I can’t give you the world: A letter to my niece on her 18th birthday

Dear Kennedy,

I know it’s cliché, but I can’t believe that you’re actually 18-years old. I vividly remember receiving the call the day you were born. Your once red hair has turned to brown, and you have morphed into a young lady in what seems like a blink of the eye. You drive, date, and can now legally vote and buy cigarettes, though I hope you’ll pass on the smoking.

Kennedy Collage 3

Lately, I’ve seen much of your life from afar. Thank goodness for Instagram and Snapchat. Being on the other side of the world, sometimes photos are the only way I can keep up with what’s happening in your full life. I’ve not told you, but I admire your diligence in the classroom, as well as your devotion to your family, friends, and faith. The early mornings, late afternoons, and weekends dedicated to the animals you’ve raised are a testament to your work ethic and compassionate heart. Beautiful, both inside and out, I’m proud of everything you are and look forward to what you will become.

Kennedy Photos9

You know I’ve turned my conventional life upside down. I’ve traveled the world, living semi-nomadically for the last two years, before finally putting down roots in Paris. It took over three decades, but I eventually discovered my passion for travel. Each passport stamp comes with cherished memories and a newly discovered understanding about life beyond the Texan and American borders. These experiences have profoundly impacted my life and how I view the world.

One of my most vivid memories occurred in November of 2011. I was driving on a narrow mountain road on the North Island of New Zealand. Each turn brought one jaw-dropping landscape after another. It didn’t seem real, like something crafted by Hollywood. Suddenly, a wave of emotion came over me that I’d never experienced. My eyes were full of tears, but not out of sadness. The indescribable beauty overwhelmed me. I wondered how such a place could exist and was grateful to see it with my own eyes. I lamented the fact that most of the world would never step foot in New Zealand, that the closest they would come would be watching a Lord of the Rings movie. I thought about you. On the side of road in New Zealand, I vowed to myself that you should have such an experience.

Kennedy Collage 2

Kennedy, I’ve been waiting to tell you this since 2011. When I returned to Texas from New Zealand, I set up a savings account. Twice a month for the last four years, an automatic deposit has been made into this account, and I’m almost to the goal. I may be biased, but I truly believe that travel is not only the best gift, but also a tremendous educator. I’m not just referring to history and culture, but travel also teaches intangibles such as tolerance, patience, and humility. So, with this money, I’m giving you the gift of travel for your 18th birthday. 

After your 2016 graduation, we will take a trip together. Where, you ask? That’s up to you, well, within reason. I haven’t saved enough to take you to Antarctica. Before you go to college, I want you to taste a little of what the world has to offer. I want your horizons to be broadened and mind to be opened to the endless possibilities in front of you. Maybe you won’t love travel like I do, and that’s OK. But I want you to have the opportunity to decide that for yourself. At the very least, you’ll have a passport and memories of the time you spent with your crazy aunt, but I suspect you’ll take away much more from this trip.

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This isn’t going to be as simple as spinning the globe and picking a place. You know things are never that easy with me. I want to see that you’ve put some serious thought and research into your decision. Therefore, the first step is narrowing your choices down to three. Once you’ve accomplished this task, I want you to put your thoughts onto paper. Tell me why you want to visit these places. What makes them interesting to you? What do you want to see and do in these places? Don’t worry. I’m not expecting a research paper, but I need to understand what you hope to gain in order to plan your perfect trip. Besides this news, you have an actual present to open, which I hope will inspire and spark your wanderlust.

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Kennedy, I can’t give you the world, but I can show it to you. I love you more than you’ll ever know, and I can’t wait to experience this special journey together. Happy 18th birthday and bisous from Paris.


A-Nut Leah

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  • Cailin
    October 10, 2015

    Cute! This is so nice, I need an aunt like you! She is lucky! 🙂

  • lance | Trips By Lance
    October 10, 2015

    This is wonderful gift. I want to see what ideas she has.

