By Melanie Notkin
I had been living in Manhattan for 20 years before I boarded the Staten Island Ferry for the first time. I’d traveled to Europe and the Middle East, but it took two decades, and a special mini-vacation day with my nephew, to charter this short trip to my neighboring borough.
On the first leg of our roundtrip, we stuck close together by the side rail, saluting Lady Liberty as we passed her by, admiring all the boats that had joined us in the New York Bay, and taking a few selfies in our aunt-nephew revelry. And on our return, as we drew closer to Manhattan, we took in the breathtaking view of the glorious, steel gray and emerald green city I call home. While the southern tip of the island warrants a silent prayer for all we lost in the recent past, it also inspires big dreams and great potential for the future. I saw my home through this boy’s big, bright eyes, like I had never seen it before. It made me want to dream even bigger - for us both.
One of the most extraordinary things about being an aunt is the opportunity to experience things I wouldn’t otherwise. First, I get to do things I probably wouldn’t do on my own or with a friend, but do them because a nephew or niece wants to. And more so, experiencing these things with the children I love, and through their young eyes, adds so much more to the experiences for me. Ironically, the kids think I’m doing them the favor of taking them on these mini-vacations together. They really look forward to each one – as do I.
And that’s why it doesn’t surprise me that in a HomeAway spring 2015 national research study on family vacation trends, vacationing with aunts ranks high. When HomeAway asked kids whom they’d like join them on their “ideal family vacation,” one-in-five children said they want their aunt or uncle to join them. And their parents? Moms and dads “auntie’ed up” their responses, with more than one-in-four (26%) saying that want their child(ren)’s aunt or uncle to join their immediate family on vacation.
I’ve seen the trend in traveling with nieces and nephews grow from the aunts’ perspective, too. In 2012, when my company, Savvy Auntie® partnered with Weber Shandwick and KRC Research on a national study of PANKs® (Professional Aunts No Kids) entitled: “The Power of the PANK,” nearly half (48%) of childless and childfree aunts said they want to travel with their nieces and nephews. And about the same number (51%) of PANKs are looking for family-friendly travel and adventure packages for women without children of their own to travel with their nieces and nephews.
Clearly, vacationing with a favorite aunt is a growing movement that HomeAway’s U.S. research has tapped right into, but it’s not limited to traveling within the United States. Aunts traveling with nieces and nephews is a global trend. In 2013, Euromonitor International ranked travel with nieces and nephews as a top 5 global trend to watch.
Whether it’s a trip aboard or here in the U.S., I encourage parents to invite their child(ren)’s aunt on their family vacation. In a 2014 study entitled “Shades of Otherhood” which I consulted on for DeVries Global PR, and inspired by my book, Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness, on the rising demographic of childless women, we found that non-moms ages 20-44 are very passionate about travel. They spend 60% more time abroad than moms do per year, and take longer vacations. Plus, the women of the Otherhood spend about eight days away when they vacation with their partner. So, asking aunts - and uncles - to vacation with the family is hardly impeding on their lifestyles.
And, parents can be reassured that whether or not an aunt wants children of her own, traveling with the children in her life is a gift she cherishes; 80% of all non-moms say that they play an active role in the lives of children they love. Take Sherri Otts, a travel writer and self-proclaimed “digital nomad,” who told her nieces from an early age that instead of material gifts, she would save up and take them each on a grand adventure of their choosing when they turn age 16. That’s when Sherri began her “Niece Project,” a well-documented voyage to countries around the world and the life-lessons her nieces - and their aunt Sherri – get from their journeys together.
While not every aunt has the opportunity to take her nephews and nieces around the world, a family vacation that’s in reach is a welcome idea. Whether it’s a simple day trip with a niece or nephew, or week or two away with the whole family, vacations with the children she loves is always meaningful to Auntie.
And when that aunt arrives back home, home will never look the same again. It’s filled with new discoveries, warm memories, life-lessons, and the kind of big dreams that children inspire in us all.
Melanie Notkin is the founder of Savvy Auntie, a lifestyle brand that celebrates modern aunthood, and bestselling author ofSavvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers, and All Women Who Love Kids, and Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness. Melanie founded Auntie's Day in 2009 to celebrate and honor aunts. The 7th Annual Auntie's Day is Sunday, July 26.