Three people with travel ‘dream jobs’ explain how they scored them

From waiting tables to living in a basement apartment, three travel hosts tell CNBC about how they got to where they are.

Here are their stories.

Samantha Brown

Job: Emmy-award winning TV host of “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love
Started in: Comedy

I went to Syracuse University for musical theater because I so desperately wanted to move to New York City and become a thespian. I wanted to do Shakespeare and be on Broadway.

That didn’t pan out. I waited on tables for a good eight years. But I loved improv, and I was a part of an improv comedy troupe. So I just kept auditioning for jobs.

Samantha Brown said the best part of her job isn’t “that I get to travel to all these free places — it’s that I get to spend time with people in their everyday lives.”
Source: Samantha Brown Media Inc.

A writer recommended me to a production company that was … looking for a host. But my audition for it had to be totally improved. That’s how I got the job.

When you are a travel host, there’s no script. Yet it is still up to you to define the scene, to understand the trajectory of a story and how to end it. Also in improv, the golden rule is to never say no, it’s always yes — to keep things going.

Waiting on tables in New York City for eight years, you start to be really humbled, [but] those were the tools that I had that got me a job that I never in my wildest dreams thought I would ever have.

Mike Chen

Job: Creator of “Strictly Dumpling” and other YouTube channels (total: about 8 million subscribers)
Started in: Accounting and wedding videography

“I moved to the U.S. from China when I was 8 years old. My parents started working in restaurants, and eventually started their own very Americanized Chinese restaurant. So I grew up on a steady diet of General Tso’s chicken and crab rangoon.

There wasn’t a lot of diversity where I’m from, but it helped that my parents sent me back to China when I was 13. Most people get grounded and sent to their room as a punishment — I got sent to China for two years. That’s when I was like: Wow, it’s so amazing — the people, the history — I want to know more.

After college, I went to New York and worked on Wall Street for a year. Then I became a wedding videographer because I wanted to be flexible. I was living in a small basement apartment in Brooklyn with no air conditioning, making about $400 — on a good week.

But this was the first time I was eating something that wasn’t Red Lobster and Olive Garden. I got a taste of diverse ethnic food in Chinatown, and I started to discover a lot of my heritage that I never really saw as important before.

I started recording food videos on YouTube as a food diary for myself. I remember having a conversation with a friend that food content will never amount to anything. There wasn’t anybody online doing it. I had like 10 subscribers. Somehow it grew to this, which was never expected.

I never really had much money growing up — or throughout most of my adulthood. So I was always looking for things that were inexpensive but also really filling and delicious. And that’s pretty much what I do around the world now.”

Colleen Kelly

Job: Television host of “Family Travel with Colleen Kelly
Started in: Sales

“I tried out for the broadcast school at the University of Texas. The school gave you one chance to be accepted into the program. I had never sat at an anchor desk with a camera pointed at me. I failed miserably.

Several years later, I graduated and got my first job in sales, eventually moving to Chicago and working in the pharmaceutical industry. The money was amazing, and I had a company car. But I wasn’t living my dream, and this started to really bother me.

In my early 30s, I got married and eventually quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom. One day, when my two little girls were in school, I went to our town hall’s cable TV station and asked if, in exchange for teaching me how to edit, I could host the local entertainment show about our village — something like “Access Hollywood” for our 50,000-resident town.

Because they had no other offers, they said yes. I acted confident, but I was as green as they come. every time I did an interview and read voice-over, but I was gaining experience and knowledge.

Colleen Kelly with her family at Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg, Austria (left); and filming “Family Travel with Colleen Kelly” at Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland (right).
Source: Kelly Media Productions LLC

I confided in another mom that my dream was to host a national travel show, and, surprisingly, she agreed to produce it with me. We wrote a script, found a local camera guy for a few dollars and made a pilot.

I took meetings with two major companies — both said no. I was told by one network that women don’t watch travel shows, so the concept of family travel didn’t appeal to them. I then sent thousands of emails to television stations. Nothing worked. Finally, my mother suggested I call the local PBS station. I googled the head of programming, called him (no emails) and got a meeting. 

After more meetings, we learned PBS was picking two shows to go national, and “Family Travel with Colleen Kelly” was one of them.

We scraped by for a year, producing 13 episodes that first season. Now, the show has been on for more than 10 years. And, the best part is that I can bring my family with me.  

It’s been a long and arduous journey, but I hope this story inspires others to believe in themselves, ignore the naysayers, and never give up on their dream.”

Editor’s note: These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Sophie Tremblay

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