In this edition of Celebrity Travel Addicts, we chat with Kristin Luna, the travel journalist and travel/lifestyle blogger behind Camels & Chocolate. We speak about how her mother influenced her love of traveling the world, what makes her native Nashville a great place for travelers to visit, her favorite things to do in Scotland, and much more! Check out her best advice for those who want to start a life of travel and find out where she’s headed next!
How did your passion for travel get started?
My mom was always a big traveler. She traveled a lot in her youth and moved to Europe for a couple years right out of college, which wound up being exactly what I did, too! She took us on a lot of family vacations across the United States, so by the time I was 18, I had been to at least 35 states and overseas a couple of times (to England, Italy, Mexico and the Caribbean). She always encouraged us to follow our passions, so she was very supportive when I decided to work on a ranch in Arizona during the summers of college, then leave from there to study abroad. Today, we still try to travel together when we can, usually two or three trips a year.
How many days/weeks are you traveling in any given year? What are the types of places you like to visit?
There was a time where I was traveling as many as 250 days out of the year, but now I’ve pared that down to an average of one to two weeks per month, which is a bit more manageable. And a lot of our travel is in the drive market, too, which means we’re not always dealing with the hassle of an airport. My husband and I own a media production company, so many of our clients are on retainer, where we’re handling their strategy and marketing assets, meaning we visit the same destinations a few times a year for client visits, which I prefer these days to constantly visiting somewhere new on every trip. There’s a beauty in really learning a city intimately, which is what we’ve been able to do with several U.S. destinations we’ve worked with on multiple projects.
You’re currently based near Nashville, Tennessee. What makes Nashville a great travel destination? What do you suggest people do when they visit?
Nashville has a bit of everything, which is why people love it, and it’s also very central with great airlift to pretty much every major city in America. But I must say this first: Get. Off. Broadway! For those who haven’t been to Nashville, Broadway is the collection of Honky Tonks that once were what gave the city some of its charm, but lately have just become downright eyesores (thanks to no fewer than a dozen country music bros opening up massive bars branded with their names, face palm). Downtown Nashville has become a combination of Times Square and the Vegas Strip, and no Tennessean I know is happy with these dramatic changes that include pedal taverns galore, hot tubs on wheels (no, really), party hearses, John Deere tractors hauling bachelorette parties and all other manners of sin.
My favorite parts of Nashville are the neighborhoods on the periphery of downtown: Germantown, East Nashville, Music Row, 12 South and Charlotte. I have a pretty in-depth dining guide to Nashville, as well as a guide to all of the best Nashville murals, and I have to say that’s my favorite way of exploring Music City: through its food and through its art.
Of course, art also encompasses music, and you can’t come to Nashville without taking in the live music scene. The Opry and Ryman are icons, but there are plenty of underground music clubs and cool venues like the Basement East, Station Inn and Cannery Row that have shows every night of the week.
You run a travel and lifestyle blog called Camels & Chocolate. Can you tell us a bit about it? What makes it stand out among all the other travel and lifestyle blogs out there?
I’m a journalist first and foremost. It’s been my craft since the late 90s, and I’ve written for just about every magazine you find on the newsstands and a lot of newspapers, too. My husband also has a background as a writer—we met in journalism school in Holland—so we approach our storytelling as we would any piece of journalistic work: through deep dives of a community by interviewing and getting to know the locals.
I started the blog in 2007 before SEO was something people thought about, so the ability to be creative and write about what I want to write about has always driven my content. A lot of newer travel blogs solely focus on SEO, which is not a bad thing, that’s just not M.O.—we don’t sell ads, so we don’t have to constantly worry about pageviews, and it’s a freeing model that enables us to really tell a compelling story without concern for how much money a blog post is going to bring us through clicks.
I also feel like we take more attainable trips than some travel blogs that highlight more far-flung destinations. The United States is a massive beast of a country, and it would take years, decades even, to see a big chunk of it thoroughly. I love the flexibility of having a car, the ability to pull over on a whim when you find a lookout or hole-in-the-wall diner or quirky roadside attraction you want to explore more, so a lot of our coverage focuses on road trips to mid-sized and smaller cities in the United States, with one or two international trips a year. Given that our readership is about 85 percent American, this makes sense—we provide them with ample ideas for long weekend or week-long trips they can take within their time-off parameters, which are shockingly low compared to, say, European countries that get six weeks off a year.
What do you want audiences to gain and learn from your work?
That you can have a life full of travel without making travel your life. There are so many digital nomads who sell this unrealistic style of full-time travel, which is an unattainable fantasy for 99 percent of Americans. I like to show that you can have a home, a family, a career, and also travel far and wide in the in between, no matter your budget.
What are the top three destinations you’ve visited?
International: Scotland, South Africa, Switzerland. Domestic: Savannah, the Florida Panhandle and the Northern California coast.
Give us your ‘Top 5’ list for one of your top 3 destinations. Like a mini-guide or a to-do list of sorts. It can be anything from your favorite hotel, best place to have lunch, best sightseeing, etc.
- Spend a few leisurely day in Edinburgh, one of the coolest, most stunning cities in the world. Wander the Cowgate into the Grassmarket, visit the castle for the views, pop into Greyfriars Bobby, hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat.
