Featured, Inside My Head, Solo

Modern Family

15 Comments 20 June 2013

mongolia family

How do you define family?

I look at the little square on the electronic form and my mouse hovers over the top of it. I hesitate, think about my life as a solo, independent woman, husbandless, childless, boyfriendless – and I suddenly I feel bold. A smile forms across my face and I click the mouse on the box that reads “Family Travel Blogger”.

I’m never going to have kids. That’s my choice – my clock never woke up and that’s just fine – I’d much rather travel then be a mother. But I still stand by my mark on the form – yes – I’m a childless family travel blogger. I boldly believe there is nothing wrong with this because the definition of family is evolving and I’m one of the many (growing) people in this world who defines family in an untraditional way.

What Does ‘Family’ Mean?

According to the dictionary, family means “A group consisting of parents and children living together in a household.”

This is quite a modern definition since it doesn’t even mention the words mother and father, or define gender differences. However I’m pretty confident in stating that most people still consider a family to be a mother and father. Regardless – of mother-father, mother-mother, father-father, mother only, father only – there is one thing that’s always included…children – presumably your own children.

So – how can I be a family travel writer when I don’t have children?

I have nieces.

In fact I have 6 nieces and I take them traveling with me all over the world.

family travel

My 6 nieces…my ‘children’

Not everyone wants kids – even if you can have them. I can’t really explain how I turned 43 and never once looked at a baby and thought…”God I want one of those.” My clock never started ticking, or maybe I was just too selfish, or maybe I was to worried about being perfect, or maybe I just didn’t want to commit to anything that stayed with me FOR LIFE. After all – I am a huge commitment-phobe and kids are the ultimate commitment. Actually choosing to have kids is more daunting than choosing a mate if you ask me.

But I’m not the only one who feels this way –

“In 2008, about 18 percent of women ages 40-44 weren’t mothers and were hitting the end of their child-bearing years, up from 10 percent in 1976, according to a Pew Research Center study of Census figures. And among child-free married couples including a woman of childbearing age, about 20 percent say they are voluntarily planning to stay that way.”

These societal trends in addition to things like the (hopeful) acceptability of same sex marriage means that there are a number of people like me – people whom like kids, but don’t want their own. But here’s the kicker – I still want a family – without kids…is that possible?

I believe it is.


Building a family around me

I choose to build my own family not with children but with my nieces. They don’t need another mother, and I really don’t want to be their mother – but I want a deep relationship with them. One of the ways I’m trying to build that is to help them get a diverse view of the world. As children we typically adopt our parent’s values and views (I voted Republican until I was 30 thanks to family values – coincidently that’s also when I got my first passport). But I feel that it’s important for kids (specifically my nieces) to develop their own point of view as early as they can. I think there’s no better way to do that than to travel.

I hope that being exposed to other cultures will broaden their knowledge of the world and bring to life what they are learning in school, or help them make decisions on what they want to study in college. I want them to witness all of the paths that people can take to be successful – something that I always sort of feel like I missed out on as I grew up. I had to discover much of that on my own in my late 20s and 30s. I’m quite different than the rest of my family – so I feel like I provide a different viewpoint for them to consider and hopefully appreciate.

I also believe that 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) supporting each other in other cultures – mainly because it is so deep rooted in their traditions and values. The idea of sending a family member to a home to live out their life is not the norm in the rest of the world. Granted – I don’t know if I could adopt their way of thinking nor do I expect my nieces to – but I do want them to see how families in other parts of the world relate and take care of each other.

Nepal family

A family I met in Nepal poses for a photo

But in true selfish female-without-kids form, a great part of this is what they do for me – they keep me young. They give me insight into youth, they make me think, they make me tolerant, they give me energy, they make me smile, and they make me believe in possibility again. They have their whole lives ahead of them and the mid-40-only-getting-older-me wants to live vicariously I suppose. And most importantly – they are my lifeline as I get older – something I think about often.

snow games

My nieces keep me young!

New Definition of Family Travel

Not only has the definition of family evolved, but I believe the definition of Family Travel is also changing. Gone are the days where family trips means going to Disneyland, Six Flags, all-inclusive resorts, or the Wisconsin Dells. As my generation grows older we are challenging the definition of family vacations and are starting to look for unique experiences, learning opportunities, and ‘real life experiences’ that you can’t get at Disney.

