As the second Black woman in history to have a show on the Travel Channel, Kellee Edwards is breaking down barriers and stereotypes surrounding Black women and adventure.
With a degree in communications and a concentration in broadcast journalism from California State University in Fullerton, Edwards developed a love for travel journalism early in her career.
In an exclusive interview with Because of Them We Can (BOTWC), the Chicago native breaks down how her love for traveling led her to become a pilot, how her show “Mysterious Islands” came to fruition, and what she hopes viewers gain from her representation in media.
BOTWC: Talk about your career as a pilot and how you became interested in the industry?
Edwards: Actually my background is in broadcast journalism and when I decide that I wanted to make the transition to travel journalism I was exploring the world and everything was great. One day, I was sitting at an airport and I saw a little plane taking off and landing between big planes and in that moment aviation seemed attainable to me. I said, “Holy smokes, there is just one guy on the plane and I should learn to fly so I can take myself to my destination.” It sounds absurd but I have an A-type personality and have always been ambitious.
From there, I went on a discovery flight and the views were amazing and I just fell in love with aviation at that moment. That was in 2012. So I’ve been flying ever since. It’s very much incorporated in how I do my travel. When I travel around the world I try to find small airports that accept American licenses so I can rent a plane and fly over the area I’m at. It’s so cool to see what you can find flying over the ground. I’m also a certified scuba diver so I love being over the ocean. Those things just feed my spirit.
BOTWC: When did you discover your love for traveling?
Edwards: Definitely as a little kid. My first road trip was really coming from Chicago at the age of five on the Grey Hound bus to California. Seeing mountains for the first time was just insane to me, as well as all of the landscapes and the different people.
Eventually, my mom got married to my step-dad who introduced me to camping and swimming and a lot of outdoor things. My parents were very much not rich so road trips were what we could afford and that’s really where I got this thirst for seeing what’s next.
BOTWC: Fast forward to today and you have a show on the travel channel called “Mysterious Islands.” How did this opportunity come about?
Edwards: It was a long time in the making that’s for sure. I shot my first travel video in 2012 with the far-fetched dream of having a show on the Travel Channel. I uploaded it on my Youtube channel, Kellee Set Go, and in 2013 I got a pitch meeting with the Travel Channel’s office in D.C. A producer there told me that they don’t shoot their own stuff, but buy their stuff from other companies.
After the meeting, I started working with Fox5 San Diego as their travel adventurer and I’ve been doing that for the last five years. In 2016 someone saw an article in Southbay Magazine annual women’s issue about me and they told some production company, “Do you guys know about this lady? She should have a travel show.” From there, someone from Departure Films reached out to me. I did a Skype interview with them and they combined that with my own travel videos and showed it to Travel Channel. One of the executives said within 60 seconds he knew he wanted to know more about me. So last July I did a sizzle reel and the network saw that and they said we want to see more and they gave me an opportunity to shoot on several islands and that’s how I got here.
I think a lot of people would have been discouraged and stopped at first, but for me the more “no’s” I get let’s me know that a “yes” is right around the corner.
BOTWC: What can people expect from the show?
Edwards: Basically, there are over 100,000 islands in the world and I will be visiting places you may have heard of and most you may have not. I will do anything to get to these remote places, whether flying or diving. People will really learn about the culture and the traditions and really find out about the secrets these places have.
BOTWC: What impact do you hope your show has on viewers?
Edwards: That no matter where you are from, your background, your social or economic status that you can see the world too. It just takes that self-initiative to be curious and just know that there are so many things that are accessible to you. Travel can truly change you and these are experience that you necessarily can’t buy and they last longer for me than any material gain. If I have a choice of buying a new MacBook for $1,200 or take the trip I’m going to take the trip. These are stories that I can tell my children one day and I hope they will tell their children.
Stay up-to-date with her adventures on social media @KelleSetGo.