Inside My Head

The Niece Project

60 Comments 28 February 2012

All 6 nieces 8 years ago!

2012 begins a project for me that has been in the making for a long time. But first, let me back up a few years and start with this statement, “I don’t want to have kids.”

For a handful of women, this statement rings true, but for most women, they probably cringed at the site of it. I’m in the minority I know, but that’s fine, I like to be different. Just because I don’t want kids of my own, doesn’t mean that I don’t love kids. I have 6 nieces and I have a connection to them that completely fulfills me; I worry about their well being, I am excited to see their accomplishments, and most of all I love seeing them grow into adults.

I found myself trying to shop for them for the holidays years ago and being frustrated because I didn’t really know what to get them. They already had everything in my perspective. What in the world could I ever come up with that they didn’t have. I wanted to provide them meaningful gifts that would help them grow, but walking up and down the aisle of Toys R Us wasn’t cutting it.

I decided to stop getting them gifts at all – not for their birthdays or holidays or even graduation. I really didn’t want to bring more meaningless stuff into their world, but instead I wanted them to see the world. I wanted to awake their wanderlust and thirst to experience new cultures and ways of doing things. So the answer was easy…I would give them the gift of travel.

My nieces today – Growing up…




Lindsey (left), Allie (right)


I announced to each of them that once they turned 16 years old I would take them anywhere in the world they wanted to go for a week. Originally my thought was that it would give them something that I never had – a passport and a chance to travel internationally; to see the things that they had been studying in school or more accurately, the places they had seen in the movies or TV shows like the Amazing Race.

However once I announced this mission and it settled in, I realized that it was giving them more than that – it gave them the chance to make their own decision. It got them thinking about the world and considering their own desires. Every time I go visit them we always have multiple 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 and we get out a globe and give it a spin as they learn where different places are. We view my photos from various parts of the world as they consider where they want to choose.

Even though I promised them a week, it has turned into months and years of anticipation, enjoyment, and learning.

This year, the Niece Project kicks off when my oldest niece, Bethany (18 years old), and I go to Italy for a week. She chose Italy because she had never been to Europe before and she loves, and I mean LOVES, pasta. On March 10th we fly to Rome and will spend 4 days in Rome touring around the Vatican, Coliseum, my favorite neighborhoods, and taking food tours. Then we’ll head to Sorrento and the Amalfi coast to find the best pizza in Naples, and tour Pompeii.

I’m excited to kick this off, as it’s been in the works for a long time. The other 5 nieces are eager to see how it goes and are all still debating where they each want to go. I simply hope that I am equipped physically and mentally to travel with an 18 year old!

My simple hope is that this experience will spark an interest in travel and the world. I want it to leave an impression that goes beyond any toy or piece of clothing every could.  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.

The Niece Project is officially underway!

I’m not the only one with a niece project – check out Shannon’s Niece Project on  A Little Adrift Blog (I would LOVE to take this on…a super idea)

Plus – check out the Passport Party Project which is designed to help and encourage girls form 11 to 15 to apply and obtain their passports!

Passport Day is Coming March 10th – girl, boy, mom, dad, aunt, uncle, grandparents – everyone can get their passports on this special day  – find a location near you!

What’s your Niece Project?  Don’t have one – then declare it now!

Your Comments

60 Comments so far

  1. Yay! Love that the first of these long anticipated trips is so near, and I can’t wait to hear how it goes exploring Italy with your niece. It was an adjustment for me with an 11 year old in tow (trips to the park, lots of animal-petting, more hands-on classes, etc) so I’m interested to see what new types of places you find and explore because of the new perspective on board! So much good luck on the week-long adventure! :)

  2. Laura says:

    This is an amazing idea! I can’t imagine being a young girl and be told that one day my aunt would take me anywhere in the world I wanted to go. I cannot wait to hear about your first trip. I’m sure it will be so exciting for you to see the wonderment through someone else’s eyes and perhaps discover things that you wouldn’t have otherwise! Looking forward to it :)

  3. Kim says:

    What a fantastic idea! I too have never had a desire to have children, so instead I was blessed with 3 amazing nephews……so maybe for me it will become the nephew project (once I sit down and talk it over with their parents).
    Have an amazing trip/adventure with your niece, it will certainly be a trip of a lifetime for both of you.

