Jessica Gee, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BUCKET LIST FAMILY TRAVEL: Share the World with Your Kids on 50 Adventures of a Lifetime

Jessica Gee, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BUCKET LIST FAMILY TRAVEL: Share the World with Your Kids on 50 Adventures of a Lifetime

Zibby speaks to Jessica Gee, mom in the mega-popular Bucket List Family, about NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BUCKET LIST FAMILY TRAVEL, an indispensable and beautifully illustrated guide with fifty destination itineraries and countless expert tips for traveling with kids. Jessica shares the origins of her family’s adventures (it involves selling an app, making some money, and traveling instead of buying a house!). The discussion explores her and her husband’s intentional approach to building their brand, incorporating content creation and sponsorships from the outset. She highlights the transformative experiences her kids have gained and how incredible it has been for all of them to embrace spontaneity and the value of other cultures.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jessica. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Bucket List Family Travel: Share the World with Your Kids on 50 Adventures of a Lifetime. Congratulations.

Jessica Gee: Thank you so much. Thank you.

Zibby: I watched when you were so emotional opening your books on your birthday. I love that so much, when you see an author step into it. It’s so exciting. Was it just amazing, that moment?

Jessica: It was. Having it in my hands, I was hoping that would be the moment it felt real. I feel like it still doesn’t feel real. It was a very special moment to have. I think as moms, a lot of times, you don’t have something to show for all your hard work. To have worked the last four years on something that I’m like, look, I did this, I was thrilled.

Zibby: It is really nice, and to be like, kids, look, I worked on something, and you can now hold it too.

Jessica: I know.

Zibby: And you’re in it.

Jessica: Look what Mom did. It’s not dinner. It’s not laundry. It’s not some intangible .

Zibby: For those who are not, first of all, familiar with Bucket List Family Travel as the brand and the whole thing, talk a little bit about that and how the book became an outgrowth of your brand.

Jessica: Back in 2015, my husband and I, we took off on some travels. It was at a point in our life where we — Garrett, my husband, had started a company. He had an app. He sold it, so we came into some money. I think we were twenty-eight or something, twenty-nine. We didn’t know what was next in life. We decided to hold off buying a house or settling down and do a little bit of traveling. Those were the famous last words. Four months of travel turned into three years full-time travel. Now we’re almost eight years later and almost to a hundred countries with our three kids in tow. We share everything on social media, Instagram and YouTube. About four years ago in 2020, we got an email from National Geographic. We had been approached a few times by publishers. I just wasn’t very interested. Then when National Geographic came around and pitched me on this idea of having a very visual book, I was sold immediately. Then being tied to the National Geographic brand was an honor and a dream of mine. It really was a beautiful be a part of it.

Zibby: Wow. I love that story. In the book, you talk about the journey of, first of all, the sale of Scan to Snapchat. I worked at an internet company in 2001. Wait, no, 2000. It was called Idealab. They made all these different companies. One of the ideas that the founder had was a company called Scan where we would scan barcodes and all this stuff. It was so early. Nobody was like, why would anyone look at the barcodes? Of course, it came and went in two minutes. I remember telling people, I work for Scan. They’re like, what? Why? When I read this and it’s like, and then ten years later, he made Scan and sold it for millions of dollars to Snapchat, I’m like, oh, my gosh.

Jessica: Come on.

Zibby: Seriously.

Jessica: How funny. That’s interesting.

Zibby: His name was Bill Gross, the founder of Idealab. It wasn’t my idea or anything, but funny. Anyway, then he was so unhappy working in a nine-to-five job. This opportunity presented itself. What I found really interesting is that from the outset of it, he had a plan that you were getting sponsors. You were going to work with brands. You were going to subsidize the travel. There was a way to make this dream a reality and also a brand. He started Instagram and YouTube from the start. It was very intentional. It’s not like, I started traveling, and then we realized, hey, we have a concept. Tell me a little bit more about that and how using content from your life can be this type of business and how you’re the poster child for that.

