This Winter Holiday Season, Give Your Kids Experiences, Not “Things”

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

I don’t recall having a lot of stuff when I was younger. While we were far from paupers, and my toy collection wasn’t exactly “bag of abandoned doll heads found in the creek” levels of sad, I had only a few new toys and games. Holidays were enjoyable, but I really don’t recall mountain sized masses of wrapping paper after the gift giving was over. Instead, 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. And it’s not just me who thinks so; especially now at holiday time, many families are thinking of way ways they can show appreciation and love for each other without adding to all the “stuff” in their homes. 

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, especially now when holiday giving is upon us: I now give experiences, not things.

This holiday season, we’ve opted out of giving large gifts, instead limiting ourselves to small token items and optimallyideally, things which are needed or dearly desired. And then for the WOW factor, we are giving 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. (In fact, this year for the winter break we are hitting the beach and exploring a new country – something my kids are happily “giving up” wrapped boxes for. )

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 by showing up on her doorstep on Boxing Day, where she now lives in London? Or maybe even taking those new skis and hitting the slopes somewhere special? (And if you are travelling with skis, a snowboard, or other decidedly “not overhead compartment appropriate” over-sized luggage, you can relax: Air Canada can handle it.)

Family travel isn’t shouldn’t be 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 Preferred seatsSeats, which are complimentary if standard seats cannot be assigned. Plus, if your little travellers 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 – especially during winter holiday travel!)! 

Once you’ve decided on using a 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. A vacation or trip away makes a wonderful gift because it’s something your kids – and you! – will “unwrap” every time you think about the memories you created on it! 

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. (The winter break can be longlong, and we don’t always have the same time off work to match up with our kids’ breaks – maybe a trip to see family independently would be an viable option instead of yet another day camp.). 

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. Shared experiences available through travel are imunmeasurable 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.