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How to Get the Most out of Family Vacations

Every year our family goes on a number of vacations during our summer break from school. Many of them involve other families we have grown close to through the years. It usually includes camping, remote mountain cabins, music festivals, dancing, all cheap family fun. With a family of 10, we look for ways to enjoy our summer on a budget. COVID-19 this year has canceled two of our family vacations. I am left only to reflect on what we are missing out on and why it is important.

Vacationing is a way of recharging our batteries. I experience this, especially with one of our vacations being more of a family spiritual retreat/pilgrimage over Father's Day weekend. This particular weekend always reminds me of my vocation as a father and husband. I am told by my spiritual director, a truly holy priest, to honor my wife and remind her often of how proud I am she is the mother of my children. A reminder that I welcome, considering I do not tell her nearly enough. I leave with a renewed sense of purpose to my children and spouse. I cannot speak highly enough of being around other people who lift you up. I think vacations are a good opportunity for this. The best part is that the children can entertain themselves and you can relax by the fire under a starry sky.

I am reminded of a Chesterton quote when thinking about the purpose of vacation, "the whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is, at last, to set foot on one's own county as a foreign land." When I get caught up in the daily routine of life, I forget my calling as a father and a husband. "A cloud of sleep and custom has come across my eyes. The only way to get back to them is to go somewhere else; and that is the real object of travel and the real pleasure of holidays," says Chesterton. When you get home after an extended stay somewhere else, you begin to see things as you would in a foreign land. You ever notice how observant you are of other people and customs when you travel, how you become emersed into those customs, and how much you notice your surroundings? The whole purpose of vacation then is to come home a renewed person from these experiences. I travel so I can again take pleasure in my children holding on another while they read a book or watch television, just as I take pleasure in watching them help each other make smores over the campfire.

When we vacation, we may be tempted to get wrapped up in the vacation routine as we do with our daily routines. Vacation then becomes shrunken without depth and meaning. We see things as a tourist and not as a traveler. What am I speaking of? I do not mean we cannot plan ahead with fun activities for the family. What I do mean is that sometimes that is all we make of vacation. Chesterton has another quote, "the traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see." I feel sometimes we make vacation too complicated. We see and do only that which we have expected and planned to do. There is no time to simply take it all in because we are off to the next great planned activity. Going to the zoo on a time frame is like that. We go from one exhibit to the next without enjoying each exhibit as a child might with fresh eyes. I have a friend on the other extreme, who takes to the nature trails at his toddler's pace. Talk about taking it all in; children know how to travel, and that is the joy of family vacation. Seeing it through your own children's eyes and getting a renewed sense of your calling as a parent. Remember this your next vacation. Sometimes less is more.

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