In this edition of Celebrity Travel Addicts, we speak with award-winning journalist, explorer, writer, producer, and TV host Kinga Philipps of the new hit Travel Channel series Lost in the Wild. We chat with Kinga about how her love of travel began, the travel mysteries she and her co-host J.J. Kelley take on in Lost in the Wild, some of the most impactful moments she’s had while exploring the world, and much more. Learn why she finds Travel Channel shows such a joy to work on and find out where she’s off to next!
How did your passion for travel get started?
I was a backpack baby…meaning my parents were big travelers and adventurers and that didn’t stop when I was born. My dad is a geologist and my mom a pharmacist with an emphasis in botany…she can tell you the Latin name of every plant…and my childhood was spent camping, hiking and wandering the forests and mountains of Poland. They were adamant about teaching me the importance of wildlife, culture, and nature in general. Their passions became my passions. I’m a firm believer that what you introduce your kids to at a young age is what really defines their passions as adults. So to answer the question….I’ve never really known otherwise but to want to travel, explore, experience and wander. A few years ago I wrote this blog post [Chapter Sixteen: Dear Parents on Kinga’s blog] and it sits with me as, out of all my writing, one of the most personal and heartfelt things I’ve ever shared.
What does travel mean to you? Why do you feel it’s important?
Travel is the ultimate teacher of not only what’s out there on his marvelous planet of ours, but also what’s inside of us. Nothing will give you more of a personal lesson in self-development, crisis management, overcoming obstacles, stepping out of your comfort zone, connection to foreign cultures, exposing oneself to new experiences in a way that works for you, setting goals, finding a balance to life, self stewardship, finding small bits of routine in ever-evolving environments, taking in moments of awe and cataloging them in your repertoire of life experience, logistical planning and the ultimate ability to be present in the moment than travel. When I meet people I can immediately tell those who venture into the world regularly and those who do not.
You’ve worked on several projects for the Travel Channel over the years. What makes them such a great network to collaborate with on quality programming?
Other than being a platform for travel-oriented programming I believe that a mark of a great boss is to hire great people…and that is something Travel Channel does well. The first few series I did for Travel Channel were produced in house by an executive named Jim Morley. Jim was the kind of dream producer worth his weight in gold. He was cinematic in his directing, let moments breathe, wanted to make the viewing experience visceral and compelling for the audience. He wasn’t the fast-paced, smash cut, bump in the night spooky show guy….he was an artist pulling out the richness of a place and digging deep into stories. Together we incorporated the five senses into our episodes and sought to show the comprehensive quintessence of a place, its people, its uniqueness and its layers.
The most recent show, Lost in the Wild, is produced by Ping Pong Productions. They are the gold standard of making travel series that are both compelling and entertaining. Our executive producer, Brea Tisdale, along with Casey and Brad who run PPP and developed the show, are magnificent forces of nature whose vision for this project is for it to be a completely different series with a unique creative structure and style. We all worked hard to give LITW a breath of fresh air in a TV space that often recycles the same concepts. I am grateful beyond words to have this team of extraordinary humans behind our show who know how to make a smart series that combines solid storytelling with exotic locations and allows us to do what we enjoy doing. Every member of our team, from the cameramen to our sound, to the fantastic producers and researchers is top-notch and passionate about the integrity of the show.
You have a new show on the Travel Channel called Lost in the Wild, which you co-host with JJ Kelley. Can you please tell us a bit about the show?
Lost in the Wild is essentially an investigative true crime podcast come to life. It’s a bit like Unsolved Mysteries meets Indiana Jones. The ever-talented J.J. Kelley (Nat Geo Explorer, Emmy nominated filmmaker, expert outdoorsman, Explorers Club fellow) and I investigated the cases of people who have gone missing or lost their lives somewhere deep in exotic locations. We traveled to far-flung places all over the world, hiked for days in several cases, to follow in the final footsteps of these adventurers who never returned home to seek clues to what may have happen to them. What attracted me to the project is, unlike much of what is on TV these days, it’s the first of its kind. I’ve never seen anything like it in terms of storytelling, content, visually creative, style…all of it. Our EP and team worked hard for the show to have integrity and be a real process in investigation and story. We wanted to be authentic and also put our audience in the shoes of those who went missing….experiencing the environment how they may have on their final journey. Production really let J.J. and I and explore and do what curiosity led us towards. We tried to push the envelope because we felt compelled to be as authentic to the stories as possible and put ourselves in the mental and physical space that our missing persons were in. There is researching a story and then there is living a story. When you follow the process it gives you great new insights you might not have had otherwise.
On Lost in the Wild, you and JJ set out to solve mysteries involving travelers who have died or gone missing while exploring remote locations. Which case did you find the most intriguing? What is the most challenging aspect of trying to piece together what happened to these travelers?