Jessica: In 2015, influencing wasn’t quite a thing. It was just at the start of it. There were a bunch of mommy bloggers. That was really big. Especially travel influencing, it just wasn’t a thing. Garrett was really forward-thinking. We took off. When we were leaving, we went to an outdoor retailer, just a big trade show in Salt Lake City. It used to be in Salt Lake City. We went there. Garrett just hustled. He told everybody what we were doing. We were taking off on these trips. He said, “If you want to give us some of your products, then we’ll take photos of it and just give you the photos or we’ll share it on our Instagram in cool places all over the world.” That was the pitch initially. Then over time, it actually really evolved into what it is. For me, on the other side, I wasn’t necessarily in it for a business. I was just on a family vacation. It took me a good six months to come around. My background is in marketing. I wanted to do advertising and product placement in movies. That was always my dream job, putting Reese’s Pieces in E.T. or putting the Bond car — I thought that would be the coolest job. Now I just do product placement in my own life. It was a good match when it came to Garrett’s design skills. He quickly picked up photography and videography. Then I had the business side of things and the marketing end. It worked out really well. Honestly, I think so much of our timing was really great, really, really great. There are so many other families now, including after we left, doing the exact same thing. I do think our timing was quite impeccable.

Zibby: Amazing. What have you learned that the average mom at home can take away and make her trips better?

Jessica: I think even just going on trips. I think a lot of times, moms are, myself included — you don’t want to go certain places because you’re afraid of how your kids will behave. At the end of the day, my kid’s going to throw a tantrum at the grocery store, and they’re going to throw it at the steps of the Eiffel Tower. Kids are kids wherever they are. That’s one of the things that I’ve learned. Just the importance of getting out and seeing things. It’s okay to get rid of the comfort zones and the routines and to just try something new together. Experiencing the world together has been such a blessing for us.

Zibby: Do you think it’s also helping them develop the sense of empathy and place in the world and all of these intangible —

Jessica: — One hundred percent, all of the things, being more open-minded and seeing how people live. Not everybody’s the same. Everybody finds happiness in their ways. There’s so many, like you said, intangibles that our kids have experienced that I’m so, so grateful for. So many great things can come from traveling and showing the world and different cultures to your children.

Zibby: Do you ever feel like, I just want to stay in bed under the covers and not go anywhere today?

Jessica: Maybe a little bit. We have a house in Hawaii now. When we’re home, we’re homebodies. We don’t explore our islands. We do a little bit. Probably, people think that we’re out doing these hikes and doing all these beach — when we’re home, we’re very much like, okay, we want to be home. When we’re out and about, we’re cruising.

Zibby: Love that. When you thought about putting the fifty destinations in this book, how did you narrow it down?

Jessica: We put out a world map. I had a gal help me. Her name is Gina. We called her my book doula. She helped me lay everything out. I had my few places. I had maybe thirty places that I was like, for sure, for sure. Then the others were filling in the gaps just to make sure there was a really nice spread of places from all over the world, South America, Africa, Australia, Europe.

Zibby: Were there any destinations where it looks good here, but really, there were secret thing going on that made it a little less pleasant than you might project, or no?

Jessica: At least everything in the book that I shared genuinely are incredible places that I would highly recommend. There’s other places that I might not return to. Also, sometimes it depends on the circumstances. I was pregnant for a good chunk of our travels. When I think back to some of those places, I get a little nauseous, but that’s because . Everything in the book, I genuinely highly recommend those destinations.

Zibby: How have your kids felt being part of, essentially, a movie of their lives, a reality show of their lives as they’ve grown up? Now these gorgeous pictures of them in this book, for example, and just letting everybody get to know them, have they realized yet that not everybody knows everybody else’s kids the way that people know your kids?

Jessica: They don’t really know any better. I remember years ago, we were at a hotel pool. My daughter Dorothy thought that everybody had videos of their lives. She made this friend. She was like, “You should watch my videos. Can I watch your videos?” She didn’t realize that not everybody had a dad who documented their entire life. They’re starting to understand it a little bit more. Manilla, my middle child, he found out what a Google — sorry, what’s it called? A YouTube play button. When you hit a million subscribers or something like that, you get some plaque, which we had and just put it away in some closet. Manilla was asking Garrett if we had one. Garrett was like, “I don’t know, buddy.” He was like, “You’ll get there someday, Dad.” We’ve tried to keep them a little under the blanket of how big we are and how much people might actually know who they are.

