As executive producer of The Amazing Race, I spend many weeks each year traveling -- from scouting locations around the world to filming the contestants from start to the finish line as they race. Having just come off my 22nd season of the show, I feel like I can finally say I have packing and preparing to leave home down to a science.
My husband, Bertram van Munster, also produces the show, so he travels just as much as I do. First and foremost, we have a four-year-old daughter who needs to be cared for while we're away. We have a dog, too, and have to make sure he's taken care of as well. I'm fortunate to have wonderful parents who have been fantastic about stepping in while we're on the road, and who really enjoy spending this special time with our daughter.
To ease the transition, a few days before I leave I fly my mother out to Los Angeles from New York where she lives. I like to give her some time with her granddaughter to catch up and normalize their routine before I take off.
By the time we get to the show's finale, which films in the States, I usually fly my daughter and parents out to location, and find another caregiver in L.A. to watch our dog. Hotels with adjoining rooms are perfect for us during this time, so we can work during the day and have family time together at night.
For us, as for a lot of constant travelers, packing up a life to fit in one carry-on bag is an incredible challenge. Out of sheer necessity, it only took me one season on The Amazing Race to create a system that works great for me. I have a list of items, which I know by heart now, so I can pack the day I leave and still fit everything in.
I also live by some hard and fast packing rules:
Remember the Things You Don't Need: a hair dryer, heels of any kind or fancy evening clothes. When I'm traveling, I'm working. I find that as much as I might want to be a tourist in some of the fascinating locales where we shoot, I have very little downtime for any kind of fancy meals or nights on the town, so dresses and uncomfortable shoes are out; ponytails and jeans are my best friends.
Size Items to Fit: I won't neglect certain essentials -- sunscreen, moisturizer, insect repellent, vitamins and medications -- but I buy small, portable containers to make sure that I only pack as much as I need.
Pack All-Weather Gear: I have a special section of my closet set aside for trips. Quick-drying clothing and layers are incredibly important, since I might start in Alaska and be in Jamaica two days later.
Wear the Same Few Outfits: I learned quickly that I tend to wear the same few things over and over on the road, so I take just a few outfits with me everywhere I go, and mix and match.
For season 22, our first stop was Bora Bora. Every season, we try to go somewhere new for the first leg of the race. I always love seeing a place for the first time. The water in Bora Bora is like nowhere else in the world; it's many beautiful shades of blue. While I was scouting last summer, gorgeous stingrays would come right up to me in the water and let me feed them.
The landscape was stunning, but my favorite part of scouting is the opportunity to really dig deep into the culture where I'm staying. Bora Bora is full of friendly and generous people who truly respect where they live and what they have.
We visited the house of Tahiti's spear-throwing champion, who lives on top of a hill with the most gorgeous view of the ocean and the entire island. As a foreigner who typically works in a concrete jungle, I was really moved seeing the view that they wake up to every day, and how they live without the distractions of technology. It was incredibly refreshing and peaceful. The family made us lunch, and we all took some unscheduled time out to eat together in a little grass hut on the beach. It was one of those moments when I realized how fortunate I am to have this job and to get to experience, if only just for a little while, different cultures and how other people live their lives.