Amazing Nomads: Scott Wilson – Beyond the Studio

Host of tv's Departures, Scott Wilson developed a love of travel as a child, covering his bedroom walls with maps from National Geographic, and daydreaming of what those places would look like.


Photo © Scott Wilson and Justin Lukach

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Amazing Nomads: Scott Wilson

Scott’s love of travel started as a child, covering his bedroom walls in maps from National Geographic, daydreaming of what those places would look like. With a passion for travel, Scott created a travel TV series, Departures, which allowed him to bring his dreams to life.

What’s in the Episode

00:59 Scott explains how he developed his love of travel.

03:13 Going to film school.

05:46 “…We weren't famous by any stretch, we were just two people with the passion for travel that wanted to go out there and see the world.”

07:23 Getting into North Korea.

10:53 “It was literally to go in and try to see what normal life is like, as normal as it could be in there.”

14:34 Bon Voyage.

17:44 The birth of Descending.

20:50 Surviving a plane crash.

24.38 Winning awards.

26:34 Next episode.

Who is in the Episode

Scott Wilson is the host of Departuresa travel show screened on networks in more than 50 countries including Nat Geo and Netflix. It chronicles the friendships, successes, and disappointments of Scott and his travel buddy Justin Lukach.

Scott and his cameraman Andre Dupuis paired their mutual love of scuba diving with their passion for travel in the adventure series Descending which airs on OLN in Canada and Travel Channel internationally. 

Scott had his first taste of scuba diving in Brazil.

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About World Nomads & the Podcast

Explore your boundaries and discover your next adventure with The World Nomads Podcast. Hosted by Podcast Producer Kim Napier and World Nomads Phil Sylvester, each episode will take you around the world with insights into destinations from travelers and experts. They’ll share the latest in travel news, answer your travel questions and fill you in on what World Nomads is up to, including the latest scholarships and guides.

World Nomads is a fast-growing online travel company that provides inspiration, advice, safety tips and specialized travel insurance for independent, volunteer and student travelers traveling and studying most anywhere in the world. Our online global travel insurance covers travelers from more than 135 countries and allows you to buy and claim online, 24/7, even while already traveling.

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Speaker 1:  The World Nomad's Podcast Bonus Episode. Here are amazing nomads serving their [inaudible 00:00:05], stories and experience of world travel.

Kim:  Hi, on this episode we're catching up with travel TV show host Scott Wilson, and not only chat about his popular travel series, "Departures", but look outside the world of sets and studios and explore travel, and his love of travel.

Speaker 3:  The "Departures" is screened on networks in more than 50 countries including The Outdoor Life Network in Canada, Nat Geo, TVB in Hong Kong, and of course on Netflix from epic landscapes and unforgettable culture to the often trying times that come with international travel. "Departures" chronicles, the friendships, successes, and disappointments that befell Scott and his cohost.

Kim:  Yeah, the show features high school friends Scott, as we've mentioned, obviously, and Justin traveling to various locations around the world accompanied by cameraman Andre. We kicked off our chat by asking Scott how did he develop his love of travel?

Scott Wilson:  I think it started really early on for myself. When I was five years old, my parents took the family, myself and my brother, across Canada in a fold down trailer and we went all the way to British Columbia and back kind of from the Toronto area where I grew up, and so that was a long journey for a five year old sitting in the back of a non air conditioned car all the way, camping all the way out, and I think that was kind of the seed that was planted for a love of travel, and understanding of vast distance and really appreciating the road trip.

Scott Wilson:  From there, I mean, every summer both my parents were teachers and so we had summers off together and we spent the majority of them traveling through the US, through Canada, the east coast, the west coast, and around North America, and I think that was a really good building block for a young guy to understand his own country first, and kind of his own surroundings before then starting to branch out and see the rest of the world as well.

Speaker 3:  I know, it's a big ask to think back that far, but at that time, do you remember thinking what the most exotic destination imaginable might have been for you at that time?

Scott Wilson:  Not really, I mean I did have a bit of fascination with Europe and what Europe looked like. My mother was born in Europe and I was always hearing stories. I never really met either of my grandfathers, but they both fought in the second World War and I had a fascination, and I had a real keen interest in the second World War. So, trying to picture what those battle fields would have looked like, and what those parts of Europe looked like was really reigned true, and kind of top of my head when I was younger for sure.

Kim:  And then you morphed into having your own TV show.

Speaker 3:  Yeah.

Kim:  That's the ultimate, growing up with a passion for travel and then being able to do it and do it in a TV show that was global. I mean, it was Netflix.