Despite the fact that we were telling stories of missing persons in the wild, each and every story was as unique as the individuals we were documenting. Each account held so many layers and puzzle pieces that brought the story and the person to life making them relatable and real. It was our greatest desire to have immense integrity in telling these stories, many of them as recent as just a few months. For me personally, as a female who has spent her life traveling, often solo, several of the cases hit very close to home. Our first episode which took place in Panama, and followed two Dutch women who vanished and died in the wilderness, was particularly heartbreaking for me. I have done many, many hikes in my life solo or with one other friend. Their story could very easily have been mine. It was also a story that didn’t have as many red flags as some of the others. Often, in hindsight, you see these stories like a scary movie thinking, “No don’t do that!” or “Why didn’t you do this!” In this case, outside of not telling anyone which hike they were going on the day of their departure, the girls didn’t make many glaring errors in judgment. They took a well known and well-traveled trail in the middle of the day….and then they were gone.
The most challenging and interesting aspect of putting together the puzzle pieces of these stories is getting into the mindset of our missing persons and the unique aspects of each location. It’s more than just looking at the clues. It’s really about creating a comprehensive character profile of them, their companions (if any), the culture and sensibilities of the region, the environment, even the local folklore. Each case is different and you have to build out this story that includes all the elements to fully start to understand the who, what, where, when and why of each mystery.
In your travels, you’ve had lots of wild and interesting experiences in odd and fascinating locations around the world. What has been the single most special or most impactful moment you’ve had while exploring the world?
Holy moly that’s a great but absolutely impossible question to answer. My brain just exploded cycling through all the marvelous experiences I’ve had. On the moments of awe side of things, my sister and I rented a camper van and made our way around the whole of Iceland. We made the trip in April and pretty much had the country to ourselves. We looked up GPS coordinates for remote hot pots (natural hot springs) and did a scavenger hunt to find as many as we could along our route. We were alone in each and everyone sitting on the edges of waterfalls and in tucked-away corners of remote Fjords with northern lights overhead. One of our highlights was getting to the inflow to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and watching massive icebergs crash into each other. The sound was otherworldly. I remember thinking, ”Oh man, the Titanic didn’t stand a chance.”
Another highlight was eating dinner at our camp in Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe and turning around to a pride of five lions attacking a cape buffalo 30 feet behind us. That night the cacophony of deep, guttural lion roars permeated our tents until morning.
On the flip side of things I have found piles of plastic trash in the most “pristine” and remote places. It’s brutally heartbreaking to venture to a far-removed island chain with no inhabitants and find knee-high plastic washed up on the beach. Seeing the pressure we put on this planet is pretty painfully impactful.
How many days/weeks do you travel in any given year? What types of places do you like to visit?
It’s different every year depending on work and play. This year I was on the road for seven months between Lost in the Wild, the Enslaved documentary series for EPIX and my own personal adventures. I’m also a glutton for experience so when we go to magnificent places for work, I always try to tack on a few extra days to really immerse myself.
I gravitate toward the exotic and off-grid. I love critters and the ocean so anytime I can jump in the water or hang out with wildlife I’m a kid in a candy store. Diving is a passion and I love sharks, so places like the Galapagos are my happy place.
What do you want audiences to gain and learn from your work?
Whatever compels them to go out and have their own experiences. I hope each person walks away from one of my shows or articles thinking not “oh she’s cool,” but “oh if she can do it I can too.” That’s the trick…just do it. Book that ticket, go on that trip…don’t have anyone to go with you? Go alone. This planet is pretty damn epic but you’re not going to see it and experience it authentically unless you make the choice to.
What are the top three destinations you’ve visited?
Again, mind blown. I have to say if you are a nature person the Galapagos Islands are phenomenal. Animals want to crawl into your lap, literally.
Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe was unreal in terms of biodiversity and proximity to animals. They do walking safaris there which is rare so you get to be part of the ecosystem rather than just an observer from a vehicle.
Iceland is mind-boggling in terms of extremes…it’s the land of fire and ice. Pretty much the whole place looks like a Hollywood built movie set.
Give us your ‘Top 5’ list for one of your top 3 destinations. Like a mini-guide or a to-do list of sorts. In can be anything from your favorite hotel, the best place to have lunch, the best sightseeing, etc.
- Stay at Johns Camp Safari…holy moly this place was authentic and awesome. Incredible service, food, the location was out of this world and the guides were amazing. Sunsets from camp are world-class too.
- Go track lions with a guide. We spent a day following a pride of lions. The trackers were so experienced they could tell when the lions were casually walking or stalking. We finally found them over a kill and watched them for hours.
- Go fishing at sunset in the Zambezi River with sundowners in hand as hippos bellow all around and you occasionally have to move away as a family of elephants wanders through.
- Find a watering hole where all the animals gather and elephant families come to drink and roll in the mud. Look for Boswell, the famous elephant who stands on his back legs to tear down leaves from trees. He is usually surrounded by a group of elephants waiting to eat what falls.
