We got to chat with Juno, photographer and storyteller extraordinaire and the blogger behind RunawayJuno. See what she has to say about living the unconventional life of travel, the fabulous frigidity of the Arctic and more in this week’s Girls That Go!
GGG: Welcome to Girls That Go! Can you start us off with your name, where you’re from originally and how you got your start traveling?
I’m Juno Kim, and a storyteller and social media expert at Runaway Juno Media. Originally hailing from Seoul, South Korea, I set off for the wider world to pursue my passion for international travel and storytelling. I photograph, write, and tell my stories any way I can. I believe there are always stories to tell, in any corner of the world. It’s my passion to discover and deliver stories from people, and place.
My very first overseas/ solo/ backpacking was to New Zealand in 2004. That one-month long trip changed my life completely. I went alone because it felt right. My English skill was terrible. I could barely survive. But I did it, and came back with tremendous amount of life lessons and respect for this world.
I embarked my full-time traveling career in July 2011. I’m on the move ever since.
GGG: Wow, good for you! And recently you celebrated the third anniversary of making that career break and starting to travel full time. What has been the most rewarding aspect of that choice? The most difficult?
The most rewarding aspect is that now I’m in charge of my own life choices. I feel like a true grown up who’s making my own choices. Being unconventional isn’t easy for sure. Especially like a conventional country like Korea, doing what I do is unheard of. There’s not many support systems for what I do. But we always win some and lose some in life, right? By taking in charge of my decisions, I have to be insecure time to time. But at least I can do what I truly want in life instead of following the mass.
I have to mention, by leaving home to travel I’m more fond of where I’m from. Whenever I come back, I’m wowed by the beauty and complex culture. It’s important to not forget where one’s from. It’s important to cherish what we’re given. But funny enough, you can’t see that when you’re up close. There’s an old Korean saying, “at the foot of the old lamp is the darkest.” It means it’s easy to overlook what’s close. When I was in an agony of unhappiness years ago before my travels, I blamed it on my environment. I thought all the problems were given to be by default. The conservative society and family, the one path I was being made to follow, other people’s expectations… I thought it was unfortunate that I wasn’t born into somewhere more adventurous. This was before I realized I could change my situation by making my own decisions. By coming back to my hometown, I realized once again how wonderful my childhood was, how fortunate I was to have Seoul as my hometown, and have supportive and loving (in their own way) family. I can’t change what I’ve been given, but I certainly can change what’s coming afterward. The happiness was here all along. It was just up to me.
GGG: Wonderful. On another subject, we noticed that you love traveling in Mexico, too! What are a few tips you’d share with women who want to explore that beautiful country?
Don’t let the fear get to you. Yes, it’s true you have to have a different mindset about the security but don’t let the fear judge the whole country. Mexico is a wonderfully blessed country with vast nature and history. I’ve only seen a small part of this country but I always enjoy whenever I go back. Don’t go anywhere the guidebooks or people at the hostel tell you not to go, and always look out. Work with credible tour companies. Be respectful of the indigenous culture. You’ll see the beauty of this country easily.
GGG: You really love winter! What are some of your favorite parts about traveling in places like Alaska and Iceland in wintertime?
I had many wonderful adventures during my travels, but last winter in Alaska was one of the proudest moments. I traveled from Anchorage to Fairbanks, and continued to the Arctic. Two days in the Arctic was nothing like it. Disappointingly it was an unusually warm winter. I didn’t get to experience -40 degrees weather but standing outside in the winter night was the coldest I’ve ever felt, and Korea’s winter is notoriously cold. But I wouldn’t change anything for the dancing northern lights in the dark Arctic sky. By average standards, it is considered a harsh place to live, but I was in love with it. Alaska has also remained one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. One of my friend who I met in Alaskan Arctic said, “People are more honest here,” and that pretty much sums up another reason to travel: the people.
GGG: You’ve mentioned that storytelling is important to you–why do you think it’s important to listen to stories (or share stories) as a traveler?
I believe there’s an unheard story in every corner of the world. The people, landscape, animals, culture… everyone has a story. Everybody needs to be heard — that’s one of the main reasons why I started RunawayJuno.com. I wanted to be heard, and I wanted the stories I had to be out there. From the encounters with many difficult cultures from around the world, I found deep respect for the people who are keeping their tradition. At the same time, it gave me the opportunity to look back and find a new respect for my culture and heritage.
GGG: Quick-fire: favorite country to eat breakfast? Sarawak Laksa! (Malaysian Borneo) To go open water diving? (congrats on the certification, by the way!) Great Barrier Reef (I haven’t been diving but now I’m certified, I have to go back!) To spend a day relaxing? autumn day, on a soft grass. To spend a day seeing sights? Seoul (Korea), NYC, Brisbane (Australia)
GGG: Well done! Now, where are you running away to next?
Going back to Kota Kinabalu (my adopted home for this year), and to Ireland for a storytelling project! Quite excited about this. First time to Ireland!
All photos in this post courtesy of Juno Kim.