Baljko makes career out of international travel

Jennifer Baljko talks to a local man about his tribe’s rituals and customs at the Goroka Cultural Festival and Sing Sing in Papua New Guinea. Photo by Lluis Lopez Bayona

By Karen Andrianoasy —

We all know the book Eat, Pray, Love about a young woman who used travel to help redefine her life. Where author Elizabeth Gilbert found happiness in Bali, a J/MS graduate from 1993, Jennifer Baljko, found her nirvana in Spain after searching throughout the Mediterranean. And now she is writing about it.

Having an opportunity to redefine one’s life is a chance not many people get. From working at The Home News during and after college, she is now living in Barcelona, freelance writing for companies, writing collaborative books on travel, operating a website that produces multimedia narratives, and immersing herself in non-profit ventures that help children and women.

With a vigorous sense of adventure, leap-of-faith tra­vel­ing can be more than just a hobby; it can be an answer to life. As incredibly liberating as it sounds, a profound notion like that never comes easily.

“Travel was the gift I gave myself in my early 30s when I felt like my whole life was turned upside down,” Baljko explained. “At the time, I was going through a divorce and was taking stock of my life. I wasn’t happy with the safe, secure life I had built up to that point.

“In one of my darkest hours at the end of 2002, I chose to listen to a voice I didn’t recognize at the time but have since come to understand was my own inner wisdom speaking to me. It told me to save money for six months, quit my job, put all my stuff in storage, and go roam around the Mediterranean.”

And roam she did in mid-2003, admiring Greek ruins and Italian architecture, connecting with her Croatian roots, and falling in love with and in Barcelona, which would eventually pull her back permanently in 2006.

Travel has long been in Baljko’s DNA. After working for The Home News, she worked as a trade publication business writer in New York. Around the time she was 25, she took a road trip to San Francisco, where she eventually moved and began covering the high-tech industry.

‘To this day, San Francisco is still the place I consider home,” said Baljko.

As she traveled Southern Europe in 2003, she realized that she didn’t want a job with limited vacation time. “Travel got in my blood, and 10 days no longer seemed to be a reasonable amount of time for me to explore, discover and experience a place,” she recalled. “That choice changed everything for me – my career, how I defined and valued money and success, my personal view of the world, and even the voice I chose to write with.”

That does not mean that Baljko left journalism behind when she moved to Barcelona. She started to write and edit companies’ marketing and public relations materials, websites and internal publications as well as writing for a technology trade publication.

One of her most fascinating projects now is her collaborative work – via Skype and email — with Townsend 11, a group of 11 writers of various backgrounds based in San Francisco. The group (townsend11.com) has a series of ebooks out, available through Amazon, Nook, and Apple. In one of the ebooks, No Fixed Destination: Eleven Stories of Life, Love, Travel, Baljko writes about traveling with her father to Croatia.

A story she wrote about the disaster of bleaching her jeans leopard-style when she was about 12 years old appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens, published last summer.

Other projects include ObjectivaMedia, a web devel­oper that produces multimedia narratives, and Worldreader, a non-profit organization helping children in developing countries receive electronic books via e-readers.

Baljko admits life is good now, but the future is unclear.

“Life is leading me somewhere, or more accurately, I’m taking myself somewhere else,” she said.