Describing herself as having the skillset of a Bond girl meets Laura Croft, Edwards is tasked with exploring the remote corners of the earth, uncovering unique cultural traditions and sharing stories of people in far flung places.
From mountaineering to skydiving, there’s nothing off limits for Edwards. She has explored Indonesian caves with thousands of buried bodies and trekked to an Alaskan island with a population of 22 people.
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A drive for adrenaline…and certifications
With years of broadcast journalism experience as well as a YouTube channel and social media presence, Edwards says that she stood out to the Travel Channel because of her skill-studded resume. In addition to being a certified scuba diver, she is also a pilot.
“I never want to be looked at as a fraud,” said Edwards. “Because I am such foreign concept for most people I’ve always been an overachiever… since I’ve been young.”
Landing a Travel Channel show
By any measure, Edwards is crushing it as a travel journalist. But she is quick to point out that the success you see now didn’t happen overnight.
She first met with the Travel Channel nearly five years ago. They liked her as talent, but another three years passed as Edwards waited for a production company to shoot a pilot with her.
However, she didn’t give up. From her very first meeting, she knew she would have her own show. “The path that I am pursuing is not for the meek,” she says.
And then, after a magazine featured her as their centerfold story, multiple production companies contacted Edwards. She shot a sizzle reel and then a pilot. And now Edwards is the first African American woman to host a TV show on the Travel Channel. She is also the second woman ever to have a program on the network.
For other young women interested in following her footsteps, Edwards says that it’s important to be tenacious.
“You have to do something that no one else is doing,” says Edwards. “I looked for things that weren’t being represented on TV and I did every single one of them and made it my brand.”
Continuing she says, “The only reason I didn’t get lost [in the travel space] is that I went to fly airplanes. I went to adventure travel…I go in the ocean as a black women and people don’t think we swim.”
In addition to differentiating yourself, she says it’s important to be your own cheerleader and to “fake it until you make it.”
“You have to go in having confidence in yourself even if those around you don’t,” says Edwards.
Catching the travel bug early
From road trips to Hearst Castle and camping in Big Bear, Edwards credits her itchy foot syndrome to fond memories of trips as a kid.
And while nowadays it might seem like travel means exploring exotic locales or tasting foreign delicacies, Edwards says it’s important to remember that even just taking a jaunt to a nearby city can be an adventure.
“What I see [on Instagram] seems so whimsical and far flung. People are trying to chase this lifestyle that even the people who are posting these photos don’t have,” says Edwards. Continuing that there’s a lot of “façade” on social media, the journalist wants people to understand that “the adventure isn’t less if there isn’t the perfect Instagram picture.”
Traveling for the ‘gram?
As for her own motivations for exploration, Edwards is very matter-of-fact.
“I don’t travel for ‘the ‘gram’…I travel to check myself,” says Edwards. Pointing out that in many parts of the world access to clean water is limited she says that through traveling she challenges herself and realizes how fortunate she is.
However successful she is, Edwards admits that her path hasn’t always been easy. Clocking in at 5’ 3” and weighing 120 pounds, she says that oftentimes people are confused when she walks up to the cockpit. On a recent trip her crew had to inform airport staff that yes, Edwards was in fact their pilot.
She says that her trick in those situations is to kill people with kindness.
“I am ok to take the stares and the jabs,” says Edwards, who believes that she is paving the way for others who might not fit the stereotype of what a pilot or scuba diver or rock climber looks like. “I want to flip adventure. I want people to stop thinking that it belongs to white males.”
And from the buckets of fan mail to the shout outs on social media, it is clear that her groundbreaking work is having an impact. Even her employers have noticed, telling her that they knew she would make a change on the network but they didn’t know it would be so profound.
But her biggest motivator is her natural inclination for adventure. She says, “you only have one life.”
This past year, that joie de vivre paid off big time. In addition to hosting Mysterious Islands, Outside Magazine named Edwards “The Most Interesting Woman in the World” in 2018, a designation she says was “incredibly exciting.”
But for the journalist, fame and accolades are just the cherry on top. Her real love is meeting people from all walks of life and sharing their stories.
“I am a vessel for the masses to see,” says Kellee. “I have to see what the world wants to show me.”
And that’s the way the host likes it.
When she’s shooting on location she always wonders, “Can I get this person to open up with me? Will they share part of their life story with me? That’s what excites me. It’s not always about where I am going. It’s who am I going to meet.”
This post is the eighth in a series on women succeeding in the travel industry, whether it be as a solo female traveler or founder of an adventure startup. Know a woman who is killing it in the world of travel? Send an email to actalty at gmail.com to nominate them for next month’s installation of #AdventureHackingWomen.