‘The Amazing Race’ host Phil Keoghan on what it’s like to travel 250,000 miles a year, and why he doesn’t trade stocks
Phil Keoghan has hosted the TV show “The Amazing Race” since 2001. The 51-year-old from New Zealand says he’s passionate about telling stories and traveling, so he feels lucky to be working on a show that enables him to do both.
With season 31 set to premiere on April 17 on CBS CBS, +1.02% — it will feature pairs of contestants from past seasons of “Survivor,” “Big Brother” and “The Amazing Race” competing in a series of challenges across the globe — Keoghan spoke with MarketWatch about the show, and what it’s like to be constantly traveling.
Keoghan, who is married and has a daughter, also talked about his upbringing — and how it shaped his attitudes about money. When we spoke on the phone earlier this week, the first thing he said was, “How’s the stock market doing today?” Later, as we talked about how trading stocks makes him nervous, it was clear he was joking around.
MarketWatch: How’d you get into hosting? Did I read you started at 19?
Phil Keoghan: I started in TV at 18 before I went to college. I did an apprenticeship with the local network. It was the best thing ever. You couldn’t get a broadcasting degree back then, so this was the only way to get experience. Except I cut mine short when I ended up on air. You can’t say I was exactly popular with my family at that age. They were like, “What do you mean you’re not going straight to college?” I ended up going to college for a little bit later, but I kept getting offered TV work, and I think once my family saw that I was learning something and making a living, they thought, “Oh OK, maybe that is the way for him.”
MarketWatch: How many days a year do you travel?
Keoghan: Last year was a particularly heavy travel year. I had only one day off. I have had a 432,000-mile year, but on average I travel about a quarter of a million miles. I think that’s like going to the moon. Last year I was shooting the National Geographic show “Explorer” on top of two “Amazing Race” seasons, so a lot of travel. But I love travel. In my career I’ve traveled millions of miles and been to 130-plus countries.
MarketWatch: Since you travel so much, do you have any travel tips?
Keoghan: Definitely don’t overpack. Be very particular about what you take. Combine different outfits so you travel light. Never check luggage unless you absolutely have to, so you don’t lose anything. Always keep your passport close to your body. Have a stash of emergency cash somewhere on your body. Always bring reading materials. I also always travel with a journal to write things down. I have one for every single year since 1986. Sunscreen is a must. Hat. Earplugs. Eye mask. Those would be the primary things.
MarketWatch: Do you try to amass points on certain airlines or do your shows book all your travel?
Keoghan: I do follow points. I’m from New Zealand. I’m a big fan of Air New Zealand and so I fly them a lot. It’s nice to have the status. You can get overly precious when you travel too much. You have to remind yourself that there’s this magic machine that transports you from one country to another and never lose sight of that and so I try to play little games, like I’ll imagine I’m in a race with someone in another security line. I love listening to audio books. So I can be completely in another place while dealing with a long security line. But yeah I’m into flying certain airlines and getting to know particular seat configurations and where you like to sit and what routes you like to take.
Phil Keoghan’s top 5 travel tips:
Never check luggage unless you absolutely have to
Keep your passport and emergency cash on your body
Always bring reading materials
Sunscreen is a must
MarketWatch: Do you use websites to see which seats on a plane are best?
Keoghan: I use SeatGuru — I find it’s very good. I’ve also gotten to know the configurations on certain planes, like “Oh, it’s a triple-7.” Then I know the seat configuration by heart.
MarketWatch: You don’t always fly first class?
Keoghan: No [laughs]. Sometimes the cost is just ridiculous. It can be too prohibitive. Especially if the flight is less than five hours. I like emergency exit rows. In fact I prefer them to a lot of business seats on some of the shorter haul flights. It’s just such a waste to me to be sitting up there when I get a perfectly good seat in an emergency exit row and I can get that if I have good status, which I do.
MarketWatch: What do you like about hosting the show?
Keoghan: I love being part of a world-class team. I like the responsibility of being the only person on the team who does what I do. I work with another producer to write the scripts and research. Which is one of my favorite parts of the whole show. Prepping. It’s the anticipation of going on the trip and getting excited about where we’re going and just learning things about the world and I get paid for that and it’s amazing to me. I’m the luckiest guy.
MarketWatch: What do you hate spending money on?
Keoghan: I do not like spending money on cable. I don’t really watch it. It annoys me that I’m paying for so many channels that I never get to watch. All these different cable channels showing things like tiddly winks. It just seems like I should be cutting the cable. It annoys me that I keep getting this bill and I don’t know what the hell I’m paying for.
MarketWatch: What do you not mind spending money on?
Keoghan: Anything to do with family, travel, friends. I’ve really tried in my life not to be materialistic and more about creating moments. I’ve only ever bought myself one new car in my life. An Audi S4, 15 years ago. It only has 50,000 miles on the clock. I ride my bike more than I drive my car.
