Yolanda Edwards, Founder and Editor of YOLO Journal
YOLO Journal is a quarterly print magazine which luxuriates in the whole idea of travel. It was founded, is published, edited, and partly named after Yolanda Edwards. Yolanda has long experience in travel editorial, having spent two periods working at Condé Nast Traveler, first as Photo Editor and later as Creative Director. She also worked as travel and lifestyle editor at Cookie magazine, and photo editor at W magazine.
She first became excited by the ways in which travel can change you on her first trip overseas at 16, when she took part in a cultural immersion programme on the Greek island of Kalymnos. Since 2018, she’s set about inspiring others through the beautiful photography, insider stories and personal tips of YOLO Journal and its sister website YOLO Intel.
We caught up with Yolanda to ask her about where she’s been, where she is now and where the future may take her.
How did you find your way from studying literature to becoming a photographer?
To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever identified as a photographer, probably because I’m married to one, and our daughter has become one! (But thank you!) I would say my interest in travel actually started with fashion photography – I used to go to the local artsy bookstore in my hometown and spend hours looking at all of the international fashion magazines, and the Calvin Klein ads of the 80s were so cool to me, and I just had to figure out where those photos were taken. I graduated in the early 90s, in the middle of a recession, so I took a job running the promotion for a nightclub in San Francisco. That meant coming up with ideas for events, creating the visuals, branding, concepting… After that I ended up becoming a photo editor – meeting with photographers and doing production. All along the way I was a documenter –making journals, taking tons of photos and videos… and when the iPhone came along, I’d say that is when I became more of a ‘photographer’ because I was really sharing my work.
What does a cultural immersion programme involve?
The program I went on was called Ithaka, and it started in the 70s. The founder’s idea was to take a group of American kids – usually around 12 of them – and upon arrival on the island, gave us a new name – mine was Artemis. We each had a different job – I worked in a bakery in the kitchen, actually making the desserts, and other kids had jobs like working with shepherds and sponge divers. In the mornings we worked, and in the afternoons we had our studies. There wasn’t much beach time – it was pretty intensive.
How big an impact did your time on Kalymnos have on what you do now?
I’d say it played a big part in forming my sense of self – I gained a lot of self-confidence when I did well within the program (I wasn’t a very good student before). Equally important, it opened up my mind.
Have you been back to Kalymnos?
I haven’t. I take the ferry through it every summer, but I don’t get off. I’ve worried that it will be so different and it will bum me out – but I think I’m ready now.
What was the catalyst that finally decided you to start your own magazine?
Losing my job at Conde Nast Traveler! I was so devastated when that happened, even though I knew it was inevitable. I had gotten so used to the corporate card, the identity of being a ‘Conde Nast creative director’, of having Anna Wintour pop into my office. It took me a bit to get my confidence back – and that came mostly from dear friends who kept reminding me how unhappy I was there, and how I had always talked about the magazine I would make if I didn’t have higher-ups.
Were you always determined that it should be a print magazine rather than digital?
I wanted to make a print magazine that was about inspiring people to travel – with beautiful uninterrupted photography. No junky service sidebars. I always wanted to have another platform that had all the important service – just not in the magazine. I know everyone has their laptop or phone next to them all the time, so I figured they would look up anything that they were inspired by. In June I launched a newsletter on Substack (yolojournal.substack.com) and that is where I go deep on travel intel. It isn’t about visuals, it’s about good travel info.
How do you select contributors?
After 20+ years of working with photographers and writers, I know a lot of people. And then through Instagram I meet so many more. I don’t accept the traditional pitches (where writers pitch a story) because it is about photography first. I find it’s always more interesting to hear from a visual person what they loved about a place. Writers often flower it up way too much for my taste.
What’s the one thing you always pack when you travel?
A kit that has a blank journal, watercolor pens, watercolors, watercolor postcards, and colorful masking tape.
What’s your favourite place to visit?
It really is a tie between Greece and Italy.
Is there a place you still dream of visiting one day?
How has the pandemic affected the content of YOLO Journal and your own travels?
It has made me appreciate travel so much more – I don’t take any of it for granted. I didn’t travel at all from mid-March 2020 until June, when we started to do road trips. My first flight was in Sept 2020, and we had work in Europe that fall so we had letters that allowed us in the EU. Outside of the spring lockdown, it hasn’t affected our travel so much, except for the obvious necessary inconveniences that are a part of travel today.
What travels do you have lined up in 2022?
I just came back from a week in the Bahamas, and I’m leaving for France this weekend. I’ll be in Europe a lot this year as our daughter is in university there.