Photo by R. Ian Lloyd
By Joe Tash
When he’s working, Joe Yogerst might find himself bungee-jumping from 13 stories above Auckland Harbour in New Zealand or interviewing witch doctors in Madagascar.
At home, he’s the father of a middle-schooler and college sophomore who lives in a gated community in Carmel Valley.
“It’s like living in a parallel universe,” said Yogerst, 55, an award-winning travel writer about the juxtaposition of his private and professional lives.
But his wanderlust may have been pre-ordained. He is descended from Huguenot French who went to England to escape religious prosecution, then immigrated to Virginia in 1620, where they helped found Jamestown. Over the next few centuries, he said, they continued moving west until they reached California and the Pacific Ocean.
So he suspects his own predilection for travel might be hereditary.
“I honestly think it’s genetic. I think people have a genetic predisposition to roam,” said Yogerst.
Whatever the cause, the result is a body of work chronicling people, places and things in remote destinations around the globe. Yogerst has visited some 120 countries over his writing career, and is the author of numerous articles for magazines and newspapers, along with travel books, murder mystery novels and television scripts.
Among his recent publications was “10 Best of Everything National Parks” for National Geographic. Soon to come out will be “Honeymoon Chic,” about great places to honeymoon in Asia, and “100 Places That Will Change Your Child’s Life” for National Geographic. The books are or will soon be available at Amazon.com and Barnes Noble.
Yogerst grew up in San Diego, and attended University High School, where he wrote about sports for the school newspaper. He majored in geography at UCLA, and continued writing for the Daily Bruin. His first job out of college was as an editor at Soccer America magazine.
But his burning desire was to work as a foreign correspondent. He wrote to newspapers across the country, but only received rejections. So he quit his job, sold his belongings and bought a one-way ticket to South Africa, where he made a living as a freelance writer. He said that year was one of the best of his life “just from pure high adventure.”
In all, he spent 14 years living overseas, including stints as a reporter in London, and magazine editor in Hong Kong and Singapore. He met his wife, Julia Clerk, in London, and the couple has two daughters: Chelsea, 18, and Shannon, 13. Clerk is a writer for Business Leader magazine.
Yogerst returned to the San Diego in 1994, and spent the late 1990s writing television scripts for such shows as “Silk Stalkings.” Then, in 1999, National Geographic called and asked him to write a book about driving the Pan-American Highway from Texas to Argentina.
“It was a dream assignment. Just drive down the highway and see who you run into and what happens. It was a Hunter Thomspson-esque experience minus the drugs,” he said.
To Yogerst, travel writing is an adrenaline rush tinged with the fear of not being able to deliver the promised article or book, a fine line between excitement and apprehension.
“Being dropped into a place you’ve never been before and figuring out within a couple of hours how you’re going to survive and accomplish your goals.
It’s my own personal reality show,” he said.
“Walking around aimlessly without a plan or with a vague plan is what I like to do to discover a place,” he said.
This fall, Yogerst has an assignment for Islands Magazine to travel to Okinawa and nearby islands to investigate the longevity of people who live in the region. Two former residents of the area made the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living people, and the islands have a high concentration of centenarians.
Some of the people attribute their longevity to sleeping for 24 hours and staying awake for 24 hours, rather than the traditional eight hours of sleep per night. Others, Yogerst said, claim that drinking rice wine each day from an early age contributed to their long life spans.
While he has written widely in many formats — from books to newspapers to magazines to television — Yogerst said he has not embraced social media professionally. He has a Facebook account, he said, but only uses it to communicate with old friends. He doesn’t have either a Twitter account or a blog.
“I don’t think the whole world wants to read all of my inner thoughts,” he said.
If anything, he said, he is lower tech than he used to be, favoring notebook and pen to tape or digital recorder for his interviews. (The one exception are interviews of celebrities such as actor Matthew McConaughey and rapper Kanye West, for a Hong Kong-based magazine, which he does record.)
“There’s always going to be words that need to be written, but the format they are written in is changing rapidly,” he said.
He admits, however, to questioning his own reluctance to transition to the latest communication platforms.
“Am I the radio guy sitting there thinking that TV is not going to make it?” he said.