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So What Do You Do, Darley Newman, Travel Host and Producer?

'I was charged by an elephant -- it had me questioning my entire career!'

By Amanda Layman Low - April 16, 2014
If your dream job involves climbing trees 11 stories high and rappelling down waterfalls, you'll be inspired by Darley Newman, whose profession as a TV host and producer has enabled her to do both these things and more. Newman's approach to travel is unique: by exploring landscapes on horseback and connecting personally with locals, she reveals hidden corners of the world and advises her audience on how to recreate these experiences in their travels. She's currently producing three shows: Travels with Darley at AOL On Originals, Travel Like the Locals with Darley on ulive, a Scripps network site, and Equitrekking, her ongoing series that broadcasts on PBS in 82 countries. When she's not filming or planning her next global adventure, Newman writes for travel pubs and keeps up her website. You may have seen this smart, spirited traveler on your TV screen, so now here's a backstage glimpse at her "daily grind" -- if you can call it that!

Name: Darley Newman
Position: TV host, writer, producer and entrepreneur
Resume: Host, producer and creator of the Emmy-winning PBS series Equitrekking, which debuted in New Mexico in 2006 and nationally in 2007. Author of the series' companion travel book, Equitrekking: Travel Adventures on Horseback, published by Chronicle Books in 2008. Recently launched two Web series: Travels with Darley on AOL On Originals and Travel Like the Locals with Darley on ulive.
Birthday: December 21
Hometown: Washington, D.C., but grew up in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Education: The George Washington University
Marital status: Married
Media mentor: Susan Zirinsky, senior executive producer for 48 Hours
Best career advice received: "You're always going to have to work hard to be a success, even when you've 'made it.'"
Last book read: On the Trail of Genghis Khan by Tim Cope
Twitter handle: @darleynewman

What led you into broadcasting work -- and to focus on travel?
I've always been a creative type of person. I made movies when I was a kid and made everyone in the neighborhood be in them. I actually went into electronic media at George Washington University in D.C. I worked as a camera person for a summer in South Carolina and for a radio news service doing reporting, so I was kind of doing all things media. I just found that [broadcasting] was a really neat medium to work in and explore because I was always meeting new people and doing something interesting.

And I love traveling. In high school, I studied abroad for a summer in Spain and lived with a family and attempted to learn Spanish. That trip was just so amazing, and it opened my eyes to just how much of the world I didn't know about. Not only learning a new language, but growing in confidence; everything was eye-opening. After that trip, I just really wanted to see as much of the world as I could.

Do you have a defining moment in your early career when things really got rolling, a big break?
Really, getting our show on PBS and airing nationally was probably a huge turning point. It started because I had what I thought was a great idea, which is "Equitrekking," or seeing the world with the locals on horseback and getting to these beautiful natural places. I hadn't really produced an entire show by myself, so I wasn't sure what to do. But I really searched for an outlet that I thought I could work with and would actually take something from us starting out, and that was a small niche network that's not even around anymore called Horse TV.

"My dream was I just wanted to get one episode to air nationally, and we started producing more [until] we actually had a series."

We went to them and they said, "If you can get sponsors, we'll air it." So I actually sought out sponsors and was able to get them to do this pilot episode. Then I took that episode and also went to the local PBS station and did a test run, and grew it from there. So it wasn't like I just started out and it happened all at once; it was step by step. My dream was I just wanted to get one episode to air nationally, and we started producing more [until] we actually had a series.

In your Web series, you connect with locals to find destinations off the beaten path. How does the process work?
It's really interesting, from doing this over the years, I have a network of fellow travelers. A lot of them are actually writers that travel all the time, some of them are retired and this is what they do, and some people work a 9-to-5 job but always make time to travel. So I do a lot of networking and talking with people through social media, but also through traditional means and through friends, to find these great places to go and then pinpoint locals to work with.

For instance, I've been writing a column for Practical Horseman Magazine for the past five years, and my editor there had gone to Botswana. She'd done all these really awesome safaris, and she introduced me to some of the different places she'd been, and I was like, "Oh my gosh, we have to do that trip!" So we filmed two episodes in Botswana and actually went to some places she [hadn't gone] as well.

What does your work day look like?
Obviously when we're traveling it's so hectic because the days are packed. We're basically filming as long as daylight exists, which when we went to Iceland was a problem because it was during the summer, so it was light 24 hours a day!

