Last week, I did something I’ve always wanted to do: I dropped off all four of my kids at school, drove home, packed some bags, and then surprised my 11-year-old daughter by picking her back up and whisking her straight to the airport for a surprise mother-daughter trip.

We didn’t go far — just a two-hour flight to Florida on a trip that was partly business for me. But the meaning behind our little getaway is what matters. She is the oldest of what will soon be five kids, and this trip was a way to show my daughter that I am fully dedicated to her as our family expands.

It’s my goal to continue taking one-on-one vacations with my kids as they grow up. Here’s why.

WHY WAIT?

My dream of traveling with my kids began when they were still babies. I set up one special, secret-from-my-husband travel savings account for this purpose. My husband and I have joint finances, but I knew I would be too tempted to borrow from the travel fund for other life necessities, hence keeping the “secret” fund to myself. Money from any extra work I did on the side of my day job, like teaching a writing class or other small gigs, was deposited into this travel slush fund.

While I continued saving, I dreamed of the day my oldest daughter would graduate from high school and we could take our first mother-daughter trip to Paris, touring the Louvre and strolling the city.

And then, as my two oldest girls grew and the strain of middle school and pre-teen life set in, I decided: Why wait? I realized that traveling with my oldest daughters, especially as they neared their teens, could be one of the most important things I do.

The point of our trip, like all our life plans, wasn’t to have a ‘perfect’ experience — it was to create lasting memories together.

PUTTING PLANS INTO ACTION

I kicked things off last year with a birthday road trip with my oldest daughters. We visited Niagara Falls and took a yoga retreat. I decreased expenses by combining part of the trip with work and driving instead of flying, allowing us to pack our own snacks and have flexibility around where we stayed and what we did.

As idyllic as our getaway may sound, it was kind of a disaster: My 8-year-old got food poisoning, we left the retreat early, and I lost the money I’d already paid. But the point of our trip, like all our life plans, wasn’t to have a “perfect” experience — it was to create lasting memories together. (Which we did, vomit and all.)

HOW TRAVELING HAS BROUGHT US CLOSER

This year’s trip with my 11-year-old was a step up from our food-poisoning disaster. I once again combined the trip with work and cashed in on some rewards points to earn a free hotel stay. We enjoyed a fancy hotel, pool time, a visit to SeaWorld (she’s currently obsessed with dolphins and dreams of becoming a marine biologist), endless giggles and true bonding time. As exhausted as I was by the end of each night, getting away together really changed our mother-daughter dynamic.

Without my daily pressures of work and her dinner-homework-bedtime routine with the rest of the siblings, we were both able to relax in a way that was completely new for us. My daughter opened up to me like she’s never done before, and I let her see a little more of myself.

Now that we’re back home, I’ve felt myself slipping back into the familiar role of Mom (aka chief discipliner). But every now and then, my daughter and I glance over to the kitchen counter at the picture of us smiling and feeding a dolphin together — and we share a secret smile that brings us right back to the time when it was just about us.

To me, those secret smiles and the memories they contain are what it’s all about. Traveling one-on-one with each of my kids is a way for me to carve out exclusive time with them. And I can only hope to continue the tradition.

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