Scott Wilson:  Yeah, it was a lot of steps in between obviously, and going to film school and we had myself and my business partner who was the GOP, Andre. We met in film school, became business partners, and had a chance to work on another travel show at the time, and that really again, it was a catalyst, a fire was reignited for travel. I started travel outside of North America for the first time. I mean, I was 20-21 years old at that point, only then starting to travel outside of North America, and my first trip was to Zimbabwe, Africa.

Scott Wilson:  So, it was jumping in with both feet for sure, and was completely blown away. The culture shock and all the experience. The animals, everything, and the process of making a TV show, and Andre and I, with a very naïve process thought, "Geez, we could do this. We could probably do this better," and so we did. We kind of emptied our bank accounts, bought some equipment, flew to New Zealand. We had a friend there who kind of put us up for a while, and shot somewhat aimlessly over four or five weeks, and came home, trying to sift through all this footage wondering, how it was going to look, what we were going to do with it, and being our own worst critics.

Scott Wilson:  Constantly, building and edit, tearing it down, going back again and kind of saying, "Geez, who the heck is going to watch this?" And finally, with the push of some friends and family we just sent a package out to a Canadian network here in Toronto, Outdoor Life Network, and sent it to them and said, "It's now or never. We kind of have to see what happens," and we sent it out, and the very next day we got a phone call. They said, "We love it. We need you to come in for a meeting."

Speaker 3:  So, what was it you were trying to achieve? What do you think it was that was the lightning in the bottle? Was it the way you were doing the story telling, or was it just the places you had been to?

Scott Wilson:  A little of both. I think there was a lot of ingredients that helped to connect with a lot of viewers. I think there was a very realistic approach. I think if a couple of schmucks like us could do it, the feeling was that anybody could do it, because there was certainly nothing special about us, we weren't privileged with lots of money. We weren't famous by any stretch, we were just two people with the passion for travel that wanted to go out there and see the world, and despite my childhood interest with Europe, and while I still have an interest in Europe, we did very consciously avoid doing Europe in a lot of these episodes for Departures, because we just felt like there was already ... most people had a pretty good understanding, preconceived notion of what Paris looks like.

Scott Wilson:  It's in so many films. It's just in everyday life so much that I think everyone has kind of a pretty good understanding, a pretty good idea of what it looks like, so when it came to places like Madagascar, when it came to places like Ascension Island, Libya, North Korea, it was like, "Well, these are the places that, if we have no idea what they look like, then maybe that's a good indication that most people don't know what they look like, and those are the ones that we need to go out there and see and do," and I think going back to the dynamic and those sort of approachability, the way that we did things, and that we kind of wore our heart on our sleeve as much as we could.

Scott Wilson:  The whole idea from the show from the get go was, the show that we had originally been working on was very magazine format. It seemed a little forced and a little flawed at times, and this was more about, "Hey, everyone who travels know that it isn't all smiles and sunshine. You get extremely tired. You get sick. You get scared. You get into predicaments that you're not sure how you got there, or how you're going to get out of." So, we wanted to show all of those ups and those downs, and to be as true and realistic to the travel process as we could.

Kim:  Speaking of how did you get there, getting into North Korea to film an episode for Departures, how did you achieve that?

Scott Wilson:  Persistence. One of our producers when we had spoken about it, I mean it's came to fruition in the third season of Departures, so we had talked about it near the end of our first season and we kind of tried for it in season two and it never came to fruition. There was a gentleman who actually appears in the episode as well, Nick, who runs a company, Koryo Tours, out of Beijing.

Scott Wilson:  He himself is a British expat, and he's been living in Beijing for decades and decades now, and going into North Korea and forging a wonderful relationships with the people there for, I think at least two decades now, and so he seemed to be the guy to really make it happen for us. There aren't many people who can make it happen, and he seemed to be one of the few, and so as you can imagine he's approached all the time by new agencies and outlets all over the world trying to gain access to North Korea, and a lot of them have maybe an agenda already sped out for him.

Scott Wilson:  He has no interest in doing anything but trying to do good for everyone involved, and he knows that there are a lot of things happening within the country that are highlighted often, and aren't obviously the best of things to be doing, but for us and our approach what we were showing off is, "Look, we just want to go in and experience it as it is, a fly on the wall, and as we have with other countries we have been to," and so with the persistence and emailing and calling him and finally kind of sending him some other episodes that we had done of, what at the time we're frutent to as access of evil countries like Libya to kind of say, "Hey, look. We're just going in and trying to talk with the people, see what's going on, and give it a very real approach."

