The way YouTube travel vlogger, documentarian, and now author Damon Dominique sees it, he was meant to travel, since “Damon” spelled backward is “Nomad.” The 31-year-old Indiana native will be at Porter Square Books in Cambridge on Jan. 26 to sign copies of “You Are a Global Citizen,” a travel book and guided journal that he admits he was apprehensive about writing. “I am more of a visual person. I love film and editing and fonts and colors … so this was definitely a challenge,” said Dominique, who has created more than 500 travel videos (with in excess of 22 million views in multiple languages) from more than 50 countries. “But I am so happy [to have written it] and am looking forward to meeting people on the book tour.” The Globetrotter, who lives in Paris, France, made one of his first travel videos in Boston. “I was in college in New York City and had zero money, so I’d take the Chinatown buses to explore other places, and Boston was one of the first,” he recalled. “So coming back here on a book tour is pretty surreal.” We caught up with Dominique, who said he is looking forward to checking out the vegan food scene while in Boston, to talk about all things travel.
If you could travel anywhere right now, and money was no object, where would it be? Oh wow. That list is never-ending. I’d say North Korea, and honestly, that’s not a joke. I’m very intrigued by the places we’re “not supposed to go,” or that are unanimously “unpopular,” but when I travel, I’m not doing so to specifically please or displease governments. I’m visiting to show up for the people living there. While it would be especially difficult in North Korea, where every visitor’s itinerary is very planned out and polished, I would love to still talk with the people there and get a sense of the day-to-day life. My entire philosophy is that I could have so easily been born elsewhere, so what would Damon Dominique look like had I grown up in another country? I’m sure there is someone just like me, 31, curious about the world, who lives there right now … and I would love to meet them.
Where was the first place you traveled to after COVID restrictions were lifted? Paris, Texas. A major unspoken part of being a YouTuber is not only keeping an audience entertained but also keeping yourself entertained. And I’ve found that the obvious travel guide kind of videos don’t excite me much anymore. I need the videos I publish to be eccentric, bizarre, and full of many WTF moments. I had exhausted the videos to be made in Paris, France, so I thought why not head to Paris, Texas, next to see what was happening, why the town was named after Paris, and what the people themselves thought of Paris, France.
Do you prefer booking trips through a travel agent or on your own? I have never used a travel agent. I feel like one of my strongest talents actually is putting a travel itinerary together. Perhaps in another life I was a travel agent. Nowadays it’s what I do, to some extent, on my social media via my online travel videos and mini-documentaries.
Thoughts on an “unplugged” vacation? Last year, I wanted to try this, so I booked a one-way solo trip to Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, to go on what I thought would be a yoga retreat. Maybe I am a bit extreme — and have watched too many camp videos — but I was expecting to have my phone confiscated upon arrival and to be expected at the three yoga sessions per day. I only realized upon arrival that most people didn’t want to be told what to do when they were paying for a night at a hotel, [which is] understandable, so this wasn’t the case. Of course, I got the break I needed, but I admit I was a bit disappointed seeing everyone around me still plugged in.
Do you use all of your vacation time, or leave some on the table? Because travel is my job, I would say it’s hard to have a real vacation when I am on any sort of “vacation time.” On the bright side, I’m mostly doing what I enjoy doing, so every day feels both like work and vacation.
What has been your worst vacation experience? Landing in Tel Aviv and being met with suspicion about why I would want to visit Israel as a non-Jewish, solo traveler. It’s not that I expect any country’s border control to be welcoming and friendly, but after visiting 50-plus countries, I had never been treated with such hostile interrogation. I also tend to have a “you’re not going to talk to me like that” kind of attitude at times, which doesn’t work well at border controls [laughs]. That trip to Israel and Palestine turned out to be one of the most fascinating I have been on to this day — and it, too, is wrapped up in a documentary on YouTube.
Do you prefer vacationing to relax, to learn, or for the adventure of it all? Adventure. If I travel for vacation, I’ve noticed it has to be a repeat destination — otherwise, I get too curious and too excited to explore my way through the city, its people, and its culture.
What book do you plan on bringing with you to read on your next vacation? I’d say the majority of my travels are solo travels, so I always make sure to bring a book to keep me company on a long train ride. Since I’m mostly in an exploratory mind-set when traveling, I like to bring along any kind of philosophy book to really push my mind further “out there.” I’ve really been on an existential kick lately: Are we, as humans, here for some sort of deeper purpose, or is it some nicety we tell ourselves to soothe the uneasiness, anxiety, and despair that comes along with existence? You know, just the easy stuff to ponder. To be honest, I’m more concerned about life’s bigger, lofty questions than the ups and downs that come with the day-to-day. Anyway, I’d probably bring something by Simone de Beauvoir or Jean Paul Sartre, who are classic existentialist philosophers.
If you could travel with one famous person/celebrity, who would it be? Definitely a comedian — Amy Schumer, Michaela Coel, Chelsea Handler, etc. … I try not to take life so seriously. I mean, why should we? We barely have any answers to the greater meaning of life. I also am interested in showing off funny people around the world. To put it in a cliché way, laughter is the best medicine, but I also think people who watch any kind of videos — on TV or YouTube — are more willing to learn about the rest of the world if it’s sandwiched between fun entertainment and a bunch of punch lines so the education doesn’t feel like school. Besides, I’ve always loved those who can laugh about the dark sides of life and ultimately take risks by telling such jokes. What is a comedian, if not that?
What is the best gift to give a traveler? Essential oils — specifically a tiny bottle of tea tree oil and another of eucalyptus oil. It’s very easy to feel disgustingly gross when you’re in someone else’s shower, but if you drop a few drops of these oils in the shower, it’ll always feel like a spa.
What is your go-to snack for a flight or a road trip? I get major snack anxiety on long plane or bus rides, so I shoot for protein bars, bananas, dried mango slices, and a pre-made peanut butter sandwich.
What is the coolest souvenir you’ve picked up on a vacation? At heart, I am a 75-year-old elderly woman who lives in a cottage packed to the brim with objects from around the world, so I keep that in mind as I’m rummaging through foreign flea markets and thrift stores. One trip to Marrakesh — where of course the main thing to do is visit the souks and shop till you die — I noticed a silver sugar cube holder, immediately bought it, and then hauled it around Europe for months thereafter . . . but I’ve now had it for years and use it as a money jar exclusively for my morning baguette money. Life is more fun when you have little habits like that.
What is your favorite app/website for travel? I live by Atlas Obscura. I’m all about making travel more interesting via the quirky and more obscure things to do. I will still do all the must-dos in a city, but maybe it’s the rebel inside of me who always wants to find the things no one else is doing, and do that instead, which then makes my trip feel more … me?
What has travel taught you? Travel has taught me to be even more curious about the world around me. Everything we know currently is because either we have experienced it or have heard about others’ experiences … but what else is out there that we don’t yet know of? After all, all of our favorites were once firsts, so I guess that’s the very idea that keeps me going. What else can I learn about the world … and, as a result, myself? Perhaps my next favorite song is in Romanian, or my next lover is from Bangladesh. We never know.
What is your best travel tip? The best travel tip I could offer is to stop planning every last second of every last trip. What many of us are looking for when we’re traveling is a sense of adventure and unpredictability as a contrast to our otherwise extremely planned-out lives back home with work, friends, hobbies, kids, etc., but it’s unlikely for spontaneity to happen when you’re abiding by a solid, pre-planned itinerary. The excitement often comes from the unplanned and unpredictable … so leave a chunk of the day to just roam and see where the road takes you. Good luck out there!