Interview: Darley Newman of “Equitrekking” and “Travels with Darley”
Darley Newman, star and creator of the PBS travel series Equitrekking and Travels with Darley, will appear at the AAA Great Vacations Travel Expo in Downtown Columbus this weekend. In this edited interview, Newman shares with Columbus Underground some thoughts about choosing travel destinations and how to get the most out of a journey.
Jesse Bethea: Can you tell me a little bit about what you plan on sharing with people in Columbus?
Darley Newman: It is gonna be fun, I can tell you that. I’ve been traveling the world since…2008 with my series Equitrekking and I have another series, Travels with Darley. I’ve gone everywhere from Botswana, Africa to Ireland, South America, kind of all over, so I’m going to share some of the more unique experiences that may not be on people’s radar. Including some fun kind of videos that we’ve shot as we’ve traveled the world, hopefully giving people tips on things that they can do themselves and maybe some things that they won’t want to do…
JB: You can answer this in the context of if you’re going to a place for one of your shows or if you’re going to a place just for your own personal enjoyment, but how do you choose where you want to go?
DN: Well personally I have, I mean, I want to see as much of the world as possible. But the choices that I make for my own travel are probably similar to what I do for the show. I mean, I’m trying to locate destinations that I think are interesting, maybe that are a little more off the beaten path sometimes, or more undiscovered, and that can even be within a city.
When we went to Hong Kong, I did a lot of food stuff which everybody does when they go to Hong Kong, but also did some hiking and actually rode bikes through the suburbs of Hong Kong which I don’t think a lot of people do. And there’s organized tours that lead travelers to these different excursions, you just have to know where to look for them and where to find them. So I try to find things that, even if you know the place, there’s a unique spin on it because I think that provides people with something a little different and something memorable.
We always try to participate with local people, so I find local guides that I think would represent the area well but also give insight into, again, something unique and different about the area.
JB: Does it change things when you’re planning a trip like this if you’re just going for yourself versus if you’re going for a show?
DN: Not really, except that I’m not going as fast as I do when we’re filming for our show. I mean, we pack so much in each day when we’re filming because it’s like the expression is “you’re burning daylight.” You want to try and get as much in, and you probably know from being in the journalism field, when you’re in a place you want to capture as much as possible.
So I don’t go at that pace necessarily when I’m traveling for pleasure, which I haven’t done as much as of late either. But I still do similar activities, like I went to Florence, Italy about a year and a half ago with just some girlfriends on a vacation, it was a friend’s wedding. And we did a Vespa tour, which was kind of cool and different, and just looked for things that were maybe not your typical things to do there.
JB: What’s a mistake that people most often make when planning a trip to somewhere new?
DN: I think not doing enough research is probably a big one. I mean, there’s easy ways to book trips now and you can certainly find something fast and book it, but I think it’s important to do some due diligence on the destination, and if you can, get a referral from someone who’s been. That’s where I think there is still good room for travel shows like ours, because we’re actually visiting the place, you can even see the footage.
I think that’s important because people have such limited vacation time in general now and it really means a lot to take a vacation, you spend a lot of money, it’s your vacation time, so just making sure you do that good research and hopefully you can find a personal referral, whether it’s from a friend or if you actually do get to see something about it more in depth.
JB: I was reading an article recently about people who go on religious pilgrimages and things like that and they come back disappointed, either because there’s lots of crowds or they sort of built it up in their minds and it didn’t live up to that. Does that ever happen to you or do you have ways of avoiding that?
DN: It’s interesting, I’ve read studies and seen documentation that like a large percentage of people’s happiness factor in actually taking a trip or vacation is in the planning and the dreaming and thinking about it, you actually gain a lot of your satisfaction from that aspect of it. So I think there’s definitely a danger in being let down because you built something up in your mind.
I mean, I’ve definitely gone to places that I’ve been surprised about. A lot of places I’m surprised about, it’s because there really was not a lot of information on some of the destinations. Which sometimes I’m surprised in a good way, sometimes I’m just surprised and wish I’d been more prepared for X, Y and Z. Like, we did the rainforest, we went to the interior part of Belize and stayed at a lot of different places and did a lot of outdoor adventure stuff, and I will tell you I was not prepared for the heat. It was so hot. So I would definitely be telling people a little bit more about that, and the bugs, like I’ve always got my bug stuff but I was like, this is another level.
