For most, travel in any form is something fluid–moving from one place to another, whether for a weekend or for years. For Jenni and Aaron from Witness Humanity, travel is a constant: It’s a life lived as a part of the global community. As believers in responsible travel, community, living in a present and purposeful way, and education free of the confines of a classroom, the writer and educator duo are forging a unique and mindful path through the world that embodies Travel Well’s mission of living and traveling #SustainablyHealthy and a consciousness for wellness for all living things. We caught up with Jenni during one of their trips to Guatemala to learn more about their journey.
How did you two meet?
Aaron and I met at the Manhattan Free School in Manhattan (now called the Agile Learning Center.) We were both interested in alternative education for different reasons, and when I brought my foster daughter in to check out our options, we met Aaron.
How and when did you first become interested in travel?
Believe it or not, I didn’t get my first passport until I was in college. After one trip to Costa Rica and one to India, I was hooked. I’ve made travel a priority ever since. Aaron had done some traveling of his own but wasn’t truly invested in travel until we started reading about other couples and families who had made big shifts in their lives to accommodate traveling.
What inspired you to travel fulltime?
Aaron and I share a belief that education is an ongoing process and that getting out and getting dirty often yield better results than sitting in a classroom, so we started digging around for other people who were exploring alternative ways of pursuing education. We started reading a blog called The Edventure Project written by Jennifer Miller, a mom who, at the time, had been traveling with her husband and kids continuously for about 5 years. I got in touch with her through the blog and she connected me to an entire community of families who were traveling full time. Aaron and I were at a crossroads as to what our next steps would be and we started to think about making nomadic travel our lifestyle. We wanted the true freedom to explore those thing that intrigued us and the ability to see as much as possible with our time on earth. The traditional next steps did not appeal to us. I had lived in NYC for almost a decade at that point but had never had an official career. I realized that if I could piece things together in one of the most expensive cities on earth, I could certainly piece things together on the road.
What inspired you to start Witness Humanity?
I wanted to share our experiences, particularly our interactions with individual people, with people who may or may not be interested in traveling themselves. Aaron and I both believe very strongly that there are invisible threads that bind humanity and that people are far more alike than we are different. Witness Humanity is, hopefully, a testament to that. Sometimes I think we get a little lost in what we believe education looks like- math, science, english, history, and an art class or two- and we forget that education can be so much more expansive. Learning to connect with individual people and really paying attention to what they have to offer is an incredible addition to any education.
Where, who and what are you teaching currently?
I am writing this from Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. However, we are basically stationed in upstate NY for the school year. We took on a great opportunity to get two awesome kids going with homeschool. Our background in alternative education and their desire to break out of the traditional educational mold made it a perfect fit for the year. We are spending a lot of time supporting both of the students’ development of their sense of self and recognition of what they each want their educations to look like. We make space for smaller trips at the moment (like this trip to Guatemala!) and we will soon be continent hopping again.
What have your students and travels taught you?
I could never answer this question completely because 1) the answer is constantly evolving and 2) there isn’t enough space! For now I will say that both have brought a stronger conviction to our belief that we are all connected and that human beings in general are inherently good.
What values are most important to your travels and deciding where you go/what you do next?
We are very focused on traveling responsibly. We aren’t always perfect and we are definitely still learning but we are very intentional about how we conduct ourselves and how we spend our money when we travel. We focus on a place that seems to be calling us and see what we might learn or offer if we go. If the pieces fall into place, we go! We are more focused on HOW we travel then WHERE we travel. There is no place on earth that we do not want to see. However, we do insist on living simply and being intentional with how we spend our travel dollars.
What does it mean to you to be a global citizen and part of a global community?
It means recognizing that each person is an individual and each person has something in common with us. Individuals do not necessarily represent or identify with their government or culture. It also means recognizing that inherent imbalance of power that exists simply by virtue of our skin color, nationality, and passport and not abusing that privilege We know nothing more than any other person on this planet. We know different things, yes, but nothing more. Being a part of global community means being able to hold the broader view and the intimate connections simultaneously in your psyche. It’s a balance.
What does ethical travel mean to you?
Ethical travel means being intentional in how you interact with people and communities. That means knowing where your money is going, asking questions and not remaining willfully ignorant, learning as much as you can about where you are and who you are with, and keeping the savior complex in check at all times. There is nothing ethical about telling a community you are there to “save” them or dumping your money into nefarious businesses.
How do you encourage others to travel ethically? To volunteer?
Well, volunteering is a touchy subject actually. Many, but not all, volunteer opportunities are more beneficial to the volunteers than they are to the actual communities they claim to be helping. Unfortunately, many volunteer organizations are also heavily steeped in “the savior complex”- the belief that certain people have the power and ability to be a savior and certain communities “need” outside help because they don’t know what they are doing. I encourage anyone who wants to volunteer to really do their homework. Consider all angles. Working with orphans in Nepal may feel good but what is that revolving door of caregivers doing to children who have already lost their birth families? Building houses in Guatemala may look like a great idea but if you don’t know how to build a house, how are you helping? Always ask yourself, “Why do they need me? Why can’t a local do this?” Questioning volunteer opportunities and really doing your homework is step one to traveling ethically.
What have been some of your favorite travel experiences so far?
I have many. The first that comes to mind is the the day we took off to do this long-term. There was such a feeling of freedom and a sense that anything at all was possible. We really did take a big step back before we left and realized that all of the expectations of a “normal” life were just not what we wanted. We use the word “normal” because it’s what people say to us. In reality, we have no issue with “normal” life, nor do we think our life is abnormal. Personally, we question the common understanding of “normal”. We just wanted to live differently and challenge conventional expectations. That first day was a huge day as we both realized that we really did it and that every moment after that would be entirely up to us.
Do you have any big travel or non-travel goals?
Our only goal at this point is to continue to get better are being present and intentional in our day to day actions. We’d love to keep sharing with people through Witness Humanity and eventually, I would like to grow that audience both on our own bog and elsewhere. We’re very passionate about showing people that there really is no “us” and “them” and that pushing past fear yields some amazing experiences.
Where do you see yourselves and Witness Humanity in a year? 5 years?
I have no idea. That’s the beauty of this lifestyle: We don’t have to know! I am pretty confident that we will still be slow traveling our way across the globe but where exactly we’ll be–who knows!
No matter where Jenni and Aaron’s journey goes in the years ahead, it’s clear the global community will become stronger in its wake. To learn more about Witness Humanity’s #SustainablyHealthy way of traveling, visit witnesshumanity.com or head straight to some of our favorite posts: