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My moment of truth came at the Delta Sky Club in Memphis. My son, then 7, had what could be best described as a DYKWIA (Do You Know Who I Am) meltdown. “Mom, you need to write the CEO of Delta. This lounge only has apple juice instead of grape and the cracker selection is terrible!” It became clear to me that we needed to have a serious reality check.
Regular upgrades, suites, lounge access, first class and even all-you-care-to-enjoy juice and crackers can take their toll on kids (and adults) in a not so spectacular way. I have since made an effort not to let my kids become spoiled by the privileges we get with miles and points. We travel often — even for extended periods of time — but I don’t want my children to take that privilege for granted.
Give Your Kids Some Stats
My kids have visited more than 20 countries thanks to miles and points. If anything, the kids are suffering from travel ennui. I actually got a “nah” when I mentioned a last-minute deal to Hawaii. My son said, “I’ve already been, I’m good.” (Ugh! Facepalm.)
While I haven’t yet figured out a cure for adolescence, I have given them some perspective. A recent poll showed that over half the respondents have visited fewer than 10 states, much less 10 countries. I shared that info with my kids, along with the fact that only 42% of Americans even have a passport.
Show Your Kids What This Stuff Really Costs
Sometimes we fly business or first class, including on those coveted lie-flat seats. One of our over 100 hotel stays took place in an actual Austrian castle. My daughter’s first question upon entering a hotel used to be, “Where’s the club?” With that in mind, I should have expected the kids to have a skewed view of how the real world really operates.
One way I keep the kids heads’ on straight is by pulling up the actual cost of our award trips. While I’m not a fan of the “I got a $10,000 flight for free” mentality, I have found that kids get numbers. One business class flight (without using miles) costs more than most people’s monthly mortgage payment.
The purpose of talking numbers isn’t to make them feel like Richey Rich, but to understand that what they are getting to do (presumably thanks to miles and points) is very special and not the everyday, even if it is their normal.
Go Budget Sometimes
Not all of our trips are in hotel suites, lie-flat seats or castles, and that’s OK, preferable, actually. Kids are much more likely to appreciate the times they have it really, really good if sometimes they are sitting in (gasp) small seats at the back of the plane and sleeping in standard hotel rooms for four that don’t crack 300 square feet. Not only will this help you stretch your cash and mileage budgets (so you can divert those resources to on-the-ground-activities), but it will give some perspective to the comfort that miles and points can sometimes provide.
Get Them Around Other Kids
A great way to ground your kids is to get them out of the tourism bubble. One of my favorite travel memories came in Osaka, where we partnered with Kids Travel Japan, a local group that organizes visits with Japanese kids who are learning English. The Japanese kids benefit from the English practice, especially from chatting with a native speaker. The program is free for the English speakers.
Over the course of two days, our family visited sites in Nara and Osaka with three Japanese families and kids ranging in age from 3 to 9. Our kids, who were 11 and 8 at the time were shy at first, but by the end of two days took on the role of older sibling.
I’ll always remember our visit to Nara — site of an impressive series of ancient monuments. Nara is also famous for the wild deer that range freely among the historic sites. While the Buddhas were impressive, what my kids talk about is our English lesson: “That’s a deer. That’s a deer poop.” “That’s a deer poop” — enunciated carefully — is now firmly implanted into our family shorthand. Nara would have been memorable without the family escorting us, but having the kids playing together took the experience to an entirely different level.
Your family may be lucky enough to fly to Japan in a lie-flat seat and stay in a four- or five-star hotel using points, but if your kids are making connections with real people along the way, those are the most memorable and valuable moments that will help serve to keep them grounded.
Get Your Kids Involved in Community Service
Cruising can feel like an exercise in overindulgence. I’m certainly prone to overdo, well, everything while sailing from port to port. Fortunately, Carnival Corporation (Carnival, Princess and Holland America — among other cruise lines) has found a way for you to give back for a few hours between sundae bars and limbo contests. Carnival has set up a program called Cruise with Purpose at its port of Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic. Cruise with Purpose activities let you spend your money and time in the community, not just the gift shop.
Our visit to Repapel was inspirational. Carnival purchased a house in the suburbs of Puerto Plata specifically so the women who founded the enterprise wouldn’t have to leave their neighborhoods to work. The women collect waste paper from local businesses, sort it, wash it, dry it, iron it and then use the resulting paper to make all sorts of crafts for sale to support the enterprise.
How do I remember the steps so clearly? Because the women had a Seven Dwarfs style, “Whistle while you work” chant: “Se lava, se seca, se plancha se plancha se plancha!” Of course, we joined in.
Beaches Resorts also works with community organizations to help bridge the gap between tourist and traveler. Your family can work in a visit to a local school in between snorkeling and lounging on the beach.
You can find similar opportunities at the Andaz Costa Rica (use points and give back) or even volunteer a few hours (or more) at Give Kids the World while staying at Disney with your children who are 12 years old and up. Connecting with children who are on their “Wish Trips” to the Orlando area between days of extreme Mickey and Harry Potter immersion is almost guaranteed to give the necessary gut-check to keep kids’ feet on the ground and hearts ever-expanding.
Part of the joy of collecting miles and points is sharing travel with your kids. But our method of traveling in comfort and with regularity can come with a cost: Kids who don’t understand what a privilege they have. By being straight with them about the costs and giving them opportunities to meet locals and give back, you can give your kids the benefits of miles and points without burdening them with the costs.
Know before you go.
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