JB: How do you personally document your own personal experience while you’re traveling?
DN: I write the shows that we’re doing and do the research and do a lot of the planning, I mean I do a lot on our shows in general, and so when we’re out there filming I do take notes in my iPhone actually, in a notes area. I record something separately that I want, maybe where I’m talking to someone and we’re not filming it because we’re not running the camera like, 24/7, so I actually take some voice memo notes as well, and then I think photos are a really good way, I mean I’ll take notes through photos now. If I’m in a museum and I see something interesting I’ll take a photo of it. So I think that’s a good way that technology…can really help you remember stuff better on your travels.
JB: How do you find a balance between what to photograph and document and what to experience for yourself in the moment?
DN: That’s a hard one, because I really like to document a lot of stuff. You know, there’s just a time to shut down and I think…I just do it kind of organically as we’re filming, if I get lost in the moment, I get lost in the moment and I just kind of roll with it in that way. And you know, when we’re filming it’s very conversational, so I’m actually having a real conversation with someone, it’s not, it’s just not pre-scripted or planned necessarily. So in that way I think you can just kind of get lost, like you get lost in a conversation with a friend. So I find that to be a way that I kind of do really enjoy, even though I’m working, I really enjoy that aspect of it.
JB: What do you think is an effective way to learn about a place or a culture or a society that people sort of forget about or overlook?
DN: I think talking to people is the best way. I mean, observing can be good too if there’s a language barrier, but just engaging in general, and not necessarily like, again, documenting everything through your iPhone, but actually connecting with someone. I think talking to them is the best way, but if there is a language barrier, you know, looking into their eyes and really like, connecting with the people that you meet as you’re traveling, and that’s what you’re going to remember the most as well.
JB: How much research do you do into cultural aspects of places you’re going to visit before you go?
DN: I do a lot of research in general. I do research on the culture and the history, as much as I can. I definitely will say there are areas where I still find that I can’t find the information, which I think people would find surprising in this day when we have all this stuff online and there’s information everywhere. But it still happens, which I like, because it feels like I’m uncovering something that people maybe will want to know about.
Everywhere you can find interesting stories if you take the time to just look a little bit. But I try to read, try to find actual books that people have written, I like memoirs, I like to, if I can, try to get a little deeper and if that information is out there, try to find it. It just gives another texture and another level to the place and the people.
JB: What’s something that people obsess a little bit about when traveling that you find doesn’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of things?
DN: I think people…maybe go over the edge on ticking off boxes. Like if you’re going to go to Paris you need to see these certain things. And I think to enjoy a trip the most you don’t necessarily have to do that. I really am an advocate of doing a little bit of wandering if you can, and actually you might want to schedule that as well.
JB: Schedule some wandering time?
DN: Yeah, schedule in some wandering time, I have time in this area to just explore and soak it in and even if you just sit down somewhere and watch what’s going on. You can be on a hike in the woods or in a city, just taking the time to soak in that atmosphere is a good thing as opposed to running from one thing to the next because you think you need to get a picture there or you have to do that one thing because you don’t.
JB: Is there anything about Columbus that you would like to see or learn while you’re here?
DN: So I have been to Columbus once, and I was actually there a couple of years ago to speak at Equine Affaire. I’m excited to try the food, because that’s just something I like to do. I like to try something from the area when I’m traveling to a new place. Meeting local people is always on my agenda, but I am actually…I’m going to do like a craft session with a local artist, which I’m kind of excited about.
I really like meeting entrepreneurs when I travel. I started my own business, I started these shows, I know how hard it is and I think it’s just a really cool thing to do and it gives you a sense of the place. Especially when you look at like, what businesses are popping up in different cities, whether it’s food trucks or the arts or whatever it is, it gives you another dimension to that place so I’m kind of excited to see what that is in Columbus.
The Great Vacations Travel Expo runs from Friday to Sunday at the Greater Columbus Convention Center this weekend. Darley Newman can be seen there Friday at 3 p.m. and on Saturday at noon.
All photos via DCN Creative / Travels with Darley.