New breed of traveller: aunties with time and money

PANK. It is, quite possibly, the world’s worst acronym ever devised, but it’s a tremendous trend in family travel.

PANKs are Professional Aunts, No Kids, and, according to the World Travel Mart Global Trends Report, this is a “key emerging demographic”.

The number of  PANKs in the United States alone is estimated at 23 million; they spend some $9 billion per year on children. (At this stage, there is no robust research on the trend in Australia.)

“As women marry later, they’re also having kids later or not at all,” says Melanie Notkin​, CEO of the website Savvy Auntie.

“They’re spending a great deal of time earning income. That income gives them the option to indulge nieces and nephews, taking them on cultural adventures.”

These changing demographics are redefining family travel: no longer is it simply a mum, dad and two kids.

Intrepid Travel includes aunts, uncles, and grandparents in the marketing of their family trips.

Small group cultural tours are appealing because they’re safe, well organised and experiential.

Intrepid can also help with the paperwork, which  can be a sticking point if you’re taking other people’s kids out of the country.

“While planning a Harry Potter-inspired trip to London with my nine-year-old niece, I had a thought: ‘How will immigration officials here and abroad know I’m not kidnapping her?'” Sherry Ott writes on the website, ottsworld.com.

Contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country before you travel. As well as a valid passport, you’ll probably need a letter, signed by both of the child’s parents, and the birth certificate.

Ott never wanted to have children of her own, but loves travelling with her six nieces: “A while ago I decided to stop getting my nieces gifts for holidays, graduations, or birthdays. I felt it was more important and meaningful to bond with them through experiences we could do together. So I decided to give them the gift of travel.”

Recently, she took her niece, Megan, on a trip to Peru.

But it doesn’t have to be an exotic adventure.

Rebecca Nelson, from Sydney, has been on some magical holidays with her niece, Phoebe, but her favourite was at Berrara Beach, on the NSW South Coast.

“We came across a beautiful, clear pool, with rocks shaped like seats, and shells that looked like mirrors. Phoebe picked up a comb from the pool,” Rebecca remembers.

Phoebe became convinced this was a mermaid’s pool.

“Suddenly, a huge rogue wave came in, up to our thighs. Phoebe dropped the comb. Further up the beach, we stumbled upon a message in the sand, saying ‘Sorry’, next to a handprint. I told her it was the mermaid saying sorry for taking back the comb. It was not meant for the human world.”

These are priceless memories for Phoebe, now 14, and undergoing chemotherapy for a recently diagnosed cancer.

It’s a reminder of the importance of bonding through family travel.

And the notion that it is never one-size-fits-all.