Intrepid traveler Josh Gates, 37, is the host of the new Travel Channel series Expedition Unknown, premiering Jan. 8. A native of Manchester-by-the-Sea, he graduated from Tufts University, where he studied archaeology and drama. An avid scuba diver and photographer, he has traveled to more than 90 countries, participated in underwater excavations and summited Mount Kilimanjaro, and he was recently inducted into the Explorers Club. Previously the host of the Syfy series Destination Truth and Ghost Hunters Live, he chronicled his travels in his best-selling book Destination Truth: Memoirs of a Monster Hunter. His new show explores enduring legends, from the disappearance of Amelia Earhart to El Dorado, the city of gold. He lives in Los Angeles.
Josh Gates: Absolutely. I think it’s spooky how little kids today know about geography. I think people should know more about the world and understand that it’s a big place. My experience is that travel makes you a better and more interesting person. People who travel understand their place in the world and have a broader view of things.
Favorite souvenir? Great question! I have a little stone from the runway where Amelia Earhart took off from on my desk. We did our premiere episode on her, and I’ve always been fascinated by her. So the little rock from the last place she was seen alive.
It really doesn’t get much more exotic than Papua New Guinea. They call it “The Lost World.” You kind of expect a dinosaur to cross the road. It feels totally uncharted, and like anything could happen there…. When you get off the grid, you have to be very careful. We put a helicopter down in a place where these guys came out of the woods literally brandishing spears and bows and arrows. And I was helpless to communicate through it, which was the worst part.
I think Cuba’s pretty high on that list. It’s a place that’s going to change dramatically, and I’m not sure for the better, in terms of authenticity. It’s the crown jewel of the Caribbean, and it’s unexploited by the mega-resorts of the world, but that is going to change very soon. I think it’s a place people should see sooner rather than later.
Most inspiring place? I’m going to say Southeast Asia. I have a real deep connection to that part of the world. We did an episode in Cambodia, and it’s a country that’s had a number of really tragic setbacks. The genocide of the Khmer Rouge dealt a pretty terrible blow, and yet you see this incredible resilience in the people. The way they’ve picked themselves up and put themselves back on their feet is something that I don’t know if many other cultures could do. They just sort of hit the reset button and started rebuilding.
Sort of in my own backyard. The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. We did an episode for Expedition Unknown on the mysteries of the Maya. There are these incredible underwater caverns. They’re pitch black, and they’re sort of endless. It’s just awesome. It’s that weird combination of incredibly beautiful and incredibly terrifying. You half expect some ancient monster to come out of the dark.
The Cairo airport. I feel like I’m all set in Bangladesh. I don’t need another round.
Yes, I have. And I’d go back to Cleveland.
Number one is pack less than you think you need….If you can just pack a carry-on, you should. It’s incredibly liberating. You need a solid pair of shoes—a really good, sturdy pair of boots you can get muddy but still look respectable in. And finally, especially if you’re an adventurous traveler, you need that great toilet kit with the necessary gastrointestinal lifesavers: Cipro, Lomotil, a Z-Pak, Pepto-Bismol. Those four things will get you pretty much anywhere in this world.
I’m going Southeast Asia on that. It’s the best of both worlds. It’s incredibly fresh. It’s spicy; it’s sweet. It’s just awesome. If I lived in Thailand, I’d weigh about a thousand pounds.
Nastiest thing you’ve ever eaten? That’s easy. I’ve eaten pretty much everything, short of human flesh, and there’s nothing left on my bucket list of foods, but the only one that made me throw up immediately upon eating was balut in the Philippines. It’s an egg that’s almost a chicken. There’s feathers in there. There’s a beak. It’s kind of fermented so it smells rotten. It’s the Mount Everest of gross foods.
Scariest encounter with nature? I’ve been really lucky in that sense. I’ve had a lot of close calls. I guess the time there was a pit viper wrapped up in a tree right by my face in Indonesia a couple of years ago. It’s one of those game-over animals.
Naked and Afraid? I don’t think I would do particularly well, honestly. I think I’d just sit still. I’d be completely boring. I don’t really see myself gallivanting around the jungle nude.
How about The Amazing Race? That I think I’d do well on, because most of the action takes place at airports and airline counters, and trying to navigate unfamiliar city streets. I’ve been living in airports for the past 10 years.
Favorite airport? Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok. It’s like a giant Battlestar Galactica spaceship. You feel like you don’t need to leave. They’ve got everything—a place to eat, a place to sleep, a massage parlor. Forget the rest of Thailand. You can live in that airport.
I still think Singapore’s the best. After that maybe Emirates. They have a really high class of service. It’s like the 1960s, where you feel like the experience of flight is still somehow glamorous.
Where would you go on your honeymoon? Well, I’m standing here looking at my new wife. Let’s see. Either on safari or to French Polynesia. Those little huts on stilts are calling to me.
It’s one of those places I’ve wanted to be a part of forever. Its members are the real deal. You’re rubbing elbows with astronauts and polar explorers. People doing really important work in the field sciences around the world. There are no cooler people to have a cocktail with.
I want to believe in it. It’s my favorite of all the crypto-creatures in the world. There’s something so sexy about the idea of this wild Himalayan creature living all alone up in the snows of the Himalayas. People there believe in it, even if only as an idea. The Yeti is kind of this weird proxy for the environment. At its core, it’s about respect for the environment. It’s to be respected. It’s dangerous. It can turn on you.
That’s a difficult question for me. I’ve spent a lot of time investigating the paranormal, and at the start of that experience, I would have said no. But doing that show put me in some of the most supposedly haunted places in the world. I’ve experienced pretty much all the Grim Reaper’s greatest hits, in places where there’s been a lot of death. And I have had really strange experiences that I can’t explain. I’ve seen things, heard things, felt things that I can’t explain. But I don’t know that those are ghosts, because the human mind is a really haunted place. So for me the jury’s still out.
There have been a few places that I found really unsettling. The suicide forest in Japan. Waverly Hills Sanitorium in Kentucky. I spent a night in King Tut’s tomb. But whether you believe in ghosts or not, there are places in the world that have a different feel to them, and some of them, you feel a weight. But I guess for me, the most haunted place would be Pripyat, the abandoned town next to Chernobyl.
Expedition Unknown is trying to get people to come with us on the journey. So if I could put someone in my suitcase each week, I would, but that’s sort of the point of the show.
Quite often, and I’d be happy to take them. For me, one of the great thrills of doing
As soon as I can convince the Travel Channel to pay for it. I love what [Richard] Branson and Jeff Bezos are trying to do—find ways of getting into space beyond NASA and the government. There is this promise that hasn’t been fulfilled yet. I hope in our lifetime, [civilians] are able to go into space, and believe me, I’d be the first in line.