For instance, a half-hour episode is usually five days of filming. And then there [are] travel days interspersed or at the beginning or end of that, and depending on how much jet lag we have to deal with, a lot of times we'll cover a whole state or various parts of a country.

"When we finish filming, we're reviewing where we've filmed and trying to figure out if we need to change anything up to complete the story -- because like any show, we're trying to tell really good stories."

When we finish filming, we're off and reviewing where we've filmed, and trying to figure out where else we want to go and if we need to change anything up to complete the story -- because like any show, we're trying to tell really good stories. So that's part of it.

At home, I write. I run various websites, is one, and I do writing for a bunch of other publications. Every day is totally different, and that makes it exciting.

Can you tell me about a time when filming got exceptionally hectic?
We were filming in Hawaii, and we had a series of natural disasters that we had to deal with. I was in my first earthquake when we were staying in this house [in Hilo] that was basically made of all screens. And then we had a few more days of filming and a hurricane was coming in. We had to pretty much change our entire schedule. So we ended up leaving that part of the island and going early to Waimea and trying to figure out what to film there. Then we were on a ranch [in Waimea] and there was a wildfire on the neighboring ranch. Another day, we were in the Valley of Kings, which is one of the lowest points on the Big Island, and there was a tsunami warning. We were like, we cannot win on the Big Island! It turned out to be amazing in the end, but it was kind of comical because I felt like everywhere we turned, nature was against us.

So which are your favorite places to visit?
I really liked Jordan. We went and explored the Bedouin Desert and Petra, which is a dream travel destination. And the people we met there were so genuine and welcoming. I actually rode with the Bedouin in the Wadi Rum desert and had an amazing experience.

I loved Turkey, I've been back to Cappadocia, we've filmed there twice actually, and that's another place where we just met these amazing local people. One guy in particular who was an expert on history took us around to underground cities. We rode to these small villages that not a lot of tourists visit.

And I love Ireland just because it's so beautiful and diverse, and it's accessible, and the people are so nice. That's definitely a common element to a lot of those places that we really like: we meet these amazing people.

"Pursue something that you love, something you want to spend time on, because you really do have to immerse yourself in what you're doing to be a success."

We definitely luck out, but I think people around the world are open to sharing their culture and who they are, and they do take pride in where they live and their history and background. So, if as a traveler, you're open to learning about those things, I think you'll find that locals are generally open to sharing that with you.

What's the scariest thing that's happened to you on your travels?
I was charged by an elephant -- it had me questioning my entire career! We were in the Okavango Delta, which is the largest inland delta in the world. It's a great place to explore because there's so much wildlife; it's pristine and beautiful and very exotic. We were riding horses, which is a good way to travel, because you can go from island to island, pass through water, and really get into the interior part of these places where there are no trails.

We happened upon this one island where there was an elephant who didn't want us there. He was eating jackal berries or something, and I guess he didn't want us to get near his stash. So we were crossing over, we were kind of parallel to him, and I was like, 'I think he's coming towards us!' And sure enough, he charged us, but it was a mock charge.

Our guide had said whatever you do, do what I do. And he knew it was a mock charge, so we basically had a standoff for about 15 seconds until the elephant backed off. I was shaking almost to death, and my horse was shaking too, but I had an amazing mount that had been in that situation before, which was lucky, so I was glad I had chosen that horse. It was really close, I mean, like 10 yards or something. It was close!

Is there any advice you'd give to aspiring travel journalists or TV producers?
Take aspects of whatever you do that you really have a passion for, then the work that you produce is going to be something that other people will be drawn to. Just pursue something that you love, something you want to spend time on, because you really do have to immerse yourself, and your life, in what you're doing to be a success.

Also, working hard, going after what you want and not taking 'no' for an answer is so important. It is a big world and there are lots of new opportunities nowadays, and different ways you can get there. You don't necessarily have to take the traditional route anymore, and I think that is something that everybody should be aware of. If you're creative, you can find a way to make what you want to do a success, or at least give it a great try.

Amanda Layman Low is a freelance writer and artist. Contact her on Twitter @AmandaLaymanLow.

NEXT >> Hey, How'd You Get a Travel Channel Show Reviewing Fast Food, Daymon "Daym" Patterson?

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The foregoing is the sole property of Mediabistro Inc. The opinions and views expressed in the interviews and/or commentaries are solely those of the participants and are not necessarily the views of Mediabistro Inc., its affiliates or subsidiary companies.

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