One of the most rewarding types of travel and writing I do is traveling with my nieces as part of the Niece Project. It’s not simply about building important relationships with my nieces or being a travel mentor to them; it’s about inspiring other Aunts and Uncles to do the same. Every year that I write another segment of the niece project I hear from more and more Aunts and Uncles who are planning so start their own Niece/Nephew Project. I jump for joy every time I hear news like this!
I want to continue to inspire others to travel with kids who aren’t their own and be travel mentors, so I decided to start taking guest posts about other Niece/Nephew Projects! You’ll hear their stories, tips, ups and downs. And the first person I’m feature is a great friend of mine who I’ve traveled and worked with before, Michaela Potter. Over the next week you’ll be seeing Michaela and Laura’s story here on Ottsworld! And if it inspires you to do something similar, let me know about it – and maybe just maybe you’ll even want to write about it!
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How to Prepare to Travel with Your Nieces or Nephews
By Aunt Michaela Potter
“Tell me more about the places you’ve been and I’ll never get to see.”
My oldest niece, Laura, made this comment over a family dinner several years ago and it made me sad. Sad because though her immediate family didn’t embrace exploring other lands, she felt as if she would never be able to do so either.
It also made me sad because I had always hoped that by living a life filled with travel, I was setting an example of how she and her sister could do so as well, if they so chose.
After this conversation, I realized that bringing home trinkets, photos, and stories from my many adventures over the years wasn’t enough to inspire them – I needed to physically guide them on an international journey to kick-start their own travel dreams.
So in August of 2014, Laura and I (along with my husband, Michael) set off on her first international trip to explore Croatia. But before doing so, there was quite a bit of planning involved – and not just for the trip itself.
Here are some insights on how we prepared both Laura and her parents for this adventure.
PREPARING THE PARENTS
Lay the groundwork early
As mentioned, my brother and sister-in-law prefer to stay Stateside when traveling with their daughters – and usually their travels are always by car (one exception – a flight to Disney World).
So we would bring up travel topics at family gatherings to start gauging the girl’s interests. We then approached them early on with the idea that we would like to take each of the girls on a trip after they graduated high school. This gave them some time to digest the idea and bring up any questions or concerns they might have had.
Involve them in the planning
I wanted to make sure that Laura had a big hand in the planning of the trip, but I didn’t want her parents to feel helpless or ill informed during the process. So I created a Google spreadsheet that all of us could refer to as often (or as little) as needed.
Provide detailed contact information
After our itinerary and accommodations were set, I created a detailed PDF with our final plans. I probably went overboard on this one (including photos and a map of the places we were staying), but I wanted them to feel as if they had all the information they needed to feel more at ease. And it became a great resource for me as we moved from location to location.
Staying in touch
When searching for accommodation, I made sure that every place had access to Wi-Fi so that we could communicate easily if needed. The best way we all stayed in touch was everyone (including grandma) downloaded WhatsApp onto our phones so that we could all share photos of what we were up to.
PREPARING THE NIECE
Involve her in the planning
I found the best way to plan the trip together was to create a shared Pinterest board. This way we could easily share resources that we each discovered – and I could really understand what it was she wanted to get out of the experience. She even commented the other night that she recently revisited our board and was thrilled to see we actually covered most of the places/activities we pinned!
This was probably the area I focused most on as I limited Laura to just bringing a carry on bag – tough for a teenager who is used to car travel (in which she can bring just about anything she wants – even her own pillow). But knowing that we would be traveling from city to city mostly by local transportation – and also having to walk quite a bit up, down, and over cobblestone streets – she would be responsible for carrying her own luggage.
In addition to sharing online packing tips (including the extremely helpful Travel Fashion Girl website ), the best way to teach her was to show her.
So I actually did a packing demonstration with what I planned to pack – including how I organized everything using packing cubes and stuff sacks. Her mom was incredulous, thinking that my backpack was much bigger than Laura’s wheelie bag. But after I moved my contents into Laura’s luggage, we all saw that she actually had even more room in her bag!
Next Week On The Blog
Look for Laura’s packing tips!
Be realistic about accommodation
I was tempted to really throw Laura into the experience and try to show her what it was like “roughing it” (including staying at hostels). But considering this was her first big international trip, I didn’t want too much culture shock to ruin the experience. (Plus, she should have the opportunity to experience backpacking on her own in her early 20s like I did 20+ years prior.)
So I decided to book us into apartment rentals via AirB&B and local resources, like InZagreb. It was great having a place feel like home at the end of the day and all of the owners/hosts offered great local advice before and during our stay. It also gave us the opportunity to get more of the local flavor as we were staying in neighborhoods just outside the tourist zones.
I also made sure that all of the places had Wi-Fi and strategically planned for our accommodation to have access to laundry at the middle and end of our trip.
Addressing safety concerns
These tips are universal no matter where you travel. Learn about the culture/customs of the place you are visiting so that you can be respectful of them – Always be aware of your surroundings (I love to study city maps before going anywhere) – And learn some of the local language, even if is just ‘hello’, goodbye’, and ‘thank you’. I encouraged Laura to embrace all three of these, and was really impressed with how she picked up on the nuances of the Croatian language!
There wasn’t much I could do to prepare myself beforehand other than acknowledging the fact that I would actually be responsible for someone other than myself.
And there is probably no amount of advice that anyone could have given me in order to prepare to spend that much time with a teenager other than it will test your patience!
But I am thrilled to see how much more independent and mature Laura has become since our travels through Croatia – including navigating her friends on adventures through New York City, something she wouldn’t have done before the trip. And she is always discussing the study abroad opportunities her university offers and examining which one would be best suited for her.
Now when I bring up a destination or trip I’d love to plan, she jumps at the chance to say “can I come?”.