Family

9 Summer Travel Tips for Families

byChris Pennington

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young child looking out a car window while on a trip

It’s travel season! As we all plan our summer travel, we’ve compiled a list of travel tips we’ve found helpful. Not every tip will work for you or your family, but we hope you find some help here. Comment below with your own suggestions!

1. Set a clear purpose for your trip.

Communication is always important, but especially so when you’re away from home and crammed into a small vehicle. A lot of frustration on trips comes from miscommunication.

  • Rest. Is your trip meant to help you be refreshed when you return?
  • Experiences. Is the point of your trip to have special, family experiences?
  • Family. Is the point to be together with family or friends and deepen specific relationships?
  • Site seeing. Is your trip intended to expose your family to several new places or unique locations?

Keep in mind that your trip may include several purposes. Most of your time away may be relaxing and refreshing, but you may plan a day of busy activities halfway through your trip. The important thing is to make sure you communicate clearly with each other. Let your purpose(s) guide what you do, who you see, and what you experience.1

2. Set realistic travel expectations.

So many family trips get off on the wrong foot because tensions were running high due to unreasonable or rushed departure expectations. Obviously sometimes a leisurely departure is not a possibility if your trip has a tight schedule. But if there is any way to build in a relaxed departure process, do it.

We all would rather not admit how many times we’ve inadvertently led our families into interpersonal squabbles and angst just by rushing them all out the door unnecessarily. A rigid departure time set by dad runs the risk of pressuring mom, agitating kids, and causing dad’s own frustration to boil over when the inevitable delay happens. Take your time. Enjoy the whole process building up to the trip, not simply the trip itself, all the while remembering that each step of the journey is an opportunity to model and lead.

Once you get on the road, work hard to keep a realistic travel schedule. While you may be more patient than the average dad, we’re generally known for our impatience during trips.2 One of the best ways to counter our tendency is to plan for breaks and interruptions.

When your phone says “arrival time 5:05pm,” add additional time mentally because planning for no margin will always end in frustration for everyone.3

3. Fit into your family; don’t make your family fit you.

If you work away from your home, you need to recognize that you’re stepping into your family’s world. They likely already have systems and ways of working when you’re not present. It’s tempting to try to make your family operate like your coworkers or subordinates, but kids make for poor coworkers and your wife doesn’t work for you.

You need to take special care to fit yourself into their normal way of working rather than the other way around. Your 7th grader probably isn’t concerned with efficiency, and that approach might be just the lesson you need to learn.

4. Serve others throughout your trip.

Even if you’re taking a week to relax as a family, you can still find opportunities to serve others. Pay special attention to people who work in the service sector: from waiters, to flight attendants, to hotel staff. Vacationers often miss opportunities to serve the “servants.” You’re not just a family vacationing, you’re a Christian family vacationing. And that should make all the difference!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Clean up after your family: if you leave a plane, a restaurant table, a hotel room, or a rental car, you have an opportunity to show others you value them by leaving things in a manageable state. If you’ve ever worked in the service industry, you know how discouraging a poor customer can be and how incredibly encouraging a good customer can be.
  • Express gratitude: take a moment to genuinely thank those whose job it is to serve you and teach your children to do the same.
  • Be a witness: it’s easy to become so focused on your own itinerary that you fail to consider others and their spiritual needs. However, according to Jesus, we are to make disciples wherever we go (Mat 28:19)! Before travelling, pray together as a family for opportunities to point people to Christ. When possible, engage in conversation with those you cross paths with. Try to turn your conversations to Jesus, the gospel, and the church. God can use even short interactions to help draw people to Himself.

5. Get some quiet time.

It can be challenging to find time for personal worship during family trips. However, vacation is not a time to break from the spiritual disciplines! Skipping devotions in order to sleep in may seem like a recipe for rejuvenation, but it actually results in greater spiritual fatigue (Matt 11:28–30). Your quiet times will most likely look different and be abbreviated during family vacation, but still plan to spend some time alone with God every day.

In addition, you may want to consider getting some extended time alone as well. If you have little kids, this probably seems like an impossibility, but it can be done.

I’d encourage you to trade afternoons or mornings with your wife, where your wife gets uninterrupted time one day and you get uninterrupted time the next. Bring a book that you’ve wanted to read. Reflect on your life and journal. These times can be tremendously profitable.

6. Don’t skip corporate worship with God’s people.

Most people think of vacations as “me time.” I need a break, so I get to do whatever I want for seven days! This thinking often applies to God as well, so many Christians take worship “off” when on vacation.

