Why Now More Than Ever, I Want My Kids to Have Experiences, Not Things

So here’s where I’m at with my family: I now give experiences, not things.

I don’t recall having a lot of stuff when I was younger. We were far from paupers, and while my toy collection wasn’t exactly “bag of abandoned doll heads found in the creek” levels of sad, I had only a few toys and games each year and those generally came at Christmas, on birthdays, or when doting childless aunties came to visit. My siblings and I made our own fun, literally: I built my own Barbie townhouse from empty beer cases, complete with a gravy can elevator I rigged up with an old venetian blind cord. While that sounds decidedly old fashioned and very much “get off my lawn”-esque, I can tell you that although many things have changed in the world since, I am still young enough to not have a smallpox vaccination scar. Translation: times they are a changin’, and they are a changin’ fast.

It’s hard to offer my own children the same carefree upbringing today. They have tablets and smart phones and laptops and gaming systems and Bluetooth everything and so do their peers. It doesn’t mean that our childhoods were better - frankly, there is much I’d want to skip past, like shoulder pads and having to date boys with gelled, frosted tip haircuts – just… different, less… experiential, somehow. How do we give experiences to kids who’ve never held a first-generation Polly Pocket and stare blankly at “Be Kind; Rewind” jokes?

So here’s where I’m at with my family: I now give experiences, not things.

We’ve opted out of giving large gifts, and on holidays which traditionally call for their distribution, we instead limit ourselves to small token items and optimally, things which are needed or dearly desired. When possible, we give things which also serve a double purpose in that they can be used in the attribution of an experience; like skis and a season lesson pass instead of another video game, or a good quality, durable carry-on bag for weekend getaways to other provinces.

The world is big and beautiful and full of wonder. When you choose to step beyond the aisle of a store or online shopping cart and use that energy, cash, and effort to plan an amazing first – or second or third or 17th – family vacation, you are enriching your kids’ lives and minds in ways that “things” cannot. Can you imagine trying Indian food together in India? Watching the sun set over the beautiful mountains in British Columbia instead of the dead hedges in your backyard? Or surprising the auntie who brought you Licorice Allsorts at Easter, where she now lives in London? Family travel isn’t hard or complicated or something to “get through”, and Air Canada is making it easier for your family to see the places and people you love. There are many benefits, too: If you’re travelling with children aged 2-11, you get proximity seating in standard or preferred seats, which are complimentary if standard seats cannot be assigned. Plus, if your little travelers are younger than six, you can settle with early boarding before general boarding takes place. Another great way Air Canada makes families a priority is how they are always offer food and hotel vouchers when needed due to a flight change or cancellation. (Because being hungry and sleeping on the floor is never an “experience” you’ll want to share.) 

Once you’ve decided on using travel as an experience, let Air Canada know at time of booking that you’re travelling with children, so they can assign proximity seating for your family within 48 hours of booking confirmation. If it’s not doable for the whole family to be together they will seat at least one child together with one adult or offer you the chance to rebook on a flight where proximity seating is available. 

If travelling as a family isn’t an option, don’t rule out sending kids to stay with family or friends in other provinces - or even abroad. When I was on my honeymoon a few years ago, I was seated near a 10 year-old boy excited to be travelling to spend the summer with his grandparents in the Bahamas. He was so well-cared for by the airline staff that I was forever impressed and think today of the fun this boy had in store. I wouldn’t hesitate to give my own children a similar opportunity should the chance arise, and it’s totally reasonable to do so: at just $100, Air Canada provides unaccompanied minors with benefits including special assistance check-in and private boarding. Your child is never alone, not from check-in until arrival and delivery to the person authorized to meet them has been cleared. They receive a complimentary Bistro item, headset, pillow, blanket, Rouge iPad and Skyrider gift, making the flight itself an amazing experience.

Flying alone isn’t for everyone, but what is to be gained by this demonstration of independence is immeasurable in my opinion, and you are setting kids up for successful future travels by exposing them to the experience in a supportive, comfortable environment. And you can rest easy that in the event of a delay or schedule change (which, let’s be honest, can and does happen with air travel) your unaccompanied minors will always be rebooked first, offered food and hotel vouchers when needed, and you or the child’s guardian will be contacted directly by Air Canada, where the option of a change of ticket or full refund will also be made available.

I want my kids to see things with their own eyes; I want them to taste flavours in the country of origin, I want them to hike trails, smell flowers, and meet people and hear sounds they cannot experience first-hand at home. Experiences available through travel are unmeasurable and unrivaled and they imprint themselves on a person in ways that no “thing” in a shrink-wrapped box or shiny plastic clam shell ever could. Things disappear and get broken or replaced. Experiences, just like travel, leave a mark; they come home with you.