  4. Lynn says:

    Sherry, awesome awesome idea/plan, and an incredible gift. Those girls are lucky to have you!

  5. Vanessa says:

    This is exactly what I have planned for my 3 nephews (12, 10, 8) and only niece (6).
    When each of them will turn 15 years old, I’ll take them for a month anywhere they want.

    Until I was 15 years old myself I only knew two places, Paris where I’m from and Brittany in the west of France. But then I started travelling slowly but surely on my own, and all these experiences I’ve had throughout the years made me the person that I am today. Hence why I find it extremely important for kids to have the same opportunity to discover so much more about themselves and the world we live in, rather than follow the ‘normal’ path they are told to walk on early on.

    I do not want children either, but I too am taking my role as an aunt very seriously.

  6. Dawn says:

    What an amazing idea. I have two nieces (under 3yrs) and I found I don’t want to buy them trinkets and toys either. Maybe I’ll start a travel fund instead! Good luck in Italy!

    • Sherry says:

      Yes – I’ve been working on my niece travel fund for some time…however I never expected that I would quit my job to travel…so that’s made the project even that much more challenging…and fun! Good luck!!

  7. Alisha says:

    What a cool way to give something of meaning to your nieces! I love this!!! Sherry for the amazing Aunt award! :)

  8. Katie says:

    I passed this on to my brother – even though my niece is only 3 years old! I already bought her a globe so they could show her where Aunt Katie is on her travels. :)

  9. Dalene says:

    I was SO happy to read this! I JUST sent an email off to my sister about something similar. My nephew (who I am very close to) is about to graduate in two years. I so badly want to take him somewhere as a present (but of course want to clear it with them first!)

    You are a pretty damn cool Auntie. I hope to be the same. :)

  10. Since I first heard you mention this, I’ve decided to do the same thing for my sister’s kids. Next week, I’ll take my 16-yr old nephew and 9-yr old niece to France (Colmar and Paris, plus a day trip to Bruges). We’ll figure out what to do with the other two kiddos sometime after that. It’s a fabulous idea and I’m so glad you shared it with the rest of us!

    • Sherry says:

      So honored that anyone listens to me – let alone actually thinks it’s a good idea! I’m SO excited for your upcoming travels – please let me know how it goes! 16 and 9 will be a handful! Anyone speak French?

  11. Kelly D < :) says:

    I totally love this idea but for me it would have to be the NEPHEW project cuz I have 6 nephews :)

  12. Heather Rae says:

    This is SUCH a great idea! I’ve been tossing around similar ideas to do with my niece and nephew, and you’ve totally inspired me to go ahead and just do it. I love it!

  13. Kim says:

    I love this. I have a sister that is 10 years younger than I am and when she turned 18 I took her to France and Italy for 10 days- all paid by me.

    I wanted so badly to give her the experience that I wanted at her age. I wanted her to see with her own eyes that the world is big and she can do anything she wants.

    She is a very smart girl, but she is also a homebody. She has had the same boyfriend since age 15 and elected to go to college close to home. I guess I thought that by showing her a bit more of the world she might want a bit more of the world.

    The truth is, she had a great time, but it didn’t change her. It didn’t impact her the same way it would have impacted me at that age because -whoa- she isn’t me (it really was sort of an epiphany to realize this).

    Anyway, this is different than your niece project, but at the same time, I understand what you so badly want to give them- your love of the world. I think they will each take this experience and let it change them in different ways. It will be fun for you to watch how each girls responds.

    • Sherry says:

      Excellent point Kim – it may not do anything for some of them. In fact 3 of them already lived in Singapore for 5 years when they were younger – so they aren’t strangers to foreign culture. The other 3 have never left the country. I guess I figure that like career breaks – it’s not for going to be for all 6 of them. But for the ones that have that little spark of interest, it will ignite it and make it grow. I never had an opportunity to travel until I was 30 – I didn’t know I had the spark until then. Hopefully we’ll get this started a little younger for them! Thanks for your input!

