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Kellee Edwards' Journey To Become The First Black Woman To Host A Travel Channel Show
Move over Dos Equis guy, travel expert and television host Kellee Edwards is coming to claim her crown as the most interesting person in the world. She has certainly made a strong case for herself.
Edwards has conquered everything from swimming with whale sharks in the Georgia Aquarium, zip-lined through the Mayan jungles in the Yucatán Peninsula, gone dog sledding in remote Alaska, and climbed the active volcano Mount Pacaya in Guatemala.
Her extensive travels have taken her to over 50 countries so far, including parts of North and West Africa, Asia, South and Central America, Europe, and the UAE. To add to that laundry list of accolades, Edwards is a licensed pilot and advanced open water scuba diver, with plans to add a motorcycle license to the arsenal.
In 2018 Outside Magazine made it official by naming Edwards ‘The Most Interesting Woman in the World.’ It’s an apt title for the woman who has described herself as a real-life “Bond girl, Lara Croft, and 007.”
But most people recognize Edwards as the host of the Travel Channel’s Mysterious Islands, where she journeys to the most remote lands in the world that the general population has probably never even heard of. This feat earned her the distinction of becoming the first Black woman to host a show on the network. She also co-hosted the channel’s The Trip 2018.
Being the first to accomplish something in any field is arduous and Edwards’s path was littered with obstacles, most notably the fact that no one in the television travel industry had ever looked like her before.
“I heard, ‘Wow, I love you; you’re doing amazing things. We don’t have anyone who’s doing any of this, but we don’t know how our audience will take to you’, she told Newsweek in 2020. “They didn’t know if people will understand because there is a mold of the older white male in the space. And so that was the obstacle, that was the frustration.”
Edwards has always been unapologetic about her identity as a Black woman in a typically white male environment. She knows that it comes with premature judgments and misconceptions which is why she is always mindful of representing her community positively with every activity and interaction.
“As a Black woman, I have to think about a few things. I have to think about my safety because of my gender, my safety because of my race, and my presence, period. That’s why I learned to do so many things. I choose to be strong not because I am, but because I don’t have a choice. I don’t have a choice when I traverse this world to show up weak because it could cost me. And I refuse to let anyone stop me from experiencing what is also mine.”
A Travel Star is Born
Edwards caught the travel bug from her parents. Her earliest memories include road trips and a move to San Bernardino, California from the south side of Chicago where she recalls the profundity of the mountainous landscape and desert. Edwards credits her father with exposing her to new experiences like camping and swimming. Her mother was equally as influential in encouraging her wanderlust, taking her daughter to Hearst Castle in San Luis Obispo County where she was blown away by the concept of royalty.
She shared in a radio interview earlier this year, “When I started to look at the world and watching Nat Geo and Travel Channel and all this, I’m like, oh, I should go to these places.”
However, Edwards never set foot on an international flight until after her college graduation from California State University Fullerton where she obtained a BA in Communications with an emphasis in journalism. Her parents couldn’t afford the usual spring break excursions but as she got older Edwards felt compelled to travel. Her first solo trip was to Bangkok, where she recounts having feelings of anxiety but also exhilaration. She had gotten a taste and was now hungry for much more.
As with most success stories, the path isn’t always a straight line. Edwards initially cut her teeth in entertainment journalism, patrolling red carpets and doing press junkets. Eventually, she realized that this was not her cup of tea and started seeking out an avenue that would feed her soul.
Her thoughts turned to travel, but she wasn’t sure this was even an option.
“Is there such a thing as a travel journalist?” she questioned.
Determined to carve out a new career, Edwards set out to find the answer. Enter YouTube, where she started creating content, seeking brand partnerships and making a name for herself. This is how Kellee Set Go, her one-woman adventure travel show, was born. It wasn’t long before Edwards started drawing the attention of travel industry executives and the Travel Channel came calling.
The rest, as they say, is history. In this case, Black history.
“I had a real defining moment once I realized that me having a show on the Travel Channel was really happening. I was filming a commercial that airs on the network right now. I was in St. Croix. And the line was, ‘Hi I’m Kellee Edwards, you’re watching Mysterious Islands only on Travel Channel.’ Even right now I get chill bumps from it,” she shared in an emotional video. “Because it was the first time I had ever said my name, the name of my show, and Travel Channel in one sentence. And it made it so real. All those moments that seem like doubt and failure were worth it.”
Edwards is not the type to rest on her laurels, so naturally she sought out a new challenge, flying, but for a very specific reason.
“When I wanted to break into the world of adventure travel television, I was looking at everyone up there: Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, Bear Grylls, Jeremy Wade, Josh Gates—all these badass people exploring the world in their own different ways. And I think, well, everyone’s getting on a plane to go to these far flung places. But no one’s flying themselves there. I need to become a pilot,” she explained of her motivation to fly in an interview.
With all these miles logged under her belt and a resume that would put several explorers to shame, it might come as a surprise that the seemingly fearless Edwards wasn’t always so courageous. As she tells it, travel became a conduit to conquering what she dreaded most which ironically included heights and the ocean. But tackling the seemingly impossible is also her general approach to life.
“A lot of things scare me, but the woman I stare at in the mirror each day says, “That’s the way you want to go out? Afraid?!” And I always respond, “Nope! Not today!,” she said in a self-penned piece. “I take everything I do in stride and for the moment. And this, my friends, is how I get through my life of adventure. I show up and force myself to often deal with the presented opportunities at hand. Truth be told, if I actually thought about all the things I’ve actually accomplished in life, I could easily come up with a million reasons why I should take the risk. Helen Keller said it best: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”