Scott Wilson:  I think he understood that, and he said, "Yeah, you know what. This could be good for everyone," and so finally we got on the phone with him. We had some discussions and before we knew it, we were in Beijing and getting ready to board a flight to Pyongyang.

Speaker 3:  How do you feel? I mean, you're telling it like it is, and the TV series is fantastic, but how do you feel, does anybody ever say, "Well, you shouldn't be doing that. You shouldn't be helping regimes like that by showing that it's ..."

Scott Wilson:  Absolutely.

Speaker 3:  Yeah.

Scott Wilson:  Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I know that clips that we put on our YouTube channel and everything of the show, of that episode, certainly have probably just as much if not more comments than any other, and we knew that it was going to be a hot button item, but our job wasn't to go in and report on the bad things that are going on there, and I think there's nobody that can deny that there are very bad things going on there.

Scott Wilson:  But they are pretty well published and our job, again, wasn't to go in and report. Our job wasn't to go in and either support, deny what's going on, any of those aspects. It was literally to go in and try to see what normal life is like, as normal as it could be in there, and I think a lot of people were saying, "Oh, well, you're just showing off everything that they wanted to show you," and they're absolutely right.

Scott Wilson:  There was no way for us to go in without risking life and limb and legally crossing a border and trying to do an expose on showing things that most people don't get to see etc, etc. We knew going in that there was only going to be certain things they were going to allow us to see, and I feel like the way filmed it, the way we told the story, and the way our editors were phenomenal in putting the story together, told the story. If you watch it, you don't really have to read between too many lines to understand what's going on there and that they are certainly controlling exactly what we're showing off.

Scott Wilson:  With a camera, it's hard not to do that. I mean, they're not going to allow you into military emplacements and stuff like that. So, again, our job was, we were given a window of seven days inside the country. We're going to show you exactly what we saw, and we're going to try to give a voice to the people and the experiences that we had there.

Speaker 3:  It's a funny thing, especially with regimes of any type, and especially at the totalitarian end, shining a light on them, and it's that you can't control reading between the lines. It's impossible to do, isn't it? If you're a good storyteller, then that's where it's at.

Scott Wilson:  Exactly, yeah, exactly. We could have not gone, but I think that like it or not it's creating even on our YouTube channel, even the comments below those clips that we put on, it's creating discussion and you know what, that's got to at least lead to some good things if it's coming on people's radar, people are talking about it, and sure people have rightfully some pretty strong opinions on North Korea and what's going on there, etc, etc, but we were given the opportunity to go and visit, and I think that may be a once in a lifetime kind of thing, and we had to take it. Just like we did with many other places we went.

Speaker 3:  What are some of the other places as well? You mentioned Libya. That must have been an experience, too.

Scott Wilson:  It was, absolutely, and I mean that was just pre-revolution Libya, kind of before the whole, like before all of those countries started to revolt with Egypt, etc. So, it was during the Gaddafi era, and so that was, yeah, that was a very unique experience as well, but what's funny is I remember being in Morocco the weeks leading up to that, and we were kind of fumbling and fighting to get our visa to enter Libya while in Morocco, and the last few days in Morocco and in Casablanca, especially it was just, for us, my impression of it, it was a big city. It was a dirty and we were a bit travel weary at that point.

Scott Wilson:  Everywhere we went we were getting hassled for ... the haggling culture in Morocco is very aggressive and we were just, we were getting to the edge of getting kind of burnt out with the whole experience there, and I remember getting on the plan in Casablanca and the last officers that were there come checking passports and all this sort of stuff. He says in Arabic to the other guy, such and such, he's like, "Blah, blah, blah, blah, Tripoli." Looking at him saying like, as if to say, "This guy is going to Tripoli, can you believe it?"

Scott Wilson:  He kind of like, swings the boarding pass back at my chest and he's like, "Bon Voyage." What does this guy know that I don't know? And yet we land in Tripoli a couple hours later and immediately kind of hit the streets with the camera and started walking around, and it was like nigh and day. It was like everyone just came out with a smile, and they were like, "Oh, please come in my shop," and you go in and they would just sit down and offer you tea, and they could care less about selling you anything.

Scott Wilson:  They were just like, "Where are you from? Why are you here?" And it was, they just seemed so pleased that someone had actually come from a nother place to visit and show interest in their country, and I mean that's, we've had that experience in a lot of places, it was just that we didn't necessarily expect it there and it was really a breath of fresh air. So, it was a wonderful experience, and it's tough when things change for very dramatic ... or in a very dramatic fashion like that have in Libya.

