Veteran Travel Host Samantha Brown Says 'I'm in Charge of Who I Am' After Leaving the Travel Channel (2024)

Everything about Samantha Brown's career is "totally unexpected," she says.

After 23 years as a travel host and with 74 countries visited under her belt, Brown gets candid with PEOPLE about how she found herself globe-trotting professionally — and why it wasn't until she found her latest gig, that she felt she was truly doing it on her own terms.

"It was something that I never thought would come my way, but I fell in love with travel," she tells PEOPLE.

Now the host of Samantha Brown's Places to Love (currently airing its sixth season on PBS), the 52-year-old New Hampshire native is taking the reins of her career after fifteen years at the Travel Channel, where she got her start.

She's now the co-owner of her own production company with her husband Kevin O'Leary and the show-runner of her own series. Having more autonomy professionally, she says, feels "amazing" and "changes everything."

"I am in charge of who I am. I have all control over the show," she says of her PBS gig, which launched in 2018. "Before, with the Travel Channel, I was a hired host, and so I had no say in the editing. I had no say in what we did, where we went. And that's fine, I signed up for that. But now it's all what I want to do and all my approach to travel."

Brown adds that she now "owns every inch of footage, and that's what's amazing to me." Now that she's not just "talent," she also jokes that "no one gets me coffee" as she's the coffee fetcher for her crew. "I absolutely love it. My schedule is my own. It's been worth the hard work," she says.

Veteran Travel Host Samantha Brown Says 'I'm in Charge of Who I Am' After Leaving the Travel Channel (1)

On her passion project, Places to Love, Brown explores new cities through a people-centric lens. And despite attending musical theater school and waitressing in New York City for years, Brown surprisingly never realized how much of a "people person" she was until she broke bread with strangers all around the world.

"Travel really isn't about where I go, it's about who I connect with and who I meet and just understanding how special people are," says Brown. "I always thought that travel was about seeing things and seeing museums and castles and monuments, and what I realized is that just always puts you in the past. I realized with travel, I don't want to be in the past. I want to be now. What's happening now?"

She adds: "That's something that I always work to show in Places to Love. And if we do anything that's historically important, 'Well, what does that mean for the people here, now?'"

Perhaps one of the biggest moments to rock her career was becoming a mom to now 10-year-old twins, Elizabeth and Ellis, who already have an impressive collection of passport stamps, including China, Korea and 10 countries in Europe.

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Veteran Travel Host Samantha Brown Says 'I'm in Charge of Who I Am' After Leaving the Travel Channel (2)

Brown admits she once thought having kids was going to end her career — and being away from them when she went back to work after 2 months was especially hard.

"[I gave] myself that mental break from always being perfect because when I was traveling, [I thought] 'I'm really good at traveling, and then all of a sudden you become a mom and you're like, 'I'm really bad at being a mom.' You're really learning. I wanted to go back to where I felt confident again," she says. "My job really made me feel confident as a person again, which I needed, so it was important for me to get back out there."

Having kids also made her realize that her previous advice for parents traveling with children was flimsy. "I always say that having kids was punishment for all the traveling with kids advice I gave before I had kids, because I had no idea what I was talking about. It's so different," she says with a laugh.

Veteran Travel Host Samantha Brown Says 'I'm in Charge of Who I Am' After Leaving the Travel Channel (3)

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Brown also admits that she "embarrassingly, very rarely," takes personal vacations. Her family of four has never even had a proper vacation without cameras in tow, she says.

"Our personal vacations are literally to go to our parents' house." she says, joking that she sleeps on the floor there.

But now that her twins are 10, they plan on finally fulfilling a milestone and are "taking our first big family vacation" to London and Amsterdam. And the getaway is long overdue. "I've told my husband, 'I'd like to just actually have a real vacation.' I usually always have to have my hair done or do an interview or give a talk, which is wonderful. But just where I can just be, just let it go, I would love it," she says.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic put a wrench in her professional travel plans. But after a 6-month traveling hiatus, her crew was back to filming in October of 2020. While they extensively masked and tested, Brown says it was still "scary" since it was "before the vaccine."

Veteran Travel Host Samantha Brown Says 'I'm in Charge of Who I Am' After Leaving the Travel Channel (4)

"It was really fascinating shooting during a pandemic, and especially in the spring of 2021," after the vaccination became widely available. It was "a time where the whole world was just coming out from their shell and everyone felt socially awkward," she says. "Everyone was struggling. And it was a really special time because everyone was very vulnerable. It was more personal, more intimate. I always appreciated that I got to be out talking to people and being with people, even though that was kind of a fearful thing at the time."

On her PBS show, she even featured cloistered monks in upstate New York to give viewers, who may be struggling with at-home fatigue, a look into a group who constantly "isolate" and meditate. Brown recalls asking one monk to give viewers advice amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

"He said, 'Trust the silence. You feel like it's really disconcerting because we're always inundated with images and conversation. When these things happen, cracks begin to form in the foundation of who you are when you're not surrounded by all this stuff. And when that cracks open, your real person comes through that. Let that come through.' It was just beautiful," she recounts.

Veteran Travel Host Samantha Brown Says 'I'm in Charge of Who I Am' After Leaving the Travel Channel (5)

As one of the first women travel hosts to be widely televised alongside her male counterparts, Brown says she's proud of what she's done to pave the way for other women, while also acknowledging "we need a lot more diversity out there."

Reflecting on her over two decade-long career, Brown says she still "never thought this was going to happen."

"When I meet younger women, who started watching me when they were 11, and they were like, 'You were the only girl on TV.' It's a shock because I'm like 'Oh, I never thought of it like that,' she says. "But to be that person for people and for girls to see themselves in travel, or to realize that they could travel alone, or maybe even do a career, that has been the greatest gift — that I'm looked up to and I'm a real inspiration for other people."

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Veteran Travel Host Samantha Brown Says 'I'm in Charge of Who I Am' After Leaving the Travel Channel (6)

While she lifts the veil behind the scenes of traveling as part of a show, Brown maintains what she set out to do at the very beginning of her career.

"I really wanted to not just be someone who showed people how to travel…but really create that connection with an audience," she says. "I knew I wanted to be different than how a lot of other people showed travel — which was more like a presenter — and really just be a best friend who you could travel with and have a great time. That's really worked for me for the last 23 years."

Season 6 of Samantha Brown's Places to Love is airing now on PBS stations.

Veteran Travel Host Samantha Brown Says 'I'm in Charge of Who I Am' After Leaving the Travel Channel (2024)

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