Friday, February 20, 2009

Samantha Brown and Rick Steves: The Best in the Field

This past weekend I had the incredible opportunity to see, hear, and meet two of the best in the field of being "in the field" and hosting great travel shows, Samantha Brown and Rick Steves. They have the jobs we all dream of, right? They get to travel the world, followed around by a camera, and share their adventures, experiences, and travel tips with the rest of us. And we love them for it!
Well, I do anyway. Hosting a travel show is about the only thing still missing from my resume, and since I'm bound and determined to follow in the footsteps of Samantha Brown and Rick Steves, I had to find out what those footsteps entailed. Fortunately, both Samantha and Rick were happy to share at the LA Times Travel & Adventure Show last weekend.
Before you think I somehow got exclusive interviews with them, I didn't. They each spoke to packed conference hall rooms and I just happened to be one amongst the throngs that sat to listen. But I was busily taking notes. Their formats, and their backgrounds, were entirely opposite, and make for an interesting contrast and comparison.
Saturday was (unofficially) Samantha Brown Day. She was only there for part of Saturday, while Rick Steves was there both days, so trying to fit both in one day was more than my excited little heart could take, especially considering that Arther Frommer was also making appearances, along with Travel Writers, Editors, Operators, Suppliers, and many of the Who's Who of the Travel & Tourism Industry. I basically walked around in a semi-daze on Saturday, overwhelmed and overstimulated, and found great relief when it came time for Samantha Brown to talk. Then I could finally sit still and drink my coffee (which I didn't need!).
She appeared in a lovely turquoise sundress very well-suited for LA, and a nice compliment to the colors I was wearing, so already there was a kindred connection.
Look, here I am with my new BFF (that's facebook talk for Best Friend Forever. LOL! - and that's twitter talk for laughing out loud). And that's what I've learned from online social networking - now you can do it too!
Samantha Brown drew a huge crowd of adoring fans, and she was absolutely kind and personable with each and everyone she spoke to. She's just plain nice, and everyone likes nice.
So how did such a nice girl get a job on the Travel Channel hosting her own shows? Well, her story is an inspirational travel tale in and of itself. But I don't tell it as well as she does, and when I relayed it to my husband later that night, he said "oh that's made up by her PR manager, that can't possibly have happened." I guess you had to be there to hear it firsthand. But it involved cancelled flights, missing flights, and running out onto the tarmack (pre-9/11) standing in front of the aircraft pleading with a pilot to let her on the plane. He gave the thumbs up, and the rest is history.
But Samantha's story gives hope to anyone who has applied for the Best Job in the World with Tourism Queensland despite lack of qualifications, and since many of those applicants are new readers/followers of my blog, this is for you! In a nutshell:
Samantha Brown had no journalism, writing, hosting or travel experience whatsoever. She was a drama student majoring in....Musical Theater!!! Well, that explains the chronic perkiness - but she doesn't tap dance or break into show tunes or drive you crazy, she's just cute, charming, genuine, and likable. And that's all it took to land her job traveling the world. Well not quite all. She admits that perhaps her strongest qualification was a background in Improvisation (ah, there's hope for me yet!). She went on to explain that her show is predominantly unscripted - the camera crew of 5 follow her around as she explores and experiences travel. Sure, they have planned out where they will go, but Samanatha doesn't have to learn lines or read teleprompters, she just has to be spontaneous, flexible, and engaged. How great is that?!
"It's all about going with the flow," she shares. And being nice. Making an effort to speak the language, or at least gesturing with a smile, can go a long way. And Samantha has gone a long way just by having those essential qualities.
The fact that Samantha is a genuinely nice person who loves engaging with others became quickly apparent. Instead of spending an entire 90 minutes talking at us, she told her story for 15 minutes then spent the remaining time talking with us, by taking questions from people in the audience. Two long lines formed as people approached the microphones with their questions. Some asked travel tips, some went on and on about their favorite episode, and still others droned on endlessly recounting their own travel experiences (one of which included the near fatal car crash encountered on the LA freeway getting to the show). Did Samantha ever once cut anyone short? No. She listened and responded to each and every person as if it were her own grandmother talking. That's what I mean by nice. And engaged. And, proving that no matter what happens, just be ready to "go with the flow".
One more note about Samantha Brown. When asked if she has plans to publish a book, she responded with a reminder that she is neither a travel expert nor a writer, so she is leaving the guidebook and writing to the true experts, like Rick Steves.
Sunday was (unofficially) Rick Steves Day. And what a different day it was. Again, the conference hall was well-attended. Rick Steves had handouts for his audience members - a fancy full-color brochure advertising his "Group" tours, and a Rick Steves branded map of Europe, which retails for $5.95 on his website. So just like he offers his travel advice to us on public television (which is free), he also gives something for free to attract fans to his "live" show.
In contrast to Samantha Brown, Rick Steves is an experienced traveler. Rick Steves is a writer. And Rick Steves is a highly-regarded travel expert. So his 90 minutes was chock full of plenty of valuable content - from packing tips to budgeting tips to eating tips to getting around on the cheap. Let's face it, the economy isn't conducive to forking out alot of money to travel, and Rick's got plenty of advice for making the most of your dollar in Europe. While travel tends to decrease in these times, he admits that his business has never been better - people are still reading, watching, and buying guidebooks about travel, whether or not they can actually take the trip!
So for those who share travel adventures through blogs and freelance articles, you're on the right track. That's how Rick Steves started, he wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. In the form of travel journals at first, when he ventured out as a backpacking teenager in Europe. When he found a place he loved, he made a note about it so he could go back and recommend it to others. The rest is history.
Now Rick has a crew of 70 people working for him in an office in Edmunds, Washington (in contrast to Samantha Brown, whose crew numbers 6). He travels to film in Mediterranean Europe in the shoulder season of April/May, then again to Scandinavian Europe in July/August. And he's about to premiere a new series for public television, Rick Steves' Iran.
Which leads me to the most profound point made by Rick Steves during his 90 minutes of straight talk. "Travel as a political statement". Gone are the days of the guilt-free luxury indulgence of travel. Times have changed. People have changed. And the world is changing too. Eco-travel is an everyday term, and most certainly a travel trend that is here to stay. Traveling and making a difference is what it's all about now for Rick Steves. Chiming in with the theme of President Barack Obama, the time for change is now. In Europe, Americans can do away with the Canadian flag sewn to their backpack (everyone still loves Canadians too!). And for the first time in years, Americans have the potential to travel and make a difference as an individual, without judgment based on government politics. We are all citizens of the world, and it's time to put aside political differences and stereotypes, and tear down the barriers of the past. People are people anywhere you travel. It's time to meet those people face to face, live a day in their lives, and open your mind by the experience of international travel.
I have to stop writing now. The point is so integral to who I am and why I travel that I'm suddenly humbled and feeling utterly insignificant. So I'll close with a very simple truth. We've got to be the change we desire.

1 comment:

  1. I was at the travel show on the first day, but had to leave early for a wedding in Solvang so missed out on all of the speakers. I hope they return next year so I can meet them too!

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