If you’ve been itching to book a far-flung vacation to an over-the-top vacation rental—say, one shaped like a snake with a stained-glass coated room that makes you feel like you’re inside a kaleidoscope—Netflix’s new travel show will have you whipping out your credit card before you can say The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals. The show, which premiered on June 18, follows three hosts—Jo Franco, Megan Batoon, and Luis D. Ortiz—as they track down luxurious, unique, and budget vacation rentals, all bookable on sites like Airbnb and Vrbo, around the world.
But it’s more than just your average travel show—primarily because it adds two female hosts to the ever-growing (but still too small) list of women in the space. It also was filmed, in part, amid the pandemic, forcing the hosts to look local, at places like a Montana cattle ranch and a floating Miami mansion.
We sat down with super-traveler and polyglot Franco, the host in charge of finding the most eccentric rental options, to chat about that pivot to domestic destinations, what it’s been like bringing new perspectives into the travel space, and some of her favorite rentals from the show.
You and your co-hosts filmed before the pandemic and then had to pause production last year. How did that impact the show, and those of you working on it?
You can tell in the show, like in Bali and Japan, that we were filming pre-pandemic. And then we had to take a four month break before we got back on the road. As a result of the pandemic, we rerouted to show options that we could travel safely to nearby [like Atlanta or Hawaii]. The filming was pretty wild, though. We’re actually sleeping in these properties. You see shows like The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, where they build homes or show rentals, but you never see the host sleep and wake up in the property. Imagine filming a show for Netflix, and you’re getting ready in an RV, right? I loved that. In some of the shots, I’m like, dang, I have my braids in, my retainer in, and my night creams on. And we’re showing that because that’s the truth of travel. The show’s polished, it’s beautiful—but we really wanted to convey the experience that you get when you travel.
When you travel on your own, what types of stays are you looking to book?
I’ve actually lived in tons of Airbnb before, all over the world. I’m one of those travelers that would rather go back to the same place 100 times and really live in that place. I’ve done that in Rome and Athens, in London and Paris, in São Paulo and Rio—all over. When I look for a stay, I look for a place that I can really call home for at least a month. And then to take it up a notch, I really love experiences where I can learn something, so I’ve stayed in homestays, too. [Once,] I was taking Italian classes and moved into a rental with a family and they taught me so much. That’s my kind of travel. Travel doesn’t need to be this thing that’s just for vacation, it can be a way of life. It can be a way of learning and exploring and discovering so much about yourself and the world.
Why do you feel like the show is resonating at this moment, sitting as a top 10 show on Netflix for over a week now?
I think the timing of the show was unexpectedly great. People are itching to travel again. But on top of that, I think the show was made differently. We’re not only test driving the properties, but we’re hitting three properties per episode. You’re living three trips with us in one 30-minute episode. So by the end of the season, there’s a lot of opportunity for viewers to see themselves living this experience. It’s really cool to look at my DMs now and see screenshots of booking confirmations, like people who have booked an alpaca treehouse [in Atlanta]. And we’re living in this social media age, so we can carry the conversation off the show—and that’s really special to me.
You mentioned a few times how the show feels different to other travel or home shows, and I think one of the major differences is that two of the three hosts are women, a rarity for travel TV. What does it mean to bring more gender diversity into the travel show space?
For me, it was two checkboxes, because I’m a woman of color. When was the last time you saw a woman of color as the host in the travel space on a Netflix show? There are women of color hosting travel shows, but to be on a show that is on the top 10 charts? Wow. I’ve never really looked at gender or my ethnicity as limitations, but I do understand that when you carry yourself in the world, you’re carrying all of it with you. I always see it as an opportunity to introduce [the people I meet] to somebody that looks like me. Maybe you’ve just never seen a single woman traveling alone. So it starts with, Hi, I’m Jo, nice to meet you. It’s also exciting to see people’s perspective shift, or for them to be aware that we’re out there traveling—and [have been]. But in the travel space, for some reason, it’s always been skewed toward white men. I’m happy that we’re opening up opportunities for more perspectives, because when we show that we’re traveling, we inspire others like us to travel as well.
Now that Americans are able to travel more freely and the show is released, what are your next trips?
The pandemic isn’t over, but vaccinations are helping open things up. I just want people to travel responsibly both for themselves and for the communities where they’re entering. My next trip is to Greece. It’s a place that I’ve gone many times because I’m studying Greek. So I’ll be taking classes again—it’s all along that travel-to-learn wavelength. And then another trip I’m taking this year will be to Egypt, which I’ve also been to before, because I’m learning Arabic. When the show ended filming in January, I was bummed because I was home with nothing planned. We couldn’t travel, and the one thing that always brought me joy is learning languages. So I started learning Arabic in March, and I’ve been taking lessons ever since—so I’m excited to go to Egypt again, with some basic phrases. When you speak a language, you unlock experiences that you literally would not get access to otherwise.
Some of Jo’s favorite rentals on the show
A remote igloo in Finland
$131.00, Airbnb (Starting Price)
“The igloo was really spectacular—going into Finland in the winter and seeing those beautiful trees. Sleeping in an igloo had always been on my bucket list. It was also a budget [Airbnb]. It was a place I might never have gone before and [I got to have] these ridiculous experiences of going into a smoke sauna and going into the cold plunge pool—called “avanto” in Finnish—where you go into a hole in the ice. It was amazing.”
A treehouse on an alpaca farm in Atlanta
$395.00, Airbnb (Starting Price)
“Another one that sticks out is the alpaca farm treehouse. Especially if you’re based in the States, I think it gives you this exotic flair, it connects you to animals in this beautiful way, and grounds you. They even have a yoga studio on site. Plus, it’s 10 minutes away from Atlanta. So it really can check everything off your list. Go there if you’re into nature, but you also want to be by the city. You want to get outside, but you also want to go to a restaurant. You get all of that there.”
An 85-foot yacht in the Caribbean
$57750.00, Virgin Charter Yachts (Per Week)
“I never expected myself to say, ‘I’ve gone on a yacht.’ I would have been like no, Joanna Franco grew up as an immigrant kid. That wasn’t in my future. I’m not used to luxury. But when we got on that yacht, it was a much more grounded experience than I expected. And maybe it was the combo of being on the water and getting to do adventurous things. We went to this tiny secluded island, where there was no one on it. And just with that access, I get it. I understand luxury now, from that experience on the yacht alone.”
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