10 Tips for Family Vacation

by Kristopher Schaal

family walking in a village with a hill in the background

Last week, we visited California on spring break, and the trip went [drumroll please]… surprisingly, pretty well! At the risk of taking credit for God’s blessings and the kindness of others, I wanted to share some factors that made our vacation both restful and productive in terms of family bonding.

So, without any further ado, here are 10 tips for family vacation (in no particular order).

1. Be gone at least a whole week.

Our kids took a day of cuts, and I took extra time off work so that we could be gone for eight days—and I’m so glad we did! By prescribing a couple of weeklong annual feasts for Israel (as well as a Sabbath year!), God set a pattern for “deep rest” in Scripture. If you’re only gone for a weekend, you hardly have time to decompress. Being gone for a full week or more allows for a full “unplug” and “reboot.”

2. Don’t stay with family or friends.

Like most things on this list, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. We stayed with friends for two nights, and it was great. However, I am glad that the other six nights, it was just us and our kids. Staying with cousins and Grandma and Grandpa is fun (and cheap!) and important at times, but it doesn’t allow you to bond with your own nuclear family.

God intends for a husband and wife to establish a new family unit independent of their parents (Gen 2:24). A practical application of this principle is to take family vacations where you don’t visit relatives.

3. Plan out your meals.

The Bible encourages wise planning in various areas (Prov 21:5; 27:12; Lu 14:28-33). When planning your trip, you want to set your “big blocks” but leave room to improvise. Since we have five kids, including one celiac daughter, meals are big blocks for our family. In addition, my wife didn’t want to shop or cook on vacation, so it was important for us to schedule a Walmart order delivery and plan basic meals.

Thankfully, we spent nearly half of our time at Camp Ironwood and a couple days with friends, so we didn’t have to worry about meals during those times. But planning the rest of our meals ahead of time helped us save money and avoid decision-making, equalling less stress all around.

4. Help set expectations.

Proverbs 13:12 says, ​​“Hope delayed makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” On our trip, we tried to maximize anticipation and minimize heartache by talking through things ahead of time with our kids.

For instance, we watched a few YouTube videos about Knott’s Berry Farm ahead of time to help the kids get excited. However, we also talked about how we’d spend lots of the day waiting in lines. So, when we had to wait two hours for Ghostrider first thing in the morning, and even then our littles didn’t get to ride it, the kids didn’t fall to pieces.

5. Grab an audiobook for the drives.

Travel days can be a real downer. Give the kids something to look forward to and learn while they’re at it by downloading a good audiobook to experience together. (For us, this was new Patch the Pirate adventures since our kids are little.) This is also a good means of teaching “by the way,” as Deuteronomy 6:7 commands.

6. Give your kids the gift of attention.

It’s tempting to think that spending more money equals giving your kids a better experience, but that is definitely not the case. Some of our kids’ favorite memories from the trip were playing on the beach (free), playing board games in our cabin at Ironwood (also free), and eating Costco pizza and ice cream in our van because it was freezing outside after a long day at the beach (very cheap).

In an age in which we are constantly absorbed with our phones, one of the best gifts we can give to our children is our undivided attention for most of a week. I noticed that our children blossomed when we played with them. Their “love buckets” were filled.

Aren’t you glad that God pays attention to you (1 Pet 3:12)? Use family vacation to give you children the gift of attention.

7. Don’t neglect your time with the Lord.

Sadly, we often spend less time with the Lord while on family vacation. Although our responsibilities are fewer, we are out of our normal routine, which makes meaningful personal and family devotions difficult. That coupled with more selfishness and less discipline can make family vacation a difficult time for temptation!

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can still make time for Bible reading and prayer even on family vacation. In fact, vacation can be an opportunity to spend time in meditation and journaling apart from the distractions of everyday life.

One of my favorite things we did on family vacation was to listen to large chunks of Proverbs and Matthew on our drives in the morning. Without my normal devotions routine, I needed these times to set my heart and mind upon Christ (Col 3:1-2).

8. Be frugal but splurge on memorable “moments.”

At Knott’s Berry Farm, we packed a lunch and left the park to eat it, but we allowed the kids to buy a dessert of their choice from the store after that. Two of our children bought giant swirly suckers that they licked for the rest of the day. I got a big piece of Boysenberry fudge (yum!). Little splurges like these can transform a fun experience into an extra-special “core memory” for a child.

Just remember, you don’t always have to spend money to accomplish this goal! Sometimes, extra effort on your part to be goofy, silly, crazy, vulnerable, adventurous, playful, etc. will accomplish the same purpose. Be willing to “spend and be spent” at key times (2 Cor 12:15), and the rewards will be rich.

9. Sleep in a few days.

One of the biggest temptations on family vacation is to pack in too much. I am definitely guilty of this one. God designed us to rest (Ex 20:8-11). And while I genuinely enjoyed all the activities we did on vacation, I am glad there were days we could sleep in a little.

Depending on you and your spouse’s preference and your level of exhaustion going into vacation, you may even need a couple of days just to “do nothing.” Don’t come back from your vacation more tired than when you left! Plan for the rest that you need!

10. Explore new places

When we lived in California, my wife gave me a hard time that we “never visited the same beach twice.” While that’s not totally accurate, it is true that I love exploring new places.

Much has been written on the educational value of travel. Travel gives us an appreciation of other cultures and (if done well) a love for missions. Travel frees us from narrow-mindedness. It helps us be humble when we realize how small we are (Ps 8:3-4). Travel makes us better at relating to people from other cultures. It gives us an appreciation of the diverse beauty God has baked into His world.

Travel can lead to wonder and praise when we admire God’s amazing creation. It opens our minds to new ways of living and solving everyday problems. Travel enables us to build a network of friends that can help us to grow spiritually. And perhaps most importantly, travel allows us to see our own homes in fresh color when we return. Use family vacation to give your children the gift of travel.

I’m so thankful for the trip God gave us last week and for the kind gifts of many that made it possible. I hope that we stewarded the trip well for God’s glory, and I pray that you will have the opportunity to experience meaningful vacations with your family as well.

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