At age 14, from the vantage point of a European cruise ship and her whole life ahead of her, Darley Newman realized what she wanted to do: see the world.
Now at age 44, she is the travel host, creator and producer of Travels with Darley, a Daytime Emmy-nominated TV show that airs on PBS and other networks. Its tenth season was released earlier this year. “I’ve taken a passion and turned it into a business,” she says. “I do feel that what I am doing is really helping people to learn about cultures and history around the world and see the world in a new, more insightful way.”
From passion project to full-time pursuit
Her show might be a success now, but she worked hard and started with little to get her dream off the ground.
“They call it ‘bootstrapping,’” Newman explains. Instead of borrowing money to start her first show, Equitrekking, she figured out ways to finance it. “I was an early side hustler,” she says. At one point, she was working three different jobs, as a PR person, a freelance producer and a freelance writer on various projects. She saved money by working multiple roles—which she still does today, as a host, creator and producer.
“I really had to learn all aspects of production,” Newman says. She has an editor now, but that wasn’t always the case. “For many years, I was the editor,” she says. “I didn’t have the money to pay someone else in the beginning, so I was going to edit it because I really wanted the show to happen.”
Equitrekking began in 2006 as a series of short videos that Newman published on her website, before online videos were popular. Based on these clips, Tourism Ireland agreed to sponsor a pilot episode, which she was then able to take to PBS with the concept of recreating it around the world. PBS picked it up, and the series went on to win three Daytime Emmy Awards.
Using experiences and feedback to pivot
Newman enjoyed creating the show until a frightening experience while filming led her to think about her next move.
“I was in Botswana, Africa, and I got charged by an elephant when I was horseback riding,” Newman says. At that point, she said the rides had become “harrowing, like I was on a runaway racehorse in Costa Rica, or in Belize, in the jungle at sunset.”
As she reflected on the show and whether she could continue, she realized that, while people often said it was a show about horses, to Newman, it was really about adventure. So, what if it wasn’t about horses at all?
Using her bootstrapping methods, she recut Equitrekking content, titled it Travels with Darley and posted it on AOL. The views it received told her this was worth pursuing. To finance the pilot episode, she entered a contest called Travel South, and organizations there decided to support the initial episodes. She later went back to PBS, who agreed to air the series. Once again, a little ingenuity had turned a passion project into a sustainable business.
That instinct for investing in herself has paid off in more ways than one. One savvy business decision she made was maintaining ownership rights, which has allowed her not only full creative control but also the freedom to repackage and distribute her content at will and to sell her show to different outlets, such as Amazon Prime, Wondrium and Create TV.
Darley Newman on making an impact
But the payoff for Newman goes much deeper than that. It goes all the way back to the first time she looked out over the sea, at age 14—on vacation with a friend, by the way—and dreamed about her future. To this day, the best part of her job is making connections with other people around the world.
“You get to understand how other people live and the struggles that they face and the joys that they have,” she says. It’s helped her broaden her own horizons, which she says has made her a better and happier person: “I’m always getting out of my comfort zone, and that naturally happens on my travel adventures.”
She also believes her show has impacted others. “There is a ricochet effect,” she says. “Other communities may watch and learn about [someone’s] story and understand how they can make their own community better.” In that way, she hopes, “It’s like community building”—on a global scale.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photo by ©Chad Davis/ Travels with Darley.