Family travel redefined with Niece Project
It’s summer in North America and that means that I’m gearing up kids for my family travels yet again.
The definition of family is evolving and I’m one of the growing numbers of people who are defining family in a rather untraditional way. My family doesn’t have the traditional mother and father with children. Instead it is just me – an aunt with 6 nieces.
I never wanted to have children of my own. I may be in a minority, but I’m not alone. Families take all kinds of forms these days, mother-mother, father-father, mother only, father only, and then there’s me – a childless aunt who likes to travel with her nieces.
A while ago I decided to stop getting my nieces gifts for holidays, graduations, or birthdays. I felt it was more important and meaningful to bond with them through experiences we could do together. I didn’t want to bring more stuff into their worlds; I wanted them to see the world instead. So I decided to give them the gift of travel.
I believe travel is one of the best celebrations of family there can be. Other cultures have different views on family and family responsibilities. I find it utterly refreshing to see families (including aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins) living together and supporting each other in other cultures.
Welcome to the Niece Project! Here’s how it works – once one of my nieces turn 16 years old, I allow them to choose anywhere in the world they want to go and we travel there together as a little ‘family’.
Originally I thought it would give them the chance I never really had as a kid – to get a passport and leave the country to see all of the things they had been studying in school or had seen on television. However, I realized pretty quickly after starting the Niece Project, I was giving them much more than that. It gave them the chance to make their own decisions. They had to really think about the world and their own desires.
Every time I go visit them, we always have dinner table conversations about who wants to go where. They each try to outdo the other as countries like Japan, India, Rwanda and Iceland are mentioned. They ask me questions about different countries, look at photographs and get out a globe to learn where different places are as they consider where they want to choose. Even though I promised them a 2-week trip, it has turned into months and years of anticipation, enjoyment and learning.
This summer I’ll travel with niece #3 – Megan who is 17 years old. When we sat down in December and started talking about where she wanted to go for her Niece Project trip with me, she informed me of her decision criteria. She wanted to do something adventurous and cultural rather than just touristy (walking around temples and museums on a traditional tour). So we hopped on the Intrepid Travel website to start our search.
I knew this was a perfect fit for Intrepid, a company I had traveled with numerous times in the past. Not only has the definition of family evolved, but the definition of family travel is also changing. Family travel isn’t just Disneyworld, amusement parks, or the Wisconsin Dells. As my generation grows older, we are challenging the definition of family vacations and are starting to look for unique real life experiences as opposed to manufactured ones, as well as learning opportunities for our kids. And real life experiences and cultural travel is what Intrepid does best.
After considering New Zealand, Greece, and Tanzania, she chose the Inca Trail and Amazon trip in Peru – a great choice!
But the travel doesn’t stop there – Megan wanted to go a step further and add a new element to the Niece Project – volunteering. We worked with Intrepid to help us find a volunteer opportunity in Lima that would be perfect for us to get more involved in the community and see a different side of Peru. Project Peru has been kind enough to welcome us into their refuge for a week to help with a variety of things with the kids. Megan took woodshop in high school so she was eager to help build and construct things. Megan is working on doing some fundraising for Project Peru too, so she is getting the complete volunteering experience at a young age.
My simple hope is that this experience for my nieces will spark their interest in travel and the world.
I want to awaken their wanderlust to experience new cultures and ways of doing things. I want it to leave an impression that goes beyond any toy or piece of clothing ever could.
Thanks to the Niece Project, as they grow into adults maybe they will study abroad, take a gap year and backpack, live as an expat, take a career break, or simply start to see the world through their eyes and not the eyes of others.
So join Megan and me this summer for the beginning of the Niece Project Version 3.0 in Peru! We leave on June 12th and we’ll be covering the experience live via social media with #NieceProject. And if this project has inspired you to do something similar – please let me know. I love to hear stories of aunties and uncles bonding and traveling with their nieces and nephews. My bigger goal has always been to inspire people to get out there and do their own Niece (or nephew) Project!
You can find more information on the Niece Project and the first two nieces to travel on my website at ottsworld.com.