Jason Kessler and Jeff Miller’s friendship consists of the kind of easy banter and chemistry that makes you absolutely want to be their new best friend. It’s a chemistry that’s both effortless and intoxicating. And it translates beautifully to their brand new show, Trip Testers, on Travel Channel — not just because it’s fun, but because it’s real, something I (jealously) learned myself when I grabbed a cup of coffee with the guys recently to talk about their new series.
From the second Kessler and Miller sat down, they were making me laugh (so much so that it was difficult to transcribe our interview over the sound of my laughing). They’re so much fun to watch together that they make you want to be invited to whatever party or event they’re going to next. You just know they’re going to make you laugh the whole time with their brand of playful, clever humor.
Here’s an example: In every Uber they rode in during their travels, they played a game where they’d pretend to be in town for a different and very insane reason. In San Antonio, they convinced their driver they were there to paint the Alamo, a story they quickly had to walk back. When the driver enthusiastically told them he’d bring his kids down that weekend to watch, Jason suddenly “recieved” a fake call that the whole project was cancelled.
The two travel writers became friends when they were both invited to the same barbecue boot camp during a press trip. And the manner in which they described their “meet cute,” if you will, gently bickering about details back and forth (Like Jason insisting Jeff wasn’t starting from the right place or Jeff correcting Jason on the details of the lead up to meeting), reminded me of an old married couple. People had told them for years that they needed to meet, and when they finally did, the hype didn’t disappoint. Jason describes it as “friend love at first sight,” an immediate bond that rendered them inseparable (much to the annoyance of their significant others who were left in the dust as the bromance blossomed during the trip).
As travel writers and enthusiastic adventurers, Jason and Jeff continued to meet up to try the coolest activities in cities all over the world, and they began to think it was a shame that there was no one filming their travels.
“We were in Vegas for another (press) trip and extended our trip,” Jason explained. “We had one kind of epic day where in the morning we went to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and raced exotic cars. We then came back and had a 6 course sushi lunch. Immediately from that we were picked up and driven to the Henderson Executive Airport to get up in fighter jets and play laser tag.”
This was followed by an incredibly fancy dinner (even though Jason was white as a sheet from vomiting in his fighter jet) where the pair wolfed down 12 expensive courses. Later, as they reflected on their day, they realized how very cool their jobs were.
“Jason and I were like man, nobody will believe that this happened the way that it happened,” Jeff said.
“Basically, we realized we get to live this life like we’re billionaires and we’re definitely not billionaires,” Jason chimed in. “We’re just normal dudes who get to live this life.”
With these thoughts in mind, they pitched the show and were snapped up for Trip Testers, a series in which they try out all sorts of activities, from the budget friendly (like eating at a market in Portland for less than $10) to the extravagant (like the multi-course dinner they had in Vegas) and tell you whether it’s worth it, something that tourists desperately require, lest they be left to make their own mistakes.
Here’s an example: The last time I went to Vegas I considered riding the zip line over Fremont street, but figured it wasn’t worth the money. There are better things to do for $25 ($45 if you want to fly superhero style 11 stories above the ground), especially when there are deep fried Oreos to be bought just down the street. Jeff and Jason, though, are huge fans who know I missed out on an opportunity of a lifetime. “Totally worth the price,” they told me. “Definitely something you should try at least once.”
There are so many travel shows out there. What would you guys say makes your show unique? Why should people watch it?
Jason: There are a couple reasons. Number one is, as far as I know, this is the only show that has travel writers showing you around. The people who do this for a living and find these places are actually now on camera showing you the cool fun places to go. The other part of it is: I feel like some travel shows are very bland. Our show is fun. The bottom line is you will like our show if you want to have fun with two friends who go on vacation.
Jeff: It’s a comedy show with travel as the underlying theme.
Did you guys have any “vomiting on a fighter jet” moments where things were just a total disaster?
Jason: We had one day that seemed like it was gonna be the worst day of our lives. We were in Portland.
Jeff: Oh my god.
Jason: Jeff had been to Portland last summer and saw these dragon boat races. Which are iconic in Portland. You get like 6 people in a boat and everybody’s rowing. He’s like ‘we want to do dragon boats.’
Jeff: I had this vision of us in a boat with like 6 dudes who look like your stereotypical frat guys. Big beefy dudes rowing and us not being able to do it. It would be great.
Jason: Then we get there and we find out that the production team has instead booked a sculling lesson.
Jeff: Have you ever watched the Olympics where it’s the really narrow row boats where one person is rowing and it’s super tiny?
I think so.
Jeff: Yeah that’s a sculling boat. They’re very narrow. Neither of us is very narrow.