The only other new car I’ve bought was for my parents — and it was the greatest joy of my life. I took them to lunch; I was in Christchurch [New Zealand] and I had the new car parked in front of the restaurant, and after we were done we walked out on the street and I said, “So dad, if you could pick any car here on the street to drive home — just joking around — which one would it be? He said, “Ah, I’d probably pick that one right there. It looks like a new Prius.” Then I clicked the button and the lights went on. My mum said, “What’s going on?”
MarketWatch: Did you know he’d want a Prius?
Keoghan: Yeah and I knew it would fit with their lifestyle and it was economical. They were unbelievably excited. As they were driving away I realized I never gave them instructions on how the car worked and they might get to the light and think the car stalled because it’s quiet [laughs]. Thank god they made it home.
My mother always taught me: If you’re going to buy something, buy the best. And if you can’t afford it, wait. Don’t settle for mediocrity with anything. I’ve always lived by that. I try to instill that in my daughter. This idea of saving for something and never be impulsive with your buys. Savor it. Look forward to it.
I’ll tell you a funny story. Before I bought the Audi, I had an old 1997 Honda Accord. It was perfectly fine. A friend said he’s going to Europe and would I want to drive his Porsche while he’s gone. I drove it to a meeting with a potential business partner. We walk out of the meeting and he sees me going to the Porsche and says, “Thank god you got rid of that piece of crap car you had.” I said, “The Porsche is not my car. I’m just borrowing it. I’ll be driving that piece of crap to our meetings next week.” He was very disappointed.
MarketWatch: What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever been given?
Keoghan: “If you don’t have it, don’t spend it.” Credit cards hate me because I just pay my bills. The only money I ever borrowed was for a mortgage on my apartment in L.A. I also have a house in New Zealand. People say, “Why don’t you get a house in L.A.?” I don’t need a house. I don’t want a house and all the responsibility that comes with that. I live in an apartment. I can lock it up and go away and not worry about it. And we only have the mortgage for tax reasons. We can write off a portion of it. Our accountant always says, “Oh you guys are so conservative.” Well, it frightens me — there are too many people in debt and I worry about debt. I really do worry about how many people are in debt. Living beyond their means.
MarketWatch: What percent of your money is in bonds and stocks?
Keoghan: I’ve never really done that. To be honest with you, I’ve done things with money you’re not meant to do. I put money into my own projects. We helped fund a film called “The Ride” and gave the profits to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society instead of reimbursing ourselves. Over a million dollars. Right now we’re funding a podcast to inspire people — Buckit with Phil Keoghan — we don’t have sponsors.
I have some money tucked away for retirement and that’s invested in blue chip stocks. But I don’t personally trade. It makes me too nervous, to be honest with you. I prefer the idea of property or something I can see.
MarketWatch: Do you have hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank?
Keoghan: More in property. More tied up in projects we’re doing. I mean, life is expensive. I also think you want to have some liquidity. Be ready for a rainy day. I don’t want to be checking the market. I know people who check it first thing everyday. Did I lose? Did I win? I don’t want to have a call from my broker, “Listen, it’s gone down and it’s gonna be bad for six months. Just hang in there.” Or getting a call and maybe I’m in someplace like Laos, “Hey listen. I really think this is a great opportunity…blahblahblahblahblah.” I’m like, no — I haven’t got time. To me it’s like gambling.
MarketWatch: What’s your favorite possession?
Keoghan: My grandfather’s watch. He was a mechanic and he saved up and got a beautiful Swiss watch. It’s not worth a lot of money, but for him it was everything. And I have that watch and it’s been refurbished. I only wear it on special occasions, as a reminder of where my family has come from. His father was a coal miner; I come from humble beginnings, and I live this life they could never have imagined. And that watch is something I treasure more than anything I own. It’s a reminder of where I come from, and to stay grounded. And it’s a lucky watch. I’ve worn it every time we’ve won an Emmy [laughs]. It’s been good to me.
I’ve done things my grandparents, who were so generous to me, could never imagine. They saved up their whole life for an overseas trip. I always remember this because I fly around the world so much. When I turned 21 they presented me with a check, and I got so upset. Thankfully they thought I was upset because I was overwhelmed about the money. But it was because I was so shocked by how little it was. It was everything to them. But in the world I was living in it was not a lot of money. It made me realize they had sacrificed every week. I was disappointed in myself for my first reaction. I always try to remember that. You must respect the value of money, no matter how much you have.
MarketWatch: Have you made any money mistakes?
Keoghan: Yes. I was convinced by someone to invest in something that all my instincts told me not to invest in. It was gambling on something being successful, and it went bust. I lost money. Now i’ll never do it again.