This TV Host Says People Forget One Crucial Thing While on Vacation

(Bloomberg) -- At Bloomberg Pursuits, we love to travel. And we always want to make sure we’re doing it right. So we’re talking to road warriors to learn about their high-end hacks, tips and off-the-wall experiences. These are the  Distinguished Travel Hackers .

Ernest White II is the host of Fly Brother, a travel docuseries that first aired on PBS in 2020 and is currently in its third season. In every episode, White aims to show that travel is all about friendship and connection around the world—he takes viewers along as he meets with local friends who bring him into their communities and show him what they love about the place. 

Season 3 of Fly Brother began airing in April and takes White to locales that span the globe from Brisbane, Australia, to St. Croix in the Caribbean. In Delhi, he meets with a fellow producer friend who teaches him how to play cricket. A tour guide pal takes him to a women’s crafts cooperative for a traditional sanjhi art paper workshop, where he learns to design a greeting card with intricate motifs.

“We show the audience that the whole world is our tribe,” says White, founder of Fly Brother, the travel site that inspired the series. “It really is about connecting with the people and realizing that we all want the same things in life, no matter where we’re from.”

A native Floridian, White loved experiencing cultures close to home as a kid before venturing abroad. His first meaningful international travel experience, aside from a family trip to the Bahamas, was a six-week stint in Sweden while in high school. It was “utterly different,” White explains, from his childhood in Jacksonville. He has since visited 72 countries and lived in seven. 

Fly Brother reflects what White says he’s brought back with him from the places he visits: friendships. Despite early bumps in producing the show due to the pandemic, Fly Brother has resonated with audiences and won recognition, including in the Telly Awards and Annual Public Media Awards. 

“I think we’ve made some sort of an impact, because I’m still the only Black and openly gay host of travel on national broadcast television,” he says. “It kind of lends itself to that storytelling that we do—the connections that we make and the idea that we all belong out in the world.”

From his past decades of travel, plus producing and hosting a global travel show, White has learned to prioritize rest—he figures out how to get a premium cabin upgrade as soon as he’s booked a flight, or at least he tries. Now a resident of Vancouver, he also swears by Air Canada because it offers the most flights out of his hometown.

Here are a few of White’s travel hacks.

 Bringing along a good-luck charm can help you stay grounded.I often carry some sort of stone with me when I travel. Sometimes, it’s a cream-colored howlite bracelet that a friend gifted me in Canada. Other times, it’s a lovely green-and-yellow pounamu pendant that another friend got me in New Zealand. There’s something calming and powerful about carrying a piece of earth hewn by humans with me as I travel the planet. I love the idea that Earth and humans are co-creators of this world. Often in the air you’re not grounded, and it really allows me the opportunity to feel connected, even if subconsciously. 

The best kind of hotel bridges tradition with modern amenities.The Paradox Hotel in Vancouver really surprised me. It reminded me of a very classy grand hotel in a city, but it was still edgy with a lot of high-tech accoutrements in the room. The staff knew how to engage—their customer service was phenomenal. It’s modern, but it's got an old-school vibe when it comes to customer satisfaction that I appreciate.  

Don’t overlook flying into small airports—it can be exhilarating.Santos Dumont in Rio de Janeiro is my favorite airport. It’s tiny, it’s lovely, and it’s from that early generation of airports that are close to cities and have these thrilling landings and departures because of their location, usually on a bay.

If you’re flying into Santos Dumont, depending on the routing and your seat, you’ll get to see all of the major iconic sites like Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugar Loaf Mountain. It’s like Reagan National Airport in the US, where they’re like slamming on brakes as soon as they land. It’s exciting.  

White’s travel ritual upon arrival is one thing people often forget. When arriving in a new place, it’s finding coffee. But also just looking to relax. When I get to my hotel, I take my shoes off and really just ground myself because there is a lot of energetic agitation coming through airports these days.

Being nice is still underrated.Speak to people. There’s so much “not seeing each other,” and it’s exacerbated by phones in people’s hands. I’m not saying we have to be besties. I’m saying we are all here together—there are existential threats to our humanity, like climate change, that are calling us to engage as a global community. Engaging with people deeply is what I really want everybody to start doing. 

Smiling and saying good morning to the person that’s serving our coffee or food—that’s where we start, with these little interactions. I was taught that as a kid in the American South, at church. And it makes it more enjoyable for me when I’m traveling if I’m nice to other people; it gives me a nicer experience. It’s better for not only getting what you need but also just leaving with a sense of like, “OK, that was a decent day, that was a humane interaction.” I think right now with travel being so ... you know, kind of agitated, it’s essential.

Language helps to connect with others, but it’s not essential.One of the most interesting people I’ve ever encountered was a man in a shared taxi in Tajikistan. (I didn’t know then it was a shared taxi.) I was on assignment for a travel guidebook company and en route from Dushanbe to the town of Tojikobod, when the driver stopped to pick this man up. He might have been in his late-50s, with a short, white beard and wearing a traditional Central Asian toque. After greeting us both, he immediately started asking the driver about me. I heard the word “journalist.”  

The man was then trying to communicate with me in Tajik and then Russian, but I don’t speak either of those. Either way, there was this connection, and we wanted to engage with one another. I tried to explain that I was looking for a hotel, and I think he wasn’t having any of that. I just went along for the ride at a certain point. He took me to get food; I tried to take out money, and he waved that away. We tried to communicate and just really kind of derive meaning from our interactions. Not a single word of English was exchanged between us the entire time.  

I ended up spending the night at his house, enjoying a modest and delicious feast with his family. The next morning we woke up, and he had on this amazing coat—black corduroy on the outside, and on the inside, a beautiful flower lining. He let me put it on to take some photos, and I left with an amazing series of images taken in this stylish Tajik coat.

Speaking of Tajikistan ... What I experienced in Tajikistan is exactly why people should visit. The Tajik people are not the most smiley in the world, but they are generally warm and welcoming with a complex history. They were at the center of the world during the Silk Road era, then were relegated to the edges of the Russian and Soviet empires.

Hang out in Dushanbe—eat plov, a rice dish that is incredibly filling, and visit the market and get dried apricots and nuts—they’re healthy and delicious.

The mountainous landscapes are striking and otherworldly. Visit Castle Karon—a 3,000-year-old citadel some 12,000 feet above the River Panj (which forms part of the border with Afghanistan) that’s one of antiquity’s hidden treasures. It’s not a day trip, but there are some tour companies that you can connect with. The ruins of this medieval castle sit on the former Silk Road; you can go up by juk into the mountains. It’s called the Machu Picchu in Central Asia.  

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