- Mana Pools National Park is also a self dive and self camp area. If you know what you’re doing you can spend a few days on your own camping the park and sitting around campfires as lions roar and elephants grunt all around. To walk the park you need to hire a guide for safety but you can drive all the dirt roads yourself.
How many countries have you visited so far?
I have actually never counted. Not nearly enough!
What are your top 3 favorite cuisines?
Coastal…seafood. Mostly fresh caught fish prepared over a coconut fire.
What is your favorite restaurant in the world? What dish do you recommend there?
Baba’s Kitchen, Ho Chi Minh City
274 Bui Vien | Pham Ngu Lao, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City 700000, Vietnam
+84 28 3838 6661
Best Indian food I’ve ever had. We rolled out of there, went home, and ate the leftovers. I recommend coming hungry and eating whatever you fancy because it’s all delicious.
What is your favorite travel movie?
Out of Africa
What is your favorite international airport?
I’ve slept and run full speed through most of them. Honest answer here….As much as I love travel, I find airports to be painfully impersonal, chaotic and unfriendly these days….so my pick is the red dirt airstrip at Mana Pools where bush planes land, when then strip is clear of wildlife that is, and you get picked up by guides in Land Cruisers.
Which city had the friendliest people?
Cambodia as a whole had such lovely and kind people.
Who is your favorite travel companion?
I have two:
My sister, Julia. She is totally laid back, up for anything and funny.
My boyfriend Marc is the most efficient MacGyver of a human being I’ve ever met. He could whittle me 40 foot yacht out of a tree branch.
What is the best way to kill time while traveling?
I never like to kill time as we only get so much of it, but if I have some down time I like to be in water…free diving, sitting in a hot spring, playing in a lake. Water relaxes me.
What is the most exotic place your career has taken you?
AHHHHHH so many. Remote villages in Suriname, Socorro off Mexico to dive with sharks and mantas, trekking into the Himalayas in India, exploring mountain tops in Jordan….
What is your best bit of travel advice for someone who wants to, or is about to, embark on a life of travel?
Just do it. Truly, it’s as simple as that. Also, keep your sense of humor on high at all times.
What are 4 things you could never travel without?
- A cell phone…not because I need to be in constant contact but because I love taking pictures, and I make constant notes about things that fascinate me throughout the day and then research them at night. To tag onto this one, I have a Kraken dive housing case for my phone and it’s what I take all my underwater photos with.
- A good knife. No matter the brand…obviously go for quality…but it’s one of the most useful tools you can have. Remember to put it in your checked luggage or it will get confiscated.
- Health and Wellness products: Banana Bags: They are easy to carry electrolyte and vitamin hydrating packets a friend turned me onto that are magic for long days, jet lag, time in the sun and all else. Wellness Formula: (you can find it on Amazon and at Whole Foods). Awesome natural blend of herbs and such to keep you healthy. Oregano oil: Get it organic and take a few drops in water if you feel crappy. Sunscreen: I use Avasol. It’s all natural, reef safe and works.
- No matter where you are, you need to have gear that will keep you safe from the elements. Good socks ( I love Smart Wool…REI), a rain coat, a warm jacket, gloves, base layers, a hat.
What is your ultimate dream destination?
Right now I have a few.
I want to explore the southern island of New Zealand by camper van. I want to go to Greenland and free dive next to an iceberg and I want to swim with Orcas.
What is your favorite travel quote?
“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.” – Jack London
Where are you headed next?
Next week I have to go to Atlanta, Georgia for a month so I am going to road trip from Los Angeles, can camp along the way and see our newest National Park…White Sands in New Mexico.
Never one to sit still, Lost in the Wild host Kinga Philipps has tested herself for the past 19 years by traveling the globe…scuba diving, free diving, spear fishing, surfing, jumping out of airplanes, spelunking and swimming with sharks as a writer, producer and on-camera journalist for networks such as CBS, NBC, ABC, USA, AMC, Travel Channel, Fox Sports, Universal Sports, Food Network, Current TV, Syfy, EPIX and National Geographic. Being born into a family of explorers in Warsaw, Poland, she had no chance of becoming anything other than the adventurous, world-wandering, storytelling soul she grew up to be. From her work as an on-air journalist on Al Gore’s Current TV to her work on SyFy’s Legend Quest, Nat Geo’s America’s Lost Treasures, and Travel Channel’s The Wild Side with Kinga Philipps and now Lost in the Wild, Kinga’s work has been varied and has taken her to the farthest reaches of the globe.
New episodes of Kinga’s new series Lost in the Wild can currently be seen on Sunday nights at 11 p.m. Eastern/Pacific on the Travel Channel. You can learn more about upcoming Lost in the Wild episodes here. Learn more about Kinga Philipps by checking out her website. You can also connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube!
Check out our interview with Kinga’s Lost in the Wild co-host JJ Kelley here!