Samantha Brown is the delightfully perky Travel Channel host of such shows as Girl Meets Hawaii, Passport to Europe, Great Weekends, Samantha Brown's Asia, and more. Samantha spoke with us about her life and adventures, the world's perception of Americans, having her ears cleaned in public, and showing Anthony Bourdain how to smile.
TFL: You were born in Dallas, raised in New Hampshire, and now live in New York and travel the world. Had travel been a dream of yours before getting your position as a host on the Travel Channel?
SB: No, I had never traveled before. Growing up in New Hampshire, we were close to Canada so we went there; we'd go to Cape Cod for the summer and Pennsylvania, so I'd never really traveled. And so for me the job, especially when we did Passport to Europe, was to bring the viewer along with me. I didn't try to be an expert, I wasn't one, and I just thought, I'm discovering the world for the first time, so that's how I'm going to present myself to the viewer, so they can discover the world for the first time with me.
TFL: When you began working for the Travel Channel doing Great Vacation Homes, you didn't consider yourself a travel expert or host, but just a normal, everyday person. Do you think that was in some ways actually a benefit for that role, and how have your experiences caused you to grow and evolve over the years?
SB: Yeah, definitely. I mean, at the time, I thought I was woefully inadequate for the job. So at the time I didn't think it was good. I wish I had known more. But now looking back, what it really allowed me to do was develop a fan base that grew with me; and so there is a more emotional connection between me and I think my viewers, and that's what I always wanted. I wanted to be their friend, and when you see the crowd down there [at a meet-and-greet opportunity], and the line, it's so nice. That means so much to me; it means that what I wanted to do really paid off. And that is, again, I'm not talking above you, I'm not lecturing you, we're making these mistakes together - and there's a lot of mistakes to make when you travel. In the end, I think it's always advantageous to say,
This is who I am, and not be something that you're not.
TFL: When you visit a new culture, you've said that it is your
job as a traveler to figure out how to connect with the people and discover their culture. How do you go about doing that?
SB: Well, I get out of the tourist areas, definitely. So if you're in Italy, I don't spend that much time where the David is. I just walk, and I try to get to local neighborhoods where the people of that city live. And they're never that pretty, they're not that gorgeous in terms of architecture, the cafes aren't the ones that are mentioned in travel books or even the shows that we do. They're just people's local restaurants and cafes; but that's where I go, and I just kind of sit down and be a part of their lives. That's where I start to have the most authentic moments is when I'm just in a normal neighborhood enjoying what people do on an everyday basis.
TFL: When you began traveling extensively, did you find that you had misconceptions about the world? Did you find things to be different than you had expected, or pretty similar to what you expected?
SB: Very different. The media is more about fear when it comes to travel and going to other places. I think they promote the idea that people don't like Americans abroad, and that's just not true. They may have problems with our government, but we have problems with their government. But when it comes to people, that stereotype just sort of dissolves and you're just people talking to people. So I found that the world is a much more friendlier place than the news would have you believe. People love Americans; they love Americans. If only because we spend money. We're the people who spend the most money when we travel; so the people who see us come to their countries know that this is a great traveler, they're going to help our economy. There's a lot less animosity toward Americans.
TFL: What are some good options for first time travelers or people who haven't traveled very much?
SB: I think in the beginning, you always want to be in your comfort zone somehow. Even now that I've traveled everywhere and I love being uncomfortable, that wasn't the case when I began. So I hate to say,
Kick people out of the fire into the frying pan - you're going to love it - you're not going to love it. If you want to go to Europe, a great place to start is London because we speak the same language, so much of it is familiar to us, we've seen London in movies, and that sort of thing, so we're familiar. ... If you start in England, that's a really great place to get your sea legs, so that you feel a little more confidence and now you can go to France, and now you can go to Germany, or wherever.
TFL: Of all the people that you've never traveled with, who would you most like take a trip with?
SB: I want to take a trip with Rick Steves ... he's such a nice guy, and I just enjoy him a lot. But a show I always wanted to do was to take Anthony Bourdain around and show him how to smile [she laughs] ... we know him very well, he's a great guy, we get along very well, we understand we have very different personalities. I just want a show: Samantha Brown takes Anthony Bourdain to Disney World! We would have the best time, because we would really play up our own personalities - and maybe even switch them for a little while. He's a great traveler; he has a perspective that no one has. So I would love that in terms of a show.
TFL: Describe some of your simple pleasures as well as your favorite discoveries and adventures.
SB: I love being home and simply going for long walks, I go for hikes, I love cycling. I just love when I can let my brain just go and wander. I loved Asia because everything was a learning experience and you are truly a foreigner in a foreign land - nothing makes sense. it's like you've landed on the moon, and I love feeling that way now. I really like feeling like I have no idea what I'm doing. When we were in Asia, I had my ears cleaned, which is really interesting. You're at a local tea shop, you're outside, it's like on the park. And you see this man, and he's got long skewers, he looks like Freddy Krueger. And he swipes them to alert everyone he's here, sort of announce that he's here. And in public, people will get their ears cleaned. He'll just start with his little cotton swab, and he cleans your ears, and people stand really still. I remember being horrified that (1) that's just something we do in the bathroom - I think I wouldn't even do that in front of my husband - and (2) how dangerous is that? So I'm like,
Well, I gotta do it ... here I am, I've got to have my ears cleaned in public. It was the softest; he was very gentle. These men who are ear cleaners train; their father passed it on to them. They are artists of the ear cleaners. And that happens every single day. that's just normal in China at a tea shop, and I think that's just amazing.
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