Amy Roberts: Exploration education | ParkRecord.com

Amy Roberts: Exploration education

Red Card Roberts

By Amy Roberts
Park Record columnist 

When my niece was born nearly three years ago, I told my sister I would save for her college education.

I pretended my intentions were noble. I often presented them in some form of "You're a single mom" or "I don't have kids of my own" statements. And while that's true, it would be false to suggest my generosity was selfless.

At the end of the day, this kid is going to be the one to put me in a nursing home. It's in my best interest if she's educated.

So a few years ago, I opened a 529 college savings plan with the goal of contributing $500 a month for five years. By the time she entered kindergarten, she'd have $30,000 stowed away and I'd cross my fingers the market gods would smile upon her account.

It’s only going to get worse. I have big plans for this child.

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That was the plan at least. The reality looks a bit more like this: There might be enough money for a Costco-sized supply of Ramon Noodles and approximately one month of laundry.

I'm not sure where or when my plan derailed. I tend to be somewhat resolute when I commit to something. So I spent some time last week going over my finances. It wasn't too difficult because I put absolutely everything on my American Express card. I'm so obsessed with accumulating airline miles; I have been known to charge a pack of gum. I pay it off at the end of each month, which explains why there's been little leftover for contributing to a college savings plan.

The AmEx website has a nifty little pie chart on the home page of my account that provides a glimpse into where I spend the most. The breakdown went something like this:

Business services: 3.5 percent
Entertainment: 2.5 percent
Food: 6 percent
Pets: 27 percent
Travel: 61 percent

And even that's a bit misleading, considering the amount I spend on my dogs is often directly related to my travel. Because every time I leave town, those two mutts need to stay somewhere.

Granted, I could get them a room at the Marriott for less than their boarding facility's nightly rate, but would they get belly rubs and organic treats there?

As I poured over my travel expenses, I realized most of my recent trips have included my niece. She's a few months shy of 3 years old, and already she's been to Maui, Turks and Caicos, Martha's Vineyard, Park City and a handful of other places that tend to have four or five dollar signs after them when written about in travel blogs.

Aside from my airfare, the receipts included things such as butterfly nets, whale watching tours, bounce house admission, Minnie Mouse bikinis, carousel rides, pony rides, ice cream, Minnie Mouse beach chairs, souvenirs, face painting (to look like Minnie Mouse of course), and other bits and bobs that all add up.

It's only going to get worse. I have big plans for this child. Next year I am taking her to Santa's Village in Finland, where she'll see elves at work and participate in reindeer games.

As she gets older, Africa will be on the list; I want her to watch animals in their natural environment and understand the importance of protecting them.

We'll go on humanitarian trips together, so she always appreciates what she has and values helping others. When she begins studying events such as World War II and the Holocaust, I'll take her to France and Germany. And we'll pop over to Italy, because it's right there. And yes, there will be some stops at Disney World and tropical beaches along the way. But unless I win the lottery, I'm not sure how I'm going to fund these trips for two and pay for her education as well.

Which got me thinking about priorities. I have long thought if I could do it all over again, I would have taken a gap year to travel. Or joined the Peace Corps right out of college. Or enrolled in a Semester at Sea program while in college.

I have made seeing the world a priority in my life, but I sure wish I had done so when I didn't have to fit it all into an annual two-week block. I have learned more by traveling than I ever could in any classroom. Mark Twain was spot on when he said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."

While I do want my niece to be educated, I want her to be globally curious even more. I want her to explore nature and develop empathy and become self-reliant.

I want her to have meaningful conversations with strangers, learn a new language, eat foods she can't pronounce and boldly step out of her comfort zone.

So, barring that winning lottery ticket, it is possible my priorities have shifted a bit. I'm now investing in her passport stamps. And it's OK if a nursing home in Namibia is the tradeoff.

Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.