4 Reasons My Kids Aren’t Getting Toys for Christmas

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Oh gosh, I sound like “that mom” don’t I? That sanctimonious “I don’t give my kids Happy Meals” kind of mom.

Ugh, sorry to do that to you. This is my first Birmingham Mom Collective post and I don’t want us to get off on the wrong foot. But rest assured, I am not that mom, I just had to get your attention somehow! 

But mamas, I think we all know by now that all those presents get forgotten pretty soon after December 25th. Last year my oldest daughter opened a Space Camp flight suit and a certificate for Mother-Daughter Family Space Camp. Her reaction to that piece of paper sealed the deal for me—less toys, more experiences

The author with her daughter at Space Camp

And by experiences, I actually do not mean Disney World, a Caribbean cruise, or the beach. I don’t even mean Alabama Splash Adventure, the Birmingham Zoo, or Space Camp. Those places are magical and packed with loads of memories just waiting to be made. I fully support ALL of those places and love them. But this post isn’t about those places . . .

Get Out of the Country!

Fellow mamas, what I’m hoping to coax you into today is the kind of trip that requires passports, new languages, different foods, art, history, and culture. The world is BIG, and we can be the ones to introduce our kids to it! Rick Steves claims that he’ll always be the #2 travel book auther because he’ll never outsell Disney guidebooks. He argues that Disney often feels more attainable than overseas travel, and by default it becomes the logical choice for family trips.

I’m taking my own advice, and this Christmas my family will be traveling to Europe. We will spend ten days in Amsterdam, Munich, and Salzburg; it’s going to be incredible!

People who I am told are experts claim that this is good for kids. I’m not an expert on literally anything, but the family trips we’ve taken to new cities don’t make this a hard conclusion to draw. Here are 4 reasons it’s time to consider swapping the Magic Band for a passport:

1. Going to new countries will broaden your kids’ horizons.

Christkindlmarkt

We loved the recent Van Gogh exhibit in town, and Bettola really tastes like you’re eating a meal in Italy. But no matter how authentic an experience, it is simply unrivaled by the real thing. This Christmas my kids will go through the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, attend Christmas Mass at the cathedral in Salzburg where Mozart was the resident pianist, and shop from the Christkindlmarkt in Munich that’s existed since the Middle Ages.

In school, your kids will learn about art, history, and geography, but YOU can take them to see it, taste it, hear it, and feel it. You get to be the one who unlocks the world for them. Imagine their faces when they experience their first real ramen, real taco, or real pizza from the cultural hearth where that food first began. How incredible to watch your kiddo walk into a cathedral, temple, or mosque and see them marvel at architecture that simply doesn’t exist Stateside . . . and maybe you’ll even get to see them develop empathy for those who don’t worship like them. 

Raising our kids to be global citizens can help ensure that these important values are embedded from real-world experience. They’ll grow up knowing, rather than having to learn for themselves as adults, that a big, interesting world exists that is filled with art, food, music, and culture, as well as people with hopes and dreams just like them.  

2. Traveling to a new country teaches kids great lessons about flexibility and being uncomfortable.

Salzburg Cathedral

When 100% of your surroundings cater to people also on vacation, you miss the opportunity to teach your kids how to be uncomfortable and unsure, and how to then adapt to it. When your kids see you figure out on the fly how to navigate public transportation or thank your waiter in a different language, they’ll see that the world isn’t that scary or intimidating.

In India, we found a KFC when we got homesick and still remark that it was one of the best meals we’ve ever had while traveling. We’ve also gotten some great “souvenir sweaters” from the Target on Hollywood Blvd when we realized that Los Angelas was a lot colder than we planned for. I hope this helps my kids understand that every problem is solvable, even if being far away from the familiar creates a disadvantage. 

3. Family travel makes core memories and helps you grow closer. 

I read an article once that called these life-defining moments “happiness anchors.” I bet the happiest moments of your adolescence are probably defined by an experience, not a present you were given. On a trip to San Francisco when I was 12, my Mom let us order ice cream for dinner. That “Alcatraz Sundae” made me so happy and so physically miserable–I’ll never forget it. Then, last summer, my family collectively ordered almost every flavor of Salt & Straw ice cream on Abbot-Kinney Blvd. It was the best dinner ever! I bet my mom didn’t know in 1997 that she was establishing a multi-generational tradition.

The bottom line is that your travel dollar goes further than your toy dollar, and you can take that to the bank.
My little travelers have been on red eye flights and 12 hour transatlantic flights. They’ve traveled in pandemic-era masking, championed tuktuks in India, and tried food that they promised they’d hate and ended up loving. In my humble opinion, they’re better tiny humans for it, and hopefully they’ll be better big humans one day, too.

4. Traveling to a foreign country is more attainable than you think. 

If you’re thinking “this sounds great, but I don’t have thousands of dollars to take my kids across the planet”, then I gotcha there, too.

Credit Card Points and Miles Redemption

There are so many great resources on “travel hacking” and earning free and discounted travel by just purchasing the things we need every day. I suggest The Points Guys and God Save the Points for the best advice, and this article is a great kick-start guide.

For our Christmas trip, I saved around $8,000 by redeeming points and miles! We spent a couple of years using the Chase United Mileage Plus Quest card and Chase Ink card, then redeemed the points and miles we accrued to book our airfare, hotels, and even some experiences for free. With some time, patience, and strategy, you can do it, too! Just remember to spend within your budget and pay your credit card off in full every month to avoid interest charges.

Travel Agents

Travel Agents are free to you because they are paid on commission when they book travel. They’re great if your plans get interrupted or if a flight gets canceled. If planning a trip feels really intimidating, they’ll work with you to create a great trip and take care of the details. (Also, if trip planning does make your palms sweaty, stay tuned, because my next BMC post will be all about planning an unforgettable family trip.)

In Conclusion

Toys are great, but most of us could probably admit we overdo it. Cruises and amusement parks literally exist for joy, but it’s ok to try someplace new. America is truly the Beautiful, but a little currency conversion and a couple passport stamps can build a lot of character.

So, now I’m curious. If you could put your family on a plane and take them to a new country, where would you go? Why? Comment and let us know! 

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Malinda Nichols is lucky enough to have called Birmingham her home for her entire life. She has two hilarious kids, both born in 2013. Evie (9), and Dhanya Sri (8), who came into their family by way of adoption from India. She was one of the first graduating classes from Oak Mountain High School, where she met her husband, Zack. She is a graduate of the University of Alabama, where she studied Fashion Design and Political Science. After a decade as a photo stylist, Malinda became a full-time history teacher, as well as an Ambassador for fair trade brand Noonday Collection. She and her family love to travel, watch Marvel movies, and eat their way across big cities. On the weekends you can find her restoring a 1964 vintage travel camper or renovating their 70s-era home. She is always baking, creating, traveling, or otherwise momming over on her Instagram; stop by at @malindkay and say “hey”!

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