Backpacking Boyfriends Will Jardell and James Wallington have been traveling since they met in 2014 and now they’re doing it competitively in this season of The Amazing Race.
If you think Will Jardell looks familiar, you’re right, he’s not new to reality TV, having competed in Cycle 21 of America’s Next Top Model with Tyra Banks. Jardell didn’t take the title but finished runner-up and went on to model professionally, before getting his master's in public health. When not traveling or appearing on The Amazing Race, Wallington is a social media and event coordinator in Los Angeles.
Amazing Race Season 32 premieres October 14 on CBS and will see the duos travel to Trinidad, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, and Brazil, and take on challenges, including several indigenous-themed competitions.
“I feel we are in a privileged position to show what is right in the world, and to show what’s good in the world,” host Phil Keoghan says about this season in a video promo.
“Luckily this season was filmed in 2018,” Jardell tells Out Traveler, acknowledging that the world of travel has changed dramatically since then.
“The world has been spending a lot more time in the safety of their homes, and we have all had to adjust to this new norm,” Wallington adds. “We believe The Amazing Race will provide viewers with a sense of escapism and positivity. Adventure and beauty is all around us, you just have to look for it!”
The couple recently changed their moniker in anticipation of their own next adventure, “We loved being the Backpacking Boyfriends, but when we got engaged, we realized the Backpacking Fiancés didn’t have the same ring to it,” they say. Now they are It’s Will and James.
In this exclusive interview the couple shares why travel is good for relationships, how to recover from a #TravelFail, and their strategy for winning The Amazing Race.
How did you become the Backpacking Boyfriends?
Jardell: One of the things we bonded over when we first started dating was our desire to see the world. Our first trip together was in 2015 to New York City and it was an absolute mess. Due to our lack of planning, we couch surfed the entire time and lugged around three massive suitcases in below freezing weather. From that point forward we decided less luggage, less hassle and more enjoyment which is why we invested in travel backpacks. Although this trip had its moments, it wasn’t a complete disaster, because we learned so much about each other and it solidified us as a forever package.
Wallington: We were finally able to break in those travel backpacks on our first international trip to the Philippines in 2016 which is where we came up with the nickname, Backpacking Boyfriends, and it stuck up until we got engaged. Now we’re just known as Will & James!
What kind of backpackers are you? Backpacking around Europe or backpacking into wilderness areas?
Jardell: We used the term backpacking loosely. It stemmed from traveling with only our backpack and sometimes not having a concrete plan prior to visiting a new destination. The spontaneity of traveling with just a few necessities and your loved one was what really inspired us to stop making excuses and travel the world while trying to pack less with each new adventure.
Wallington: We love all types of travel! Whether that be off the beaten path or spoiling ourselves with a bit of luxury from time to time. If we had to choose, we typically prefer the road less traveled because it allows new perspectives and an opportunity to broaden your horizons.
What's your biggest #TravelFail and how did you recover?
Jardell: We travel a lot as a couple but in 2019 we invited friends to travel with us to Hawaii. Throughout the week we captured content so we could edit together a highlight reel for our friends to enjoy after the trip! On our last day in Maui we traveled down the famous and scenic Road to Hana where we maximized our GoPro use, mainly because it was waterproof with a sturdy handle that floated. On our last stop at Venus Pool we were cliff jumping and I decided to throw the GoPro to James in the water below but that sturdy handle that was supposed to float, snapped causing the GoPro to sink to the ocean floor, losing all of our pictures and videos. We’ve since gotten over it and if anything we learned to live in the moment and soak up all the experiences with those around you despite the travel mishaps that may arise.
Wallington: Another travel fail that comes to mind was during our trip to Salzburg, Austria! As a fan of The Sound of Music, it was a dream of mine to visit Villa Trapp. Due to the lack of cell service or WiFi, I looked at a half loaded map on my phone and was convinced we could walk there! What seemed like a good idea quickly turned into walking miles through hilly streets before arriving to Villa Trapp! We ultimately ended up walking ten miles or so, when we could’ve done it in under three. Oops! I appreciated Will’s patience with me through it all, as I was determined to see this historic villa!
What's your favorite resource as an LGBTQ+ traveler?
