Travel guru Samantha Brown’s 3 tips to avoid flight delays
By Charles Passy
The host of ‘Samantha Brown’s Places to Love’ on PBS also shares packing tips – ‘shoes are your nemesis’ – and talks about where every American should visit
When Samantha Brown comes to the office, she could be anywhere from a beach on the Jersey Shore to the grand palaces of South Korea.
That’s because Brown’s “workplace” is where she produces the latest episode of her PBS series, “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love.” Indeed, she takes vacations to earn a living. And it’s been her career since she started hosting travel shows two decades ago – initially, for the Travel Channel, where she helmed series such as ‘Passport to Europe’ and ‘Girl Meets Hawaii’.
A Dallas native who grew up in New Hampshire, Brown, 52, hadn’t expected such an unlikely path. She started out wanting to be an actress – musical theater was a particular passion – but took on other opportunities as they came to her. Traveling the world has become the ultimate opportunity.
Today Brown, who is based in New York, can be on the road several months a year. But she packed up to recently chat with MarketWatch about her life and work and to share some tips on how to avoid travel pitfalls, especially in this summer of persistent flight cancellations and other nightmares of holidays. Here are excerpts from the conversation.
MarketWatch: How did you catch the travel bug?
Brown: Surprisingly, I had been working for the Travel Channel for about four years. I got the host job, not being a travel journalist by any means, but just a newbie who absolutely loved the experience. But it’s a job in front of a camera, so I was intimidated by that. The travel bug really hit me when I was shooting a series in Latin America. I had spent so much time in Europe, where I felt [it] was all about being in the past, with castles and museums and monuments. And then when you go to Latin America, they don’t have all the pomp and circumstance that Europe has. So you spend more time being in the moment, and that’s when I realized I love travel. Museums don’t interest me. I care about being with people in their everyday life, and Latin America gave me that chance.
MarketWatch: What trips can you offer, especially to manage or even avoid flight delays and cancellations?
Brown: The first thing to do is to book the flight as early as possible, that is, a 6 or 7 a.m. flight. It’s hard to get up at 3 or 4 in the morning, but it’s totally worth it. It’s the plane that [always] leaves. All these problems come later in the day [with] more traffic, more delays.
If you can go straight – and I know for some people it’s just not possible – it’s worth it. Definitely pay for a direct flight if you can, even if it means paying for a direct flight and maybe renting a car and driving an extra two hours.
The other thing that I think is really important is that you book directly with the airlines. I have never booked on a third party site. You have a lot more credibility. You are higher in their list of valued customers. And if something goes wrong, they’re the ones you call, they’ll pick up the phone and they can change your canceled or delayed flight. If it’s a third party site, that won’t happen and it’s very hard to tell who you’re calling.
Last tip — and it’s always really worked for me — I use Twitter to connect with [the airline’s] customer service if my flight is cancelled. It’s the very first thing I do. You can direct [message] each airline on its Twitter feed (TWTR). Send them your confirmation code saying, “My flight has been cancelled. Can I catch the next flight?” and they are able to book you. I do this when I enter [the customer-service] line if I’m at the airport. While you’re in this line, you’re tweeting.
MarketWatch: More people than ever are likely to be bringing carry-on bags on the plane instead of checking a suitcase these days, so what are the keys to traveling light?
Brown: Well, first, I think it’s to remember that you’re not hosting the Oscars. You’re just going on vacation.
You want to maximize the tops – you can bring 10 tops, and they won’t fill a carry-on. The pants will. And when it comes to pants, you want to bring things that you can just wipe down with a sponge, right? If some mustard from your hot dog at the airport gets on your black pants, it’s pretty easy to deal with. I will also bring clothes that I know wash well in a sink and that I can dry overnight hanging over the shower.
My way of changing outfits, making them a bit more fashionable, is just with accessories. It’s amazing what a scarf does to an outfit.
Shoes are your sworn enemy. Shoes take up too much space. And nobody really cares [what’s on your feet]. Many people will argue with me about this. But if you look at my feet, I don’t care.
MarketWatch: What’s been your biggest travel nightmare?
Brown: Oh, my God. Getting stuck at the airport, basically this summer. … A lot of it is about understanding that you’re not going to come home when you want to and making the most of it.
MarketWatch: What’s your favorite food at the airport?
Brown: Eggs, toast and coffee.
MarketWatch: The best financial advice you’ve ever received?
Brown: Live below your means. I kind of learned from my parents. They never really taught me about finances, but I learned from them that just because you want something doesn’t mean you get it. I then moved to New York, where I waited on tables for eight years and made between $18,000 and $20,000 a year, and that’s not a lot of money to live on. And so when I finally started making money, I knew I had never wanted to feel the way I had felt for the first eight years in New York, and never get enough and always m worry about the rent and what I was going to do. buy groceries and that sort of thing. So I’ve always been keen on saving and I don’t see a lot of huge benefits to spending. I like to see that money safe.
MarketWatch: What do you hate spending money on?
Brown: Things I forgot to pack that I have and like. And now I have to buy them. And not only do I have to buy them, but I have to buy them at about four times the price. So, for example, if you’re in Europe, where everything is incredibly expensive, especially clothes, and you forgot a rain jacket, and now I have to spend $220 on what’s just a rain jacket basic. Argh! Or you are in Switzerland and now you spend $10 on a toothbrush. I always forget my toothbrush. It’s something about me that’s simply consistent in my 25 years of travel. I always forget my toothbrush.
MarketWatch: What are you willing to splurge on?
Brown: handmade items. I never haggle with people. I never try to lower the price on them. I always appreciate the fact that they made something with their hands, and it’s something unique. Sometimes I just want to give them more money.
MarketWatch: Favorite possession?
Brown: I have this beautiful Limoges porcelain figurine that I bought at the factory where they make Limoges in France. It’s this woman holding a basket of Valencian oranges. I’ll never forget [how I got] only because I had a really tough day. Things weren’t going well at home. I was thousands and thousands of miles away. A woman saw me struggling, and she said, “Here, take this. So it was a gift. Every time I look at this, I always think of the kindness that was given to me.
MarketWatch: What job would you take even if you weren’t getting paid?
Brown: I would like to help older people because I feel like they have such wisdom that is never tapped into, never really appreciated. People who are older and have lived their lives have so much great advice and wisdom to offer. I would like to work with them just to help them. And then, of course, that they help me in return.
MarketWatch: When most people talk about retirement, they’re saying they’re going to travel more. In your case, you have already traveled the world. So, is your perfect idea of retirement just to stay home?
Brown: It’s having a garden. This is my idea of retirement. I would like to have a nice little garden to take care of every day. [Or] take up hobbies that I could really pursue for more than three days before I had to leave. I would continue to travel, but I would feel like I was hunkering down and really enjoying being home.
MarketWatch: Finally, a place every American should visit?
Brown: Anywhere overseas where the culture is different and the language is different. So it’s not the UK. It’s so revealing to go to a place where absolutely nothing is familiar. Nothing. Not even what they have for breakfast. It absolutely opens your mind and just enriches what you know and what you don’t know. I love this incredible lightness of being human that happens because we don’t cling to what we know. What is familiar can actually be a burden. And when you’re in places that don’t offer you any of that, all you can do is be impressed and enjoy.
Travel news and trends:
Which celebrities who fly frequently – and the feedback they’ve received – tell us about the growing popularity of private jets
Nine American Cities to Visit for Their Great Arts Scenes
When is the best time to book an Airbnb to save money?
When to buy travel insurance and when to skip it
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