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Episode 70: J.J. Kelley

Hey meaningful travelers! My name is Garrett Coleman, and I am an intern at Travel with Meaning. You guys are in for a treat with this episode featuring JJ Kelley! During my time at TWM, I have had to listen to over 30 episodes, and while producing this one, I was captivated by every moment.

JJ Kelley is an Emmy nominated explorer who is focused on conservation and wildlife crime. With three of his stories being featured on the cover of National Geographic, including his Emmy nominated “Warlords of Ivory”, you know you are in for a good one. He is a direct correspondent for them with many of their flagships shows such as “Explorer” as well as a director on the Bering Sea’s “Deadliest Catch” to leading the exclusive coverage of the tomb of Christ being opened for the first time in 800-years, Kelley’s countless expeditions and work for National Geographic all began when he decided—at age 19—to load his pickup truck up with camping gear and drive from the lower 48 up to Seward, Alaska.

He is also a TV host of the Travel Channel's “Lost in The Wild” series. An avid adventurer, J.J. is an Appalachian Trail Thru-hiker and has biked the length of Alaska to the Arctic Ocean, paddled from Alaska to Seattle in a homemade kayak, and journeyed the full length of India’s Ganges River. A fellow at the Explorers Club, Kelley’s travels have instilled a sense of protecting the planet, and he brings a unique mix of humor and grit to subjects he investigates.

This man has done it all and I think it’s his attitude that really kept my attention. JJ is one of the most down-to-earth people I have heard in the last few years where he has no problem engrossing himself in worlds he is foreign to. What really shocked me was his story about going to the Philippines to help his friend find his mom. It was one of his first-ever trips and it was a big one. They were forced to engross themselves in the community to find one person in an entire country and ill let you learn where that journey took them.

The story that I really connected with was his backstory of how he got a fake elephant tusk into Africa. They decided to put a GPS in it and he struggles with making sure it works. To help get this down he employs his wife to help him by having her drag it on the roof and wave it around so he can see if he gets the signal. It’s an adorable story that has nail-biting moments as it escalates but what stuck with me was his connection to his family. He has all of these amazing stories of sailing the Bering Sea or being present for the opening of the tomb of Jesus Christ, but he always manages to find time for his family. It struck a chord as I grew up along the Appalachian mountains where I would leave for weeks on end to go hiking. Whenever things got hard I always remembered my friends and family who were at home waiting for me and it helped to keep me going. This wholesome yet swashbuckling episode is one you dont want to miss.

I think you would be doing yourself a disservice by not only listening to this episode but not checking out his work. He has a bit of everything from a travel sports show to kayaking from Alaska to Seattle. For a more comprehensive list go check out his website,, and safe travels!

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