From the beginning of the Niece Project it was Allie who always intimidated me. She is my brother’s middle daughter and is like none of my other nieces. I honestly was never sure if she would even want to go anywhere with me, let alone out of the country. She was the one I always predicted may just pass up the Niece Project opportunity or tell me that she wanted to go to Disneyland.
At 16, Allie is an interesting and stubborn mix of my brother and sister-in-law. She has my brother’s aloofness, and strangely my sister-in-law’s ‘get it done’ attitude. One would think that these two traits would be at battle with each other – and they are. They sometimes erupt in a tidal wave of emotion that leaves me befuddled and confused, wondering what it all means. And then there are times where I get her…totally get her. I feel like I know what makes her tick, how she pragmatically looks at the world, and I understand and admire her fierce loyalty to time, friends, and plans. And then 2 minutes later something will happen and she will be completely foreign to me again leaving me with the feeling that there is much more beneath the surface of Allie than I’ll ever know.
But this July, I’ll start to know more and more about Allie as we take off together on the Niece Project 4.0! Yes, that’s right, this is my 4th of 6 nieces I will be traveling with and yet another adventure of exploring my life without kids and the aunt niece relationship.
What is the Niece Project?
As a woman who never wanted kids, I wanted to form bonds with my 6 nieces. After all, they would be my lifelines as I age. I decided to stop getting them gifts for their birthdays or holidays or even graduation. I 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. I told each of them that once they turned 16 years old I would take them anywhere in the world they wanted to go. Originally my thought was that it would give them something that I never had – a passport and a chance to travel internationally. 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.
Just when I thought I was getting good at this niece travel thing and able to predict the decision making process of the girls, Allie threw me a curve ball last December.
“It’s too big, I just can’t choose,” she said in an irritated voice when I gently tried to probe her to see if she may want to travel with me this summer. She was clearly frustrated by the daunting question – “you can go anywhere you want in the world, where do you want to go?”
It was then when I realized just how hard of a question this is to ask of people – any people – teenagers, adults, seniors. The world is really big and asking people to choose is a stressful proposition in a way. Since Allie had never been out of the US, she approached the question by thinking that this was going to be her only opportunity in her life to travel outside the US. This mentality in kids makes me smile – in an all-knowing way that is. I know that this is not going to be their only opportunity to travel outside the US – they have their whole lives ahead of them and odds are in this increasingly global marketplace they will travel and maybe even live outside the US at some point in their lives. But when you are 16 and have never gone outside the US – it’s hard to imagine a life with a passport and that you can really go anywhere you want. So – Allie was paralyzed with the big decision of where to go since she was approaching is as a ‘once in a lifetime’ proposition.
So I went slowly.
“Ok, first lets start with – do you want to go with me somewhere?” I asked as gently as I could.
“Yes, “ she said still irritated, “I feel like I shouldn’t pass up this opportunity.”
“Well you don’t have to go now, we can postpone it until a time when you feel better about it, it can be in 5 years from now if you want. However if you want to go this summer, then we will need to figure it out somewhat soon so that I can plan it.”
“I want to go now, I just can’t decide,” she paused slightly, “and I’m not like Evie (her older sister), I don’t want to go on a plane for a long time or go for 3 weeks.”
“Ok – why don’t you give me your criteria of what you know you want to do and don’t want to do and I’ll give you 5 destination choices that you will can choose from; I will narrow it down for you to make the decision easier. But I want to be clear – YOU have to choose. This is your trip – not mine – this needs to be something you want to do,” I reply in a lecturing tone.
Soon I had a list of criteria to work with:
• It needs to be in July (only time she is free from sporting commitments)
• No super long plane rides (she hates planes)
• Wants to go some place warm and beachy
• Doesn’t want to move around a lot and go to multiple countries or places
• Only wants to go for a week
I spent a few weeks considering all of this and came back with options – Hawaii, Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize, and the Galapagos. We sat down and talked about each one and she pretty quickly came to a decision.
Three months later Allie has a passport, her first plane ticket without her parents, and we have a trip booked for July 13th. We are going to Belize!
I’m so excited for this trip – the same kind of excitement I have when I jump out of a plane or do something scary or adventurous for the first time – it’s fear and excitement intertwined. I have absolutely no idea how Allie and I will travel together or what she will think about life outside Lincoln, Nebraska, but I’m super excited to find out. This is a real adventure for me, a people adventure. And to top it off, she’s the first niece to pick a country that I haven’t been to before – so it will be new for both of us!
And I’m also happy to announce that I have a new partner in the Niece Project 4.0 – Adventure Life! They may sound familiar as I worked with them before on a fabulous trip in Patagonia a couple of years ago. They are excited to be involved in the Niece Project and this epic first trip for Allie. They have put together an amazing Belize itinerary that any 16 year old and 45 year old aunt would love. Allie is really athletic and loves the water, so they were able to find the perfect Belize adventure for us. We’ll be spending half of our time in the jungle caving, tubing, and ziplining and half our time at the beach snorkeling and doing other water sports.
Rich in Maya culture and jungle beauty, this Belize trip will take you into the Maya Mountains, to the ancient ruins of Xunantunich and Caracol, to the underground world of mystifying caves and beautiful water wonders. This trip is designed to introduce you to Maya culture and histories, but also includes plenty of hiking, caving and other activities to keep your body and mind engaged and excited. End your Belize trip with four days at your beachside hotel on the Placencia Peninsula – snorkeling, diving or fishing by day and relaxing to the Caribbean rhythm in the evening. –via Adventure Life
I hope you’ll follow along on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook in July when Allie and I take off with Adventure Life into a world of passport stamps, getting to know each other, new cultures, history, and some of the best snorkeling in the world!
And most importantly – I hope if you are an aunt or uncle, you’ll consider a project of your own. Be a travel mentor to your niece or nephew, it’s the beginning of a bond that I expect will last a lifetime. In fact – I’m going to be featuring some other travelers who have been inspired to do a Niece/Nephew project of their own this summer on my blog. So if you have a great Niece/Nephew travel project you are undertaking – let me know and send me an email at [email protected] and tell me about it!