A life of adventure is thrilling in theory and significantly harder in practice. It takes real grit, a pinch of madness, and a wild heart. Kellee Edwards knows this all too well. She seems to take her travel advice straight from Indiana Jones. She’s been certified as a diver, a pilot, and spent years traveling the world with a camera and dream.
That dream was to be the first black woman to host a Travel Channel show. And it’s not a dream anymore. It’s a reality.
It’s hard to fully fathom all the hard work that goes into being a professional traveler. We see the Instagram influencers and TV hosts deep into their careers. What we don’t see are the years of hustling, struggling, and taking huge financial bets on yourself. Edwards likes a little gamble. And, for her, it’s just paid off big.
Edwards spent her young adult life chasing her fears and overcoming them one step at a time. That pursuit eventually led her to Travel Channel where she hosts the wholly unique Mysterious Islands. The show is an outlier in the travel TV world. As a black, female host, she’s bringing a new point of view to a very white and male-dominated medium. As an adventurer, Edwards is going to places that few dare tread. The combination is straight fire.
We got a chance to talk with Edwards just as season two of Mysterious Islands dropped over the holidays. Talking with someone like Edwards is part edifying and part inspirational. It’s the sort of chat that inspires you to take on your fears and trust that luck favors the bold. Let’s jump in.
So let’s take a step back and talk about how and when you started traveling.
So I grew up taking road trips with my parents. From a very early age, my dad took me to the great outdoors. I was born in Chicago and spent my early childhood there; but, I grew up in San Bernardino, CA, in a very middle class family. Still, hitting the road was a big part of the world he was familiar with and he gave that to me.
So your dad traveled a lot?
He’s a truck driver by trade and loved camping in the great outdoors. He was the first person that I saw swimming in the ocean. So in a lot of ways, he was just like that person who introduced me to a world that I was not familiar with coming from the south side of Chicago.
It feels like having that childhood of travel experience is a big help when you want to spend your life on the road.
Yes, absolutely. I always tell people, it’s important to feed your children’s curiosity, even if it’s not something you’re familiar with. You know that’s how you change a generation of people: You allow them to explore places and possibilities that you haven’t necessarily had access to. That’s how we grow as a people. Even though my dad exposed me to camping and road trips, and seeing the U.S. in that way, he doesn’t even like small airplanes. He doesn’t even have a passport! So what he did was lay a foundation that allowed me to take it to the next level.
So after your childhood of traveling with your parents, what was your next big step in your travel experience?
My first international trip was to Ghana. Accra, specifically. It was transformative for me as an African-American because … you always want to see, like, the motherland.
I went over there and the food tasted different. I was just entrenched in this place that I always wanted to see in a very real and powerful way. Women were literally walking down the street with baskets of bananas on their heads. It was just very real and raw. It is beautiful. And I thought to myself, “if this is how it is here, what’s going on everywhere else?”
What was the most difficult thing for you as a newbie traveler on that trip?
It was the place where I learned about jet lag. I swear for about seven days my sleep was thrown off! I thought, “Oh, my gosh, this is quite the introduction to travel.” Then I get home and now I can’t even sleep. I kept thinking that this world travel stuff is something else. It’s something that takes you out of your element mentally and physically.
Seven days is rough. For some people, that could be a deal breaker. Do you feel like that drew you in more with a need to conquer the jet lag aspect or did make you step you back a bit?
It was one of the first times I learned I didn’t really have control over much, including my own sleep. It also showed me about adaptability. Leaving a place, coming back, and having to resume your normal life is tough. Sometimes I find it more fascinating to be gone more than resuming the normal life. Normal is boring.
Normal is boring. I can get behind that.
It’s something that I heavily shy away from. I was always that kid who wanted to do different, who’s been called different — from the things that I want to do to the way that I speak. But, as an adult, all those things have made me who I am. I embrace the strange. I embrace being different. I embrace being what some people may refer to as crazy or weird.