Six years ago I told my husband to never buy me another gift. No more anniversary gifts. No more birthday gifts. No more Christmas gifts. Why would I do this? Because instead I get the greatest gift of all: an opportunity to see the world on my own terms. Here’s why you might want to consider giving up gifts too.

GiftI was at a little league game last week and conversation among the moms turned to our summer vacation plans.  I offhandedly mentioned that I’m spending two weeks on the French Riviera while my husband takes the kids to see his parents.

I’m now used to the reaction my summer plans on even years get- it’s somewhere between shock and awe. This summer marks the fourth edition of my “No Gift” gift of solo travel.  While my husband and kids get in quality grandparent time, I get time to recharge, refresh, and return a better mom than when I left.

How the No Gift Plan Came to Be

My fortieth birthday came with an epiphany: I didn’t need any more stuff.  Now I love jewelry, luxury handbags, and bath goodies as much as the next girl, but I took a mental inventory and realized I had enough to last a lifetime.

What I did need was time.  More specifically, time on my own.  My kids were 7 and 4 at the time and I couldn’t remember the last time I had the luxury of an uninterrupted thought.

And even more than time I needed to explore- to get out of my daily routine and discover something new.  Before kids, I had lived, worked, and studied all over the world, but since kids, travels had fallen into a predictable rut- family, beach, Disney.

I have to give full credit to my husband for coming up with the idea. What if he took the kids to see his parents without me? (Let’s face it, it’s all about the grandkids and I wouldn’t be all that missed.) What if I took that time and traveled instead? What if, instead of gifts for the year, I used that money as my travel budget?

The tiny plane that travels to Contadora Island, Panama. Photo by Dia Adams

The tiny plane that travels to Contadora Island, Panama. Photo by Dia Adams

The first edition of what we’ve termed Camp Mom Solo found me in Panama.  For ten days I practiced my Spanish while touring Casco Viejo in Panama City.  I enjoyed ceviche fresh from the seafood market and marveled at the ships transiting the Panama Canal.  I flew 20 minutes to Contadora Island where I indulged my love of the show Survivor by seeing where it was filmed.  Most importantly, though, I caught up with my thoughts in peace from my balcony overlooking the city and the Pacific Ocean.

The trip was such a success we decided to make the plan permanent. My husband and kids benefited from a wife and mom who was energized, refreshed, and just a happier person in general. On the odd years we take a big family trip for two weeks, then my husband returns home while the kids and I enjoy Camp Mom.  On the even years they go grandparent-ing to the Midwest while I take off for parts unknown.

The view from lunch at a beachside cafe in Tenerife. Photo by Dia Adams

The view from lunch at a beachside cafe in Tenerife. Photo by Dia Adams

For 2012’s version of what we’ve dubbed Camp Mom solo I found a $249/week ocean view condo in Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. The beaches there rivaled any I’ve seen in Hawaii or the Caribbean.   My award ticket included a free stopover in Paris where I shopped my little heart out.

Two years ago I explored Rome and Southern Italy. In Rome I spotted a nun taking a selfie while it snowed in August. In Naples I wandered the museum where the wonders of Pompeii are stored then wandered Pompeii itself.

The highlight of my trip was Matera.  Simply put, Matera is a marvel- an entire city that was built into caves over 2,000 years ago and continuously inhabited until the 1930s.  From afar the town looks like Tatooine from Star Wars. Up close it rendered me speechless.

Now I’d be lying if I told you every minute of my solo travels included sunshine and rainbows. In both Panama and Tenerife I spent hours hopelessly lost.  I came home from Panama with a bug picked up from horseback riding.  And in Rome I had a truly frightening taxi ride.

matera

Matera, Italy, as viewed through a 3 Euro carafe of the house wine. Photo by Dia Adams

I should also mention here that we don’t have a trust fund. As Travel Hack Traveling Mom my trips are funded on miles and points with less than $1,000 in cash all in.  Instead of having to shop for me, my husband gets off the hook for two years of presents- birthday, anniversary, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day- except token ones from the kids.  (This year for Mother’s Day I got a travel pillow and some honey.)  It truly is a win-win.

Have you ever turned down a gift in favor of travel?  I’d love to hear more about your adventures in the comments.