At 24, Olivia Balsinger ’14 (CLAS) has a passport with 75 nation stamps in it and a job as deputy editor and journalist for the luxury travel website Oh the People You Meet. Her office spans the entirety of planet Earth. She has lived in an Amazonian eco-lodge with the closest grocery store a three and a half hour canoe ride away, ridden an elephant in Thailand, rappelled down a 350-foot waterfall in Ecuador, eaten salted grasshoppers in Japan, gone on safari in the African Bush, celebrated the new year in an Ethiopian village, and laid under the gleaming Aurora Borealis in Yukon Territory.
When Balsinger was first asked to be interviewed for this article, she responded that she’d reply more fully later, but at the moment she was standing atop the stunningly gorgeous summit of Mount Timpanogos in Utah. Through her work for the website Oh the People You Meet, she was busy enjoying the finest in Western skiing, nature, and lodging all free of charge – a rare U.S. excursion to complement the many nations already stamped on her passport.
Balsinger credits another “Yukon” territory for her success: the University of Connecticut. Her journalism courses included
Environmental Journalism with Professor Bob Wyss, a class she credits with her first “press trip” to the Florida Everglades reporting on ecological issues. She credits a job as campus tour guide for prospective students with improving her ability to ask good questions. And not one, not two, but three study abroad opportunities, to Guatemala, Cameroon, and the U.K., gave the former homebody – who’d never flown on a plane until a ninth-grade trip to Disney World – a serious travel bug.
The first study abroad to Guatemala set her life path in motion in unforeseen ways. “It was my first taste of being somewhere totally out of my experience,” recounts the Fairfield, Connecticut, native. “I’d only taken French up to that point and didn’t speak a word of Spanish.” The trip’s focus on economic entrepreneurship included everything from helping with eye exams, to selling stoves, to in-depth dinner discussions of the 36-year Guatemalan civil war. In Cameroon, she worked in an orphanage that housed former children soldiers among others. “We were with children whose parents had HIV/AIDS and whose parents died in front of them,” Balsinger tells. “But they still had some of the brightest smiles I’d ever seen.”
Her current job recently brought her to Ethiopia. She found the country, often thought of in connection with famine and poverty, among the happiest places she’s ever visited after she participated in their Enkutatash holiday welcoming the new year. She sat with locals at wooden tables drinking plum wine and eating injera, a sourdough-risen flatbread considered the national dish. “It was the best New Year’s I’ve ever had,” she says with a smile.
Along with her work at Oh the People You Meet, Balsinger juggles several other travel journalist jobs. She is deputy editor of About.com Sustainable Travel and writes regularly for a number of outlets, including Insider Travel Report, travAlliance media, Paste magazine, and Yahoo Travel, for whom she is a contributor.
And then there’s her Instagram profile @OhLivItUp, a steady stream of visual magnificence, from nature to architecture to sunsets, accompanied by descriptive and inspirational captions. There she is gazing at the opulent (if morbidly named) Cathedral of Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia. There she is gleefully walking the stone cobbled streets of Tallinn, Estonia, unfolded map in hand. There she is receiving a chocolate massage in Costa Rica. There she is lounging on the pristine beach of the Seychelles Islands just off the coast of Madagascar.
But she insists that, more than any unforgettable locale or landscape, it is indeed the people she meets who get her out of bed in the morning. “It is people – not places, not planes, not even steaming bowls of ramen – that inspire me and what I do,” she wrote in a December post after visiting Japan.
Oh the People You Meet editor-in-chief Nikki Pepper commends Balsinger’s appetite for adventure. “I absolutely love working with her. Olivia is on fire. Her passion for life is inspiring. Her travels become her stories, and her stories are passionate and powerful,” said Peppers in an email. “I’m lucky to have her on my team as an editor and writer. Olivia is someone who makes more than a living out of her passion, talent, and experience; it’s her life.”
When our interview commenced, Balsinger was bedridden with two torn ACLs from a skiing accident atop that aforementioned Utah mountain. Yet she adamantly maintained that she harbored no regrets from the trip, and was at that very moment packing her bags in eager anticipation of an imminent trip to Qatar.