Listen to this article here
‘Never Say Never’ with travel journalist Jeff Jenkins premiered July 9 on National Geographic.
Though Jeff didn’t step foot on a plane until he was 20 years old, his mantra “life begins where your comfort zone ends” is now stamped and approved for all to see and experience.
The Black Wall Street Times spoke with Jeff onsite during Essence Fest to learn more about his journey to liberation.
“I can be me.” – Jeff Jenkins
“I had an online platform called “Chubby Diaries” that I started on social media helping chubby people travel the world,” Jeff recalled. “I noticed there weren’t a lot of people that look like me [on travel websites or TV shows]. They would only show fit people and never plus-size people so I made it my mission to redefine what travel looks like.”
Now a certified scuba diver, hiker, climber and one of Travel & Leisure’s most notable travelers of all time, the now-TV travel host says this was the plan all along.
“I read my affirmations every day and one of them was to have a TV show.” He continued, “So I started doing the things I needed to do to get a TV show. I started painting that visual by having a YouTube series.”
Jeff’s mission is to inspire those who look like him to travel without fear and push past their perceived limitations to experience everything the world has to offer.
‘Never Say Never’ follows Jeff as he travels the world testing the limits of his physical abilities — from attempting to climb 70 foot mountain faces, to rafting class 5 rapids, to sailing in a windstorm at the end of the world.
Throughout his global odyssey Jeff makes deep connections with locals and learns not just about the world, but also about himself.
“Japan is my favorite country in the world. It was my first international trip and I returned again with the show” He continued, “… I got to do sumo wrestling. Sumo wrestlers are revered like Gods there.”
Jeff cathartically continued, “I took back the shame of taking my shirt off and getting into the ring. It was a moment of liberation for myself to get out of my own head and just be okay with who I am.”
Jeff proclaimed, “With NAT GEO, we’re ushering in a new era of storytellers, people who look like me and other diverse voices.”
“I hope our show can usher in a new audience so more people have the opportunity to share their stories,” said Jeff Jenkins.
A fan of boiled bacon later brought to a crunchy and crisp finish, Jeff’s bon vivant taste palette has traversed the globe more than most, leaving only Antartica currently left unstamped on his legendary passport.
After paying it forward by distributing passports to those without them, Jeff explains, “I don’t want it to just be me. I want other people to have the opportunity to travel. There’s something powerful about having a passport.”
Jeff added, “My favorite quote is ‘encouragement and motivation are like a shower: you need it every day.’ You have to surround yourself with people who motivate and encourage you.”
After overcoming low confidence during his middle school years, Jeff said his younger self could’ve benefited knowing that “people actually like you. There’s an energy you give. There’s a superpower you have.”
A Florida Agriculture & Mechanical University alum, Jeff remembers, “FAMU gave me a sense of pride being a Black person that I didn’t get anywhere else. They taught you about who you are and the contributions of Black people which me made want to contribute to the world as other people had.”
It’s the circle of life
As 90’s classic ‘The Lion King’ still stands as Jeff’s favorite Disney movie of all time, he reminisced about a cherished moment of life’s parallels with his father.
Jeff’s dad, who had been a longtime celebrity and VIP chef at Disney’s Dreamer’s Academy, told his son, “If I had still been working there, I’d be cooking for you.”
Though Jeff admits to not feeling wholly embraced at every travel destination throughout his life, he overwhelmingly expressed the amount of kindness and adoration people have outside of the US.
“As a Black American, people are welcoming and open to meeting you. Sometimes they want to get pictures or stare [but it’s usually fine.]… “They think we’re celebrities because we dress well.”
Featuring travel episodes like Nonstop New Zealand to a Penguin Party in Patagonia, Jenkins is here to expand horizons and challenge norms.
“My favorite food in the world is Jamaican and Korean BBQ. My first time having Korean BBQ was in Japan where we cooked our own meat… We ate it like ‘this is incredible!'”
After calling out the lack of modifications offered for plus-size travelers, Jeff says many solutions are practical in nature and would entice more travelers to visit once unfathomed locations.
As many companies wield the all-encompassing “safety” as a scapegoat for plus-size travelers, Jeff argues, “it’s their way of saying they haven’t thought about it. It’s all about innovation. If they modify the equipment it works.”
“Before I started, I didn’t know anybody talking about body positivity or plus-size travel. I coined the term ‘plus-size travel.’ It’s just small modifications that people just haven’t thought about.”
The limitless Jeff Jenkins is all clear for takeoff, catch him Sunday nights on National Geographic each week through August 27.
This interview was edited for brevity.