Ruby red slippers and the idea of traveling to a foreign land like Oz enchanted Juliana Dever as a child. Dorothy’s character wasn’t a complete stranger; Dever too grew up in the Midwest, in St. Louis. But Dever’s story doesn’t end like Dorothy’s, that of settling for “no place like home.” Dever reveled in the idea that in a couple clicks of the heels, she could be somewhere magnificent, somewhere foreign.
Dever didn’t always think about going far—she wasn’t really encouraged to dream big but instead, to stay small, stay here. At one point her parents suggested she become a cleaning lady: “I know I have more in me than that,” she said. She didn’t take a high school foreign language class or step on a plane until she was 18. Her dreams were met with you can’t be an actor, you can’t travel, it’s scary out there.
In high school Dever was a British band junkie, and someone wrote in her high school yearbook, “I know one day you’ll go to London.” Dever now laughs at that narrow dream, considering she’s been to 55 countries and sees London more as a stopover.“Everything else out there you just automatically paint it with this ‘oh it’s probably scary, don’t do it’ brush, right?” she said. “The more you know, the more you realize it’s not scary; it’s just different, and different can be fantastic.”
She just didn’t know that experiencing the “different” was possible until she started working for an airline in St. Louis after graduating high school. Too short to be a flight attendant — she’s 5’1’’ and reaching overhead bins is apparently a job requirement — she did a smorgasbord of other jobs from frequent flyer department to reservations.
Two and a half years into working for TWA, Dever moved out to California, following her boss who’d created a job for her as an in-flight entertainment account manager. One day her boss, someone she describes as “the most amazing, inspirational boss,” sat her down and told Dever she just wasn’t corporate America—“I love you and you’re creative and you’re good at what you do, but this is not where you’re supposed to be.”
Her boss told her she knew Dever wanted to act—still a ridiculous thought to Dever—and that’s where her heart was. Even though acting had been a dream of hers since childhood, Dever still found this suggestion ridiculous. (She put on shows in her backyard for her neighborhood, tried to start a drama club at her elementary school and sought after touring companies.)
But eventually Dever followed that childhood dream; she booked her first movie and had to quit her other job. Since then, she’s starred in several films and TV series, including Scandal and Criminal Minds. She’s known for her role on Castle and is married to her on-screen husband, Seamus Dever. She launched her travel blog, Clever Dever Wherever, in 2015 to document her travels.
Work and hobbies aren’t separate for Dever; her blog is a business and she’s found that travel complements her acting career. Dever studied theater in Moscow, returned later to study the language in St. Petersburg and has found these experiences trickling into her acting, especially with Russian plays. “You just have such a larger grasp on how to really tell those stories authentically,” she said. “So then you begin noticing all the observations that you make around the world, you can bring that into your work, and you can kind of synthesize those ideas into being a better actor because you’re not so narrow.”
It’s given depth to her creating the characters she plays. Being young means fewer experiences to build a character, but travel overstimulates her with experiences, she said. “But it’s fun because later, when you start to process it all, you’re like, well I want to play a character. All of a sudden you’ve seen people who are completely different from you,” she said. “You have something to draw upon because you’ve met so many characters around the world that are so different from what you know.”
And beyond her professional sphere, travel has expanded her personally. “I think when you visit these places all over the world, it does help your compassion, your kindness, your understanding of the human experience from a different angle,” Dever said.
Living in America makes it hard to travel; this country is isolated from much of the world. Traveling is expensive for both the wallet and watch, but it’s worth it, Dever said. “I think it helps when you come home and you realize we are not the only ones on the planet, and there’s other cultures out there and they think differently,” she said. “And they are just as valid and have just as much of a right to be discussing their experiences.”
She sees a tendency for some to become America-centric. One way she combats global ignorance is learning a few words before any trip: hello, goodbye, please, thank you, one, two, three. And it’s come in handy, especially when she was traveling in rural Mongolia. Dever was in the Gobi Desert with a 90-year-old grandmother who was a camel breeder, but she didn’t know a lick of English and had little contact with Americans. “I would use those words, and her face would light up,” she said. “You can get so much further by being polite and showing that you’re trying.”
Even with a passport with its grocery list of stamps, fear still sneaks its way into Dever’s mind. As she was preparing for a month in South America (check?) recently, her mind flooded with fear—of the altitude, her safety, traveling alone, especially as a woman. “When you’re scared of one thing, it’s suddenly like all the other fears rush in together, and you’re suddenly scared and you spiral into being scared of about 50 things,” she said. “What about this and what about this and what about this?”
These paralyzing questions gave her a panic attack in the Houston airport. It felt like game over; she wanted to book a flight back to Los Angeles. Am I going to be okay? Can I do this? Can I go 15,000 feet up on the planet and not have my lungs explode? I can’t do this.
But she did—“and I was so proud of myself, not only for having faced all of the fears that came up but knowing that whatever happened, I handled it. I got this and actually doing great at it and seeing something I could never have imagined seeing.”
Avoiding fear is easier, but it’s not always best. For Dever, traveling to Europe feels familiar and non-threatening: “The cobblestones are adorable; the cheesemaker is adorable. Everything is like a fairy book.” But camping in the Gobi Desert didn’t evoke the same emotions. “You go to these remote places and you’re like, what’d I get myself into?” she said. “So I think what travel does is it puts you in a place that’s not only outside of your comfort zone, but it’s a zone you maybe didn’t even know existed till you get there.”
Stepping into the unknown isn’t only about seeing other parts of the world; it’s self-refining. “It’s so foreign to you, and you prove to yourself what you’re made of. You just don’t know till you take that adventure on,” she said. “And you add it to that confidence you gain about who you are and what you can accomplish in life.”
And travel means being here in this very moment—it disrupts routine. Being present is a prerequisite. “There’s so many times that you’re stuck in the stories of your past or you’re playing all the what could be and what could happen,” Dever said. “Then when you go to some place, you have no idea what to expect, you have to pay attention and you can’t get wrapped up in the past or the future. You have to be right there experiencing it.”