While there may be appropriate times to miss corporate worship, doing so skips opportunities to teach some lessons you can fully teach only when away from your regular church body. Here are a few of those lessons:

  • Others worship God. You get to teach your children that other people around the nation or world worship the same God you worship back home.
  • We never take time off worshiping God. You get to teach your children that the reason you gather each week with your church is to worship God, to tell and show God how good and great he is. Worship is so important you don’t take “time off” because God is that important.
  • We should empathize with visitors at our church. Your children likely need to experience being a visitor at a church to empathize with visitors at your church. Don’t miss out on the opportunity for them to learn this lesson first-hand.
  • True churches have a common core. Whatever church you attend will likely be different than your own in some way, and that’s a good thing! The differences offer opportunities to reinforce the common core, the essential nature of a true church.

7. Engage in prayer as a family.

Times away as a family are often exciting and frustrating for the same reason: you can’t control what happens. No matter how much you plan or organize, life is different on the road. Make it a habit to bow and pray together. Pray for God’s help and pray to express gratitude.

This summer, we (Chris Pennington here) made a road trip with our three little ones. As we left our home, we prayed for safety and for our car to make it without trouble. And I told my five year-old to remind me to thank God when we arrived at our destination.

The entire arrival process was frustrating and exhausting. By the time we made it to our place, it was nearly 11:00pm and I was already beyond struggling with my attitude. A little voice suddenly spoke up. “God answered our prayer! We need to thank God for taking care of us and keeping our car working!” These are the moments of grace God gives us on our trips when we make prayer a priority.

8. Prepare for good sleep.

Sleep can be hard to come by at home in your own bed. It’s often much harder when away. Consider taking extra measures to make sleep come easier for all:

  • Start your wind down routine earlier than normal if possible.
  • Bring some ear plugs for traffic noise, trains, or each other.
  • Bring a noise maker to minimize waking each other up.
  • Consider sleep masks to minimize light (yes, you can even get them for little kids—and who doesn’t want to sleep with a koala face mask?).

It’s hard to enjoy your time away if you’re not sleeping well. And you usually don’t know what your sleeping arrangements will be until it’s too late to prepare.

9. Road trips with young children.

If you have little kids, it helps to have some specifics for road trips. How you prepare will depend largely on the ages of your children, your vehicle, the length of your drive, and more, but here are a few ideas:

  • Have a special bag with new toys or a snack for a particularly hard time of the trip.
  • Find a way to track the trip for your kids. For instance, bring a printed map and slowly trace your way to your destination, adding to your travel line at each stop. Or bring a set of stickers and make a line on the ceiling from start to finish. When the line is full of stickers, you’re there!
  • For new potty-trainers, consider bringing a small portable toilet. Usually the space between “I need to go” and “I’m going” is short, so being able to pull far off the side of the road and sitting your child down on a little potty (hidden from the road by your vehicle) is much easier.
  • Get a car seat tray for forward-facing car seats.4 The trays make it easy for your kids to draw and also help contain toys, books, and more so you’re not constantly picking stuff up off the ground.
  • Play children’s audiobooks or kids stories.5
  • Find ways to organize the knick-knacks that multiply on a road trip. Hang a cheap back-of-the-door shoe organizer on the back of the driver’s and/or passenger’s seat (cut in half for better fitting). You can fill the cubbies with snacks, small toys, and other things to keep clutter down throughout your trip.
  • Consider having some kind of ear-muffling gear on hand while driving if your state allows it. The driver often hits a breaking point with crying and the like before the passenger, and some noise muffling can help even out that timing and allow the driver to focus on the road.
  • If your kids don’t nap well in the car, consider having a designated “quiet time” for everyone. Accompanying relaxing music can help here.

Footnotes

  1. In my family (Chris Pennington here), we use specific terminology for our times away to help with communication. “Vacation” means we don’t plan anything ahead of time and do everything in our power to return refreshed. If we miss out on experiences, so be it. We use “trip” to communicate that our purpose is to do planned activities, to have a schedule, and to enjoy experiences. We would expect to return home more tired than we left for a trip.

  2. And so we get great little videos like this Instagram video.

  3. For instance, if you have little kids (~under 7), fifteen extra minutes per hour of travel is a good place to start. So a six hour trip is really seven and a half hours. Find your norm and then start the trip by adding that time on mentally to set the right expectations.

  4. Here is an example.

  5. Roy Dotrice reads Disney stories as audiobooks. Radio Family Theatre from Focus on the Family has several entertaining stories. Patch the Pirate albums are often informative and instructive for younger kids.

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