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.
Use: Emmy Award-winning television host of “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love”
Started in: Comedy
“I went to Syracuse University to do musical theater because I desperately wanted to move to New York and become an actor. I wanted to do Shakespeare and be on Broadway.
It did not work. I’ve waited on the tables for a good eight years. But I loved improv and was in an improv comedy troupe. So I just kept auditioning for jobs.
Samantha Brown said the best part of her job wasn’t “that I get to travel to all these places for free – it’s that I get to hang out with people in their daily lives”.
Source: Samantha Brown Media Inc.
A screenwriter recommended me to a production company that… was looking for a presenter. But my audition had to be completely improvised. That’s how I got the job.
When you’re a travel host, there’s no script. Yet it’s still up to you to set the scene, to understand the trajectory of a story and how to end it. Also in improvisation, the golden rule is never to say no, it’s always yes — to get things done.
Waiting on tables in New York for eight years, you start to get real humble, [but] it was the tools I had that allowed me to get a job that I never thought I would have in my wildest dreams.”
Occupation: Creator of “Strictly Dumpling” and other YouTube channels (total: approximately 8 million subscribers)
Started in: Accounting and wedding videography
“I moved from China to the United States 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 regular diet of rangoon in the General Tso’s Chicken and Crab.
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. years. That’s when I was like, Wow, this is 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 was living in a small basement apartment in Brooklyn with no air conditioning, making about $400 – a good week.
But it was the first time I ate something that wasn’t Red Lobster and Olive Garden. I sampled the diverse ethnic cuisine of Chinatown and began to discover a lot of my heritage that I had never really considered important before.
I started recording cooking videos on YouTube as a food diary for myself. I remember having a conversation with a friend about how the contents of food will never amount to anything. There was no one online doing that. I had like 10 subscribers. Somehow he became that, which was not intended.
I never really had a lot of money growing up – or for most of my adulthood. So I was always on the lookout for things that were inexpensive but also really filling and delicious. And that’s pretty much what I do in the world now.”
Job: TV host of “Family Trip with Colleen Kelly”
Started in: Sales
“I tried the broadcast school at the University of Texas. The school gave you a shot at getting 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, before moving to Chicago and working in the pharmaceutical industry. The money was incredible, and I had a company car. But I wasn’t living my dream, and it started to really bother me.
In my early thirties, 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 the cable television station at our town hall and asked if, in exchange for teaching me how to ride, I could host the local entertainment show about our village – something like “Access Hollywood” for our town of 50,000 people.
Because they had no other offers, they said yes. I acted confidently, but I was as green as they come. 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 the filming of ‘Family Travel with Colleen Kelly’ at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland (right).
Source: Kelly Media Productions LLC
I told 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 cameraman for a few bucks, and created a pilot.
I took meetings with two big companies – both said no. A network told me that women don’t watch travel shows, so the concept of family travel doesn’t appeal to them. I then sent thousands of emails to television stations. Nothing worked. Eventually, my mom suggested I call the local PBS station. I googled the head of programming, called him (no emails) and got an appointment.
After several meetings, we learned that PBS was picking two shows to go national, and “Family Travel with Colleen Kelly” was one of them.
We scraped for a year, producing 13 episodes that first season. Now the show has been running for over 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.