Travel Leisure

Meet the Journalist Who’s Proving that Travel is for Everyone with National Geographic TV Series

Meet Jeff Jenkins, the dynamic traveler and host of National Geographic’s “Never Say Never.” He lives by the motto, “Life begins outside your comfort zone.” Jeff’s passion for pushing boundaries and exploring the unknown takes viewers on an exhilarating journey. From conquering mountains to dancing with penguins in Patagonia, Jeff’s adventures are nothing short of extraordinary.

In this interview with Travel Noire, Jeff shares defining moments from his travels for National Geographic. He also talks about his mission to represent the underrepresented in adventure. He’ll take you from heart-pounding challenges to deep connections with diverse cultures. Jeff’s stories on National Geographic will inspire you to step out of your comfort zone and embrace the world with open arms.

Photo Credit: Jeff Jenkins

Travel Noire: Your motto is “Life begins where your comfort zone ends.” Can you share a memorable experience from your travels where you truly pushed the boundaries of your comfort zone? What did you learn from that experience?

Jeff Jenkins: Rock climbing in the Adirondacks. That was the first time I had ever seen anyone remotely my size climbing any mountain. Not seeing anybody before me brought a lot of fear. I never thought that I would make it to the top. There were moments when I was climbing that I thought to myself, “How am I supposed to make it to the top?” The fact that I was able to make it to the top was one of the proudest moments of my life.

The thing that that moment taught me, and what I really learned from the show is that I am resilient, and if I keep pushing myself outside of my comfort zone these things will become easier and easier.

TN: National Geographic’s “Never Say Never with Jeff Jenkins” takes you to incredible destinations and adventures. What inspired you to create a show focused on pushing personal limits and exploring the unknown?

JJ: I realized there was a lack of representation within that space. I had never seen people doing what I was doing. I asked myself, “Why not? If not you, who?” So I’m just going to go for it. I’m going to be that representation. I believe that representation matters. When people see themselves represented they’ll get out there and do it themselves.

Photo Credit: Jeff Jenkins

TN: Traveling to places like a sumo ring in Japan or swimming with sharks in Mexico can be quite challenging. How do you prepare mentally and physically for these unique and sometimes risky experiences?

JJ: I had to learn how to become mentally prepared. A lot of focus went into creating this show. I feel like I was the most focused I had ever been for any project I’ve ever done in my life. I felt like LeBron James, Steph Curry, Lionel Messi. That Kobe Bryant Mamba mode, that’s what I felt like I had to bring to the table of dedication and focus to producing this show. It definitely presented a lot of challenges including me doing activities that someone my size normally doesn’t do.

Physically a lot of people don’t see what I do behind the scenes. I’m working out, icing, decompressing, and getting chiropractic work done consistently throughout the year. Even now as I am prepping for the possibility of another season. There’s so much I have to do to stay ready.

TN: Patagonia is famous for its breathtaking landscapes and wildlife. Could you describe your most unforgettable encounter while dancing with penguins there, and what emotions did it evoke in you?

JJ: That was the last episode that we shot of the season so my heart was already filled with joy and gratitude. I was taking in every moment, every view.

My most memorable encounter was actually when I was with Victor, the Yagán Community Counselor. We got to talk about, “What do you want the world to know about the Yagán people?” He said, “That we are human.” I think that conversation stuck out more than anything else because that is the epitome of what I am trying to do for the Plus-Size community. I wanted to show that we are human and that you can live life now, no matter your size.

TN: Many people dream of embarking on adventurous journeys but might be hesitant due to fear or uncertainty. What advice would you give to someone looking to step out of their comfort zone and explore the world?

JJ: To be honest you just got to go for it. At the end of the day, it’s you dreaming up what you want to do. That’s the biggest one, that’s the biggest key. Give yourself permission to dream, dream big, and then commit to those dreams that you came up with. If you do that it will help push you to step out of your comfort zone because life begins there. It’s very interesting how on the other side of your comfort zone is a whole other world, a whole life full of adventure, fun, and enjoyment. I’d rather be on that side than this side.

TN: As a travel journalist, you’ve likely seen a wide range of cultures and lifestyles. Can you share a story that particularly resonated with you, one that highlighted the beauty of cultural diversity and human connection?

JJ: The Māori culture and people in New Zealand. I am the biggest fan of endearment and the Māori people that I got to meet in New Zealand were the epitome of that. The way that they were connected with the land and their ancestors is something to be envious of. For them to be able to guide me through my pepeha, which is their cultural hello/greeting. It inspired me to dive into my culture, my traditions, and the things that I love in nature and I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.

TN: Traveling often means encountering unexpected challenges. Can you recall a situation where things didn’t go as planned during your travels, and how did you adapt and overcome it?

JJ: When my kayak flipped over while I was whitewater kayaking in New Mexico. That was one of the first times where I thought I might not make it. My leg got caught in the kayak, and my vest was over my face so it was literally drowning me, I hit rocks, and I bruised multiple parts of my body because of the jagged rocks. It was a tough situation, but it was interesting because I realized that, “Wow, we’re shooting a show and this show does have stakes.”

I am putting my life on the line and the show must go on. There are so many people here that are depending on me being okay and depending on me to keep on going. I also knew that I didn’t die and that this would just further push me outside of my comfort zone to embrace the new challenges and know that life comes with obstacles and adversity and you just have to push through.

TN: In today’s world, environmental conservation is crucial. Do you use your platform to raise awareness about environmental issues?

JJ: I am the biggest fan and I try to be a champion for responsible travel. I believe in coming alongside the people in that destination to leave it better or exactly the way I found it. Also respecting their culture and traditions, not trying to force my own biases in that country. I do believe in responsible travel and that is something we all need to do to leave this world better for the next generation.

Yes, I use my platform in some ways but I can’t wait to do more. I have a vision of planting a million trees and if anybody who is reading this would like to help, I’d really like to make this vision a reality.

“Never Say Never with Jeff Jenkins” is available to stream on Hulu and Disney+ and airs Sundays at 9 p.m. CT on the National Geographic channel.

This article has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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