Austin Graff, DC Expert and Contributing Writer to The Washington Post

No one knows DC like Austin (he wrote the By The Way guides to DC!).
Discover Austin's Lists in Compell'd

There are people you trust for certain recommendations, and there are people you would trust for any (and I mean ANY) recommendation that they share with you. Austin Graff is the archetype of the latter, the exact person whose advice I would trust on absolutely anything food and travel-related. Turns out, it's not just us: he wrote Washington Post's DC By The Way guide. A Washington Post contributing writer, photographer and a father, he’s a Connoisseur in every sense of the word.

What inspires you to travel?

I owe it to my parents. Both of my parents had very international jobs that forced me to travel from a young age--by the time I turned 18, I had been to more than 60 countries. I was born in the US, but I moved to Russia very young. I went to boarding school in Germany, and eventually we moved to Kazakhstan.

Growing up, my brother and I always loved to explore--abandoned and off the beaten path places in particular. I always love the stories that come from those types of places, and the adrenaline rush that you get when you find something you wouldn’t find in a guidebook. This spirit of always exploring and always wandering is something I’ve cultivated over the years, I never feel complacent nor stuck in one place as a result.

How did you start writing about travel?

It started a while ago; I was writing so many Yelp reviews, eventually I was asked to be a Yelp Elite many years ago. That evolved to also being a local guide with Google. Now, I am one of the top Google guides and Yelp Elites in DC. 

Once Instagram came along, it was a whole new way to share my experiences and passion for travel and food with my photography, as well.

With the Washington Post, we recently launched our By The Way guides that are really great for off-the-beaten path places. In fact, I wrote the first ever By The Way city guide which was for DC.

Your friends always come to you for the best recommendations, and you take the time to prepare amazing lists for each of them. Why do you take the time to do this?

I’m passionate about loving where you live, and loving the broader world around us. I see it as unlocking joy, and if you're able to help others love a new place, you unlock joy for them, too. Giving others a recommendation can allow them to find this joy as well as a different perspective on the experience itself, and ultimately their life.

When someone tells me they did something I recommended and they loved it, it feels really good. I always want to know how it went. I feel validated and that I've done them a good service.

"I’m passionate about loving where you live, and loving the broader world around us. I see it as unlocking joy, and if you're able to help others love a new place, you unlock joy for them, too."

Tell us more about the street art you’ve been featuring on your Instagram.

Ah, yes. Well I’m actually writing an article on street art right now and have been sharing about 5% of the places I’m visiting on my Instagram, so I’ve been to a lot of places with great street art in the last couple weeks. 

My love for street art started years ago, when my brother and I would explore different abandoned castles and buildings in Russia. Russia is a really beautiful country in ways that most people don’t really think about; for example, there are these concrete slabs by some abandoned buildings and castles that street artists tend to find and use for their art. A lot of the places my brother and I were drawn to exploring had this amazing art on it as well. We always loved the off-the-beaten-path and abandoned places because I always felt more connected to history that happened there, rather than in a museum, for example. There are no constraints and no rules in these places, and you’re physically in the spot where history happened. So really, finding great street art reminds me of home, reminds me of Russia.

Depending on where you are, street art has become more popular and formal in some places. When I’m exploring, I’ll Google “best street art” in that city, but you have to keep in mind that the best street art isn’t typically in the most well-known or popular neighborhoods, and it's usually designed for the locals as a way to tell the neighborhood’s story. 

"We always loved the off the beaten path and abandoned places because I always felt more connected to history that happened there, rather than in a museum.... you're physically in the spot where history happened."

So interesting! Where would you say is the best place for street art?

What’s my favorite place for street art? Oooh, that’s tough. I’m going to say DC but not just because I live here. A lot of people think of government when they think of DC, and they think DC is sterile, but that’s just not the case. We have a lot of really interesting murals right now; one of RBG went up recently and it’s really popular. There are a lot of others that tell the stories about what happens in DC, about politics, and etc.

There’s also some amazing street art in Tel Aviv--I’m thinking in particular of a run from the beach to Old Jaffa. San Francisco has some really interesting alleys, too. And Berlin has a great scene too, it’s absolutely everywhere there. As a matter of fact, Richmond, VA has a lot of really interesting graffiti and murals right now, as well. [Ed. Note: check out Austin's list of Off The Beaten Path Street Art]

You travel with your baby! What are some tips for parents who want to do the same?

Start young, and start as early as you can. New parenting can be pretty scary, so traveling on top of that might seem too complicated… especially when you’re already exhausted. But, if you start right away, it’s way easier (especially than with a toddler). I have found it’s mainly a mental block, so start ASAP.  We took our daughter when she was five weeks old to Cuba, and not only do we have great photos that we can share with her to show her where she’s been, but my wife and I wanted to do it for what it stood for--we wanted to do this with her now (to rip off the band aid so to speak), to travel and see the world with her. That’s the life we want to give our daughter.

Thanks so much, Austin! Our mouths are watering after reading through your DC: Perfect Food Day list.

Discover Austin's Lists in Compell'd
October 4, 2019

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