Zibby: I love that. You said in the end of the book that you don’t really have a bucket list anymore. Of course, there are a couple of things you want to do. You always are open-minded and all of that. Is that true? Where do you still want to go? Where do you want to go next? Can we really run out of places we want to go?

Jessica: I don’t have a physical list anywhere. That’s what I said in the book, that I’m a fraud. There is an ever-growing list the more I travel — Garrett and I have gotten really into wildlife. A lot of our places now are, we want to see the orangutans in the wild. We want to see panda bears in the wild. We want to see a tiger in the wild. Garrett wants to swim with the orcas in Norway. A lot of our travels are ticking off those things. I’m really interested in seeing a lot of festivals and cultures and going to Holi in India and going to the running with the bulls, just stuff like that. The list just keeps going on and on. The more you travel, the more you talk to people, the longer your bucket list gets.

Zibby: After being exposed to all these other countries, do you ever look at the chaos here in the United States right now and say, maybe we should move to X, Y, Z place?

Jessica: Yeah, that’s happened a bunch. When we first took off for our travels, I think we were just very naïve Americans. Not necessarily in a bad way. Not bad, but also not good. You’re taught at a young age, America’s the best. Everybody loves America. Then as soon as you go out of the country, you’re like, oh, no, people don’t necessarily want to be you. Our country is in shambles, which it is. We actually applied for a visa for New Zealand. They have a really cool program for entrepreneurs, investors, and businesspeople. You can apply and get a three-year visa. Then in the end, you can get citizenship. We applied. We got in. We were going to move to New Zealand. Then I got pregnant with my third. I was like, New Zealand’s just too far. I think God purposefully put the most spectacular place on the planet just a little bit too much out of reach so not everybody will move there. That’s definitely come across our plates, the idea of, maybe we can go somewhere else.

Zibby: Do you do a lot of reading while you’re traveling?

Jessica: I do a lot of audiobooks.

Zibby: What types of books are you drawn to?

Jessica: It just depends. Sometimes I’m very much into the fiction and just want to have an escape. Then occasionally, I’ll listen to more podcasts on church topics and health topics and stuff like that.

Zibby: Amazing. I guess it’s not as easy to carry around all these books on your back.

Jessica: No, no. I wish. Now that I’m home, I’m starting to accumulate a whole lot more. It’s good to have a bookshelf now.

Zibby: Awesome. How do brands work with you? How have you gone from walking around a store and soliciting invitations to being an official travel influencer? How does that work? Do you get management? Let’s say somebody out there is like, I want to do this too. How does it work?

Jessica: For us, Garrett and I have always been control freaks, so we have done everything on our own for a while. Just recently, a couple years ago, we did hire a gal who helps manage and helps me go through contracts and negotiations and stuff. It’s just been a lifesaver. In general, if you want to get started, you just start creating content. You start making things and start showing people what you can do and then trying to grow your audience. Naturally, brands will start coming along. Early on, you’ll do stuff for trade. You’ll get some free swimsuits, and then you post a picture. Then down the road — it’s earlier. Nowadays, I think brands are a lot more respectful to people and their time and their talents. You can charge earlier on if you’re a quality content creator. We still have brands come along and reach out and want to work with us. Then other times, we reach out to them.

Things just happen naturally. That’s always my favorite. We have a really great partner with me for my book tour called Just Ingredients. They are everything health and very clean ingredients. I had done this podcast about a month ago about my mental health. I shared about some of my anxiety and mild depression that I’ve been having and experiencing over the last few years and how this brand has helped me. It wasn’t a sponsored thing at all. I was just like, I’ve loved this lady who teaches all of these incredible things about health. Then they reached out to me and were thrilled that I love their products. Now it’s this super natural, beautiful partnership that I have for my whole book tour that I’m super excited to share about because I love it. That’s the best, when that works out, when you just start sharing products that you naturally love and use all the time.

