Extended family. Distant family. Close family living far away. Family you don’t know well. Family. Visit family when you can.
I am not talking about trips where the sole purpose is spending time with family – though it is a good idea to squeeze a few of those in throughout the years, as well. But we all know that time and money are limited resources. There are so many places to see, so many things to do, that not every vacation will be a family reunion and not every family event can be attended.
What has been on my mind lately is when your travels to other destinations bring you nearby family which you do not get to see often. When that happens, make an effort. Even if it may be a bit of an inconvenience to your travel schedule. Even if it may be a bit of a disruption to their daily routine. At least try to seize the opportunity to see family, face-to-face, for a few minutes or a meal.
A couple years ago, my cousin and his family from Florida were taking a vacation to Chicago, passing through about an hour from where I live. I am grateful that they reached out, wanting to visit with us – though I will admit that, at first, I felt a bit apprehensive. I hadn’t seen him in nearly 20 years. We hadn’t really kept in touch. I had never met his wife nor any of his kids (I wasn’t even sure I knew all their names). He was practically a stranger at this point.
But, he made the effort, so my family and I made the effort. And I was so glad we did. After introductions, our time was spent reminiscing about family and catching up on what was happening in our lives. It was just a short visit over lunch, but in that time he ceased to seem like a stranger and I was reminded of how strong a family bond can be even after years of separation.
When we were traveling a few months later, there was one route option that brought us right through the town where my grandmother lives and a little over an hour from where my aunt lives. We chose to take that route, getting on the road a little later than we would have otherwise. My grandma chose to rearrange her Sunday schedule. My aunt chose to put off some chores and drive over an hour each way. We all chose family. It was powerful in a quiet Sunday lunch kind of way. And for my children, it was one more shared experience with these loved ones who are far in distance but close in heart. This simple lunch will be another memory they have of their great-grandma and great-aunt.
When I think about why we travel with our young kids, it is clearly to expose them to experiences and places beyond their everyday, but it is also to spend time together as a family, making memories. When we have the chance to include family from beyond their everyday into the making of those memories, we should take it.
My husband and I kept this in mind as we were planning our 17-day road trip the next summer. We contacted every family member and friend that lived within an hour of our route. We had a tight schedule and could only offer very specific times and places to meet, but almost all of them were able to make it work. They all made an effort to see us. They chose us.
Over those 17-days, the five of us had an incredible road trip experience which was made all the more special by lovely visits with distant relatives and friends in six different states along the way.
We need to be the example and instill in our children that family matters. We need to show them that family is worth a slight inconvenience to the schedule or routine. It won’t always work out and we may not be able to make all the stops, but the visits we can fit in will be worth the effort. We will have given our kids an opportunity to make a memory with these far-off family members, to know them in-the-flesh.
When my kids grow to be adults and the branches of our family tree expand and multiply – when I am the distant relative – I would like to think that, if any member of this future extended family were passing through, they would want to stop and say hello to me. I would want to be a real person in a real memory to them.
This story originally appeared on TODAY