Get to Know Mysterious Islands' Kellee Edwards

Be inspired to get outside, explore and maybe even take a flying lesson.

If you haven't been following Kellee Edwards, host of Travel Channel's Mysterious Islands, on Instagram, that will probably change after you read this interview. The scuba-diving, high-flying, boot-wearing adventurer makes traveling the world look effortless. And she's got a killer wardrobe to boot. 

But before she takes you island-hopping with her new show, get to know Kellee, from her first cross-country road trip to the three things she'd never travel without. 

Don't miss the premiere of Mysterious Islands, Oct. 11 at 11:30p|10:30c. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m originally from the South Side of Chicago and raised in San Bernardino, Calif. In my head, I’m Indiana Jones meets Laura Croft. Some of my closest friends and family might refer to me as a bit of an extremist. I’m all in and I’m dragging as many people as I can with me whether they are ready or not! My social media moniker Kellee Set Go! is derived from this thought process and I’m always ready for whatever adventure is calling.

When did you first get bitten by the travel bug?

I remember coming to California as a child with my mother from Chicago on the Greyhound bus. I believe it took us three days to get there. I recall seeing mountains for the first time on this trip and thinking that they were buried Brontosauruses because of the large humps on their back. I saw so many different landscapes during that time and it was pretty eye-opening as a child who was only used to seeing and having adventures on city blocks. Now, I know why I love window seats...it’s a great way to see the world.

What makes you so passionate about travel?

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”- Helen Keller

This is one of my favorite quotes and such a powerful statement. It comes from an amazing young woman who, as we know, was blind. I am fortunate enough to have all five senses, so why not go at the world full-force and experience everything it has to offer through these? I can’t express enough how travel has the power to change you as a person. It can make you grateful for everything you take for granted one moment, and then have you realize that you aren’t living out your full potential the next. Travel is more than visiting monuments and collecting passport stamps. It’s the unveiling of seeing the human race at its core and soul, which can be a beautiful thing. 

I hear you’ve met some of our Travel Channel hosts, Jack Maxwell and Samantha Brown. (Big fan!)

I actually waited in line at the Travel and Adventure Show in Long Beach to meet Samantha Brown in 2011. I was super geeked to say the least. She's an icon and pioneer in travel. She was very kind and encouraging when I took the opportunity to share that I wanted to be a host for the Travel Channel one day. It seemed so far-fetched, but 6 years later, look what happened! 

Not only are you an avid traveler, but you also scuba dive and fly planes (!). What made you want to learn to fly?

When traveling far, most of us get to the destination by getting on an airplane and flying there. I figured, "hey, why not get my pilot's license so that I can fly myself, friends and family to places?" It made perfect sense being the adventurous traveler and person that I am...except that I am afraid of heights. Yes, absurd, I know. It’s very much mind over matter with me and when I’m flying that feeling is non-existent. I do have moments when I look out and I’m like, "Holy smokes, Kellee, you are flying this thing yourself, but wow isn’t it beautiful up here?"

And being a black female pilot – that’s so inspiring. What’s the experience been like in such a male-dominated field? 

I love it! Let me into all of the boys' clubs, even if for a moment. What do you guys have going on in there? Tell me! Show me! 

Jokes aside, it’s been very interesting. When I show up to an airport to rent an aircraft where they are not familiar with me, I get it all. Starting with complete surprise, shock, staring and actually being asked if I am lost. (No, buddy, I’m aware. I’m at an airport.) I even had a pilot who was doing a checkout flight with me in the Caribbean say that he thought when he saw the name Kellee Edwards that I was a guy, in which I reminded him that we spoke on the phone when I gave him my name and if my high-pitched voice didn’t give away the fact that I was indeed a woman, I don’t know what would! It’s pretty hilarious to see the varying reactions, but I can say that the sentiment that shortly follows is always that they wish they would see more women and black pilots. We only make up a small percentage: two percent for black pilots and around six percent for women pilots. 

What would you tell young girls and boys who dream of one day piloting their own aircraft?

