As a young child and teen, I had the privilege to travel extensively with my family. My father’s job was flourishing through the 80’s and his company rewarded top agents with elaborate trips around the world. My parents would frequently take me out of school early or allow an absence here or there in order to take advantage of these opportunities. I cherish memories of traveling as a family— the good, the bad, and the ugly. We laugh about the time we left my brother at a McDonald’s in the high desert as we rambled down the highway in our motorhome, not realizing he was missing for over an hour. We are humbled by the grace the Lord demonstrated upon us when our camper caught fire and our heroic father, with the calm of a trained professional, evacuated the family, snuffed out the fire with an extinguisher, and declared us fit for the road once again. My brother and I tease one another with loving affection about our squabbles over “zones,” beds, seats, and all sorts of childish behavior. These memories hold a special place in my heart and fueled the desire that if the Lord blessed me with a family of my own, vacations together would be of high importance. Below are some ideas, tips and tricks that we have found useful for our family travel through the years. These points are by no means exhaustive or authoritative. I only hope to share with you the importance of making time for vacations and hopefully, spur you on to go forth and discover!
1. Vacations Are Needed - Vacations are a time of rest that allow us to unplug or detach from our devices, break from our routines and spend time together in unique and varied settings or circumstances. These become opportunities for deeper conversations, moments of shared splendor, and authentic enjoyment of one another. God calls us to work hard throughout our lives. He modeled for us 6 days of work, and then on the 7th day…He Rested. God commands us to rest so that our bodies and minds can be refreshed, enabling us to get back to work. Don’t miss that. Rest is not the end. Rest is not the goal. Rest is a pit stop we enter and leave so we can get back on track to do what God has called us to do with our lives.
2. Vacations Can Protect Your Marriage - The marriage relationship can be drowned in the midst of hectic work schedules, demanding school calendars, and abundant church or social opportunities. And yet, the primary relationship between husband and wife needs time together, yearly and monthly. The marriage relationship is the foundational relationship in a family (Gen 2:18-25). In order to cultivate unity in a marriage, couples need to carve out time for one another on a regular, ongoing basis. Date nights or coffee shop meetings must continue after children come into a marriage. In addition, prolonged time together (aka vacations) as a couple will allow for renewed unity intellectually, socially, physically, and spiritually. It is not surprising that couples struggle to make this happen especially after children enter into a family. My husband and I have regularly been intentional in this area and planned get-a-ways together. Some have been a simple overnight in the city; others have been full-fledged destination vacations. Each has been invaluable to building our marriage covenant.
3. Vacations Can Cultivate Family Unity - Building family unity is essential for Christian parents. Family vacations can help build the unity of your family and allow for your children to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit and practice the “one another’s” in unique ways. At this point, you may be thinking that traveling with small children may be the last place that you can see the fruits of the Spirit demonstrated. On the contrary, it could be a place where sinful desires abound, and this is an ideal forum for character training. Character training built upon solid biblical virtues (Gal 5:22-23; 2 Tim 3:15) from Scripture is foundational. It is undeniable that small children can test our patience, especially when out of their routines, but it is possible to have an overwhelmingly positive time with careful planning.
Below are some tips that we found to be invaluable on our trips together:
• Budget. Budget for your trip at least 6 months in advance. Not all families can travel equally. I remember one of our first family vacations was to a campground in Texas. As I researched the cost of the travel and the fees, I remember pitching the trip to Cliff with, “Wow, this is something we can do! The overnight fee is $18 a night!” For whatever reason, that still stands out to me. I was a bit incensed when we moved to California and our first trip up to Big Basin was $25 a night for tent camping. Planning the trip into a family budget will allow for you to enjoy your vacation without guilt or worry of overspending.
• Departure Time. When you leave, are your kids already spent for the day? Have you or your hubby already put in a full day at work? Then short fuse is to be expected. The best routine we started was to travel early, and I mean really early. We typically departed around 4 or 5 am (o’dark thirty) if our trip involved car travel. What we loved about this was that our car was packed, we put sleeping children in their car seats, and we would have several hours drive time logged in before the sun or their tummies woke them. Their dispositions were cheerful and excited for their adventure.
• Travel Bags for Kids. Pack a small backpack or suitcase filled with snacks for the road/ airplane. Items such as new small toys or books and games like Old Maid or Car Bingo are invaluable while traveling with children. Leap Pads and electronic books that can be changed are wonderful for longer excursions. Allow them to eat their snacks in stages, saving some for later in the journey. Our children could not open or get into their bags until permission was given.
• Bag of Tricks for Mom. I always brought something I knew would entertain and distract to pull out when traveling. One favorite was a Magna Doodle. One of us would draw an item and the children would love guessing who or what it was. I also started the children on audio books at an early age. We began with short stories like the Adventures in Odyssey and then worked our way up to classics such as The Secret Garden, Les Miserables, and our favorite, The Chronicles of Narnia. In addition, favorite cookies, a puppet, and of course some flashcards would be typical items in my carpetbag.
• Itinerary that is Realistic. When we travel, we have a set of activities that we typically accomplish. It involves this simple formula: Rest Day, Pay Day (something fun for everyone), and Play Day (an active activity like hiking, biking, etc.).
• UNPLUG. This is the beauty of camping and what makes all the effort worth it for me. I am not going to explain why this is so important, because I am confident that it has become obvious to Christian homes. To be out of cellular reception is becoming increasingly difficult, so banning devices will most likely be the need for the future. This is not easy to do, especially as your children grow, but if mom and dad demonstrate a willing attitude to go dark then your children will follow your example.
• Expect Difficulties. Numerous challenges will arise when you travel. I’ll never forget when our car blew an engine rod in the middle of Texas. We were so disappointed that our visit to California would likely be canceled. But God provided for our family miraculously, and we were on the road the very next day. Our children were watching Cliff and I through the entire trial. Pointing to God’s provision in our hour of need is what we tried to model. What is important to remember is this: as challenges arise, the most important thing is how you handle them. You will either be building up or tearing down your family and marital unity. Choose to have grace, choose patience, choose to demonstrate love and kindness—this is what the Lord requires and what makes your time together priceless.