  • Jennifer
    October 10, 2015

    I can’t wait to hear where she decides to go! You are such a good aunty!

  • Mike McLellan
    October 10, 2015

    Leah: That is the most precious gift we can imagine. It is what we are giving each of our grandchildren in their 13th year. We have limited it to anywhere in the world. Due in some part to your posts, our oldest granddaughter chose Paris and Normandy. That was this year. Sounds like Africa next year. We are spending their inheritance our way. We traveled widely in the United States with our daughters. We sent them overseas to study. It was not until we were over 60 that we hit the Europe trail. I only wish we had done it in our youth. I do not want my grandchildren to feel the same. Thank you for your posts. We enjoy your site.

  • Katja
    October 11, 2015

    My aunt gave me a trip to Germany on my tenth birthday and my life has never been the same. It was my first time traveling aboard without my parents and gave me the courage to go after my dreams of travel. You are a good aunt!!

  • Jen Joslin
    October 11, 2015

    What an amazing gift! My parents took our family to France when I was a teenager, and it opened up my eyes to a whole new world. Much of my adult life since college has been spent abroad, and I am so grateful to them for lighting that spark inside me! You are giving your niece a beautiful, life changing gift!

  • Joy @MyTravelingJoys
    October 11, 2015

    What an awesome gift! My niece is only 11, but I’m already counting down the years until she can come stay with her crazy aunt….wherever I might be living then. Currently, I’m in Australia. I’m thinking 13 might be a good time to start introducing her to my love of travel too! 🙂

  • Monica Suma
    October 11, 2015

    Best gift ever. I always tell my family contributions to my travel fund is always best, and I always grew up with the same spirit of travel. I’m sure you’ll win points!!

  • Kirsten
    October 11, 2015

    Such a blessed girl to have an Aunt like you! !

  • Stephanie Farah
    October 12, 2015

    Brought tears to my eyes. You are incredible and your niece is so lucky to have you in her life. What an amazing, life-changing gift you’ve given her.

  • Christine
    October 12, 2015

    What a great gift!!!

  • Jenna
    October 14, 2015

    Wonderful! I’m so excited to see what she chooses and where you end up going. What you’re doing for her is so important–the chance to see another part of the world and meet its people & experience their lifestyle is potentially life-changing (at any age but especially as a young person). My grandmother paid for me to study abroad in college, and what a gift she gave me. It changed my life.

  • Doc
    October 15, 2015

    Your niece is of a generation who believe that believes the world lies at their fingertips, not outside their door! Your gift will will only continue to make Kennedy the exception and not the rule. And what took you (and I) three decades to learn may come to her so much more easily because of your willingness to share your passion with others! Great letter!!!!

  • Erin Marie
    October 21, 2015

    What a wonderful gift!! Reminds me so much of my Uncle Kevin. When I graduated from high school, he flew me out to LA to see him and told me that when I finished college he was going to take me on a trip. Funny thing is, I picked Paris! We also visited Spain and had two weeks to explore – that was one of the best trips and it was so wonderful to be able to spend time with him like that. There is nothing better than the gift of travel. Kennedy, you are one lucky lady, though I’m sure you already know that. 🙂

  • Traveling Ted
    October 22, 2015

    You forgot about the part where this crazy dude with a fanny pack was joining, but I guess that is a surprise. I can’t wait to see where we are going 🙂

  • Francesca (@WorkMomTravels)
    October 26, 2015

    I’ve read this more than once now and it still gives me the chills. Not only are you the coolest aunt ever, but you understand why travel is so important for young people. You know I’ve been trying for the last six years to show my kids as much of the world as possible, and I’m going to quote this piece when people ask me why. Best of luck to Kennedy, too!

  • faye smit
    July 3, 2017

    the sad part about this I’m her great aunt who is nearly 80 and wont be around when she urns 18 so what do I say to I’m lost for words

  • Jessica
    April 17, 2018

    So where did she choose to go to!?


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