The host of Travel Channel’s Mysterious Islands, Kellee Edwards, recognizes that she has the coolest job in the world. Edwards is paid to discover remote corners of the globe and find rare cultural traditions. The host is not afraid to take on any challenge, from mountain climbing to skydiving.
Her broadcast journalism experience, her social media presence and her skillset – she is a certified scuba diver and a pilot – caught the eye of executives at the Travel Channel. “I never want to be looked at as a fraud,” Edwards tells Forbes. “Because I am such foreign concept for most people, I’ve always been an overachiever… since I’ve been young.”
The first African American woman to host a TV show on the network, Edwards is also only the second woman ever to have a program on the channel. “You have to do something that no one else is doing,” Edwards says. “I looked for things that weren’t being represented on TV and I did every single one of them and made it my brand.”
“The only reason I didn't get lost [in the travel space] is that I went to fly airplanes. I went to adventure travel…I go in the ocean as a black woman and people don't think we swim,” she adds. “You have to go in having confidence in yourself even if those around you don’t.”
As a child, Edwards took road trips to Hearst Castle, a national historic landmark located on the Central Coast of California and went camping in Big Bear near the rugged San Bernardino National Forest. She credits these early experiences with leading her to a career in travel.
Edwards' adventures may take her thousands of miles away or right next door. A trip to Sapelo Island, an 11-mile-long barrier island off the coast of Georgia, which is only accessible by boat or plane, brought her in touch with the Geechee people, direct descendants of West African slaves who were brought to America in the 1700s. “When I first arrived on Sapelo, I felt like I had taken a step back in time,” Edwards says. “Modern conveniences are nonexistent. They truly live off the land and sea.”
On another trip, she traveled 10,000 miles away to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where she visited a place called Tana Toraja. After a Torajan dies, their relatives embalm the body and keep it at home for months or years. They believe the deceased is not dead but sick. “Being able to physically see and interact with them helps with the grieving process.” In time, the body is laid to rest in an extravagant funeral ceremony. “To call it elaborate would be an understatement,” Edwards, who attended one such ritual, says. “It’s like nothing I could have imagined.”
The host says it’s about making the most of the experience, whether you are exploring an exotic locale or taking a trip into a nearby city. She says that “the adventure isn’t less if there isn’t the perfect Instagram picture.”
Edwards says that her goal is to upend the stereotypes associated with adventure travel. On a recent trip, the host, who is five-foot-three and weighs 120 pounds, had to reassure airport staff that she was in fact a pilot. “I am ok to take the stares and the jabs,” she says, believing she is breaking barriers for others who will follow in her footsteps.
Her philosophy is that “you only have one life,” therefore, she strives to make the most of it. Aside from hosting Mysterious Islands, Outside Magazine named Edwards "The Most Interesting Woman in the World" in 2018, which she found “incredibly exciting."
“I am a vessel for the masses to see," Edwards says. “I have to see what the world wants to show me.”