  14. Ali says:

    This is such a great idea! I don’t want kids either but my brother has 2 kids. I’m not super close to my niece & nephew, especially since they live in New Jersey while I lived in Georgia their entire lives – and now I live in Germany. But I’d love to do something like this for them, spread the travel love! I hope you have a great time in Italy!

  15. Lauren says:

    I wouldn’t be about to take my own career break if my uncle hadn’t introduced me to travel at the age of 13, and then again at 16. It changed my life forever. I think that what you are doing is wonderful!

  16. Sophie says:

    My brother is like that. Happy to just have nieces :)

  17. Angie Away says:

    I LOVE this! I took my sister to Europe for her 16th birthday because my grandma took me for my 16th and it totally changed me into a world traveling fiend. It did exactly the same for my little sis! She went from uninterested in history and art to full-blown student of the world. There’s nothing like traveling when it comes to real education. Well done, you, for taking on your sweet nieces. They will never forget it!

  18. Amanda says:

    Wow!! What an awesome, awesome gift to give. I LOVE this idea, and wish that I had some nieces so I could steal it! Lol.

    You are giving them such a great gift that will be so much better than any material thing you ever could have purchased!

  19. This is a really lovely idea. I have two nephews who are super young (five and three), but I think I’m going to introduce this idea to my sister and see what she thinks. They’d certainly have a lot of years to plan! :)

  20. Lori says:

    Great Idea, although I have a 19 year old son and have traveled with him to many place in the US,Canda,Europe and South Africa. When he graduated HS last year, I offered to take him on a trip where ever he wanted to go (within reason) he choose Spain and Portugal so off we went on another adventure. The travel experiences we have had have taught both of us so much. I can’t wait for our next trip together.

  21. JoAnna says:

    I love this on so many levels. Wish I had an aunt as cool as you!

  22. I absolutely love this idea! I hope my sister will let me do the same for my nephew when he’s older.

  23. Erin Smith says:

    I love this idea! I have twin 4 year old nieces that already tell me they are jealous I get to go on an airplane all the time. I would love to initiate this project with them. Great idea.

  24. Leah says:

    I’m right there with you on the kids front. I’m almost 38 and have never wanted them, but like you, I love my nieces. One is an eighth grader and the other is a sixth grader. Upon high school graduation, I’m taking each to the country of their choice. I have an online savings account that automatically withdraws money from my checking every month. I’m not telling the oldest of my plans until the Christmas before graduation. Obviously the youngest will know that I’m doing the same for her, but it will be a total surprise for the eldest. I’ve got to hold this secret for four years!

  25. Laura says:

    Bon Voyage! I remember reading a great short story years ago about an aunt who desperately wanted her nieces to fall in love with Paris the same way she did. She took them there and the trip was a bit of a flop – they wanted to shop, to scope out guys, and complained of the food, etc while the aunt kept dragging them to see museums, galleries, ‘beautiful things’. They had a day apart, each doing their own thing, and then the aunt re-grouped. She let them chose the itinerary the next day and followed them around seeing Paris through their eyes and everyone had a good time. I try to remember this story when someone comes to visit me and I drag them around the city seeing the “must-do’s” and exhausting everyone. Sometimes the best visits/memories are when you are just hanging out, enjoying each other’s company – that’s the real gift – the time to be together. It will be special for you and Bethany to have some experiences together.

    As another aside, my Aunt Joan greatly fostered my travel spirit and has given me so much good advice, I’d still be in the airport bookstore if it wasn’t for her. When I went to London, they gave me a gift of the London tube pass for a week. I wasn’t too excited about it when I opened it. I think I rolled my eyes and thought “yeah, I might use this subway thing”. Fast-forward to London and I was using that pass 100 times a day to zip around the city. So, thank you to the Aunts out there who patiently suggest some really good ideas even if the initial reaction is less then thankful!

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks for the great reminder Laura to let her dictate…that couldn’t have come at a better time! Love your story about London too! Thanks for sharing!

