Ernest White II grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., dreaming of a job that would propel him around the world. He taught English in Colombia, Brazil and Miami, and worked as a freelance journalist in Berlin, South Africa and the Dominican Republic. Now he’s added “travel TV show host” to his resume. “Fly Brother With Ernest White II,” which began airing last week on various PBS stations, is an entertaining and educational voyage around the globe, taking viewers to both familiar and less-trammeled places.
In a recent interview, White, who is 42, reveals how his background and view of the world have informed his style and philosophy of travel. His responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Answer: Humans need other humans. They, we, need to travel to each other. That is the mission behind “Fly Brother” — human connection — no matter when or how people connect with each other. People still need to know that connection is possible, is essential, and that’s why this is the right time for this travel series to debut.
Q: Many are critical of travel’s impact on destinations and the environment. Do you think we’ll learn any lessons on how to travel after the pandemic?
A: We’re learning so much about ourselves, about the earth right now. There was already a movement to make sustainable travel simply “travel,” but now that we’re seeing cleaner air and water and the indomitable spirit of the planet starting to bounce back, we definitely have to consider how we engage with our home going forward. I do believe in travel, but I believe more in deep connections and intimate experiences that require slower, more intentional movements. Now is the time for destinations, governments, businesses, societies to get ahead of the tidal wave of mass tourism and establish frameworks for sustainable travel, and it’s the duty of those of us in the media to raise awareness about traveling sustainably.
Q: Did you grow up watching travel TV shows? If so, what were your favorites?
A: I didn’t necessarily grow up watching travel shows, but I did enjoy watching “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” and National Geographic specials and other shows about different places and cultures. I remember watching the Pedro Almodovar film “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” as a kid and being swept up in a language and world that were so different from my own. I also loved going to Epcot as a kid because of the different “countries” you could visit. I was always a geography nerd.
Q: What makes “Fly Brother” different from other travel shows?
A: The show’s main focus is on friendship, connection and global community. All travel shows incorporate that, but often through the lens of food or sightseeing or dancing. I think it’s a unique perspective and a great complement to those other shows.
Q: “Fly Brother” largely skips popular destinations for places like Addis Ababa and Tajikistan. Does this tell us something about your philosophy of travel?
A: My philosophy absolutely includes a responsibility to give a platform for places and people who desire to be seen and heard. People want to share their culture, their landscapes, the things they love about the places they live, and often, many of these beautiful places are overlooked. I’m a native Floridian — I understand tourist fatigue and overdevelopment — but I also know that, again, humans thrive on connection and most people enjoy hosting guests. In Tajikistan and Central Asia, for example, hospitality is an ancient cultural trait, but they’ve been on the fringes of the Russian, then Soviet, empires for centuries. Why not engage with the people in those places, sustainably, of course? And we’ll be going to Paris and Tokyo, too.
Q: You have one eight-episode season in the can. Is there a place you’re still chomping at the bit to get to?
A: I’d love for us to film episodes in Mongolia, in Ghana, in Dublin, in Shetland, in Mexico City, in Natchez, in Haiti, in Singapore, in Tasmania, in West Hollywood. I want us to film everyone, everywhere.