Broadcasting Alumna Brings History to Life in Her PBS Travel Series “Curious Traveler”
By Lenore Devore, B.S. Journalism 1984
Former University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications News Directors Catherine Harwood and Tom Krynski taught their students how to work on deadline and get things done in minutes, or even seconds, instilling in them a hard-work ethic that Christine van Blokland, B.S., Broadcast 1995, appreciates to this day.
Van Blokland is the host, writer and executive producer of Curious Traveler, an educational, international travel series on PBS – far from the Disney animator she wanted to be when she started at the University of Florida.
“As an adult in the real world, when I’m trying to get something done, I can’t stand it when someone takes three days to do it. I would get it done in three minutes,” van Blokland said. “I love that excitement – working on a deadline, getting it done right then. All those years of live broadcasts have rewired my brain. It definitely carries over to my regular life – I’m a hyper-efficient person.”
That’s the advice she would give students today: “You have to be a multitasker and be a hard worker if you’re going to be in broadcasting; lazy people get weeded out. Know what you’re getting yourself into.”
She was born in Scotland, but grew up in Gainesville, Florida. When she started at UF, she had plans to be an art major. Then she thought she would do graphic arts on the journalism production side – until she met a sorority sister who was the news anchor for WUFT. She switched to news.
Then the murders of five UF students by Danny Rolling in 1990 happened and she had to interview the parents of one of the victims. “I was never a hard news person to begin with, and in case I wasn’t sure before, I knew I was sure at that point. I knew I wanted to do feature reporting, happy news, but there wasn’t a track or even a single class for broadcast feature reporting back then.”
Van Blokland took note of weather forecasters, who often were able to do some feature reporting as well as weather and decided to pursue that avenue.
So, she taught herself how to be a weather forecaster and landed jobs in Chicago at CLTV then at WPLG-TV in Miami, but she realized she still wasn’t doing what she wanted. “After Hurricane Andrew, Miami news directors didn’t want their weather forecasters doing fun, silly feature reporting. So I was really never doing any feature reporting, which was what I really wanted to do.”
She took a year off from broadcasting and went to animation school at Vancouver Film School in Canada. Then, she got back into broadcasting in Palm Springs, California, where she was the entertainment reporter for a regional arts and entertainment show on KPSP-TV.
Van Blokland eventually landed a job as the morning feature reporter for Fox 35 WOFL in Orlando. “My job was reporting from Disney World, swimming with the dolphins at Sea World, and flying with Cirque du Soleil. What could be better?”
After five years, she left to become a feature reporter and travel writer for CBS in Atlanta, then Georgia Public Broadcasting, also in Atlanta, as a travel host and writer for a regional travel series, where she earned multiple Emmys.
But she was ready for something new.
“I was tired of the fluff of entertainment reporting. I needed to use my brain,” van Blokland said. “So, in 2012, I went to Europe, filmed a pilot for a new travel series and pitched it to PBS. I remember I had to write a 20-page treatment as part of the pitch. Fortunately, they loved it. I was so thankful.”
Now in its sixth season with more than 60 episodes from around the world, Curious Traveler airs nationwide on PBS, CreateTV, Amazon Prime Video and streams on PBS Passport and PBS Video. The show also is licensed internationally through American Public Television Worldwide, and can even be found on inflight entertainment on airplanes.
She’s been nominated for three National Daytime Emmys for Curious Traveler: one for Outstanding Host and two as executive producer in the Outstanding Travel Program category.
Her favorite place to visit? Wales.
“Wales is a tiny country. If you love England, Scotland and Ireland – you’ll love Wales even more. You’ll find this incredible patchwork of green, rolling hills that go on for miles. It’s pristine and lovely with wonderful stone cottages, old churches and these wonky and wonderful little bridges. The language is so unique, and there are measures in place to try to preserve it.”
All locations and segments are pre-planned, but there’s always room for discovery. Van Blokland and three videographers often film a half-hour episode in two to three days, shooting as many as three episodes in one trip.
She loves being on location, but that’s only 10% of the job, she said. “The other 90% is researching ahead of time, pitching her ideas to tourism offices and doing weeks and months of post-production. I’m writing the script, picking the sound bites, editing it, making it all just right. I want our viewers to feel like they’re there, whether it’s Paris or Belgium or Switzerland. Finding the right balance between entertaining and informative is the biggest challenge.”
Van Blokland said she “wants to give people a reason to be so fascinated with what they’ve just learned that they want to go there and see that place in person. I like to say that my series is teaching history while standing in the history.”
In addition to Curious Traveler, van Blokland produced, wrote and hosted an award-winning travel series for USA Today Travel called “Take Me Away.” She also recently launched “Curious Traveler Tours,” with the 2024 tour in Germany.
Van Blokland is a member of Mensa, the high IQ society. She includes it on her website to try to dispel stereotypes.
“Being 5 feet tall, with blonde hair and being a generally ‘perky’ person, sometimes people might have assumptions about me. I can’t tell you how many times people have said: ‘Oh, so who writes your script for you? Where’s your prompter? Who tells you what to say? Who’s your boss?’“
Van Blokland said she takes it in stride, and as soon as she starts chatting with people, they see that she knows her stuff.
And even though she strayed away from hard news, she hopes her fellow journalism grads and new students notice that she continues to incorporate the “who, what, where, when, why and how” of journalism into every episode of Curious Traveler.