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?

tips for vacationing with your family

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?

  • Lolu

    Thank you for this timely post! I’m going to London for a one week plus training/vacation. I was already thinking of how much project work I will be able to accomplish with free time but now that you’ve talked about leaving our obsessions behind, that is just what I’l do. I do pray to be able to really slow down and enjoy the summer. Thanks!

  • http://walkingwellwithgod.blogspot.com Bev Duncan @ Walking Well With God

    When my kids were little, we always tried to make the “getting there” fun and refreshing as well. I always packed contemporary Christian cd’s and plenty of Veggie Tales movies so that from the get go…we had our mind on the one who was giving us this time of rest. Nothing like a captive audience in the car for hours lol. Thanks for your vacationing tips – like Lolu above I struggle with leaving my obsessions behind. They will always be there when I return, but for now I need the Sabbath found in a change of scenery and thoughts.

  • http://www.kimberlyamici.com Kimberly Amici

    All of these point are great!! I love the idea of bringing peace with me on vacation. I always bring a little something along with me to get done, hoping for some free time, but rarely find it. I have never heard of breath prayers but think it is wonderful. I will certainly take time to discover my breath prayer.
    My kids are old enough to have a small camera of their own and I have found myself in a few of their pictures, thank goodness there is some record of me on our trips, LOL.

  • http://www.amylearns.com Amy Tilson

    The one thing I have recently decided shouldn’t be invited to any special occasion is EXPECTATIONS. These will wreck any vacation, birthday, holiday or run to Target. I love your suggestions.

    • http://soulstops.com Dolly@Soulstops

      What great advice :)

    • Sarah Westphal

      Agreed. They get in the way EVERY TIME. In fact, daily if I let it.

      Thank you for writing that!

  • http://www.kimberlyanncoyle.com Kimberly

    I try to let go of schedules and relax the rules a little when we travel. So they want to party all night and sleep all day? Go for it! Junk cereal for breakfast and lunch with a helping of ice cream for dinner? Yes, please.

    We all need a break from the rules, and I need a break from enforcing them. It helps vacation feel a little less like a business trip for Mom, and more like vacating from the everyday.

  • http://creeksideministries.blogspot.com Linda Stoll

    I love this, Emily. And I’ve got to add one more thing to leave behind … dare I say it? Our blogs!

    Here’s how that worked for me last summer …

    After a day or two of withdrawal symptoms, I survived and the blog was still there when I returned {and actually begin to thrive in the months after}. For sure, it was a win/win all the way around.


  • http://www.karipatterson.com Kari Patterson

    “You have to fight for slow.” SO true. Slow is not the default speed in our culture. Thanks for sharing.

  • Trace

    Needed the reminder of
    A breath prayer today, and the timing aligns beautifully with our scheduled beach trip this coming week. I have a few days to soul search and discover a breath prayer to get me through the week basked in the peace and presence of God. Thanks for your post and sweet blessings for the rest of the summer

  • Gene

    Great timing. We are taking our Grandchildren on a camping trip this weekend! One thing I have found works for getting the whole group in a photo is to ask someone to take the picture for you. I often volunteer to do take pictures so everyone can be in the shot.

  • Amy

    Thank you, Emily, for these wise and easy tips. This is my first time hearing of breath prayers. No vacation plans this summer, but I think it would be just as helpful for those extra-crazy, stressful days when all I can utter is a simple prayer. I’m going to take some time this summer to discover one of my own.

  • Karen Looby

    Thank you so much for this- especially number 4. We are taking a train across Canada next month and I have been worrying about not being able to sleep well with the noise and motion. I really need to let go of the worry and hold on to trust and thankfulness instead.

  • http://www.heartsonguard.com Vanessa

    I just loved this post. We are taking our two littles on a cruise next week, and we know (having already taken our son on one a couple years ago), that it will be far from relaxing for us parents :) But we are excited to get away, excited to make memories, and thrilled to get this time to just be together. Thank you for these reminders that the place isn’t what brings us peace, but we have to bring it with us and let ourselves let go. I have so much on my plate right now, I really needed this reminder to leave it all at home so I can enjoy this time with them!!!

  • http://www.impartinggrace.com Richella Parham

    Just perfect, Emily. The best “tips” post I’ve ever read. :)

    • http://www.chasingblueskies.net Kristen Strong

      Exactly what I was thinking, Richella.

  • Beth Williams

    I have to fight for peace, especially at work. I usually get there all in a tizzy, I don’t care for my job nor does the director really care for me, but that’s another story.

    My hubby and I take a few trips–mostly day drives. I enjoy getting away from it all & just being with him for a while NO DISTRACTIONS ALLOWED!!

    Thanks for the tips–especially the slow down & heart breather part!

