“Have you decided?” I asked Lindsey with excitement and anticipation on where her big choice was going to be. However, this was niece number 5, I should’ve known the answer is never that easy. When I started this Niece Project journey in 2012, I thought the travel decisions on where they wanted to go would be easy for the girls; I had no real restrictions, the world was their oyster! I expected to have them choose places like Paris, Rome, Barcelona, and maybe even New York City. Instead I had hours of agonizing with them as they tried to narrow down the whole world into one place. Some of the girls were more decisive than others, Bethany always knew she wanted to go to Italy, Evie had is narrowed down to 3 countries, Megan knew she wanted to go to South America, and Allie knew more about where she didn’t want to go than were she did want to go. But there was no one that just came out and chose a decisive “I want to go to X”.
These broad choices of countries were actually a blessing for me, as it had the effect of involving me more in the process. I realized that the ‘where’ is actually when Niece Project journey begins for me – at the decision point of narrowing down an itinerary. I’ve been more actively involved in the travel decisions than I had expected – but in a good way.
“I want to go to Australia and New Zealand,” Lindsey said with excitement. I was happy that she had an answer, but at the same time I knew there were a few challenges with that answer; namely that it was a huge area that she was choosing! Australia is as big as the entire US, and New Zealand is further away from Australia than one would think; a big country on it’s own. And then there was the issue of seasons. I normally always took the nieces on their trips in the summer as that’s when they have the most free time and we don’t have to worry about school.
“That’s great, however our summer is their winter,” I reminded her, “do you want to go in their winter?”
As we went through this conversation, we started to narrow things down; she wanted to go when it was warm there, which meant that we’d have to go in December and work around school and the Christmas holiday. This also meant that we would only have about 2 weeks of time, which wouldn’t be enough to do both countries, she’d have to choose one.
“New Zealand,” she said with a grin.
Niece Project 5.0 was decided; we are going to New Zealand this December!
What is the Niece Project
I’m a 46 year old single woman who decided not to have kids. However, I have six nieces (no nephews), they are the closest thing I have to kids. I’m sure there are many people like me who can relate. Looking out into the future, I realized two things.
First, I felt experiences were more important than stuff. As an Aunt, I’ve always felt like my role in my niece’s lives were to be one of inspiration, to give them a different view of the world than what they may get from their parents and surroundings. I didn’t want to contribute to more meaningless stuff that would be forgotten, instead I wanted to build memories and help them see the world. They won’t remember that I got them an Abercrombie shirt, but they will remember a trip to Berlin. Their parents take care of their school and life necessities, and I wanted to grow their curiosity.
Second, I wanted (actually needed) to work on building a bond with my nieces as they are my lifeline as I age and it’s important to me that even though I don’t have my own immediate family, that I really build my extended family as my own. Granted, I know that I can’t make them build a bond with me, but I can put us in situations together, like traveling, that would help establish a bond.
This all culminated in the Niece Project; when they turn 16, they can choose anywhere they want to go in the world, and I’ll take them.
New Zealand with Intrepid Travel
On December 16th Lindsey (now 17 and a senior in high school) and I will be boarding a long flight from Minneapolis to Auckland, New Zealand. A trip that will take us nearly 28 hours total with 2 connections. I never expected when I started this that I’d be flying halfway around the world with my nieces, but I love their adventurous spirit.
The adventure only begins with the flight, as the Intrepid Travel New Zealand itinerary is full of heart pumping adventures! Some that I’m a bit nervous about, and some that I’m really excited about! Sea kayaking and snorkelling in the Bay of Islands, black-water rafting in Waitomo, bungee and jet boating in Taupo, as well as mountain biking and kayaking in Nelson, and hopefully I’ll finally get to do the Tongariro Crossing!
We start in Auckland on the North Island and head to the Bay of Islands, Waitomo, Rotorua, Taupo, Mt. Ruapehu, Wellington, Nelson, Kaikoura, and end in Christchurch.
