Kellee Edwards is the epitome of #BlackGirlMagic. Defying stereotypes that “we” don’t like adventure, such as hiking, biking, swimming, climbing or simply just getting our hair wet, Kellee Edwards is a pilot, scuba diver and adrenaline junkie who loves to explore by land, air and sea. Her level of enthusiasm for wanting to explore the world, her daredevil (yet stylish) Instagram posts, and desire to try just about anything that thrills her, landed her her own show earlier this year on the Travel Channel. Her show Mysterious Islands, which debuted on the network October 10th, takes viewers on the hunt to find the best bargains, private beaches and magical experiences on the planet's lesser-known islands.
As the only Black woman featured right now on the television network (and the second in history), Kellee is an inspiration to many. And she shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Here, she talks about her upcoming show, what it’s like to inspire the next generation of young girls and why it’s important for us to see ourselves represented in the travel industry.
What can we expect from your new Travel Channel show Mysterious Islands?
There are over 100,000 islands in world, I’ll be exploring the ones you know very little about and may have heard of and those in which you have not. I’m an adventure traveler and I explore the world by land, air and sea as a pilot, scuba diver and outdoorswoman. These abilities allow me to explore islands in a physical way by accessing places by any means necessary while my background in journalism allows me to interact with the cultures and people I meet who inhabit these Islands.
How were you bit by the travel bug?
Road trips with my parents as a child we’re instrumental and what we could afford. We spent a lot of time outdoors and camping and I always felt so free. When I got older I wanted to know what was beyond where the highway could take me. Years later that meant learning how to fly airplanes and getting my pilots license to have the ability to get up and go on my own accord, any time and potentially any place. They say a mile or highway can take you just one mile, but a mile of runway will take you anywhere!
Why is important for us to see ourselves represented in the travel space?
Kellee Edwards:about $50 billion annually on travel and leisure. If that doesn’t speak to the mainstream media and advertisers, I don’t know what does. It’s also no secret that the travel media has been dominated by older white males for so long. It’s not a space that they should own and solely represent any longer. I know personally that they feel the same way. I’ve been well received and welcomed by some of your favorite TV hosts and they make it known that they are rooting for me. Being a black woman in the adventure travel space is even more isolated and I’m glad I’ve been given a platform and opportunity to show that I can do it just as well.
Do you feel like you see "yourself" when you travel abroad?
Not often, however I know we are out here! There are online communities where it is more evident of us traveling. Nomadness Travel Tribe, Soul Society, Black and Abroad, Black Travel Movement and Travel Noire to name a few. When I do come across someone who looks like me it’s the unspoken code that we acknowledge each other. I recently was in Venice Italy and ran into a black family who asked if I knew how to get to their hotel. I had no idea but I was so thrilled to see this Mother sharing the world with her 3 children I turned in google maps and guided them to their hotel. It was a bonding moment and they were beyond grateful.
What is the number one factor that makes you interested in exploring different cultures?
The excitement that I know I’m going to leave more knowledgeable, more cultured and experienced than before I came is an adrenaline rush for me. Then taking that knowledge and sharing it with curious minds who may not have to ability or privilege to encounter such people or places is a gift that keeps on giving. Education doesn’t always come from a classroom, it comes from experience and exposure.
What does #BlackGirlMagic mean to you, and how do you equate that with world travel?
Taking pride in what makes us unique, bold and fearless in everything we touch, say and do. Being authentically you and proud of the skin you’re in. It’s the at times, our effortless presence that makes so many want to be us and emulate our ways and beauty. How many times have we spoken out people wanting to touch our hair, compliment and admire our skin tone abroad. Being stopped in our tracks to take a picture. While some feel like it’s exploitive, I personally feel in many ways it’s like seeing a real life unicorn for them in many of my travels and I happily embrace the interactions. I remember filming in a remote village in Mexico and I’m pretty sure I’m the 1st black person they’d ever seen, I took that moment to show them the best version of myself, so that if they never saw a black person again that they’d have a positive interaction and hopefully outlook on what they may feel the type of people many of us are.
What are some of your favorite travel destinations?
In true Indiana Jones form, I’m big on ancient architecture, ruins and temples. Southeast Asia, Central America are my playground. Thailand and Italy for the food and anywhere where there is a jungle or ocean. Even better if the two meet in one location.
How do you hope to inspire others?
I am from the Southside of Chicago and grew up in San Bernardino, California. If anything is taken away from those watching me, is that know that just because you may not know anyone personally who does the things that even slightly pique your curiosity, does not mean that you cannot be the first amongst your family and friends. Don’t be afraid of going against the grain; self knowledge, self expression and conquering the fear of the unknown truly feeds the soul. Ask and answer to yourself, that’s where the true power lies, within. You’d be surprised what you are capable of.