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Exploring from Pole to Pole: On the Road with the Bucket List Family

In 2015, Jessica Gee and her husband Garrett took their life on the road, using their bucket list as a guide–Alaska, Madagascar, Tahiti, Zimbabwe–the list goes on. The twist? Their three young children have been along for the ride.

Today, they are known as The Bucket List Family, chronicling their adventures on YouTube and Instagram, where they have nearly three million followers. Last summer the Gees joined Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic on a voyage to Arctic Svalbard, where they slept under the polar sky in a glass igloo, had homework interrupted by a passing walrus, and experienced more bucket list-worthy moments.

Before they headed out on another polar adventure with us—this time to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands—Jessica spoke with us about what it’s like to travel as a family and how to find “joy in the journey.” 

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Can you share some memorable family moments from your Arctic voyage?

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Taking the plunge together. 

Definitely the polar plunge. All five of us jumped in and it was so fun that we did it twice! It was really memorable and a real bonding experience with the other guests. We are all looking forward to doing it again in Antarctica. 

Also, spending the night in the glass igloo on the top deck of the ship was definitely a bucket-list experience. We all huddled into one bed and they gave us hot water bottles to keep us warm and cozy.  

What benefits did you find to being aboard a small ship with kids?

Staying on a small ship was great because I gave the kids guidelines on where they could and couldn’t go, and then they went off and explored on their own. In truth, they were rarely alone, thanks to the amazing staff and crew on board. More than once I found the kids in the ship's lounge doing homework with the help of a naturalist.

One day when the other guests were on a rigorous hike that would have been too much for our kids, one of the naturalists took our family out on a Zodiac instead. She taught the kids how it works, and even let them drive. Then an undersea specialist joined us and used a plankton tow to collect seawater. Back on board, he put it in petri dishes, and we could see all the organisms living in the freezing water.

Being on a small ship, you're able to have that more intimate experience and the staff is able to care for their guests individually with their needs. And we definitely felt that on board.

What was the most memorable wildlife sighting of the voyage?

We had a spectacular whale moment. At 4 a.m., we got a wake-up call from the staff to come see humpback whales in the quiet and stillness of the early morning. Even the kids got up for it and were so excited. It was truly magical to share this special encounter as a family. Later on in the trip, we also saw beluga whales which we had never seen before so that was really memorable as well.   

How do you choose where to go next and what makes a destination family-friendly?

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Future naturalists in the making!

Most of our destinations are for the wildlife, that’s what our family loves. In Antarctica we’re looking forward to seeing the king penguins and elephant seals, and someday we’d love to see the orangutans in Borneo and the panda bears in China. We’ve worked hard to teach our kids how to behave and how to travel, and we have found that we can make anywhere family-friendly, even the Arctic.

What are your favorite hacks for packing for a family?

I love packing cubes. We’ll each bring three or four shirts and pants that are in colors that can be mixed and matched. Then, each kid will have their own packing cube that is easy for them to unpack when we arrive. 

Another hack is to let your kids pack their own backpacks. A couple of days before we leave I have the kids pack theirs–my oldest likes to have her books and journals with her, so hers are heavy. Callie, who’s five now, travels light with just a few toys and snacks for the flight.

Do you have advice for how to handle the inevitable challenges of traveling?

Meeting giraffes in Kenya.

My biggest tip–and our family motto–is choose your attitude. When our luggage was lost in Africa, I was so mad that it was hard to take my own advice. This leads to the second piece of advice, which is when your spouse is struggling, you need to step in to help. That day the luggage disappeared, Garrett was super optimistic which ultimately helped keep all of us positive.

It’s also about repetition. We’ve traveled so much that our kids have become pros at adapting to the ups and downs. It’s a good reason to start family travel when kids are at a young age, the more you do it the easier it gets and it encourages that important skill of resilience. In the end, it’s always worth it, if not for the destination, then for the journey.

What do you hope your children take away from all of your travels?

Most importantly I want them to know that wherever we are, we are a family first. I want them to experience other cultures, peoples, and languages, and understand that everyone doesn’t look, act, and live the same way. I want them to see and appreciate what a gift it is to experience wildlife, and to become ambassadors for the earth.

You are pros at capturing amazing travel shots–what are some tips for getting the perfect family photo?

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Family time in the remote Falkland Islands. Photo: Sean Neilson

My husband always says, ‘the best camera is the one that you have.’ Most of our photos are just taken on the iPhone, so we always splurge for the latest version. Sometimes we use a tripod, or ask a friendly stranger to help.

It was a treat being on a Lindblad-National Geographic expedition, where there were so many incredible professional photographers aboard, available to teach us how to get the shot, or even take one of our family for us. Easier said than done, but the best thing to do is live in the moment and capture it.

What’s your advice for a family starting their own bucket list?

Know that adventures come in all shapes and sizes. They can be in your own backyard, down the road from where you live, or in the Arctic. If you set goals and make it a priority, you can travel at any budget, so do whatever time and money allows and you'll find that family time is always worth it.


Learn more about the Gee family's adventures and how you can start your own family bucket list in Jessica's new book, National Geographic Bucket List Family Travel: Share the World with Your Kids on 50 Adventures of a Lifetime.

See Book