  26. Vera says:

    Buon viaggio!!! I’ve just read this and I am sure you’ll have an amazing time – just watch for the over-friendliness of Southern Italian men 😉
    Wish I’ll become such a good auntie as u are – still 13 years to go… Baci Vera

  27. Mark H says:

    Congratulations. A most generous gift…

  28. Tash says:

    Oh, wow! This is soooo great! You are providing them with something so real, with the anticipation, the learning of a new culture/place, PLUS showing them that they can do anything they want! Plus, you are providing them with such an amazing role model!
    Wow, this is amazing! I am really impressed! Can’t wait to read about how it goes, first one up!

  29. Awww! I love this! When my niece gets older, I’m sooo making her do this!

  30. edger says:

    I’m a little behind on my blog stalking these days, but I love this! My niece is six and I have yet to buy her an actual present. I take her to do things and have experiences…one of her favorites is the rock climbing gym. Sometime around three she started to notice, not quite understand but then totally get it when she said somewhat exasperatedly, “I know Aunt Kim, you buy me rememberies! (memories)” She’s coming to Portland from Philly in a few months so I can start with a different part of this country. Can’t wait to take her to others!

  31. Sherry, this post moved me deeply. I have a niece and two nephews who I adore greatly. I’ve stopped giving them material gifts along time ago, instead I give them gifts of “experience.” When I visit them in the Philippines, I take them to places they always wanted to go but had never been. It made them really happy, and they talk about the experiences non-stop and it feels very rewarding. My goal is to take them traveling internationally, but taking three of them at the same time will be quite expensive. Your Niece Project gave me a good idea – take them one at a time when they reach certain age:) Have fun with your Niece Projects!
    From one loving aunt to another – cheers!

  32. kristi says:

    What an amazing idea! I love it. I think I might incorporate this for my nieces (although, I have some time since they are 2 and 4). It’s a bucketlist item for me to give them a trip of a lifetime or help with college funs or help buy them a car…something. But I love this idea.

    And I don’t like always getting them presents, because they are loaded down with toys and clothes right now from everyone.

  33. Claire says:

    I just found your blog.

    So funny. I am 30 and do not want kid but I have a niece whom I adore and who is still very young. 2 weeks ago when I was in Namibia, I wrote her a postcard that one of my biggest wishes is to take her travelling when she gets older!

  34. Jodie says:

    I have been undertaking the niece project for years (although I never knew it had a name)…we have been on a few trips – both as young girls and teenagers…Now they are both adults & it’s still awesome to see them get excited about planning a trip and hearing their input on where they want to go and what they want to see – now if i could just get them to leave their phones at home :)

  35. Kris K says:

    I loved reading this. I, like you, am also not inclined to have my own kids. I have a 2 year old nephew, and since his Grandma (my mom) and his other relatives spoil him with all the “stuff” 10 children could ever want, I didn’t want to do that too. I have an aunt that I’m very close to; she helped expand my horizons, and I traveled with her in New Zealand for 5 weeks after I had spent a season working in Antarctica with her and it changed my world! I wanted to give my nephew the same opportunity, to see that there were different paths in life that one could make work, so I started a bank account for him instead, and every holiday/birthday/goal, I put money in his account. Which he’ll be able to use at 18 for either school or travel. I think the opportunity you gave to your nieces is wonderful!

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks for sharing your ‘project’ – it sounds like you will provide a different perspective for your nephew – and I kind of think that’s the role of Aunts…to be able to teach them things that their parents can’t. Keep me posted on how it goes!

  36. Jiil says:

    My sister is 16 years younger than me, and I promised her when she was 12 that I would take her “somewhere” when she was 16. (The symmetry appeals to me!) The “somewhere” has changed a few times already as she becomes interested in different places, and we still have 2 years to go before we make a final decision. I can’t help feeling sorry for her stuck in high school while I’m indulging my own wanderlust! I was very fortunate to start travelling internationally with my school and exchange programs, and can’t wait to share some new adventures with her!