Zibby: I love that. Amazing. Do you have any regrets from any of these trips you took? Something you wish you’d done?

Jessica: That’s a great question. I think any regrets would be just not soaking it in enough. Now I’m looking back at how fast my kids grow and how sometimes I was probably just so worked up in logistics and details and planning and stressed out on travel days. If I could just go back and tell myself to breathe and enjoy every moment, I would.

Zibby: Me too. That’s good parenting advice, traveling or not, all the chaos. Having worked on this book, what advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Jessica: I’m trying to think. Advice, for me, I think the thing that caught me most by surprise — maybe it’s because I didn’t necessarily go into this being like, I want to be a writer. I was so impressed with how much I knew. I would sit down to write, and it would just come out. I was so proud of myself. I just see myself as such a normal mom. Then when I started writing all this, I was like, wow, I’ve accumulated a ton of knowledge over the last eight years. I was just so happy how easy that was. I think just being proud of yourself and what you know and what you can share and your ideas and your creativity. I was really stoked with how easy it actually was for me to write.

Zibby: My nine-year-old son loves travel already. He spends all this time on sites. He sends Google polls so that we can decide as a family where to go next. He planned our whole itinerary to Japan. Finally, I was like, you know what? Let’s just do this. Let’s just go and do his itinerary, and we did. It was amazing. He was beaming the entire time. It was just so cool.

Jessica: That’s amazing. That’s been on my radar the last couple of months. We’re going to do that next. I’m going to have my oldest plan the trip. She will be thrilled. She’ll do a great job too. Did your son love planning it?

Zibby: He loves it. Loves it. Yes. He’s good at it.

Jessica: have a next stop?

Zibby: He really wants us to go to Australia. I would also like to go to Australia. He wants to go back to Japan. He loves Japan. Australia is on both of our lists. Somehow, it’s only him and me in the whole family. I’m like, let’s just, somehow, you and me go to Japan. I mean, sorry, go to Australia. After we went, on the flight home, I realized I had learned so much that I never would have known. We had taken a guide on one or two of the palaces or whatever. I was like, I should just tell people all the things I’ve learned. I spent half the — not half the flight, but hours on the flight home writing up. Now still, people are like, I printed out your whole thing and brought it with me to Japan. Thank you so much. I’m like, this is so cool. We can share this knowledge and improve people’s experiences. That’s just what you’ve done and blown it out of the water.

Jessica: It’s so fun how much people genuinely love to talk about their travel, talk about their trips. We’re in Nashville now. People are so thrilled and excited to give me their tips and tricks. It’s really nice when you can pull itineraries or suggestions and get those from all over the world. I love that.

Zibby: Do you have more books coming?

Jessica: We do have more books coming. Yeah, we’ve got some books coming. I guess I can’t even say. We haven’t announced it yet, but yes, more books coming.

Zibby: Excellent. Anything else new in terms of big projects that are spinning off, like a book or like any other creative thing or just other places you want to take your brand?

Jessica: Books. We’re heading for some books. Kids’ books and more adult books with National Geographic. It’s my husband’s project, so I’ll let him share more on that. We’ve talked about another volume with National Geographic, another two volumes for me. We’ve got some more traveling to do and some more itineraries to nail down.

Zibby: Amazing. You can always call my son if you need advice.

Jessica: because we need to go back. That’s funny you say that your son loves it because my daughter, it’s her favorite country. We haven’t been since she was four, but she’s dying to go back. It’s faster for us to fly to Tokyo than it is for us to fly to my home in Denver. We got to go back.

Zibby: I’ll send it after this. You can see. Jessica, thank you so much. Thank you for your time. Thanks for taking your life and sharing it with so many other people to make their lives better. It’s a really generous way to live. Thank you for that.

Jessica: Thank you. Likewise. It was really great to talk to you.

Zibby: You too. Have a great day. Have fun in Nashville. Buh-bye.

Jessica Gee, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BUCKET LIST FAMILY TRAVEL: Share the World with Your Kids on 50 Adventures of a Lifetime

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BUCKET LIST FAMILY TRAVEL: Share the World with Your Kids on 50 Adventures of a Lifetime by Jessica Gee

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