Introducing: The Jenss Family Travels

Rainer, Carol, Tyler (in the blue shirt) and Stefan (in the green shirt).

In one month, National Geographic Kids Vice President and Publisher Rainer Jenss will embark on the trip of a lifetime. He’s selling his house and setting off for a year-long, round-the-world journey with his wife and two sons, and he’ll be blogging about his trip for Traveler the entire time. We asked him to offer up a bit in the way of an introduction, and to explain his reasons for leaving his current life in New York to travel the world.

It’s four weeks away from the day my wife Carol and I have been planning and fantasizing about for the last four years. The day we officially act on the most wonderful, life-changing, crazy, outrageous, and most of all, natural idea we’ve ever had: to travel around the world with our two boys, Tyler (11), and Stefan (8).

Over the next year and 50,000+ mile journey, we will all be contributing bi-weekly postings to Intelligent Travel. As such, I set out to address two of the more common questions that people like Keith Bellows, Traveler‘s editor-in-chief, ask us all the time: Why we are doing this and what do we hope to gain from it? I was immediately struck by a word I came across in Global Traveler magazine just the other day, a term which they’ve trademarked:

Globility /glo bility/ n: The quality of being open to a world of cultures and experiences.

I wonder if this is even a real word?  It doesn’t matter. Its definition alone makes it something I wanted to adopt for this trip, and in a word, provides the core of an answer that is this complex and multi-dimensional. To understand this further, we need to go back a few years.

For most of my professional life, I was anxious to know where my career path would take me. I was an idealist consumed with trying to find my ‘true calling’, determined to align my personal interests with a job I could succeed in. During this time, Carol and I would talk only half-jokingly about just packing it up, leaving New York, and traveling around the world. That was before Tyler and Stefan were born.

Then September 11th happened, and I, along with so many others, changed my perspective about what’s really important. It wasn’t so much that 9/11 changed my outlook on wanting to travel, it was the catalyst that motivated us to finally do it. But this time it wasn’t to escape New York, a job I didn’t like, or to find my true calling. What seemed to clearly come into focus were the words of National Geographic’s Explorer-in-Residence and anthropologist Wade Davis:

“Our way of life…with its stunning technological wizardry, its cities dense with intrigue, is but one alternative rooted in a particular intellectual lineage . . . . [There are] other options, means of interpreting existence, ways of being.”

What are those other ways of being that Wade was referring to? Is how we live our lives the best way?  What can we learn from other cultures?

What can we learn about our own? I realized I not only wanted to know, but needed to know, and I wanted the kids to know too. After all, the America we call home is not the center of the universe. Being exposed to cultures and ways of life different from their own will hopefully make our sons more compassionate global citizens, understanding life from not just one point of view. We further hope this experience will lay a solid foundation for them to pursue whatever it is that really drives them.

I come by my wanderlust honestly. Born in Germany, by my sixth birthday I was living in my third country, with Brazil being home from ages 2-5. I came to the United States on a cruise ship—the Italian Line’s S.S. Michelangelo. Traveling is practically a birthright for Germans; my parents took my sister and me along with them on almost every trip they went on: through the Caribbean, South America, and road-tripping around Europe. This continued up until college, where for the first time, I started to head out on my own. Whether it was following the Grateful Dead on tour or visiting friends in college towns, traveling took on a whole new scope of opportunity. I found myself in my element and I’ve been in pursuit of more of those experiences ever since.

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So how about the end game? What are we going to get out of doing this, and what will we learn from this experience? Simply put, I’m not sure, and truth be told, I don’t want there to be any kind of scripted ending. As a dear friend once advised me, “Set your intention and the universe will conspire to show you the way.”

In many ways, the journey has already begun. To steal a line from Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-seller, Eat, Pray, Love, “I’m making space for the unknown future to fill up my life with yet-to-come surprises.” From the moment we dedicated ourselves to taking this trip four years ago, the transformation began. I became liberated from the grip of having to know exactly where I was going in life, and for the first time, accepted the notion that I could chart my own course on faith. I also began to explore professional opportunities around this notion of family travel. During that time, we developed a program that would send dozens of kids from around the country on assignment with National Geographic to places like the Galapagos, South Africa, and Australia. For the first time in my career, I felt really enthused and involved in something that was more than a professional interest: It felt like a real calling to me.

The fact that this trip has already opened up the mere possibility for me to do something different, to go places both personally and professionally that I may never have realized or dreamed of is precisely what I want to get out of this trip . . . and we have not even left yet!  I look forward to sharing what we discover once we do!

Rainer Jenss and his family will be sending dispatches from their journey as they wander the globe. Stay tuned for more from them soon!

Photo: Rainer Jenss

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