From waiting tables to living in a basement apartment, three travel hosts tell CNBC how they got to where they are.
Here are their stories.
Worked: Emmy Award-winning television host of “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love”
Started in: Comedy
“I went to Syracuse University to study musical theater because I desperately wanted to move to New York City and become an actress. I wanted to do Shakespeare and be on Broadway.
This is not functional. I worked on tables for a good eight years. But I loved improv and I was part of an improv comedy troupe. So I kept auditioning for jobs.
Samantha Brown said the best part of her job is “not that I get to travel to all these places for free, but that I get to spend time with people in their everyday lives.”
Source: Samantha Brown Media Inc.
A writer recommended a production company that was… looking for a presenter. But my audition for that had to be completely upgraded. That’s how I got the job.
When you’re a travel host, there’s no script. However, it is still up to you to set the scene, understand the trajectory of a story and how to end it. Also in improvisation, the golden rule is never say no, always yes, to keep things going.
Waiting tables in New York City for eight years, you start to feel really humbled, [but] Those were the tools I had that got me a job I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d have.”
Job: Creator of “Strictly Dumpling” and other YouTube channels (total: about 8 million subscribers)
Started in: Accounting and wedding videography
“I moved to the US from China when I was 8 years old. My parents started working in restaurants and eventually opened 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 come from, but it helped that my parents sent me back to China when I was 13. Most people are grounded and sent to their room as punishment. I was sent to China for two years. That’s when I said: Wow, it’s so amazing, the people, the story, 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 lived in a small basement apartment in Brooklyn with no air conditioning and made about $400 in a good week.
But this was the first time I was eating something other than Red Lobster and Olive Garden. I sampled the diverse ethnic food in Chinatown and began to discover a lot about my heritage that I had never seen as important before.
I started recording food videos on YouTube as a food diary for myself. I remember having a conversation with a friend about food content never amounting to anything. There was no one 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 for 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 all over the world now.”
Job: TV host of “Family Travels with Colleen Kelly”
Started in: Sales
“I tried out for the University of Texas broadcasting school. The school gave you a chance to get accepted into the show. I’ve 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 incredible and he had a company car. But I wasn’t living my dream, and this started to bother me a lot.
In my early 30s, I got married and eventually quit my job to be a homemaker. One day, when my two young daughters were in school, I went to our town hall cable TV station and asked if, in exchange for teaching me how to edit, I could host the local entertainment show about our town, something like ” Access Hollywood”. “for our city of 50,000 inhabitants.
Since they had no other offers, they said yes. I acted confident, but I was as green as it looks. every time I did an interview and read a voiceover, 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 amazingly, she agreed to produce it with me. We wrote a script, found a local cameraman for a few dollars, and made a pilot.
I met with two major companies, both said no. One network told me that women don’t watch travel shows, so the concept of family travel didn’t appeal to them. Then I sent thousands of emails to TV stations. Nothing worked. Finally, my mother suggested that she call the local PBS station. I googled the head of programming, called him (no emails), and got a meeting.
After more meetings, we learned that PBS was picking two shows to go national, and “Family Travel with Colleen Kelly” was one of them.
We survived for a year, producing 13 episodes that first season. Now, the show has been running for more than 10 years. And the best thing is that I can take 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.