My son turned 10 in March. For his birthday he got the usual stuff. Toys, clothes, and games. All of them thoughtful, all of them played with and worn, and all of them eventually blended in with the rest of his stuff, waiting to be outgrown, broken, ultimately thrown out or given away. If you asked me what I got him, I’d have to stop and really think about it, and probably confirm with my wife whose memory is much better. Ask me what I got him for his 9th birthday, 2 Christmas ago, or practically any other occasion further back than a few weeks and I’ll be at a loss. Ask him and it’ll likely be no different. This last week though he was able to cash in on a special gift for his 10th birthday, and I know for sure he won’t forget this one.

Turning 10 was a big deal growing up in my family. It still remains a big deal today. What’s so special about turning 10? Not much on the surface I suppose, except it being a nice round number. But in my family it meant that it was time for your 10 year old birthday trip. My Aunt Mary had decided that she was going to do something special for her nieces and nephews, she was going to take them on a trip in celebration of turning 10. As her nieces and nephews began having children of their own, she decided to extend that special gift to them as well. So for his trip my son and I headed down to Arizona for our adventure.

It was an amazing experience. We traveled to the Grand Canyon, walked down Route 66, saw Montezuma’s castle in the cliffs, visited the Titan II Missile Complex in Tucson. We took pictures of elk crossing the road, we drove through mountain roads and saw the amazing landscape, we swam, we bowled. Because Aunt Mary worked for an airline, we were able to fly standby there and back. We got to sit in first class on one leg, sat in two middle seats two rows apart on another. We ate at the Route 66 Diner, the Verde Brewing Company, and the Yippee-ei-o Steakhouse. We drove. A lot. He painted her new water conditioner like the missile he saw at the museum, and also launched his toy missile model out of her underground garbage can holder that served as the silo. Did I mention he loved the Titan II Missile Museum?

Outside the Titan II Missile Museum
Montezuma’s Castle

Yes, the memories of this trip are less than a week old, but I can guarantee that he will remember this trip for the rest of his life. How do I know? Because it’s been 26 years since I went on mine. We went to California. I got to go a year early because my cousin Ben was my bud and he was a year older. We went to Universal Studios and rode through Jaws, and Earthquake. We went to Knott’s Berry Farm and rode roller coasters. We just had to have the fried chicken dinner Aunt Mary was raving about all day, and still talk about how after all that she ordered a hamburger. We had a layover in Las Vegas, we played arcade games at Circus Circus. We begged to rent a convertible so we could pick up California babes. We didn’t get one. We were so off the wall as 9 and 10 year old boys we were given the nicknames “fruitcakes”. Our birthday and Christmas cards are still addressed to those names. These memories are shared every time we have a family get together. Everyone can join in, because everyone has their own memories of their own trips.

Aunt Mary also decided to start taking us on graduation trips as well. After high school graduation, we went to Rome. My two cousins who had just graduated as well, our mothers, grandmother and I took this trip together. It took forever to get there, but it was worth it. We drove mopeds around the city, saw the Colosseum, the catacombs, the forum, and the Vatican. I could go on and on. Ask any of her nieces and nephews about their trips, and they can go on and on as well. It was this trip that helped me decide to become a social studies teacher. I wanted to share the experiences I had with others. Twelve years later, it was still these trips and others I’ve taken that inspired me to start my own travel business. I want to help others build these lifelong memories.

So should you stop giving toys, clothes, and games for presents? No, I think those are still good. Our kids still get them. But what I would encourage you to do, or keep doing, is to give your children, or your nieces, nephews, grandchildren, godchildren, any children in your life, the gift of the memories these types of trips can create. It doesn’t have to be to Rome (although I highly recommend it!) or to Arizona. It can be in state or around the world. But I guarantee you they will remember it, and so will you. Even the moments that don’t go as planned or go wrong turn into stories to laugh about years later. So where do you want to go?

Just being goofy