I can’t give you the world: A letter to my niece on her 18th birthday

From leahtravels.com, by Leah Walker
I can’t give you the world: A letter to my niece on her 18th birthday

Dear Kennedy,

I know it’s cliché, but I can’t believe that you’re actually 18-years old. I vividly remember receiving the call the day you were born. Your once red hair has turned to brown, and you have morphed into a young lady in what seems like a blink of the eye. You drive, date, and can now legally vote and buy cigarettes, though I hope you’ll pass on the smoking.

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Lately, I’ve seen much of your life from afar. Thank goodness for Instagram and Snapchat. Being on the other side of the world, sometimes photos are the only way I can keep up with what’s happening in your full life. I’ve not told you, but I admire your diligence in the classroom, as well as your devotion to your family, friends, and faith. The early mornings, late afternoons, and weekends dedicated to the animals you’ve raised are a testament to your work ethic and compassionate heart. Beautiful, both inside and out, I’m proud of everything you are and look forward to what you will become.

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You know I’ve turned my conventional life upside down. I’ve traveled the world, living semi-nomadically for the last two years, before finally putting down roots in Paris. It took over three decades, but I eventually discovered my passion for travel. Each passport stamp comes with cherished memories and a newly discovered understanding about life beyond the Texan and American borders. These experiences have profoundly impacted my life and how I view the world.

One of my most vivid memories occurred in November of 2011. I was driving on a narrow mountain road on the North Island of New Zealand. Each turn brought one jaw-dropping landscape after another. It didn’t seem real, like something crafted by Hollywood. Suddenly, a wave of emotion came over me that I’d never experienced. My eyes were full of tears, but not out of sadness. The indescribable beauty overwhelmed me. I wondered how such a place could exist and was grateful to see it with my own eyes. I lamented the fact that most of the world would never step foot in New Zealand, that the closest they would come would be watching a Lord of the Rings movie. I thought about you. On the side of road in New Zealand, I vowed to myself that you should have such an experience.

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Kennedy, I’ve been waiting to tell you this since 2011. When I returned to Texas from New Zealand, I set up a savings account. Twice a month for the last four years, an automatic deposit has been made into this account, and I’m almost to the goal. I may be biased, but I truly believe that travel is not only the best gift, but also a tremendous educator. I’m not just referring to history and culture, but travel also teaches intangibles such as tolerance, patience, and humility. So, with this money, I’m giving you the gift of travel for your 18th birthday. 

After your 2016 graduation, we will take a trip together. Where, you ask? That’s up to you, well, within reason. I haven’t saved enough to take you to Antarctica. Before you go to college, I want you to taste a little of what the world has to offer. I want your horizons to be broadened and mind to be opened to the endless possibilities in front of you. Maybe you won’t love travel like I do, and that’s OK. But I want you to have the opportunity to decide that for yourself. At the very least, you’ll have a passport and memories of the time you spent with your crazy aunt, but I suspect you’ll take away much more from this trip.

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This isn’t going to be as simple as spinning the globe and picking a place. You know things are never that easy with me. I want to see that you’ve put some serious thought and research into your decision. Therefore, the first step is narrowing your choices down to three. Once you’ve accomplished this task, I want you to put your thoughts onto paper. Tell me why you want to visit these places. What makes them interesting to you? What do you want to see and do in these places? Don’t worry. I’m not expecting a research paper, but I need to understand what you hope to gain in order to plan your perfect trip. Besides this news, you have an actual present to open, which I hope will inspire and spark your wanderlust.

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Kennedy, I can’t give you the world, but I can show it to you. I love you more than you’ll ever know, and I can’t wait to experience this special journey together. Happy 18th birthday and bisous from Paris.

Love,

A-Nut Leah

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