When I was growing up, we didn’t take vacations. I think we went camping once and we took day trips to Brown County. (And yes, it was just as exciting as the Hecks made it look in The Middle – you’ve gotta love Indiana entertainment.)
Taking legit vacations started when I got married.
We go to the beach every summer and stay for free at my husband’s family condo.
We recently went to the mountains and stayed in a tent.
We even went to Disney World once.
But I’m not the most organized person when it comes to packing or planning. So if you want to read vacation tips on traveling long distances with littles, go ahead and read this post by Tsh because she is the expert. Or if you are a single girl, come back here tomorrow and Annie will share some tips on vacationing with your friends.
I’m not so great at offering details on how to pack or where to stay or how to keep your kids happy in the car. But I have spent a fair amount of time considering the things of the deeper life. And I have traveled enough with my family to know that the soul doesn’t take time off just because it’s time for a family vacation.
Here are four tips to prepare your soul for some unending time of fun, chaos, memories, and rest.
1. Leave your mindless obsessions at home.
No matter where you go, the list-making, future-looking whir will follow you. You can sit outside a bakery on a street in Paris and be miserable for all the noise in your head. You can watch the calm ocean waters and the deep blue sky as they mock you with all their peace and quiet. You can breathe in the deep mountain air right along with your worries.
It isn’t the place that brings peace. You have to bring peace with you.
And that means leaving your mindless obsessions – the insecurity over that project you’re working on, the fear about the outcome of the inspection, the awkward conversation you had with the dog-sitter on your way out the door – these you have to leave at home and are only as big as we make them.
Vacation isn’t just to vacate a place, but to rest from the whirring in your head, the running list and the constant looking to the future.
You have to fight for slow, and sometimes the fight looks like sitting on the rug with a deck of Go Fish cards.
2. Choose a breath prayer before you go.
If you’re traveling with your kids, especially if they are very small and need you to be constantly engaged, the chances of you having any time alone to pray on vacation are slim to none. Babies still have to be fed in the middle of the night no matter if the ocean is right outside the window.
For me, having a prayer that fits the rhythm of my breathing is a life-line during stressful times, vacations included.
Brennan Manning’s prayer was Abba, I belong to you. The seven syllables fit perfectly with the natural rhythm of breath. Mine is a bit longer, taken from a prayer by Ted Loder, Lord Jesus, Gather me now to be with you.
I don’t have to stop, close the door, or even leave the chaos to pray these words. But they give me something to ground me, words to wrap my soul around.
Ruth Haley Barton says this about the breath prayer in her book, Sacred Rhythms:
“The breath prayer . . . does not come primarily from the mind, which is where most of our words come from; the breath prayer arises from the depths of our desire and need. It is powerful because it is an expression of our heart’s deepest yearning coupled with the name for God that is most meaningful and intimate for us at this time.”
Take a little time before you leave town and discover your own breath prayer for this particular season of your life.
3. Get at least one photo with the whole family in it (including you).
Can’t afford to travel with your own personal photographer? Don’t want your kids to look back at your photo albums years from now and wonder why Daddy was the only parent who loved them because Mommy never went on vacation with them – clearly because you weren’t in any of the photos?
This one is a little more practical, but for me it’s important. Photos help me to see, to remember, and to tell the story of the times my family has had together over the years.
Find reflective surfaces – mirrors, windows, the glass at the top of the lighthouse – and take a family picture with you in it. I try to do this every place we visit.
4. Pack a light heart.
I’m terrible at this. I tend to predict gloomy futures at the first sign of trouble - She’s throwing up? In the back seat? Right now?! - And I immediately predict our entire vacation will be spent sharing germs and puking on the beach.
But my gloomy predictions rarely (if ever) come true, at least not to the extent I fear they will.
Take the moments handed to you, each one as they come. Let the sun highlight your hair. Let the minutes pass as you sit and watch them play. Stand with your feet in the grass and your face to the wind, close your eyes and breathe in deep.
You have this one moment in this place with them. Resist the urge to rush into the future to tackle problems that haven’t happened yet.
Do you have any tips for vacationing with your family?