Published on March 18th, 2013 | by Charu Suri3
Around the World in 365 Days: An Interview with Rainer Jenss
Meet Rainer Jenss, founder of Smart Family Travel and former Vice President and 13 year old veteran of the fabled National Geographic. Jenss is my personal hero, because he not only put his passion and expertise to the test by journeying around the world with his two sons, but because he’s committed to sharing ideas and fun ways to educate kids through travel. Get to know him better in our Q&A:
You’ve traveled for a year with your family around the world: what were some of the most valuable experiences your kids will remember?
Rainer Jenss: It’s funny, every time someone asks them what they liked most about the trip, they answer it differently. That tells me they took away a lot more out of the whole experience than just one thing. Interestingly, I think one of the biggest impacts the trip has had on them was building their confidence. I notice that they are not afraid or intimidated to try new things, whether it’s food or activities. In fact, I think they actually welcome trying different things. It’s like a new challenge for them and they take pride in that. They are also very comfortable around adults and I’ve been told that they seem more mature for their age(s).
In terms of specific experiences, there were many. The ones they recall with fond memories include: the food in Japan; living in a camper van in New Zealand; being chased by pirates in the Indian Ocean; sitting on the Great Pyramids; snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef; and one that certainly left a strong impression: taking part in a Buddhist ceremony in Bhutan. I think this, combined with the exposure to other religions really made them accepting to people of all faiths!
How did you budget for that trip? Was it something you’ve always wanted to do?
RJ: My wife and I always talked about doing it before we had kids. After the birth of our sons, we just kind of stopped mentioning it. After all, who would seriously quit their job and travel around the world with their kids?? Well it dawned on us when the kids got older that traveling around the world WITH the boys would be an incredible gift for them (as well as us), so we committed to it and never looked back! It would be the best education of their lives!
Meanwhile, we decided to save money for 4 years (until they were 8 & 11 years old). We wanted to have enough for a budget of $10,000 per month, and that’s what we managed to save over that time.
Which countries surprised you? Why?
RJ: Bhutan. My wife and I knew that we would love it, but we were a little worried about the kids. After all, it’s not necessarily considered a “kids-friendly” place — It’s in high altitude; the food is not great; and we weren’t sure what they’d think about the Bhuddist culture. As it turned out, they might have liked it even more than us! It taught us to NEVER underestimate what the kids might like!
We were also pleasantly surprised how great Greece was. The (fresh) food was out-of-this-world and the people super friendly!
You helped make National Geographic Kids the most widely read consumer magazine throughout the world. In a nutshell, what was the secret sauce needed to make this happen?
RJ: National Geographic’s philosophy was to make it fun for kids to learn about the world . . . and we did that! At the end of the day, the parents that buy the magazine for their kids trust the yellow border that represents National Geographic quality. We had to make sure to deliver on that expectation!
What’s your advice to parents who want to teach children through travel?
RJ: I tell parents to focus on just exposing the kids to new things and experiences. Chances are good that they’ll really enjoy whatever it is. This is particularly true for younger kids, who are amazingly curious. Nurture that curiosity! And definitely get them involved in the planning process. if they helped decide where to go, they’ll feel that much more invested in it. As far as the learning goes, just remember to make it fun for them. Turn museums into a scavenger hunt or have them keep checklists of things they want to see. Ask them a lot of questions too. The important thing is to get out and do things you normally wouldn’t do at home. That’s a learning experience right there!
If you could take your kids to one place they haven’t been before, where would that be and why?
RJ: Gosh, we have a long list of places we still want to go . . I’d say everyone really wants to go to Antarctica! It’s one of the most remote places in the world and the wildlife is supposed to be spectacular. That’s something we ALL love and appreciate. We’re saving that one for a special occasion.