    • Sherry says:

      I love it! I think part of the fun of a project like this is the conversation that it creates for the years preceding. It’s all part of the learning and exploring process! Let us know where she chooses! I believe my niece, Evie, is going to even write about her experience a bit here – so it may be fun to share for your sister.

  37. Kevin says:

    Can grandparents reply? This project is awesome! We had the opportunity to take our kids to Italy when they were 8 and 11, then lived in Europe and SE Asia for several years. Now we’re looking forward to the “grandchildren project” (newly coined phrase – thanks) so far it’s only been time with us here in DC area. But next big plan is a trip each to Europe.
    Enjoy your trip to Italy!

    • Sherry says:

      Ohhhhh – I love it! The Grandchildren Project is born! It is really interesting how much travel can become a part of your life when you are introduced to it at a young age! Good luck and let me know how it goes.

  38. IlanaW says:

    It is an amazing project! I was one of these nieces once, and I am grateful for the family of my uncle who offered me the opportunity to travel and see the world for the first time. Since then, I keep being on the road as often as possible.

  39. Sherri says:

    I too have not had children but I have a nephew and 2 nieces that I would die for……. A few years ago, I announced that when they turned 12 (not sure why I didn’t pick 16), I would bring them on a trip. My nephew turns 12 this year and he has selected a cruise – with rock climbing, teen club and surf pool – I can’t wait, and am sure that this will be the first of 12yr trips, 18yr trips, 25yr trips. I have to wait 2 and 5 more years for the nieces but it will be worth it.

    • Sherry says:

      Yeah for your upcoming nephew trip! How exciting! I’m not sure why I chose 16 years old…I think it’s because I felt like it would be a good influential time and I love the teenager years as there’s so much that they soak up which hopefully impacts their future. Please check back in and let me know how the trip goes!

  40. Becky O'Connor says:

    I have three nieces who live in New Jersey. I am in London. My sister moved to America 20 years ago. I think this project of yours is a wonderful idea. I don’t have kids but still hope I might though time is marching on. If I can follow your example in some similar way I will. How wonderful!

  41. T. Miller says:

    Sherry, I heard you on the Rudy Maxa show while driving home from the beach. I went into the Army so I could travel and was fortunate to explore the majority of Europe. Hearing your story really got me to thinking about how I may want to rethink my life (62,,Retired twice) and want to travel again. Have to think about what to do about my dog and may have to wait until 66 when I can collect SSN…but in this time I can save a little more money and get myself back in to my running form ready to take on this project. I just joined cross fit.
    Thanks for your inspiring story. Love the niece project, you are going to give them something I had to get from the Army…lol..and it will be the experience of a life time.
    T.I. Miller, Cpt USA retired

  42. Stephanie says:

    What an incredible gift you are giving your nieces! I have been following your most recent niece project in Peru and I am truly inspired. Two of my aunts have given me the gift of travel and it definitely sparked my passion for travel and to see the world. I am so grateful for those experiences they have given me.

  43. Sherry,
    I’ve been following your blog (and even had some email correspondence with you) for some time. I have paid particular interest in the niece project, because I have no kids (not sure if that will stay, but most likely) and two nieces. I’ve been back and forth about this since I feel like they get too much stuff from my parents and my brother. The last few birthdays, I could tell they didn’t even really care about what I got them (except one niece this last June cared only about the movie I got here than the other presents). My other niece’s birthday was this past weekend and I brought up the niece project to my sister in law. She was so excited about the project and even talked about how the older niece has mentioned mummies and Egypt a time or two.
    I have since started a savings account and will no longer get them gifts. My family is no stranger to travel, but I feel like I will take them to the remote places or crazy places that they want to go, but my family won’t take them to experience. So, now I just have to wait until they are 17! It’s going to be awhile.

    When did you announce the idea to them so they can start thinking about the places they want to visit? They are 6 and 4 right now.

  44. Jessica says:

    I wandered into’s niece story and sent it to my sister a few weeks ago. To my surprise, she said – we’ll, “home school is out the the question but you can have her for two months in the summer.” I was beyond elated. Finding this post is further encouragement for this idea. I love it :)

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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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Where am I and Where am I going?

Minnesota/Wisconsin -> Nebraska

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