With the launch of Globe Trekker on Lonely Planet TV, we sat down to talk to Justine Shapiro, who was the host of the travel show for a decade.
Like most of us, Justine Shapiro’s travel plans are on hiatus. These days, Justine spends her time at her home in California with her 19-year-old son, who’s trying to decide what language to study for college credit, and her 81-year-old mother.
"The rule is," Justine says, "neither of them can come here to my studio without calling I don't go over there without calling. So, you know, I can go for a day or two and not see them. And I feel really fortunate to be in this position."
Justine probably has more air miles under her belt than most of us. She was a host on the travel show Globe Trekker, which ran for 17 seasons, and is an actress and documentary filmmaker.
“I've spent 10 years of my life having the privilege and good fortune to work on that show,” Justine says of her time on Globe Trekker. "It changed me completely."
Justine, who's traveled to over 40 countries from Argentina to Vietnam, comes from a traveling family. Born in South Africa, Justine moved to Berkley, California, with her family in 1970. But with relatives all over the world, Justine often traveled to South Africa and Israel to visit aunts and uncles.
"I guess in a way there was this sense that people lived all over the world and that they weren't that different from me," she says.
And that sense of a global community stuck with her. While shooting an episode on Southwest China in 1995, Justine discovered that parts of the country were still unfamiliar with tourists. "People looked at us because they had never seen white people before," she recalls.
Often, Justine found a connection through learning the local language. "I wanted [viewers] to see how effective it is to know five words in that language." Ni hao ("hello") and xiexie ("thanks") were two words she used often in China.
And Justine likes to talk to people.
"That's kind of how I am in my life. I just talk to people, you know, I go for a walk, someone's reading a book. I say, 'What are you reading?'"
Over the course of 20 years, Globe Trekker aired as a genre-defining travel docu-series that started before anyone had heard of Anthony Bourdain. The show was known for going beyond popular tourist destinations and seeking out off-the-beaten-path locations. But it was the people Justine met that brought the destinations to life. "I just find it really remarkable to see a mask and then to see that mask take life," she says.
According to Justine, the pre-production process helped establish the series' authenticity. "We did what no travel show did, which was we did recces," Justine says, referring to the term of location scouting carried out by the producer, who would arrive in a destination six weeks in advance of shooting.
"And from 94 until about 99, we weren't dealing with email," Justine says. "We were our own. I mean, really on our own." That process of independent self-discovery, of meeting interesting people and uncovering unfamiliar destinations, is at the heart of each episode.
Justine also says it was a challenge to find a way to have intimate conversations with strangers while a production crew loomed over her shoulder. "If people were going to see this great big, huge camera, was that going to make them feel self-conscious, or is it going to get very formal or because I really wanted to go in people's homes? I wanted to go in private spaces."
The secret? Two things, Justine says: look them in the eye and ask them about their family. "Where does your mother and your father come from and your grandparents? That says so much about something, something about who you are kind of gives me a little bit of a framework."
Travel has changed a lot over the 20-plus years since she began filming Globe Trekker, Justine says. Now people seem to document their travels with their smartphones to share with someone else. "I see people taking pictures of Monet paintings. I'm like, 'You can find a better picture of that painting online in a heartbeat.'"
How can people become better travelers? "I think if people traveled more with an eye to just connecting with the people who are there they're really would be more peace in the world," she says.
Watch now at tv.lonelyplanet.com.