Samantha Brown on filming a travel series during a pandemic — and how she hopes to help revive the sector

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Professional globetrotter Samantha Brown is saying "safe travels" after spending months on standby.

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The original travel influencer has biked along Xi'an’s Ancient City wall in China, hiked up the sea cliffs of Slieve League in Ireland, floated down the Aare River in Switzerland and herded cattle on a family RV trip through Oregon, and all of it was “for work” on her namesake PBS show “Samantha Brown Places to Love.”

But traversing continents in pursuit of cultural common ground — and getting paid to give viewers recommendations for what to eat, drink and do — got complicated during a global pandemic. Now, she’s committed to showing her fans what the future of safe travel looks like, by slowly putting herself back out there after several months on the ground.

Travel host Samantha Brown of PBS’ “Samantha Brown Places to Love.” (Courtesy of Samantha Brown). 

“When this started at the beginning of March the first time, I really started to think, ‘OK, the first time — maybe — I could travel is in May or June.’ I just realized I didn’t feel the travel industry as a whole was onboard with safety protocols,” Brown told FOX Business in a phone interview from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y. “People won’t travel unless they feel safe.”

She was slated to shoot 11 episodes for her series this year, but due to nationwide shutdowns, restrictions and social distancing mandates, she's had to rework production. She started up again in October with a crew of around eight who “constantly get tested” and documented the journey back on social media.

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“Shooting a travel show during the pandemic is no easy feat,” she captioned an October Instagram photo, in which she's standing on the longest elevated pedestrian bridge connecting Poughkeepsie and Highland New York in the Hudson Valley.

“A lot of this makes me feel like it’s my first day on the job,” she admitted to her 93,000 Instagram followers.

A post shared by Samantha Brown (@samanthabrowntravels)

Brown says she took her first flight since the pandemic in October, traveling to Florida where she filmed an episode in Fort Myers, Sanibel Island and Captiva Island, supporting local businesses along the way.

“Everyone in our crew gets tested every three or four days, it’s almost how we should have been handling this back in May, constantly being tested,” she says. “I hadn’t seen a beach in eight months, I couldn’t believe it,” she says of getting back to work.

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While the CDC has advised against holiday travel to curb the spread of the virus, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened over 2 million passengers at airports across the U.S. over the weekend — a record high for the first time since March.

And many Americans are hopeful for future travel in 2021. After news of the FDA’s first COVID-19 vaccine approval, the number of hotel bookings on platforms like Kayak, Priceline, Marriott and Hyatt saw the largest jump since March, according to travel technology company RateGain.

"More testing is going to be what makes us feel more confident," says Brown, who urges the importance of wearing masks on planes. "I'll definitely get the vaccine but I don't think I’ll wait to get it to travel."

While Brown says she has received some criticism for traveling again, she says she's following all current guidelines. “It’s something I talk to my husband about – we need to start traveling again because we have to show people that this is how you do it. … I’m not doing things irresponsibly,” she says of her decision to start shooting the show again.

“In the end, It’s my job to travel and I know how to stay safe, and we make sure everyone is safe.”

Brown, who is known to highlight mom-and-pop shops on her show, has done her part to help promote commerce during the pandemic to struggling small businesses, and has even teamed with Hilton for its "To New Memories" campaign, aimed at inspiring travelers to safely plan trips for the future. And in her home city of New York, wherein Gov. Cuomo reinstated a ban on indoor dining, she's recommending gift-givers opt to gift an experience instead of an item this holiday season.

“I live in New York City and eat take out four or five days a week," she says. "I’m a huge supporter of restaurants. Just because you can’t travel right now, you can still buy things that can help those businesses, whether it’s a cooking class or virtual experience."

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