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Posted by on Jul 17, 2014

The Nephew Trip Takes us to Olympic National Park


We typically don’t travel with kids. Mostly because we don’t have any and it would be kind of awkward to borrow one for a weekend. However, since nieces and nephews don’t really count as “borrowed” goods, we recently shared our first adventure with someone under the age of 30 thanks to our nephew Matt.

Back in November 2012, we gave Matt what we thought was a unique gift for his Bar Mitzvah. It was a travel book that included every national park in the United States with a simple inscription on the inside cover that basically said, “choose one”.

Fast forward 19 months and Matt was taking his first plane ride by himself from Chicago to Portland, Oregon to meet us for his chosen adventure of a trip to Olympic National Park in Washington.

Matt at the entrance to his park of choice.

Matt at the entrance to his park of choice.

A number of years ago, Dave and I stopped giving each other gifts and decided to celebrate milestones with experiences instead. Birthdays were spent in Lake Tahoe or at a concert of our favorite band and our anniversary became an excuse for a trip to the wine country town where we got married. We actually spent more money on these experiences than we would have on gifts to each other, but it was our way of focusing on time together rather than the hunt for the perfect gift. And let’s be honest – we had a condo full of things. We rarely needed something new and as it turns out, it is so much more fun to go on an adventure than to open a box with a sweater in it.

This change in our gift-giving habits, married with our love for the outdoors and National Parks sparked the inspiration for our gift to Matt. What if we could share something we love with him? What if we could show him how beautiful other parts of our country are? How much fun would it be to spend a few days with just him rather than the usual family entourage? Would he still like us after spending 5 days with us??

We can’t answer if he still likes us, but it is fair to say we all had fun.

A huge campsite perched on a cliff, high above the Pacific Ocean where the sun didn’t set until after 10 p.m. and where we could hear the ocean waves crashing against the sand all night long.

The ocean view from the Kalaloch Campground in Olympic National Park.

The ocean view from the Kalaloch Campground in Olympic National Park.

Hikes to waterfalls, soaks in hot springs and muddy shoes that ended up being thrown away.

Sol Duc Falls

Sol Duc Falls

Lazy afternoons taking naps or reading in a hammock.

Attempts at gourmet campfire meals and a s’mores throw down between graham crackers and Oreos.

Football, frisbee, paddle ball (Dave was so happy to have someone to finally play with) and sunset campfires on the beach.

A paddle ball lesson!

A paddle ball lesson!

Long drives to magnificent view points.

Feeling good at Hurricane Ridge.

Feeling good at Hurricane Ridge.

A ferry ride across the Puget Sound with views of Mt. Rainer and the City of Seattle on a gorgeous, sunny day. And of course, Seattle’s own Top Pot Donuts.

Three Shabelman’s getting to explore somewhere new.

The #nephewtrip is a success!

The #nephewtrip is a success!

I am so used to traveling with just Dave that I have become almost numb to how we do things. Adding a new person – and one who isn’t used to traveling with us – actually made me more present in our day-to-day experiences. Instead of my mind drifting to what was waiting for me back at work or zoning out as we drove through the park, I was interested in seeing Matt’s reaction to where we were. I didn’t get as lost in my head as I normally do when I’m on a hike and really paid attention to the trail, the trees and the sounds (luckily we were paying attention because a huge tree fell over not far from where we were walking!).

Most importantly, I also found out teenagers will do the dishes if the campground’s water faucets are close to the bathroom where they can charge their phone.

Even without knowing whether the experiment would be a success we had already passed along the book to Matt’s cousin, Anna, who just celebrated her Bat Mitzvah in May. We have no idea which National Park she will pick, but are confident it will be a good choice and are already looking forward to it.

Thank you Matt for being willing to hop on plane across the country to share this incredible trip with us. We will never forget it.

If only we could just stay in one moment for a lifetime. This is close to perfect!

If only we could just stay in one moment for a lifetime. This is close to perfect!

Now I have a challenge for you. The next time you give someone a gift, can you provide them with an experience instead – and better yet – one that you get to share?



  1. Looks like your trip was a huge success! A gift that Matt will always remember and have many wonderful memories to cherish forever.

  2. What a wonderful gift of an experience 🙂 Can I add two Australian girls to the line up of Jill and Dave camping experiences? (we’ll pay!).

    Wonderful to be able to read your adventures again!

    • Are you kidding?? We’ll take them in a heartbeat! Send ’em over!

  3. I cannot wait to get to Yosemite and experience similar things!

    It looks awesome out there. I have only spent a week in the NW–in Portland, working, but did find a few excellent brew pub/restaurants–back in the late 80’s, I think it was. Never been to Wa. State. It is on my bucket list!!

    • I can’t wait to share Yosemite with you and mom (as you promise to wash the dishes)!

      I didn’t know you’ve been to Portland…there is lots more good beer there. We’ll add the Pacific Northwest to our next adventure together. Right after the corn palace!

  4. So happy to hear from you again, Jill. Matt told me this was the perfect trip. It certainly looks great.

  5. Dave, Jill:

    Thanks again for the GREAT trip! Matt had a great time…he said everything was awesome!
    Sorry, I don’t have another kid ready to have a Bar Mitzvah! Have fun, Anna!