This isn’t just the crazy aunt in me talking – there are a growing number of people who are talking about and changing the definition of Family Travel. They are bold parents such as Keryn at Walking on Travels whose tag line is “When you won’t let your kids stop your wanderlust”, Mara from Mother of All Trips who is proud to call her kids ‘Global Citizens’, and Bootsnall who just launched a family round the world trip planner!

Childless family travel blogger – yes – that’s me. I have 6 kids who I travel with finding meaningful, unique experiences around the globe. And I’ll be taking off with another one of them very soon.  We will be taking a family oriented tour in Vietnam – I wonder if we will be the only aunt/niece combination? You don’t need kids to have a family – but family, however you define it, is one of the most important things in the world.

What’s your definition of Family Travel? Please share in the comments below!

Your Comments

15 Comments so far

  1. Maria says:

    More than one definition for family – glad to read you checked that box!

  2. I love the family photos. You captured the magic of the people close to us.

  3. Steph says:

    I love this post! Even though I do want to have kids eventually, I think there are so many important bonds in life that travel can strengthen. Last year Mike took his (much) younger brother to Canada and it was kind of neat to see the way it affected both of them.

    I think your nieces are super lucky girls!

  4. I LOVE that you consider yourself a family traveler and take your nieces across the globe (and your parents!) You are pretty much the aunt I always wish I had. Lucky for me, we had a very good family friend without kids who lived with us for a long time. She is closer to me than any blood relative. She is my aunt in every sense of the word. And SHE is the one who took me out of the country for the very first time when I was 16. She opened my eyes to a world of possibilities my parents couldn’t do on their own. I have since been to Portugal with her, and even brought her down to Hawaii with us this past January so we could continue the tradition of extended family travel in our own little family now that I have kids.
    Thank you for building these memories and experiences with the kids in your life. I hope I can do the same for my nieces and nephews one day too! For now I’m just expanding the world view of my teenage babysitter as she travels around the PacNW with me and the boys :-)

  5. Great post! My parents take their grandkids on trips often, so to me ‘family’ travel isn’t just limited to nuclear family traveling. How great for your nieces to have you as their aunt!

  6. We do still seem to have a very limited view of ‘family’ still, don’t we? Living in SE Asia and being in a relationship with a Thai has definitely changed my perspective on some family constructs and responsibilities – particularly when it comes to extended family and responsibilities/connections going beyond just the ‘parents and children’ unit.

    Really enjoyed reading this, Sherry!

    And your nieces are very lucky…

  7. LifeorDebt says:

    I just found you via Twitter..and I have one thing: I’ve had that Gilda quote on my refrigerator for at least 10 years. I’ve never seen it anywhere but here now. We started our financial journey so that we can get to the travel part. We are a couple (with 3 kids) who have an intense desire to travel– and are hoping to make that a way of life soon!

  8. You have a beautiful family, Sherry! What a strong, global and loving role model you are for your nieces. #FamilyBlessings

  9. Karen says:

    Sherry you have such a fine way of expressing your inner journey. The most beautiful part of what you do as a world traveler and skilled writer is choose to share your various journeys with all of us. Your nieces are very lucky and so are we, your readers.

  10. Katie says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I don’t have any children, but I’m a very proud aunt who spends lots of time with my brother’s and sister’s families. I feel like I can get a good perspective on family travel because of it. And I definitely hope to share my experiences with them and inspire them to see the world.

  11. I agree that you do not have to have children to “complete a family.” Having a family that you are not completely responsible for 24×7 sounds like a pretty great definition of family to me :-)

  12. Ham says:

    Hi Sherry,

    This was a nice article. It struck a cord w/ me because I did some graduate work on voluntarily childless women. Family is important to the voluntariy childless b/c it can actually influence one’s decision to be childfree to some extent. But on the otherhand, the childfree aren’t celebrated enough in society in general. Sometimes it’s the childfree that are have the resources to devote to a cause and are the real movers & shakers of the world and make positive change. Keep traveiong and expanding your nieces’s minds!! You are doing awesome things :)

  13. Denverdan says:

    6 nieces & a mom and dad is a large family. That is enough for anyone.
    You certainly have a talent of expressing who you are in print. As a reader of yours it easy(4 me) to feel like your family. Thank you Sherry!

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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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Minnesota/Wisconsin -> Nebraska

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