Photo Credit: Netflix © 2021
Jo Franco Went From Undocumented Immigrant To Hosting Netflix's New Travel Show
Netflix’s ‘World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals’ is the wanderlust escape we’ve all been waiting for. The series takes viewers along as three content creators visit some of the most drool-worthy rental properties around the world. There’s something to fit every budget and lifestyle, from an eco-friendly bird’s nest in Bali to a floating Miami mansion to a ski chalet in Japan. Jo Franco is one of the hosts guiding us on this magical global tour. She’s the traveler of the trio — co-hosts Megan Batoon and Bravo star Luis D. Ortiz specialize in design and real estate, respectively.
Franco got her start documenting her travels through short videos on social media. Executives saw her travel portfolio and reached out to offer an audition and it was just a natural fit.
“I was just like, ‘Hey, I’m Jo,’ and, and then I met Megan, and Luis,” Jo Franco told Travel Noire, recalling that first meeting. “We had such good chemistry that it felt like we had been friends for years. So when we started traveling together, when we started shooting the show, we really did become longtime friends.”
Franco’s current gig is a testament to the power of persistence and hard work sprinkled with some creativity. She was born in Rio, Brazil, and moved to the United States at the age of five. Franco is also a polyglot who speaks six languages: Portuguese, English, Italian, French, Spanish and Egyptian Arabic.
“I definitely love languages so much. I love that you don’t need to actually physically be in a place to learn it. But you get to unlock layers of life and humanity with language. Especially as a person of color. I always love pulling up to a country and speaking a language where they were not expecting it at all.”
But most remarkably, Franco did not grow up traveling because she simply couldn’t. As an undocumented immigrant, she physically couldn’t leave the country. Learning language became her gateway to the world, and she focused on making videos of her jaunts to nearby towns. Now, she’s serving as the eyes and ears for other aspiring travelers.
Jo Franco spoke to Travel Noire about her penchant for budget travel, stepping out of her comfort zone, and exploring her West African roots.
Travel Noire: You highlight the unique properties on the show. Was that assigned to you or is that your travel style in general?
Jo Franco: It’s my travel style, especially if I’m with friends. Everyone’s always like Jo, where do I go? What are your recommendations? I’m like, Okay, let me do some research and find the funky experiences. I didn’t have money, so I’ve done budget. I’m not really a luxury chick. And on the show, you see that, but then I end up loving it because it’s luxury. It’s just how I travel, where I’m looking for interesting Airbnb hosts, and I’m looking for interesting experiences. I’m looking for the property that’s going to take you out of your day-to-day; it’s going to take you into a new world. I’m not looking at travel as let’s check something off a list. I’m looking at travel as how do we use this as a catalyst to evolve and expand and see something we would have never seen otherwise.
TN: What’s something that you learned about yourself while filming the show?
JF: I’m a low frills chick. I’d rather the hole-in-the-wall restaurant than super fancy, four dollar signs, need to enter with a ball gown kind of a place. So getting to travel with Megan and Luis and seeing Luis’s properties took me to places I would have never even looked to go. I was surprised that there are properties that while luxury, it still has a heart. I guess my fear when you look at the luxury market is that it’s sterile, that it’s too pristine and perfect. Don’t get me wrong, we were in some properties that I’m like, I can’t even touch anything. I don’t want to break anything. But there were other properties like the yacht in St. Maarten, which was a luxury yacht, but it was also very homey. The crew was amazing, and you got to do these natural experiences like take a little boat to a deserted island. I was pleasantly surprised that you could still have this earthy experience in such a luxury setting.
TN: There were some pretty daring activities on some of these trips. When did you feel most out of your comfort zone?
JF: So I’m riding in a helicopter to the top of a glacier where the helicopter parks on ice, then you get out of the helicopter, and you clip into this trail that’s a via ferrata, which is like an iron road on a mountain overlooking glaciers in Alaska. And you cannot turn back. You have to keep climbing. You look down, it’s just so many feet down, and you’re like, Oh my God! That was definitely a moment where I’m like, I don’t know if I could do this, y’all. But I ended up doing it, and I’m glad I did. It was one of my favorite experiences because it’s so wild.
Driving down that steep switchback road was crazy. But then in the last episode, in Hawaii, rappelling backwards off of a waterfall. I’m like, are we really gonna do this? And when we did it. I’m not exactly an adventure traveler, but I love doing new things. So it was the perfect line of, okay, we’re gonna do something crazy, but it doesn’t need to be bungee jumping out of a helicopter. We could do something crazy with a good vibe and a good tolerance level for me.
TN: On the flip side of that, when did you feel most at home?
JF: I felt most at home in places like La Villa Bonita, which is in Mexico, right outside of Mexico City, Tepoztlán. We were in this cooking school that had this very quaint oasis, like a villa-style of accommodation. It reminded me of Brazil. The minute I stepped foot on the property, I’m like, this looks like my grandparents’ house. It made me so happy that people can experience that kind of homey oasis, even if they’ve not come from a place like Brazil or St. Lucia. Imagine you’ve never experienced that, and you can now rent that experience for a few days. Not only are you seeing the beauty of this home and getting to sleep there, but you’re getting invited into the family.
The chef Ana was teaching family recipes to the guests of the villa. So it’s moments like that, where I’m like, dang, I can live here for life.
TN: What’s next for you travel-wise?
JF: I’m going to Greece in a few days, and I’ll pick up all my Greek classes — I’m really excited about that. I’m just going to get back into making content on the internet, traveling, and really honing in on my expertise which is language, culture and storytelling. Now that I’ve seen so much more, I just want to keep seeing more stuff and connecting to more people and really talking about this global narrative.
I think the difference between our show and other shows is that we’re not just seeing these places, we’re sleeping in these beds, we’re waking up in these homes, we’re living this lifestyle. So we’re integrating into these experiences. That’s what I want more of. So we’re not looking at it with a tourist lens, we’re looking at it with a traveler’s lens.
TN: What’s one place you haven’t been to yet that you’re dying to visit?
JF: I think I need to go to West Africa, explore my roots, and get to the coast. I want to do a great African adventure. I almost want to do a trip where I look at my DNA test and go to all the places that I am from, which is all over. I’m Brazilian, so we’re European, African, and we’re Native American. When I looked at my map of
genetics, I realized I have a lot of countries to go visit and a lot of roots to connect with.
World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals is streaming now on Netflix. Follow Jo Franco on Instagram.