Jardell: Since we love documenting our travels, we are partial to video content as a way to learn about new places. One of our favorite video series featured by Out Traveler was “Out in Key West” with Kit Williamson and John Halbach. We watched all the episodes as soon as they came out. There’s something about watching LGBTQ+ travel experiences that make it more informative and exciting at the endless travel possibilities.
Wallington: No matter what the resource may be, we believe it’s extremely important for our community to educate themselves on LGBTQ+ laws in foreign countries, prior to traveling. We do our best to take full advantage of all media forms to become knowledgeable because you can never do too much research before a trip!
I understand being on Amazing Race has long been a dream for James. What drew you to the show?
Wallington: I was always fascinated with the world at a very early age, and had a wild imagination to go along with it. I will never forget being twelve years old and watching The Amazing Race when it debuted in September 2001! In the premiere episode, the teams flew to Zambia, in Africa, and faced a Detour challenge where they had to jump into a gorge to receive their next clue. On that day, my whole world opened up to places I never knew existed. It’s safe to say that after watching, I have suffered from a chronic case of wanderlust and have been a loyal fan ever since! Not to mention, it quickly became a show that my family watched every week together, memories that I fondly look back on.
Jardell: I started watching the race as a kid and it was the first time that I saw gay couples from a nonscripted perspective on TV. It was huge for me as a kid growing up in Texas, to see those relationships that were the real deal every week on my TV. Looking back now I don’t think my younger self would believe me if I told him that I would be running the race with my boyfriend — now fiancé!
What are you most looking forward to in this season?
We are most looking forward to relieving the memory! It has been the best kept secret for the past two years and it’s finally happening, which is surreal to say the least. We can’t wait to relive the adventure not only together or with the other teams but also with family and friends who have supported or known about this dream for many years.
What is your strategy to win?
Jardell: We watched every episode of every season of the race prior to leaving. I say “watched, ” but it was more so extensively studying every aspect of the race, from the challenges to analyzing different team dynamics. We wanted to be prepared for anything and everything, as much as we could be. It was a bit overkill but we had fun prepping and diving in head first.
Wallington: The preparation didn’t just stop at rewatching old seasons. We put a lot of energy into running every day, attending fitness classes, brushing up on our geography, memorizing country flags, and even learning key phrases in six different languages that we felt were the most commonly spoken on previous seasons of The Amazing Race! Whether this preparation helped or hurt us, you’ll have to stay tuned and watch the premiere on Wednesday, October 14th at 9 PM Eastern/8 PM Central on CBS.
How do you think 2020 will change travel in the future?
[This year] has changed the way everyone interacts on a day to day basis, even our ability to spend time with neighbors, friends and families. It’s safe to say that it will impact travel in a lot of ways. The most profound change will be the way we plan trips, and what activities we will be able to do. …we plan to be extremely cautious. Not only for the sake of our own safety, but for the safety of our fellow travelers. If we reflect back on the trips we’ve taken in the past, it’s easy to glance over the air travel, time spent on public transit or in crowded spaces etc, but all of those spaces, both large and small, will need to be approached with mindfulness. If everyone follows the guidelines that are set in place and are conscious about their choices, we can all get back to seeing the world. We’re all in this together!
I’ve long said “You really know if you like someone after you've been on a road trip with them.” Sounds like you have a similar philosophy about travel and relationships?
Wallington: In the words of Bill Murray: “If you think someone is the one, travel the world together and if you’re still in love, get married at the airport.” When traveling with a significant other you quickly discover how each other interacts with people, handles stress or being sleep deprived, and your overall patience level. It’s all about how you tackle these problems as a couple while lifting each other up when faced with adversities that arise!
Jardell: Its incredibly true and our very first international trip to the Philippines proved that to us. You can learn a lot about a person in a short amount of time while traveling because you experience stress, excitement, and every other emotion in between together which can be very telling if you’re meant to be!
What’s next for you?
We’ve spent a lot of our quarantine days revising our new website and we invite everyone to check it out! We hope that it can serve as a fun resource for fellow LGBTQ+ travelers, and be a means to connect with our community through a love for adventure! We’re also in the beginning stages of planning a group trip for 2021, and we’d love to meet some of you then, and travel the world together.