In this edition of Celebrity Travel Addicts, we speak with Joanna Kalafatis, the actress, writer, photographer, and travel blogger behind Lose The Map. We chat with Joanna about her favorite travel destinations, her best bit of travel advice, what makes Lose The Map a unique source of information for travelers, and much more. Check out her favorite restaurant in the world and find out where she’s off to next!
How did your passion for travel get started?
I grew up in a family that loved to travel and explore new places, so I remember always being fascinated by traveling to new countries and experiencing other cultures. However, my passion for traveling in the way I do now started in college. I went on a unique study abroad program that specialized in hands-on learning regarding social and economic challenges in developing countries. I stayed with local families in Brazil and South Africa for months and met with many local community leaders, NGO workers, and other citizens, learning about their perspectives on daily life, politics, and ongoing changes in their country. It really inspired me to focus on immersion when I travel and learning from local perspectives as much as possible.
How many days/weeks are you traveling in any given year? What are the types of places you like to visit?
I probably travel a total of 16-20 weeks any given year, depending on the year. I do spend some of that time in Greece, where I’m originally from, but other than that I prioritize places that have either been on my bucket list for a while (Tanzania) or arrange last-minute trips to places that intrigue me, using Google Flights and other tools to find the most affordable flights and destinations (Colombia).
You run a travel blog and a travel-based YouTube channel, both called Lose The Map. What is Lose the Map all about and what makes it different from other travel content?
Lose the Map is about letting go of pre-planned itineraries, expanding beyond a checklist of museums and landmarks, and taking time to immerse yourself in a destination, talk to people you meet, learn about a country’s culture, history, current political issues, or language, and basically find any ways that interest you to have a deeper experience when you travel. Growing up split between two countries, I’ve always been fascinated by different cultures, lifestyles, and the different perspectives people have that are informed by where they are. I always try to gear my travel content towards encouraging people to learn through traveling, and get a more nuanced picture of destinations around the world.
In addition to a world traveler, you’re also an actress, writer, and photographer. Has your work in those fields had an impact on your travels? If so, how?
My work as a writer and photographer definitely helps me in a practical sense as it enables me to travel. I sell photos and writes articles about different destinations, which gives me the opportunity to go on press trips or otherwise save up money for my travels. On another level, all three creative fields have impacted the way I travel because acting, writing, and photography are essentially three different ways of telling stories. The ability to try to observe and absorb aspects of a place’s and culture’s story, and then relay that story to the outside world, has been developed through years of practicing these creative endeavors.
You currently live in Los Angeles, California. What makes L.A. such a great travel destination? What do you recommend travelers do when they visit?
LA is a great travel destination mostly because it is so much more expansive and more complex than advertised. Most people think of LA as a beach city full of blonde aspiring actresses, surfers, and palm trees. But go beyond the hokey tourist attractions like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and you will see a city of thriving immigrant communities, food cultures from all over the world, entrepreneurs, creative people, and charmingly quirky neighborhoods.
I recommend travelers pick 4-5 LA neighborhoods beyond the tourist attractions and focus on exploring a different one each day by walking around (it CAN be done in LA), eating, talking to people you meet as most Angelenos are quite friendly, and exploring some wonderful LA nature through hiking or any other outdoor activities (LA is a VERY active city). Neighborhoods like Koreatown, Echo Park, the Arts District, and Venice Beach all have very different vibes and activities, and give visitors an idea of the diversity of people and things to do in Los Angeles.
What do you want audiences to gain and learn from your work?
I want audiences to learn about and gain an appreciation for different traditions, perspectives, and lifestyles around the world, and also get the courage to make more local connections when they travel.
What are the top three destinations you’ve visited?
Cartagena, Colombia, Tromso, Norway, Japan (can’t narrow down a city to pick)
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.
Best lunch: La Cevicheria – Cartagena is obsessed with ceviche, and this is the best I had
Best place to stay: Anywhere in the Centro Historico – this part of the city is easily walkable, and you can also cross over to other great neighborhoods like more bohemian, artsy Getsemani
Most relaxing weekend trip: Isla Grande in the Rosario Islands – a walkable, small island one hour by boat from the city with few tourists, beautiful beaches with crystal clear water, eco-hostels throughout, and a bioluminescent lagoon
Best place to dance the night away: Donde Fidel Salsa Club – most people in Cartagena are not wallflowers; they will get up and dance, and so should you.
Best cocktails: Alquimico Bar – the drinks here are handcrafted perfection
How many countries have you visited so far?
What are your top 3 favorite cuisines?
Mexican, Spanish, Brazilian
What is your favorite restaurant in the world? What dish do you recommend there?
L’Oiseau Blanc in Paris stands out as a great dining experience in my memory, both for the food and the nighttime view of the Eiffel Tower. The menu changes almost daily depending on the best ingredients the chef deems are available; I had a roasted lamb main course that was delicious.
What is your favorite travel movie?
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
What is your favorite international airport?
Dubai International Airport
Which city had the friendliest people?
Who is your favorite travel companion?
So far, my best travel experience has been with my childhood friend Vicky. I prefer to travel solo, but when I don’t, someone who’s low-maintenance, flexible, and open to traveling without much of a plan is the best companion.
What is the best way to kill time while traveling?
I always love getting an outdoor seat at a café or bar (depending on the time of day) and just watching the world go by when I travel. It helps me get a great idea of the rhythm of a place.
What is the most exotic place your career has taken you?
Exotic is an interesting word, because it’s meaning changes depending on where you’re coming form; for me, I would have to say Japan, simply because the culture is so vastly different from anything that feels familiar to me.
What is your best bit of travel advice for someone who wants to, or is about to, embark on a life of travel?
Don’t overload your schedule; always give yourself some time to slow down and just be in the place you are visiting, as well as time to recuperate from some inevitable frustrations that may creep in on your trips.
What are 4 things you could never travel without?
My comfortable walking shoes, my Canon camera, my notebook/travel journal, my melatonin (helps me pass out on planes and sleep when I need to in different time zones).
What is your ultimate dream destination?
Vietnam. I’ve heard it is life-changingly beautiful.
What is your favorite travel quote?
“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” – Bill Bryson
Where are you headed next?
I am a travel writer and photographer based in Los Angeles, though I also work as an actress. I have lived in Athens, Greece, and New York City before moving to LA nine years ago, and I have visited over 40 countries. There is hardly a place I read about or come across that I do not intend to visit one day, as I’m endlessly curious about almost everywhere.