What does a travel show host do when travel isn’t possible? If you’re Samantha Brown, host of PBS’s Samantha Brown’s Places to Love and contributor to the Well-Traveled with AAA podcast, you spend time with family and nurture a love of travel in your children.

During 2020, Brown was in upstate New York with her husband and their 7-year-old twins. Family time is precious because of Brown’s typically hectic travel schedule. Once an avid cyclist, Brown took the opportunity to dust off her 15-year-old bicycle, pick up some used bikes for the twins and teach them to ride. Her children had been inspired by bicyclists they saw pedaling along the Danube River in Austria when they accompanied Brown, who is godmother of the AmaMagna, on that river cruise ship in 2019.

“A bike is absolute freedom,” Brown says. “We’re born explorers. We learn to crawl because we’ve got to go. We learn to walk, and then we get a bike. It’s our first taste of freedom.”

The act of connecting

For Brown, that freedom is about more than just going to new places. It’s also the freedom to meet new people and to enjoy the spontaneous interactions with strangers that happen so often while she’s traveling.

“It’s the simple act of connecting with people you’ve never met before,” Brown says. For example, you may walk into a farm stand along the road and visit with the person working there. As you learn about that place, you might also learn something about yourself.

“We meet people when we travel, and we love the fact that they’re from somewhere else,” she says. “We’re different, and yet we connect. Then we go our separate ways. That is what I had deeply, deeply missed.”

It’s not the miles

As far as Brown is concerned, 2021 couldn’t get here fast enough. “2020 was the first year that we were all excited that summer was ending,” she says with a laugh.

But as travel returns in 2021, Brown hopes that it will come back in a slightly different form: She is encouraging travelers to develop an appreciation for lesser-known, smaller destinations, instead of flocking to a few popular spots like Barcelona or Amsterdam. For example, one of the last episodes of 2020’s Places to Love focused on Dutchess County, New York, and the places there that have enabled Brown and her family to thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If your family can only go 200 miles from home, you’re still going to have an amazing time,” she says. “The importance of travel is not measured in how many miles you go.”

The loss of the freedom to travel, in Brown’s view, has turned every destination into a bucket list item. “Travel can be wherever you are,” she says. “It could be the next town over. Just do it. Just connect and just be with people and support the local communities wherever you go.”

The return of travel

Travel with Samantha Brown onboard the Rocky Mountaineer, May 29–June 5, or on an AmaWaterways river cruise through Bordeaux, France, July 29–Aug. 5.

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Not that Brown is planning to stay home in 2021. She has scheduled two trips with AAA Members: a hosted train trip on the Rocky Mountaineer rolling from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Banff, Alberta, and a hosted river cruise sailing through Bordeaux, France, with AmaWaterways.

In addition to having wrapped up a shorter season four of Samantha Brown’s Places to Love, she is planning season five and expects to begin traveling for that in March.

“The wheels are turning, and we’re making it happen,” she says. “We have a lot of hope and confidence that travel is coming back.”

Let yourself adjust

But, Brown says, “it’s going to be baby steps” for a while as we return to something that feels more like normal. Interacting with strangers is a skill, like any other, and with our limited opportunities for this kind of interaction, this skill may have gotten a bit rusty. She advises that if it’s been a while since you’ve been in an unfamiliar setting, start slowly and at a smaller scale. For example, consider taking a two-hour flight or driving a few states away.

Before Brown had children, she was often away from home for a month at a time, and she found that there was an adjustment period after she returned home that she called “reentry.” This was the time it took for her normal life to feel normal again. “I feel like we’re all going to have that—that slow reentry into the freedoms we once had,” she says.

“If I have any insight, it’s just to be kind to yourself and to others as we slowly make our way back to where we were,” she says. “We are wired to be with each other, but lately we haven’t been able to. It will take a while to adjust.”

Where to next?

But we will adjust because, as Brown says, we are all explorers—even as children—whether we’re learning to walk, ride a bike or drive a car. And we’re always looking for that next place to explore.

Brown recalls: “The first thing my daughter said when she learned to ride a bike was, ‘Can I ride along the Danube?’”

For an interactive map of travel restrictions and links to other helpful updates, visit our COVID-19 Travel Help Center at AAA.com/TravelExpert.


This story was featured in the
January/February 2021 issue of AAALiving Magazine

Well-Traveled with AAA

Join Samantha Brown and other travel experts for in-depth conversations about local experiences at favorite destinations worldwide.