Intrepid Travel specializes in small group cultural travel and they have trip styles for everyone – backpackers, solo travelers, family travel and yes, that even includes niece-aunt travel. I’ve worked with Intrepid Travel on past Niece Projects as well as my own solo trips and I’m so thrilled to partner with them again this year on this massive trip! Nothing makes me happier than continuing to work with companies I’ve used throughout this decade of travel.
Packing and Travel Prep
The prep for this trip now is in full swing! I just talked to Lindsey today who was working on her calculus homework as I was trying to plan out logistics – I’ll take logistics planning any day over high school calculus. I can tell she’s really excited as we talk about how we are packing and what gear we need to bring. It will be summer in New Zealand, but the average temps will only be in the 60’s to 70’s so layers will be important.
I went to my favorite travel clothing company, Exofficio, to figure out a layering strategy. Their lightweight, wrinkle-free clothing with bug, sun and water protection are perfect for New Zealand. We’ll be outside a lot and we’ll be moving every day to a new town, so it’s important that we try to pack light and efficiently.
Next I have to start working with my sister and brother-in-law to get all paperwork, communication plan, and insurance in order! Since this is niece #5, this process of traveling with other people’s kids is starting to become second nature! However, even though the prep process of traveling with my nieces is predictable, the actual travel portion is never predictable. I never really know how we will get along, what new responsibility curve ball they will throw my way, what new things I’ll learn, and if they’ll think of me as a peer or a parental figure. That’s what make the the journey with them so fun, I never know what’s going to happen!
And after writing this whole article today, going through old stories of Niece Project’s past, I have to say; I’m giddy with excitement to leave on this journey with Lindsey! I remember traveling with her as a young 7 year old in Asia. My sister and her family lived in Singapore for 5 years and I traveled with them often. I also remember sharing the bottom bunk of Lindsey’s bunk bed frequently and looking up at her glow-in-the-dark stars on her ceiling and us talking until we both fell asleep. I remember watching Little Women with her and us all joking around that she was like Amy March, and would to have to be my ‘companion’ when I was old and alone. There are so many old memories with Lindsey, and so many more to come. This is going to be a special trip – I can feel it, and I can’t wait.
Niece Project Surprises
After embarking on this Niece Project journey, I realized that there are a few other goals that I developed for it. I was hoping the girls would become interested in the world and it’s cultures and maybe, just maybe it would turn them into travelers themselves. I was hoping that as they made choices in their adult life for school and work, maybe the world would call them and they’d study abroad, or work abroad, or simply have a thirst to see more.
They are all still pretty young (teens and young twenties), but they are on that step to adulthood where they are making their own life decisions now. Some of the best news I had all year is when my niece, Evie, messaged me and said that she was going to go back to Vietnam for her college spring break and taking some friends with her! This aunt was bursting with excitement and a little pride to see her decide to do this herself and bring others with her to pass on the gift of travel! Most college students go to a Florida or Mexico for their spring break, and she’s going half way around the world…best spring break ever!
In another surprise, I have heard from many other aunts and uncles (single or not), around the world that have started their own such ‘projects’. And that was one byproduct that I never expected. I wanted to inspire my nieces; I wasn’t expecting to inspire other aunts and uncles. I’m so happy about this, that I do regularly take guest posts from people who want to share their own niece or nephew project and write their story on my blog.
Niece Project Guest Posts
How to Prepare to Travel with your Niece or Nephew by Michaela Potter
Sharing the Gift of Travel by Sarah Reijonen
Want to meet the nieces and hear them talk about the project? This summer my whole family was in Breckenridge and I got them all together for aFacebook Live broadcast – watch it now!
We will be guests of Intrepid Travel on this Niece Project adventure. Check out their great family travel opportunities. Family doesn’t always have to mean the conventional family, it is also for aunts and uncles!
I’m also partnering Exofficio to provide us some comfy and innovative travel clothes, a brand I’ve been wearing and gushing about for years!
As always, all opinions expressed on the site are my own.
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