One year my wife, my two young children and I spent Easter on the Big Island of Hawaii. We visited a local church that held an Easter egg hunt on a baseball field. Actually, it was more of a "harvest," because hundreds of plastic eggs were tossed on top of the grass. After my kids collected more eggs than they'd ever had in their lives, church members handed out pieces of coffee ice cream and macadamia nut pie that filled a paper plate and stood 6-inches high. Needless to say, we skipped lunch. We did, however, snack on a rambutan, which looked like a sea urchin but tasted like liquid sunshine.
Our week on Hawaii was filled with walks on the beach, snorkeling, touring coffee farms and walking to a lava field. But it's that Easter egg "hunt" that we remember most. Family vacations not only build life-long memories, they also break your family away from the mundane, opening your minds to new cultures, foods and experiences. And according to research, they are even good for your health!
One study in Sweden found that people who returned from a vacation were happier and more relaxed. That's not really surprising. But these same folks were more productive at work and had closer family relationships.
I grew up in a family that didn't vacation much. So when my wife and I had children, we decided to make family vacations a priority. We weren't able to do something every year, but we budgeted and saved — not eating out and driving older model cars — until we had enough to get away. And as we enjoyed adventures together, we saw our intentionality in this area paying off in numerous ways. Here are a few we discovered.
Visiting a place is very different than reading about it or watching a TV special. You don't know what makes New York City tick until you walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Chinatown — and experience the colorful sights, smells (and words) of the city. Experiencing different locations through vacation allows your children's curiosity to grow. It also sets the stage for meaningful conversations about the varied landscapes and people in God's world.
Vacations gave us the opportunity to explore together. We investigated some of God's coolest creations at Marvel Cave in Silver Dollar City and Talking Rocks Cavern. A trip to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown helped all of us come home with a better understanding of American history. (This trip happened just before they studied the time period in school.) And it was a soccer game on a Mexican beach during the World Cup that taught my son a love for fútbol … and the importance of wearing sunscreen. Vacations provide the backdrop for shared memories between parents and children, which cultivates a closer family bond.
Time to Unplug
A well-worn cliché asks, "How do kids spell love? T-I-M-E." Vacations provide the quality time and the quantity time that kids desire. Kids feel loved and supported on vacation. My wife and I discovered that our children would tell us things on vacation that they wouldn't say at home.
Another benefit of vacation is gaining a natural chance to unplug as a family. "Vacations provide an opportunity to escape busyness and engage with each other," Focus on the Family's vice president of parenting, Danny Huerta, says. "They could be great, and they could get messy. But vacations always have the opportunity for fun, which brings families together."
At home, most families are constantly busy with activities. As much as we tried, as our kids grew older, we couldn't always get them around the dinner table at night. It seemed like they were running all different directions — basketball practice, musical rehearsal, study groups.
On vacation there was nowhere to go, unless we went together. We maximized our time together by keeping cellphones off for at least part of the day and encouraging everyone to keep ear buds out and ears tuned in to each other. We also took the opportunity to talk about future goals and dreams we had for our family. Being out of the normal routine provided ample time for real conversations.
This point is obvious, but vacations are fun. They allow us time to relax, be silly and laugh together as a family. As the load from the daily grind falls from our shoulders, stress lightens. Life at home is filled with responsibilities; on vacation, life can be all joy.
And the Bible says joy is a good thing. Happiness fades. It's a feeling. Joy is deeper. Joy goes with us. King Solomon had it right when he said, "I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 8:15).
As parents, we toil. There are jobs to do, clothes to wash, errands to run and responsibilities to be kept. In the midst of these day-to-day responsibilities, we sometimes fail to pause and appreciate our families. That "pause" can be a weekend camping trip or a weeklong cruise. The key is to slow down and practice joy.
Joy from watching your kids delight in doing something new. Joy from having fun together as a family. Joy from observing God's beautiful world and the many people He has created. Joy from experiencing something for the first time … together.
As parents, we work hard. God only gives us so many days on earth and with our kids. Using some of that time to vacation can be a great investment.