and Go themselves. Most of the times, when we meet viewers, we instantly hit it off because they love all the same things we do, which is why we're all a part of the same community.
Aidan: What are you each really into besides traveling?
Damon: I really love photography - I think there's something special about capturing a moment in time - so I spend more time than the average person looking at photos, whether they're on Instagram, in a magazine, or in a museum. It's definitely a bonus for this career on-camera. I'm also very holistic and try to eat organic, use organic products, etc. - like if ever you need to find me, I'm probably in a Whole Foods vitamins aisle just looking.
Jo: I love playing instruments, I've been messing around on the Ukulele for the last six months, before that I played the Saxophone and the Violin. I also love collecting records, listening to old music, and memorizing rap lyrics. Oh, and Astrology is basically my sixth language.
Aidan: Can you tell me about the first time when you knew that traveling was your passion?
Damon: I got the first glimpse when I had to choose between French or Spanish in high school. It literally racked my brain for a year before I finally chose Spanish. When I studied abroad in Paris for a year and saw how often and how easily Europeans my age were traveling, all I could think was, "Well why aren't I?" After those first few Eurail trips, I was so intrigued by the people and places that I knew travel was my thing.
Jo: I knew I was too international from the very beginning to not make my lifestyle about learning languages and traveling. I always thought I 'd be the CEO of someone else's company and that I'd be globe-trotting because of that. Then I worked at so many internships that opened my eyes to the fact I can never work for anyone else, and plus, no one knows how to put my skills to work like I do. I was about 10 years old when I knew I wanted to be a jet-setting business woman, everything else fell into place through experience.
Aidan: Last one! What’s something you would really like to tell people that no one has ever asked you about?
Damon: There was time in high school when I thought I might want to be a professional tennis player! I had played tennis for 10 years, and even won a few tournaments back in Indiana. Finally my desire to move to New York City triumphed my love for tennis. Nonetheless, I don't think people ever think we're "athletic" or "sporty" people but we both kind of are!
Jo: I'm secretly a business woman extraordinaire and always get excited while speaking about the digital media industry, technology, and the sociological reactions of the tech age we're living and developing in. Most people see a goofy girl on-screen, but when the camera turns off, I'm the "let's get down to business" kind of girl.
Read Damon and Jo’s blog here
Follow their adventures on their YouTube channel here
thumbnail courtesy of http://www.shutupandgo.travel/
AIDAN'S interests include Ibra, flowers, African-American culture and linguistics, Spanish and Portuguese language, orchestras, androgynous fashion, coming of age movies, family saga books, and fried bread/sports diplomacy. She writes feature stories.