- Then, rent a car and road trip out to Glencoe and the Highlands.
- From there, loop up to Isle of Skye for some of the most majestic islands and castles you’ve ever seen.
- Come back to Edinburgh via Aviemore and the Cairngorms National Park, and be sure and sample some Scotch whisky while you’re out that way.
- Try haggis. It doesn’t matter where—and don’t look up what’s in it until you’re done—just don’t leave Scotland without sampling the country’s top delicacy!
How many countries have you visited so far?
I lost count around 120 a few years back. I try not to country-count, and at this point in my travels, I’m more interested in revisiting places I’ve been two before rather than just ticking off new countries. For example, my husband and I were inclined to go somewhere “exotic” like Tahiti where neither of us has been for our upcoming 10-year wedding anniversary, then when we sat down and talked about it, we decided we’d much rather go back to Holland and Denmark, where we spent our first year of our relationship together.
What are your top 3 favorite cuisines?
Tacos, chocolate and bourbon. Those are totally food groups, right? 😉
What is your favorite restaurant in the world? What dish do you recommend there?
B Star Bar in San Francisco. It’s a Burmese joint and the offshoot of the more well-known Burma Superstar, and Scott and I went there at least once a week when living in California for their fermented tea leaf salad. Pro tip: make a reservation!
What is your favorite travel movie?
A Far Off Place, the early 90s film starring my hometown girl Reese Witherspoon, always made me want to visit Africa. Ditto to The Constant Gardener.
What is your favorite international airport?
NOT Charles de Gaulle. That place is the worst! The Scandinavians do everything right, and Copenhagen is an excellent place in which to be stuck on a long layover, particularly if you have lounge access.
Which city had the friendliest people?
Oklahoma City! You wouldn’t believe how hospitable the locals are there, too. It’s one of the most underrated cities in the United States, and I encourage any traveler who loves urban exploring to add it to their list.
Who is your favorite travel companion?
My husband Scott (commonly referred to on the blog by his initials, SVV). We met traveling in Europe in 2005, and it’s been the basis of our entire relationship. For years, he worked an office job and only traveled with me a few times a year, then he quit his job in 2016 and came to work with me full-time, so now we travel together for both work and play.
What is the best way to kill time while traveling?
I rarely have time to read for fun while I’m home, so I never travel without a book or my Kindle as plane and airport time are when I whittle down my reading list.
What is the most exotic place your career has taken you?
Svalbard in the Arctic Circle of Norway was by far the most otherworldly place I’ve ever visited. In terms of pure exoticness, you can’t beat Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.
What is your best bit of travel advice for someone who wants to, or is about to, embark on a life of travel?
Stockpile your PTO. Incorporate travel into your life where it makes sense: holiday weekends, for example, where you already get time off and can take an extra day on each end to really maximize that time. If you have a traditional job, try and negotiate more time off than you’re initially offered or ask for an extra week at your annual performance review. In a day and age where many employees don’t work in offices every single day, talk to your boss about the ability to work remote, which can be a great way to travel often while still enjoying the perks of a steady paycheck. And be flexible: flexible in where you go, flexible in when you go, and flexible when you get there. My best travel encounters are the ones that have been totally unplanned.
What are 4 things you could never travel without?
My iPhone, my MacBook, my Canon, my sleep headphones that block out my husband’s increasingly loud snoring.
What is your ultimate dream destination?
Greenland! Or the Faroe Islands! Or Palau! Or anywhere exotic and remote that I haven’t visited yet.
What is your favorite travel quote?
“Not all who wander are lost?” I KID. I’m so tired of seeing that quote on every third Instagrammer’s profile. I don’t have a favorite quote per se, but a muralist I recently worked with—my husband and I run a community improvement program installing murals in rural areas on the side—texted me this the other day and it really resonated with me as my husband and I have thrown our full hearts into community improvement these past few years: “If you want truly to understand something, try to change it.” -Kurt Lewin
Where are you headed next?
Our fall is full of revisiting U.S. destinations that we love—Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, San Francisco and New Orleans—as well as a work trip to a new-to-me province in Canada and an actual vacation to Bermuda for my mom’s 70th birthday.
From the time I was 3, I knew I was going to be a writer, so during high school, I took every gig I could get as a way to gain experience: at a newspaper, in a radio station, for a TV network. After graduating with my degree in journalism and electronic media from the University of Tennessee, I immediately moved to New York for a research position at Newsweek. From there, I hopped around publishing companies in various roles—Time Inc., Conde Nast, Bauer Publishing and Wenner Media, among others—while moonlighting as a red carper reporter for Glamour, InStyle and PEOPLE magazines. I got my feet wet in the travel industry by penning a hotel and restaurant column for Newsweek, then authoring more than a dozen guidebooks for Frommer’s. Today, I still freelance for such publications as Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Parade and AAA Living, though I more regularly works with city and state tourism boards on their content efforts through my company, Odinn Media, and 12-year-old blog Camels & Chocolate. I’m an unabashed Taylor Swift fan (and yes, I’ve interviewed her!), a craft beer enthusiast and an AcroYogi.