Scott Wilson:  When you meet people there, and you do forge friendships and relationships with people, and then stuff like that happens, and very serious things are happening there. Andre and I talk about it often. We think about some of those people that we met and wondering, "Are they okay? What's happened to them?" And that's tough. In a day and an age where we're so well connected there still are a lot of places on earth like that where when you leave North Korea, obviously another one when we left those people and new friends behind, you kind of give them a hug or shake hands and you kind of remind yourself, "Geez, I'm probably never going to see these people again," because, Facebook really isn't an option in some of these places, and you lost touch with people, and it's tough.

Scott Wilson:  I mean, it's part of the greater travel experience, too, I suppose.

Speaker 3:  The customs agent at the airport in Casablanca didn't bear a remarkable resemblance to Humphrey Bogart, by any chance did he?

Scott Wilson:  No, he didn't. What's funny is, we kept thinking the whole, like the move is well and it's everyone wants to leave, everyone is trying to get out, and we were joking about that at the end that it's like, "Yeah, we kind of share the same sentiment." We were just ready to get the hell out of Casablanca. We were like, "Yeah, they were on to something." I mean, I know different things were going on at that time, but hey, we get it. We get it.

Kim:  Well, 60 countries in three seasons of Departures, then you decided that you needed to see the other 70 percent of the world, which is the oceans, and you launched the TV series Descending.

Scott Wilson:  Yeah, it was actually during our second season of Departures were we had our first taste of scuba diving in Brazil. We had the opportunity, kind of present itself. We thought, "Well, we've got to do it," and none of us had ever been before. None of us had ever been diving before, and we loved the experience. I remember Andre and I talking about it the night before, and I was a bit hesitant. I was thinking, "Geez, can I fake a cold so that I don't have to dive? Can I kind of weasel my way out of this in one way, shape or form?" And in the end, kind of going forward, because I had always had a problem even duck diving in a pool, or in the lakes here in the summer.

Scott Wilson:  I could get so far, and I'd get that pressure sensation in my ear, I couldn't go, and I couldn't equalize, and so I had a very patient instructor who was with me that day, that first dive, and kind of walked me through it as best he could, and I had that aha moment where I kind of figured out, "Okay, here's how you equalize and clear your ears," and as soon as that was done, it was like a veil was lifted off my eyes, and all of a sudden I started to focus on this underwater world around me.

Scott Wilson:  It absolutely blew me away, and I've probably said it before, but it was truly like having access to another planet, all of a sudden, just instantly, and we came up from that dive, and Andre and I were just dumbfounded, and I think we knew at that point, that, that was going to be the next passion project and it took another year, and we were happily involved in another year of Departures, but when we decided to kind of call it quits, or at least put pause on Departures, Andre and I were already kind of fleshing out the idea of Descending, which we knew we wanted to have a dive show that went beyond the means of some of the other dive documentaries, or dive shows that we had seen.

Scott Wilson:  Similarly to Departures, we wanted it to be approachable. We didn't want it to be something like a Blue Planet BBC level, of course from a cinematography standpoint, that would be wonderful, but just a lot of the documentaries, these blue chip documentaries that we would watch underwater, were putting, making me feel like as a newbie diver there was no way I could get to that stuff. It was Dr. Robert Ballard going for the Titanic or things of this nature. This was, "Hey, again, if we could do it, you could do it. Let's go see," and it was salt water, fresh water, cold water, salt water, or warm water, like the tropics, Iceland, we wanted to show as much as we could of the underwater world, the diving world that was open to us and to the rest of the world.

Kim:  Tell us what happened when you were capturing footage in Indonesia, in the Small Plain.

Scott Wilson:  It all happened in a flash, we were in Ultralight, Andrea had gone up with the pilot first to get some aerial footage and come back and said, "Scott, you've always had this passion for everything aviation, why don't you go up for a flight and we'll kind of make it part of the story, and your last sort of look at Raja Ampat, this remote part of Indonesia." It didn't take much coaxing for me. The pilot himself had a lot of fun, took a lot of liberties. We had noticed he was a little bit of a hotshot and hotdogging around in this thing, and I think it got the better of him when I went up with him, and we're kind of flying around, and having a look at some of the remote parts there of Raja Ampat.

