Hi! I’m Jen Nilsson of the Lens of Jen. My goal is to help you travel deeper, dream bigger, and live sweeter. I am especially committed to empowering single people to embrace the beauty of solo travel. 

The Lens of Jen is about embracing a new “lens” on life when life doesn’t shake out quite the way you planned. Because, believe me, where I stand now doesn’t match the path that I mapped out.

My perspective is shaped from the 18 months that I took to travel full time after my fiancé died of cancer when he was just 40. After that, I changed literally everything about my life.

Today I am solo, sustainable and seeking. And unapologetically so.

It’s my hope that you will get lost in the stories that you find on this blog and that my stories will inspire you to follow your dreams – and to follow them now. Life is just too short to delay your dreams.

A Note on Delaying Dreams

Just like so many of us, I delayed my dreams for far too long.

For years I talked about being a writer but, in reality, my journalism degree gathered dust while I worked nine-to-five jobs that provided more security but less fulfillment. Similarly, for years, I talked about traveling the world but, in reality, I didn’t have the flexibility or the time to take more than a long weekend here or there.

And then, on Feb. 14, 2018, my partner was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer.

Jeff died on June 4, 2018, not even four months after he was diagnosed. Before his diagnosis, he showed me how to love more freely and to trust more completely. After his diagnosis, he showed me how to seek joy and to live for every moment – even during the hardest of times.

I wrote this post one day after he died. 

A month later, I followed a promise that I made to him to stop delaying my dreams. I quit my job, packed a suitcase and dusted off my laptop. For 18 months I wandered through 22 countries, traveling 70,496 miles by way of 39 flights, 39 trains, nine buses, six cars, five ferries, and one very long walk. I blogged about it every step of the way.

When I returned home to Portland, Ore., I started a freelance writing and blogging business. I am now living my dream and I really believe that it’s a dream that I would have been too afraid to follow if not for the lessons that I learned from Jeff in his life – and in his death.

While I do not wish this kind of grief or loss on anyone, I do wish to inspire you to follow your dreams and to follow them now.  And you can bet that I’m not going to let grief stop me from seeking the most from the short time that we have here.

I’m going to live in the way that I think Jeff dreamed for me back when I was too afraid to dream for myself. 

Why Travel Fulfills Me

For me, it is easier to see what I really want from life when I travel. Putting all of life’s responsibilities and obligations on hold if only for a short while inspires me to think – to dream – about what I might change when I return home. 

Whether traveling alone or with a loved one, I feel like I learn a little more with each new destination seen, summit achieved, or new friend made.

And the more places that I see in the world, the more places that I put on my bucket list. I have an insatiable desire to see and experience more.

How I Travel

  • I no longer visit places just to check a box. I like to stay awhile and get to know the people (and sometimes the animals) that make the place hum. My minimum stay is generally five nights, but I stay longer when I can.
  • I like to get off the tourist trail as much as possible and I love to hit actual trails. I am never without my hiking boots these days!
  • I am a mid-range traveler in terms of budget. Nowhere near a luxury traveler, but far too old for bunk beds (except when walking the Camino de Santiago!)
  • Sustainable travel may sound like an oxymoron given all of the flight miles that fuel a nomadic lifestyle, but I try. I’ve given up plastic water bottles entirely and, in general, I’m proudly plastic-free. This translates to responsible travel as well. It’s important to do the research to ensure that our tourism does not negatively impact the people or animals who help make a place special. 
  • Solo travel fulfills me the most. I was nervous to take that first trip alone, of course, but I learned that traveling solo does not mean traveling alone. There are so many new friends to meet on the road. Perhaps the biggest revelation that I gained from solo travel, though, is that keeping my own company is pretty damn rewarding.
  • I consider myself a seeker and, to me, that means an unapologetic effort to look for more out of life. We can be perfectly happy in our lives and still seek more (and we should!) When I travel, I seek out the experiences that push me beyond my comfort zone with the hopes that those experiences will teach me a new way to think, or to love, or to live. Or, better yet, all of the above.

Permission to Dream Granted

Elephant Nature Park

I learned the hard way that life is too short to delay our dreams. Take it from me, there is no reason to wait for a tragedy to start seeking more from the time you have on this planet.

This blog is all about inspiring others to seek more, to seek often, and to do so unapologetically. 

So, here you go: I grant you permission to achieve your dreams.

What is your dream and what are you waiting for?

Purification ceremony in Bali

Do you have more questions for me? I would love to hear from you.