Do the words “family vacation” strike terror into your heart like they do mine?
I enjoy the idea of a family vacation. Yet when the hypothetical becomes tangible, reality is far from my imaginings. Vacationing with little ones becomes exhausting and stressful for me. People don’t sleep as well in unfamiliar beds; long rides become risky business for a potty-training toddler; new environments challenge anxious kids, leading to meltdowns—automatic flush toilets, for example, became a potent nemesis a few years ago. Hotels or rental rooms are rarely baby-proofed, adding to the difficulty.
Often I spend my vacation counting down the days until we can pull back into the driveway of our home!
A friend once suggested using the term “family trip” instead of “family vacation” for this exact reason: vacationing with young kids is not relaxing! That doesn’t mean, of course, we shouldn’t vacation as a family. But maybe I need to adjust my mindset.
If I enter the vacation expecting ease, constant smiles and laughter, and well-planned itineraries going off without a hitch … I’m going to meet with disappointment. However, if I view our trip supernaturally, the stresses can become sanctifying. I reflect on the Holy Family and their “family trips” from Bethlehem to Egypt, and then from Egypt to Nazareth. I’m sure they faced obstacles, but met them with joy, patience, and courage.
This became my goal on a recent day trip our family took. Our toddler fittingly chose to wear a t-shirt that read: “Live for adventure”—certainly not a motto I naturally live by! But for the day, I would try. I gave a pep talk to the kids (as much as to myself) explaining that today was indeed an “adventure.” Maybe we would encounter annoyances or a change of plans, but we would meet them together as a family and work through them with the grace of God. We pulled out of the driveway, praying for safe travels and God’s blessing, especially for the virtue of patience!
Prudent planning beforehand can remove some of the stress of traveling with little ones. This involves good scheduling: avoiding times of high traffic, for example, or taking advantage of nap times to drive. It helps to break up long drives with rest stops. Packing healthy snacks keeps little ones from getting hungry (sugar highs are not advisable within the confines of a vehicle!). We also have a bag of special “travel” toys we only use on family trips. Some of our favorites are Crayola’s travel easel, Melissa and Doug’s Water Wow books, a mini Lite Brite (for older kids), and maze books.
So practical considerations help to facilitate an enjoyable family trip, but a supernatural mindset is likewise critical. As the day progressed, I worked to see God’s hand in our interactions. During the drive, the children barraged me with a steady request for books, markers, snacks, and quiet toys. My irritation grew: are they ever content? Then I reflected: am I ever content? How often am I the child, incessantly pouring out requests to my Father? Am I ever quiet enough to stop asking and just enjoy His presence?
At one point, our 7-month-old began a steady wail from his car seat. We had recently stopped so I could nurse him and change his diaper; I knew he didn’t cry for those reasons. No, he had another need: he wanted me to hold him. It’s a terrible feeling, isn’t it … the agonized infant who can’t understand why Mom can’t just pick him up, the little cries increasing in a heart-wrenching crescendo. From his car seat in the middle row of the van, our baby couldn’t even see me. I felt helpless knowing we couldn’t stop on the highway.
I prayed for him. As I prayed, I called to him, “Joseph, I’m right here!”
I also thought: maybe God is saying that to us, too. Sometimes we’re upset and crying. We look and can’t see God—it feels like He has abandoned us. But the truth is that God is right here, driving and directing our life to its best possible course, even if it’s one we don’t understand or see. God wants to pick me up, kiss and comfort me, even more than I desired to cuddle and console Joseph.
Of course, my husband and I heard the predictable, “Are we there yet?” multiple times throughout our travels. A family trip has a goal of reaching a destination. Traveling is part of the experience, but it’s a means to an end. We are going somewhere. Children have a natural impatience to reach the destination.
I wonder if God put that desire in our hearts for a reason. On a family trip or not, we all constantly journey, passing through this life to our real homeland in heaven. We should enkindle that fire of desire for heaven.
At the end of each day, as you close your eyes to go to sleep, think of your heavenly home. “Are we there yet?” No, not yet. But are we getting ready? Are we headed in the right direction? And how many people are we helping along on the journey?
I struggle with the unpredictability of family trips. However, life itself is unpredictable! I have to always remind myself: our plans are not our own. We all experience delays, detours, and roadblocks sometimes on the journey. We work through them together as a family, with God guiding us. Press on! “Live for adventure”—God’s adventure.