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Q&A with Kinga Philipps

Updated: Aug 6, 2021

Where did your love for travel begin? I was a backpack baby. My dad is a geologist and my mom is a European pharmacist with a background in botany. They are both outdoor enthusiasts, curious about cultures and fascinated by life, so I was brought along for the ride before I could even walk. When we moved to the US from Poland we would road trip every weekend and for every holiday. It became a part of my existence that when you have free time you go somewhere new to make memories and build experiences. From there I followed a career path that would continue to allow me to live my passion and make it my living. How did you first get into journalism? I had seven different majors in college because I was horrified by the idea that I would have to do just one thing for the rest of my life. I wanted to be like the TV show Quantum Leap. I wanted to be a doctor so I could do Doctors Without Borders, a marine biologist so I could study ocean critters, an entomologist so I could play with bugs. But then it occurred to me that if I became a storyteller I could have all these experiences AND share them with others. So I switched to journalism with a minor in anthropology. Who was your role model or inspiration growing up? Everyone. I was always an observer of human nature and I would note qualities in people that I admired so I could develop them in myself. My parents for how much they overcame moving us from Poland to the US. Teachers, neighbors, friends. From the high profile crowd, I couldn’t get enough of Jacques Cousteau, David Attenborough, Marty Stouffer, Jane Goodall. It didn’t occur to me until years later that outside of a few scientists (and even those were in the minority) there were very few women in the adventure travel space - actually nearly none. Why is travel so important, especially for women? Travel is the life experience equivalent of one million college degrees. Nothing teaches you more about yourself, life, other cultures, food, religion, the environment, politics and pretty much everything else more than travel. For women it’s a particularly empowering practice to travel solo because it gives you the self-confidence to know that you are capable of handling yourself outside of your comfort zone. It also sharpens the instincts that keep you safe, aware and present. As a woman, taking yourself on an exotic, adventure getaway still bucks social norms and that really puts a smile on my face. It’s also still a bit of a power play in some respects and you have to be prepared for that. Flex your muscles a bit if you need to. I’ve shown up to dive trips alone and been given the third degree about my level of experience. I was asked to wait to be “talked to” by the manager of the dive shop while three or four guys signed up no questions asked. Then it turned out I had more dives than the dive master. Don’t underestimate the ladies. Basically, it teaches you to believe in yourself when others might doubt you. The sum total of the experience for a female traveling solo or with a friend is empowerment. What does #adventurelikeagirl mean to you? Adventure Like a Girl came from the idea that you shouldn’t overlook women in the adventure travel space personally or professionally. Like the above dive shop story, I’ve had to prove myself harder than most guys I work with or travel with to be taken seriously. It’s also the idea that you can still be a girly girl and a proper badass simultaneously. A group of us used to shark dive with cherry red lipstick to prove our point - that being a tough, worldly cookie is perfectly compatible with femininity. Have you faced any setbacks during your journey? What did you learn? When I first started to venture into the television space I was told women usually hosted red carpet shows or in studio shows. I tried it and it bored me. As I started to be known more in the travel space, I would take meetings and very, very often hear, “We would like an Anthony Bourdain or a Lara Croft.” I would say “Well that’s a problem because I’m not a man or a fictional character.” Eventually, I got to be the sidekick for some men. There were moments in these shows where I would say things like, “These cenotes are indicative of the karst topography in the region” and the director would say “Oh that’s great. Let’s do it again but have HIM say it because it sounds intimidating coming from you.” True story. Three years ago the mandate from a top TV network we all know, that I’ll leave unmentioned, was, and I quote, “A-type male personalities only. Women in secondary roles. No nagging secretary types.” All of these experiences made me work harder to prove myself and show that women can be successful, compelling and watchable in adventurous roles as leads without having to sacrifice their femininity. I’m so proud now that I see quite a few ladies successfully venturing into travel, adventure, exploration and compelling storytelling in mainstream media. Many of your shows educate people about other places and cultures in some way. Why is this important? This is the core of why I do what I do. I learned a great lesson from working in conservation and that is that we tend to protect what we love. And to love something we need to understand it, experience it in some capacity, and see the value in it. This applies to humanity as well. We feel more bonded to each other as humans when we can align ourselves with someone else’s life, struggles, achievements and passions. As someone who is lucky enough to venture around the world and encounter a vast array of humans, I have the opportunity to use my lens to show others what I’m experiencing. And I’m relatable; a smallish immigrant girl with no