Travel expert Brandon Presser has visited more than 100 countries and written 50 guidebooks. Now, he’s leading a group of strangers around the world with the Bravo TV series Tour Group on an itinerary that he developed. We recently chatted with him about the series, the challenges of traveling with people you love (or hate), and what it truly means to go on a journey.
ShermansTravel: At first glance, the show is about what a lot of reality shows are about -- putting strangers in a strange situation and watching how they interact. But travel -- and the specific destinations -- seem really key.
Brandon Presser: This is a real trip, where a really eclectic group of Americans, who have a spectrum of knowledge about the world, are dealing with it in very different ways. Some of these people have traveled a little bit before, and then there are people who haven’t ever traveled. They’re going to see the world for the first time, and their preconceived notions about people -- and how other people live -- are going to be destroyed.
ST: It’s fun to watch the two guys from Georgia, who seem like they’re seeing everything for the first time. It makes you remember the first time you experienced something traveling.
B: They’re brothers, and every time they saw something new, they’d look at each other and go, “Oh golly, this is crazy!” There’s something really fun about that, but for me, what was much more interesting were the travelers who thought they had everything figured out. I would take them to have an experience, and it brought them to tears. Somehow that felt even more rewarding.
ST: Why did you choose to send your travelers to Marrakech first? That seems like an intense place to start with relatively inexperienced travelers.
B: I needed that not-in-Kansas, not-in-Georgia-anymore moment. But even though there are different sights and different smells, that this is still a transitional destination -- one known for its luxury, textiles, and its spa culture. It wasn’t sweltering. It was still temperate, and we had a beautiful hotel to stay in. We had food that was slightly different, so we could try snails, but also still have chicken tagine.
ST: Everyone has a story about when they traveled with someone. Either they traveled with a partner and it brought them closer together, or they traveled with a friend and it destroyed the relationship.
B: A lot of times when you’re experiencing something on the road, so much of that experience is wrapped up in the person that you’re with. With this trip, everyone has a different reason for being there. I made a point while planning the trip to give something special to everyone. There are a lot of things that we’re doing all together, but there are moments where just two people share something -- and it’s not always who you might think. Sure, the Georgia boys are going to share stuff, but there are new friendships that form. It’s also really interesting to see how an activity can go well because everyone is in the zone, and then another activity that I spent months piecing together goes over like a lead balloon because someone is in a really bad mood and it ruins the trip for everyone else. It’s crazy how you need the timing and the place to align to have that magical moment.
ST: I’m assuming as the series goes on and as you move around the globe that the experiences are going to become more intense.
B: You’re not going to see me take them to a museum to look at art -- that’s not the point of the trip. As the trip progresses, it’s really pulling people out of their comfort zone but it’s always with good reason. We’re never going to jump off a cliff for no reason other than to scare the crap out of you.
ST: What would you say to viewers who haven’t done a lot of traveling themselves, and are using this as a kind of armchair travel experience? Is this show for them, too?
B: I think we need to redefine what travel is. This show is the pinnacle of travel. But travel doesn’t have to be like that; travel doesn’t even have to mean getting on a plane. Travel is much more about allowing yourself to change your mind about something, or discovering something new. If my neighbor in New York City had never left the United States before, I would take them to somewhere in town, and show them something that they didn’t know existed, or something that will change their mind. It can be as simple as a food they thought they didn’t like, or even a political point of view. To me, that’s more of the spirit of travel.