Jason: No, we’re not.
Jeff: They require a lot of balance.
Jason: We’re not good at balance
Jeff: And they require years of training. We had about 4 hours. It was a tough day.
Jason: But we got in there.
Jeff: We didn’t wreck another boat.
Jason: We each took the boats from about four feet.
Jeff: That’s about what we were able to accomplish.
What would you say were the most budget friendly things you did? Or the most bang for your buck?
Jeff: Almost every episode has at least one free activity. We’re really conscious of that. I think every episode has an under 20 dollar meal. And every episode has at least one free activity. Like the water slide at the Golden Nugget in Vegas, which is free to guests, but you can also walk through the door and pretend, in your towel.
Jason: I think a great tip for any budget traveler is that locals don’t eat at fine dining restaurants all the time. So find out where the locals are eating and eat there.
Jeff: It’s often the best food.
What was the most tourist-y restaurant you went to?
Jeff: Huggos in Hawaii. No question. That’s a place that exists for tourists. It’s beautiful, great drinks.
Jason: So definitely very appealing to tourists.
Jeff: We had a very excited waitress there.
Jason: She was so happy to be on TV.
Jeff: Very excited.
Did you have other weird moments where people saw cameras filming and did weird things?
Jason: Yeah, we almost got murdered in New Orleans. We were shooting in this alley called Pirate’s Alley, and two guys who looked like they were on The Walking Dead came towards us. They had dead eyes.
Jeff: Like walked at us, wasted, with intent.
Jason: Luckily our producer stepped in between us. They were gonna do something.
Jason: We were in their alley.
Who do you think would have won in a fight?
Jeff: No question they would have killed us.
Jason: Yeah, we don’t have weapons.
Jeff: I definitely don’t want to overstate the fact that we would have died.
Who would win in a fight between the two of you?
Jeff: What? Did you say you?
Jeff: No way.
Jason: I would absolutely beat you.
Jeff: I don’t think so. I think I’m brawnier than you think I am.
Jason: You certainly have some weight on me.
Jeff: I have the size advantage. I think in a fight between us that would be what it would take. Unless you could wear me out first.
Jason: That’s exactly how I would do it. For sure.
In a place like Vegas, which you’ve obviously been to a bunch of times, what was surprising when you were filming?
Jason: I’m always surprised when there’s mid-level stuff to do in Vegas. There’s super cheap stuff and there’s super expensive stuff, but there’s rarely anything that’s casual and enjoyable. We went to this place called the Beer Park. They have all these fun games, you can play like life size Jenga. You can race tricycles. You can play beer pong. You can have an affordable meal there and drink good beer.
I think the other big thing about Vegas that a lot of tourists either don’t know to explore or aren’t willing to explore are the amazing places off the strip. Vegas has some of the best Thai food in the country. There’s really two world class Thai places there and most people don’t know it. So get off the strip, explore Lotus Siam, Chada Thai and Wine.
Jeff: I went to an amazing place when I was there after the show called Flock and Fowl. It was one of the best meals I’ve had this year and it was like 12 bucks a person. Great.
I heard on another interview that you guys absolutely loved San Antonio. What about San Antonio was great?
Jason: We discovered so many really fun things there. Its a city known for breakfast tacos and a city known for puffy tacos. So we created, I hope, the first puffy breakfast taco at a place called El Milagrito — that was amazing.
Jeff: We went to the world’s only toilet seat museum, which is run by this guy Barney Smith. He’s 95 and he’s been doing it for 50 years in his garage. I love finding quirky places like that when I’m on the road; finding those places that literally can’t exist somewhere else.
Jason: America is filled with these amazing big little cities. It’s so much fun to get to know them because they each have their own character and flavor.
What’s your go-to drink when you’re traveling?
Jeff: I like bartender’s choice. I think both of us are really into anything sort of local-ish and interesting. I think if I’m in Portland I want to ask ‘what do you recommend’? We went to, I always forget the name if it, the Whiskey Library.
Jason: The Multnomah Whiskey Library.
Jeff: I drank an incredible old fashioned with local bitters. It was great.
Are there things you do purposely to get under each other’s skin when you’re on camera? When you know will bother the other person and they’re not gonna be able to do anything about it?
Jason: It doesn’t bother me, but …
Jeff: Now I’m interested in what you’re gonna say.
Jason: It doesn’t bother me, but Jeff tries to fit in as many Phish references as possible.
Jeff: That’s really true, yeah.
Jason: To the band Phish not to, like, for example, “Holy Mackerel.”
Jeff: Although now I’m going to. I also make a lot of really bad puns and Jason tries to out pun me. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s more like mutual pun-ery.