Why the Best Gift Is No Gift at All
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Eight years ago, I told my husband to never buy me another gift. No more anniversary gifts. No more birthday gifts. No more Christmas gifts. Why would I do this?
Because instead of all that "stuff", I now get the greatest gift of all: an opportunity to see the world on my own terms. Here’s why you might want to consider giving up gifts, too.
How the No-Gift Plan Came to Be
A milestone birthday came with an epiphany: I just didn’t need any more stuff. Now I enjoy jewelry, luxury handbags, and indulgent bath goodies as much as the next girl, but I took a mental inventory and realized I had enough to last a lifetime.
What I did need was time. More specifically, time on my own. My kids were 4 and 7 at the time and I couldn’t remember the last time I had the luxury of an uninterrupted thought.
And even more than time, I needed to explore — to get out of my daily routine and discover something new. Before kids, I had lived, worked and studied all over the world. But since kids, travel has fallen into a predictable rut: family, beach, Disney. It happens.
I have to give full credit to my husband for coming up with the idea that solved my problem. What if he took the kids to see his parents without me? (Let’s face it, it’s all about the grandkids on those trips and I wouldn’t be all that missed.) What if I took that time and traveled instead? What if, instead of gifts for the year, I used miles and points as my travel budget?
The trip we called "Camp Mom Solo" was such a success we decided to make the plan permanent. My husband and kids benefited from a wife and mom who was energized, refreshed and just happier in general. On the odd years, we take a big family trip for two weeks and then my husband returns home while the kids and I enjoy an extended trip together. On the even years, they go grandparent-ing to the Midwest while I take off for parts unknown.
My husband especially likes that the pressure is now off him to find the perfect gift on occasion after occasion. The kids still give me little mementos and Santa brings stocking stuffers, but even Santa is totally on board. The holidays are less stressful for all of us because we focus on experiences rather than stuff.
I should also mention here that we don’t have a trust fund. All of the trips are funded on miles and points with less than $1,000 in cash all-in. A thousand dollars may sound like a lot of money, but remember it covers two years' worth of gifts for Christmas, birthday, anniversary, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Flag Day, you name it.
Camp Mom Solo in Action
The inaugural Camp Mom Solo found me in Panama. It was my first big redemption: I transferred Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United and booked a flight on Copa Airlines from DC to Panama City.
For 10 days I practiced my Spanish while touring Casco Viejo in Panama City. I enjoyed ceviche fresh from the seafood market and marveled at the ships transiting the Panama Canal. I flew 20 minutes to Contadora Island, where I indulged my love of the show Survivor by seeing where it was filmed. Most importantly, though, I caught up with my thoughts in peace from my balcony overlooking the city and the Pacific Ocean.
For each subsequent trip, I've had two years to plan a miles and points strategy to get me where I wanted to go. I've now been to Europe four times without the family. Even better, friends have joined in on the fun on the last two trips.
Six years ago, I used availability for inspiration and settled upon the Canary Islands. I found a timeshare rental in Tenerife for the rock bottom price of $350 per week. I scored my first business class redemption on Delta One using American Express Membership Rewards from DC to Madrid, and then flew Delta partner Air Europa to Tenerife.
I had never before considered the Canary Islands, which is a common destination to Europeans but not as well-known to Americans. It's now just about my favorite place on Earth, with a perfect climate, a striking cultural diversity and stunning vistas you have to see to believe.
Camp Mom Bucket List
The most bang-for-your-buck trip I took was to the Hotel Martinez Cannes by Hyatt on the French Riviera. I’m not someone who books luxury for luxury's sake (a phenomenon I've named "Vendoming"), but what I am is a tourism history nerd. Cannes is the original destination for the jet set and has been on my must-see list for forever. The Martinez is an Art Deco wedding cake of a hotel smack-dab in the middle of the action.
The base-level room at the Martinez started at $680 on my dates, but was also available on Cash + Points (12,500 points and $150). It was a splurge even on Cash + Points for me, but the free breakfast and happy hour offered to Hyatt Globalist members pretty much erased my food budget. (Hyatt sadly has since devalued its Cash + Points program so you won't be able to replicate this stay for such a low out-of-pocket cost.
Using a suite upgrade, I got four nights in a Junior Suite for a grand total of $600 plus 50,000 Hyatt points, shared with a friend, so it was actually half that amount. Just for fun, I pulled up the actual room rate:
I wouldn't book a $10,000 hotel stay in a million years, but I don't regret that stay one iota. I'll never forget sipping local wine on my patio while watching the yachts go by. It only took one World of Hyatt Credit Card sign-up bonus and some normal spending to cover the points portion of the trip.
Camp Mom Dolce Vita
The last two trips have been to Italy. Redemptions on Delta One and Austrian Airlines (via United MileagePlus) got me there in style.
Exploring Italy without the kids meant I could enjoy three-hour meals with friends and explore a vineyard where we sampled 14 (!) different wines. It meant I could visit the archaeological museum in Naples at my own pace. I love traveling with the kids, but I'm never truly "off" when I'm also parenting.
How Could You?
I get two reactions when people hear about Camp Mom Solo. The first is, "How do I get that?" The second reaction I hear is, "Won't you miss your kids and husband?" Emphatically yes ... and no.
The un-asked question of a mom who dares to admit she could use some time without her kids and husband is, "How could you?"
Here is the answer: having a family is hard. I wish more of us would be honest about that fact. Daily life can suck away your joie de vivre if you're not careful. It is entirely possible, indeed normal, to love a person more than life itself and crave nothing more than to leave them for a few days.
My family deserves the best of me, and travel brings it out and presents my best self to the world when I return. I exercise more, eat better, smile more, worry less and take time in my own head. For me, those things just don't come any other way.
The gift of solo travel doesn't create clutter, doesn't waste money and makes me more grateful for the people in my life. I can't think of a better present.