Scott Wilson:  Then, we were cooking along, quite close to the water, very, very low and we blew overtop a pod of Dugongs, like manatees, and because we were so low, we went past them so quickly, we both noticed them. He yanked back on the stick to gain altitude so we could get a better look at them, and obviously anyone who knows anything about aviation with that increased angle of attack, you're bleeding of the airspeed and so the plane is slowing down, losing airspeed dramatically.

Scott Wilson:  Then, when we saw them off to the right of the plane, he banked hard to the right and I think basically what happened is he stalled that wing, that outer wing, and we started plummeting back to earth. So, my guess is from maybe 400-500 feet, we were coming back down towards the ocean straight, like absolute nosedive, and in my head I'm thinking, "This guy knows what he's doing. He's a hotdog. He's going to just kind of swoop out and pull out at the last minute."

Scott Wilson:  It was literally the last millisecond that my brain kind of processed there's no way. Like there's no way we're getting out of this, and then bam, instantly we hit the water. I remember being underwater and thinking, "Okay, well, I'm alive. So, I need to get out of here," and reaching for the little release point of the five point harness in the middle of my chest and grabbing it and it coming perfectly undone and swimming right out of the harness perfect.

Scott Wilson:  It was the kind of thing that afterwards I was thinking, "We could have landed safely 200 times in a row, and I would have fumbled with it looking directly at it, and some miraculous reason, I was able to do it with my eyes in saltwater after hitting the water, and swam out, and yeah, so it was over in an instant, and I keep saying, my brother, [inaudible 00:22:57] on that shoot, they had seen the plane go down. I know it was 1,000 times worse for him than it was for me, because he didn't know the result.

Scott Wilson:  It happened in an instant for me, and we were out, and I clambered on top of a pontoon that broke off of the wreckage and we sat there waiting for rescue, for him there was a good hour or so where they were looking for us. They had no idea if we were alive or dead. So, yeah.

Kim:  Wow, and this was for Descending, kind of ironic really.

Scott Wilson:  Yeah, exactly, yeah, we had actually decided on the name before this happened. So, yeah.

Kim:  So, what are you up to now?

Scott Wilson:  Now? I mean, with these kind of travels they become part of you and a part of your life, and for us a part of our career, too. So, I mean certainly on the personal side of things with family, I still travel on my own, but for work, for career as a documentary filmmaker, we're still actively traveling. So, Andre had a wonderful project that he completed a little over a year ago for National Geographic called Over the Horizon, and in some markets I believe it's called My Pacific Quest, and he and Ellis Emmett the Kiwi who was with us in Descending took a sail boat around to islands so Pacific that you basically only get to if you have a boat of your own.

Scott Wilson:  No airport, no other kind of means of getting there, and so it was this 100+ Odyssey kind of going around to these islands. That garnered Andre his Emmy Nomination, which was wonderful, and then he and I have been working on a project which I can't get into too much detail yet, but for Discovery US, with the Cousteau family back underwater again, like travel, and like many aspects of my life with motorcycles and airplanes. They become a part of you, and you just can't let them go. So, diving and filming, and traveling are all recurring themes for us now. So, there's a project we're putting finishing touched on there that we're looking forward to.

Scott Wilson:  We're doing it because truly it is a passion. We're not getting rich off it. We're doing what we love, what we've always loved, and I think what we're always going to continue to love, endless moments, and endless memories that I'm going to have for the rest of my life that are truly unique and really special.

Kim:  So, great to chat with him. A TV star, really. Well, he is a TV star.

Speaker 3:  He is a TV star. Yeah, talk about being in the right place at the right time, though.

Kim:  Yeah, and the show is hysterical to watch, particularly Justin, who knows no boundaries. By the way, Departures won a Gemini Award, which was handed out by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, and it recognizes obviously achievements of Canada's television industry, a bit like the Emmy's fill all the baftors.

Speaker 3:  Fair enough. I guess we should mention our own award, too, which you should be happy about. The World Nomads Podcast has been named as an honoree in the 2019 Webby Awards, which is pretty fantastic. I'm pleased with that. The best branded podcast or segment for 2019. Well done, Kim.

Kim:  The Webby's are things on the net.

Speaker 3:  Yes.

Kim:  You can get the World Nomads podcast on iTunes or download the Google Podcast app. Subscribe, rate, and share, and please tell your friends about us.

Speaker 3:  Next week, big episode. We're going to reveal the winner of our travel writing scholarship to Portugal.

Kim:  Yes. See you then.

Speaker 3:  Bye.

Speaker 5:  Amazing, nomads. Be inspired.


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