There are tons of resources that cater to a budding young pilot. I’d start with checking out the EAA Young Eagles Program, Women in Aviation, Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) and the Civil Air Patrol CAP Cadet Program. I’d also encourage young girls and boys to take a discovery flight at a local flight school. It’s typically about $99, and it’s a great way to get in the air quickly and experience flying hands-on.

What trip changed you the most? How were you changed?

I’d have to say my recent experience in Molokai, a lesser-known Hawaiian island. You’ll have to watch Mysterious Islands to find out why. It is truly an incredible place with resilient people.

On your blog, you write about traveling solo. What piece of advice would you give to someone who’s planning a solo trip for the first time?

Check out travel advisories, know where the embassy is located and keep your passport on your person with one of those money belts that go under your shirt around your waist. Leave a detailed itinerary of your trip with someone at home. Don’t wear anything flashy. Be open to new experiences and please don’t be obnoxious. Stay aware of your surroundings and if something feels off, it probably is, so keep it moving. There are more good people in the world than bad, so make new friends along the way. I’ve had some of my best travels alone with locals opening their homes, sharing their food, customs and traditions simply because I smiled and was friendly!

What’s the most difficult part of traveling? How do you treat yourself while traveling?

Not always having enough time to fully explore. I can’t tell you how many times I’m leaving a place and find out about some hidden gem from a local that I don’t have time to see.

I love getting spa treatments and massages, which also are never long enough. The best one I ever had was in Phuket, Thailand and it cost me about $6. Every massage since has never compared and cost a hundred times more!

Also, you are the most stylish traveler.

Thank you! Although I’m very much a tomboy, I’m also very feminine. I love my hats, one-piece swimsuits, cat-eye sunglasses, long or short flowy dresses, colorful sandals and heels. When I’m not on a hardcore adventure trip, I leave my hiking and combat boots, tank top, cargo shorts and my trusty green backpack at home.

How much do you try to learn the language or phrases of a country before you visit?

At minimum, “hello”, “thank you” and “goodbye”. People love to see the effort you put into learning their language; you can instantly see them let their guard down a bit. It’s a great ice-breaker. I speak Spanish very well and I’m sure it may have kept me out of danger a time or two.

What are some big projects you have coming up?

I’m been working on starting my non-profit called D.O.P.E. Adventures. D.O.P.E stands for Discover Outdoors & Passionately Explore. I want to share my love for adventures of all kinds with young adults and children who may never have access to flying, camping, hiking, traveling, scuba diving and even as simple as going to the beach for the day. I don’t think people have any idea how many young people have never been to the beach!

I have a few other projects lined up in addition to this, which I’ll roll out over the next year. Stay tuned!

What’s your favorite non-travel related hobby?

You can usually find me on a hiking trail most days of the week before I get my day started. I’m not much of a gym person so that also doubles as my workout. My mom is an avid hiker so I get that from her. It’s a great way to clear your mind and reset. I also love to read, and prefer an actual book in my hand where I can turn the pages, underline and highlight things that stand out to me. Reading has played a huge part in my life, and I’ve written a children’s book to pay homage to my love for travel.

You’ve been to 35 countries. What’s left on your bucket list?

Everything. There are 195 countries in the world – so much to see and do! But I’d love to summit a few more mountains after my experience on Mt. Hood in Oregon. Denali in Alaska, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and trekking Patagonia in South America are all places I must see. Everest is on this list as well, which freaks everyone out whenever I bring it up, but consider this my official notice. It would be in my later years if that soothes anyone’s anxiety.

If you could only travel with three things, what would they be and why?

Garmin InReach Explorer so that I can communicate pretty much wherever I am in the world with its satellite communicator, GPS navigation and tracking system.

My compass that my best friend, Nicole, gave me and had engraved with my favorite quote. It keeps me grounded, reminds me that I’m loved and doesn’t hurt that it’s an actual working compass!

A journal; it’s the best way to document [my travels]. Cameras are amazing and can show things, but words can actually take you places. A perfect way to jog your memory of that specific place in time.

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