  • http://abirdinthefathershand.blogspot.com Robyn @ a bird in the Father’s hand

    Great tips, Emily. I think I will just have to try all of them next month when we hit the beach with family. I would add this one too: don’t try to squeeze too much [even fun] activity into a vacation that is supposed to be about REST. God has promised us rest, so let us enter in. (Hebrews 4:1)

  • Elizabeth

    We leave in two days for two weeks, thank you for this post! Coming your way to North Carolina to go to the beach! I needed this reminder. Thank you.

  • http://soulstops.com Dolly@Soulstops

    Hi Emily,
    This got me: “You have to fight for slow” and your great tip for getting yourself in the picture…I also appreciate friendly folks who will take your picture when you offer to take on of them with their camera….and like you, I didn’t really vacation till after I married…blessings to you :)

  • http://soulstops.com Dolly@Soulstops

    P.S. my tip…go with the flow…don’t try to force anything …

  • http://www.chasingblueskies.net Kristen Strong

    The breath prayer – yes. I love this and need to do this.

    Thank you for breathing fresh air into our days with your glorious words. Much love to you!

  • http://www.bellsthatring.blogspot.com Kate

    The ‘breath prayer’ thing – intrigues me. Yes….so good. Just right there – in the middle of the crumbs and the laundry and the noise – a breath prayer. Sounds right.

    Thank you so much. I’ll be pondering this today.

    Kind Blessings,
    Kate :)

  • http://www.juliesunne.com Julie Sunne

    Great tips, Emily! I love the idea of “reflective” photos because I’m seldom in any.

  • http://redemptionsbeauty.com Shelly Miller

    I’m going to take your advice on taking photos in windows of all of us. I’m rarely in any photos, good one Emily. Love the idea and need to take your advice about leaving projects at home. And that breath prayer is interesting, I’m going to steep with that one.

  • shoba

    Hi Emily
    Thanks….I try to keep my time with God a constant….even during the holidays…..coffee,the Bible,me,God and prayer time…..it sets the pace and calms the mind….Also we try to relax and enjoy everybit of it…..keeping a little for each day…taking it slowly…chewing the experience….savoring the memories….

    Bringing back small stuff for a memory jar is good too

  • http://alittlegraceandmercy.blogspot.com/ Camilla Blue

    I love your voice. I can be reading along in a post without having read your byline and not having seen a photo and know your voice. Thank you for sharing what’s in your head and heart. We are leaving for a family vacation soon and your tips are precisely the KIND of tips that I need. Thank you.

  • Kimberly

    Thank you for your tips. #4 is one I used to struggle with. It used to drive my husband crazy (and with good reason, I ruined more than one opportunity with my fear of the worst case scenarios…no spontaneous MLB game while on vacation because my stomach hurts so therefore I might be sick and we’ll have to sit around the hotel instead…no trip to the hotel pool our kids can’t swim yet what if they get too close to the deep end…and so on). My sons an I are going camping next month with my brother’s family. I REFUSE to be that way anymore. It’s no way to vacation or to live!

  • http://www.abranchinthevine.com Jan Loyd

    I love your tips…so true. I especially love your breath prayer. I’m a grandmother now and wish I had those in mind when I was younger. But several years ago, when I was at the tale end of parenting, the Lord taught me some things that have stayed with me ever since:


    The big lesson is we truly become like what we focus on. Many blessings, dear sister!

  • http://mindyrogers.blogspot.com Mindy Rogers

    I needed this (as I sit awake listing and re-listing what we need/might need/probably won’t need but might take anyway for our family road trip in a few days)!
    I love your honesty, your humor and your practicality! :)

  • http://www.everyoneelseisnormal.com Siobhan C

    Thank you for this Emily. I hadn’t heard of a ‘breath prayer’ but its very akin to what I’ve been doing by meditating on one phrase or scripture as I breathe in and out over 10 mins. I like this name for it. And I love your reminder to get in that photo too! Bringing peace with you – SO important! For me, that means leaving my lists behind, not checking email at all, and switching off my phone. Its a good idea to do this at home too if you can’t get more than a week away, to turn your home time into vacation too. Thx!

  • Kaye H

    Don’t over plan your time with busyness. We want to see and do everything but the relaxing and enjoying of each other’s company is just as important.

    Tip: Take a collapsible portable tri-pod to get those whole family pictures. There isn’t always someone else around and most camera’s have a timer button.

  • http://teamcason.blogspot.com Pam

    Choose a breath prayer ~ love that!

  • http://www.myvacationpages.com/themepacks#results Family Vacations Mexico

    Wow! This is beautiful! Love the breath prayer. Prayers don’t necessarily have to be verbal! How beautiful it would be if we transform every breath that we breathe into a beautiful prayer or praise! Was reminded of the gospel song Every move I make I make in you!! :) Stay blessed!

  • http://www.godstellations.com Jennifer@Godstellations.com

    The absolute best packing advise I’ve ever read! A wonderful post and so timely as my family has our beach vacation coming up. Found you through Lisa-Jo.