Samantha Brown: The Most Recognized Woman in Travel TV
Samantha talks about her new PBS Travel Show and How She Got Where She Is
By Marley Henderson
Known for her warm, engaging personality and her ability to convey the true character of the people and places she visits throughout the world, Samantha Brown has been inspiring wanderlust since her television journey first began with Travel Channel’s “Great Hotels.” Other shows followed – “Girl Meets Hawaii,” “Passport to Europe,” “Passport to China,” “Great Weekends,” and “Samantha Brown’s Asia”- taking Samantha to over 250 cities in 62 countries and 40 of the United States.
Her enthusiasm for travel and passion for connecting viewers to the people and cultures of the destinations she explores, has meant that Samantha’s focus remains on the “must meet” rather than on the “must-do’s.”
Living out of a suitcase for almost two decades (often with 5-year-old twins in tow), Samantha debuted her own stylish luggage line in 2011 on HSN, the Home Shopping Network.
Designed from her travel expert’s perspective, the line instantly became a top “customer pick” and was one of the most successful brand launches for the year. Featuring a full array of large suitcases, weekender bags, accessory cases, handbags, and a packing system that offers both ease and elegance, Samantha’s system travels well and encourages people to Go Ahead and Jump In!
Brown continues her journey to make travel personal again in the second season of PBS’ “Places to Love,” premiering nationally on Saturday, January 5, 2019 (check local PBS schedule for time). The 13-episode season takes viewers to 27 destinations both near and far as Samantha highlights the emotional value of travel by introducing viewers to the people, lesser-known spots of interest and fascinating local haunts worldwide.
In the “Places to Love” season 2 premiere, Samantha heads to the vibrant metropolis of Hong Kong, China to explore its culturally rich history with a visit to Yuen Po Street Bird Garden, play the centuries-old game of Mahjong, and a trip to Sham Shui Po to the Kung Wo Beancurd Factory to sample a tofu pudding made from a 100-year-old recipe.
For Samantha, the real revelation in exploring the very modern and cosmopolitan city of Hong Kong was to discover the genuine friendliness of its people and the small shops and family businesses that make up its thriving community, and take her viewers along on the journey.
Throughout the rest of season 2, Samantha kayaks through Everglades National Park and comes face to face with an elusive Florida Panther in Naples, Florida, experiences a grand cultural revival in Christchurch, New Zealand as the city continues to recover from a devastating earthquake, and takes a breathtaking river cruise along the Rhine River including stops in Freiburg, Germany and Strasbourg, France.
GN: When did you first realize you wanted to be involved with the travel entertainment industry?
SB: It wasn’t until my third series with Passport to Latin America. I had done two years of Passport to Europe and thought travel was “okay” but maybe not for me. But in Europe I was spending all my time in monuments castles and cathedrals.
I was doing what everyone else thought I should be doing. But when I got to Latin America I got to spend more time with the people in the moment. I love being in people’s everyday lives. That’s when I knew I wanted this job for life.
GN: What was the pivotal moment to establishing your career as a travel entertainment star?
SB: Well, thanks for that accolade! There was a huge sea change for me when while doing Passport to Europe (2004-2006) that people started to do what I did on camera, they would do the same itinerary. This, to me, blew my mind because I honestly thought I was entertainment only. You follow Rick Steve’s but me? That was a surprise.
GN: Why are there so few women travel stars on TV?
SB: Because even though its travel television it’s still first and foremost entertainment. There’s still a belief among all cable networks that travel and adventure is a man’s domain and that viewers will only watch men.
GN: When you’re traveling, about how often is your family with you?
SB: For work—not that often. But if shooting an episode falls on a school holiday I will. My husband and I took our kids to Hong Kong and Korea last spring.
GN: Do you ever travel outside of filming with your family?
SB: Oh definitely, it usually is centered around a place I have to be at but if we have time after we’ll take advantage of that. We visited Montreal and have done two ten day road trips down the California coastline. My kids are great travelers.
GN: What about this upcoming season do you think viewers should look forward to most?
SB: A more personal approach to travel. I think travel is portrayed in social media and marketing as always having to be a succession of exclamation points. Phenomenal Vista’s and “Look at me” moments. For me travel is about connecting with people and their effort to create an experience (a great meal, a work of art, a piece of music) that we as travelers get to have. And everything I do on camera is accessible to travelers. I stay away from showing VIP experiences and talking to people you’ll never have access to. Its not a documentary about travel its to show you what’s possible now.
GN: Who are some of your favorite travel writers and hosts?
SB: Mickela Mallozi, she’s the writer and host of the PBS series Bare feet with Mickela Mallozi. She travels the world and meets people and shares their culture in the way that they dance. I also love Kellee Edwards who is the host of a Travel Channel series called Mysterious Islands. She’s fearless and a trained pilot and she worked DAMN hard to be a travel host.
GN: Could you tell me a little bit about your stylish luggage line?
SB: I’ve been designing if for seven years and it was really born out of the time when all the rules of travel changed on the airlines– they started to charge money to check bags so everyone was carrying on, fighting for bin space, lugging old luggage around. People started to hate the whole travel process because of it.
So I wanted to change the feeling of hating your luggage to really loving it by creating bags that were not only resilient but beautiful and made a woman proud and confident to have it. If you’re going to have your bags with you for 5-10 hours they might as well make your life easier.
GN: What would you say is your favorite part about this job?
SB: Spending time in people’s everyday lives
GN: How would you describe the type of work ethic you need to maintain a job within the entertainment industry?
SB: Full on.
GN: Could you describe one of your typical work days/days of filming?
SB: 6am make-up, then we start shooting by 8 or 9 a.m. We shoot three segments a day and we put in a 10- to 12-hour day.
GN: Are there certain seasons of the year that make your job more difficult?
SB: Certainly. Winter is tough and then there are all the winter storms you have to always be worried about. But rain kills us. You can still shoot in the cold and it can look good on camera.
GN: About how long does it take to film a single episode?
SB: Four days
See Samantha Brown speaking at the New York Times Travel Show at the Jacob Javits Center on January 25-26, 2019. She joins GoNOMAD Editor Max Hartshorne and Photographer Paul Shoul in the show’s speaking roster.
Marley Henderson grew up in Ipswich, on the north shore of Massachusetts. She has a passion for travel and photography and enjoys the beach, boating and skiing.