How I Roll: Samantha Brown, Emmy-winning TV host
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Welcome to How I Roll, TPG’s new airport routine series, covering everything from how jet-setters prep for a trip to what they wear on the plane.
We sat down with travel expert Samantha Brown, host of PBS’s two-time Emmy-winning series, “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love,” currently filming its fourth season. Her career has taken her to more than 250 cities in 74 countries and 44 of the United States.
SB: The last place I flew was to Dallas, Texas, for business. I was giving a speech to the Arlington tourism board.
TPG: What does your pre-travel to-do list entail? Do you have any must-do activities around the house before leaving?
SB: I have an extended pre-trip list. It starts a good four to five days before I’m about to leave. I’m seeing if my wardrobe is up to date, if it needs to be washed, dry-cleaned, hemmed, if my shoes need to be polished. It starts about a good week beforehand.
I make sure that I’ve got my car booked, that my itinerary’s all set, I know who’s picking me up, [if] I have to get there myself. And, like, Oh, wait a minute — do I know the hotel I’m staying at? Because sometimes I travel so much I don’t.
What I like to do is make sure I have tons of fives because that’s what I tip, whether it’s a housekeeper, a bellman — there’s nothing worse than having only a $20. I hate not being able to tip what I want right on the spot.
TPG: Do you pack ahead of time, or wait until the last second?
SB: I’m an early packer. I hate to pack the day of. And even the night before gives me a bit of anxiety, so I have my bags packed, ready to go a good 48 hours before I’m about to board the flight.
TPG: Are you an over- or underpacker?
SB: I’m an underpacker. I hate overpacking my luggage. I lay everything out and it’s kind of like an audition, my clothes. I’m picking who’s going to go and who’s not. And usually [I pack] pants I know I can wear two to even three times. I put in more tops than pants. And then I mix things up using scarves and belts to kind of create more of a day-to-night look.
Shoes are also my packing nemesis. I hate packing shoes. I know I’m doing really well when I’ve only brought three pairs of shoes and one of those pairs I’m actually wearing. So I’ll have the [shoes] that I’m wearing . . . then I’ll have a running sneaker and then maybe another pair of flats or something. I wear the most difficult shoe [to pack] on board. A lot of people wear their slip-on sneakers. And usually I wear whatever’s going to take up more room in my luggage because I’ve got either TSA PreCheck or something that I don’t have to take my shoes off.
TPG: What kind of suitcase do you carry?
SB: I carry my own because I have my own luggage line, but I carry a 22-inch hard case.
TPG: What are your carry-on essentials?
SB: I always have an oversized scarf. It’s actually called a blanket scarf because it’s the size of a blanket but it’s a thin, gauzy material. So I can wrap it around my neck if I’m cold, or around my shoulders if I’m cold. I can wrap it around an airplane pillow if I don’t want my head to touch that pillow. I can use it to clean the screen of my laptop and my phone. So for me it’s sort of like the Swiss Army knife of the fashion world. It has 101 different tools and it makes you look good.
I always have what I call pinky balls, which always get a few people’s eyebrows raised. It’s a toy that you get in a toy store and they’re about the size of tennis balls. And I work out my muscles with these balls. So I can lie on them and roll them down my back, roll them down my legs. And they just work out travel fatigue, being stuck on a plane for too long, just kind of being sedentary for too long.
And then I always carry some sort of snack, whether it’s a nut mix or I carry peanut butter. And with that I get an onslaught of people who hate me because people are allergic to peanut butter. But I carry it anyways because I love it and it’s my emergency snack. I always say you have to bring your own comfort on a plane and that’s what I find comforting.
TPG: What’s your go-to travel outfit?
SB: A pair of Columbia Saturday hiking pants. They’re awesome. I have them in every color and pattern that they make, and it’s mostly like a camouflage, so to be honest I look a little bad-ass. They’re extremely comfortable, they’re easy to wash out in the sink if I need to and just dry on a hook, and they still look sharp. They don’t look like a hiking pant. It actually looks like a nice pair of slacks in really cool camouflage patterns. They’re the best travel pant.
TPG: Do you get to the airport early or with just enough time to spare?
SB: I get there so early I could probably make two planes before. Twenty years I’ve been doing this; I still have a lot of anxiety. Am I going to make my flight? And I have to be on that flight. There’s no missing a flight for me. That doesn’t exist.
And I also live in New York City, so getting to the airport could be a half hour or an hour and a half. So every time I plan for that hour and a half and then I never stress about getting through security or anything like that. It doesn’t matter how long the line is, I know I’m good.
TPG: How do you kill time at the airport?
SB: I walk around a lot. I get exercise in, so I look around, I probably shop a little. I never go to a lounge even if I have access — sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I don’t like sitting around and just eating or having a drink. That just doesn’t speak to me. Even if it’s a long-haul flight I like to be up on my feet as long as I possibly can so I’m really tired when I get on the plane and I can just sleep.
TPG: What’s your preferred seat on a plane: window or aisle?
SB: I usually get the middle when I travel with my family and [have kids on] either side and that really is the best.
But I’m an aisle person. I like to have control. I like to get to the bathroom whenever I want. I don’t like to ask people to move. It’s actually less about control and more I just hate asking people to move. I like to have that option.
TPG: What’s your go-to inflight beverage?
SB: Club soda with a lime.
TPG: Would you rather work or relax during the flight?
SB: I like to work for the first hour or two hours. And then after that it doesn’t matter how much work I have, my brain goes to mush. There’s something about being in a fuselage that just completely knocks out all creativity you have, I find. So I have a very small window where I can actually be productive. And then after that, it’s like Entertainment Weekly and Us! magazine. I can only absorb, like, celebrity news.
TPG: What’s your IFE guilty pleasure?
SB: I have the strangest one probably possible: I love to watch movies but not from my own console. I will watch all the movies on all the other seats next to me and in front of me — I get hooked. So at any time I’ll have, like, a romcom going and then I’ll have a WWII thing happening. Liam Neeson is always somewhere on the back of a seat and I just get hooked. I just go back and forth. And even if I’m hooked on a movie I will never, ever put it on on my own seat. I have no idea why that is, but I love watching other people’s movies.
TPG: Overall, do you enjoy traveling?
SB: I love traveling and I actually love the airport — especially international ones. I like to look at the flight board and see where everyone’s going and kind of imagine where I could go from that plane. I think there’s something phenomenally romantic about being in transit – all these people from all around the world who are meeting in one place and then going other ways. I’ve just always loved the airport. Once I get past security.
TPG: How often are you on the road?
SB: For the past three years I’ve been on the road about 150 to 160 days out of the year.
TPG: Any travel pearls of wisdom or hacks?
SB: So this is where I’m a mom, because that changes everything. You are the easiest person in that airport when you are alone traveling. And when you’re traveling with kids it becomes a very different ball of wax.
One of the best things I’ve ever done with my kids when they were really young — I have twins — is that I did not use to preboard to put them on the plane. And my husband would go first and he would kind of set up shop, he’d use the preboard to get the seats ready — we had two car seats that had to be put in, secure the overhead space. But then I would wait until the very last person boarded the flight. And then I’d walk on and put the kids on and we’d leave in 10 minutes. And that just kind of took them away from the really stressful part.
The boarding of a flight is the most stressful part of any trip, whether you’re at your destination or not. There’s a tremendous amount of stress in those 45 minutes. And then it goes away. So I want to make sure my kids aren’t subjected to that stress.
Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
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