special qualifications or exceptional skills who simply followed her travel dreams. So when the audience sees me having tea with monks in Cambodia or visiting a maximum-security prison in Israel or scurrying around cliffs in the Himalayas I want them to think, “Oh if she can do it I can too. If she can find common ground with these folks I can too.” I also think humor is a phenomenal tool to endear people to one another. If you can draw out a laugh from someone, no matter who they are, you see them and help others to see them, in a positive light. What is the craziest travel experience you have had so far? So many. So so many. I’ve been charged by sharks, elephants and, less intimidatingly, warthogs. I’ve interviewed serial killers. I’ve been thrown out of planes, trees, off boats and down waterfalls. I’ve been diving in freezing cold temperatures in wild seas to explore shipwrecks. I’ve been evacuated out of Ethiopia on a tiny prop plane due to political unrest. Wild and crazy is totally okay with me. On the other hand, if you put me in hair and makeup and sat me by a pool in an all-inclusive resort I’d probably run away screaming. What has kept you interested in pursuing such wild adventures for so many years? Because there is always more to see and learn. New experiences keep me stimulated. Routine is very difficult for me. I’m more focused, energized and happy working 18 hour days in a jungle than I am on a day off at home. Extraordinary experiences are my lifeblood. Can you tell me about your work as an environmental advocate? Since the outdoor world and her creatures is my playground and my office I feel an intense duty to protect what I love. As a scuba diver, free diver, spearfisher and surfer I’ve always been particularly drawn to the ocean. For years I’ve worked with Shark Allies, a non-profit conservation organization focused on preserving the ocean environment and her big apex predators. We’ve been incredibly successful with some big wins for sharks in the fin ban space. As spearfishers we’ve also made a commitment to sourcing our food as sustainably as possible and re-establishing our connection to the natural world around us. I’ve also worked with art groups to help educate people about single use plastic pollution. I have a personal vendetta against straws and balloons because I'm annoyed by their pointlessness and how much time we have to spend fishing them out of the ocean. What is your all-time favorite place to travel to? Oh my. A practically impossible question to answer. I was enchanted by the Galápagos because as an ocean lover and creature lover I was a kid in a candy store. I loved the Socorro islands for their unbelievable biomass. Schooling with Galápagos sharks and frolicking with manta rays is common practice there. I was blown away by Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe. I'm also a sucker for warm clear water so toss me in the Caribbean and I’m in heaven. What is one place you haven’t been to that you want to visit? So many. I want to swim with orcas in New Zealand, sperm whales in Dominica and I want to free dive next to an iceberg in Antarctica. You’ve accomplished so much and been to so many amazing places. What is your dream for the future? To get to keep doing what I’m doing in terms of travel and smart, compelling storytelling as long as humanly possible. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to pursue a career in the travel industry? Oh this is an excellent question and one I’ll answer very honestly. Find a niche. Develop a brand. Build that brand. Don’t wait for someone to give you a shot or a break, start doing it yourself. It’s so simple to create content these days. Do it. Think about what your passion is and use that as a jumping off point. Think of what makes you unique and lean into that. Break down stereotypes if you have to. Step off the beaten path in terms of your lens, your voice and your content. Stand out rather than blend in. Are you passionate about squirrels? Great, make that your calling card. Travel the world showcasing the various species of squirrels through your own unique lens and with your special brand of passion. Think I’m kidding? As a producer and show developer, I guarantee you that an off the wall squirrel expert is more interesting and marketable than someone who brands themselves as a travel host like five million other social media influencers. Be authentic, be weird, be you. Find what lights your soul on fire and do that. Is it jewelry? Take people on a journey to show them extraordinary pieces around the world and how they are sourced and made. Is it botany? I would totally watch a passionate mangrove aficionado take us on a journey to experience that habitat. Tacos? Excellent...let’s see your unique take on tacos around the world. Hate cilantro and it makes you mad? Yell about it and express yourself. The key is to stand out. I can’t stress this enough.Think of the travel greats that are household names. They were/are weird, quirky, funny, curmudgeonly, silly, offbeat, outspoken, fierce, over the top and that is what makes them watchable. Don’t ever be fooled into blending in with the filtered, phony masses. Be the most authentic, boisterous, one of a kind version of yourself hell bent on sharing your lens. Passion sells. Passion makes you compelling. Have substance. Cultivate your area of expertise. Water that shit daily. Then, no matter what keep going. Pick yourself up from disappointment as many times as it takes. If you believe in yourself others will too.

Want to learn more about Kinga?

Head to her website, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter page. You can also learn more about her show "Lost In The Wild" here.



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