Make Travel More Sanctifying, Less Stressful
Like many families, we spent the majority of the month of June on the road. We began with a weekend trip to Alabama, followed by a 9-day trip to Colorado, and completed our Great American Tour with a 10-day trip to Maryland. And yes, we drove the whole way!
For those who may still have travel plans on the docket for the remainder of the summer months, I wanted to share a few practices I've incorporated over the years to make family road trips more sanctifying and less stressful.
Begin with Prayer
The first step is an obvious one, I hope, but is oftentimes overlooked or forgotten in the hustle and bustle of planning. Our Colorado trip commenced on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, so leading up to the trip I prayed the Novena to the Sacred Heart specifically for the intention of our travels and the family we would be spending time with. In the four brief days at home between our Colorado and Maryland trips, I made my Morning Offering and Mass intentions specifically for the trip.
Each day of travel, my family and I would either gather around the car or (more often than not) spend the first several minutes of our drive praying for a safe trip and all other travelers on the road that day. We invoked our patron saints, St. Michael, and our Guardian Angels for their watchful care and protection. I also made sure to do a thorough examination of conscience and partake of the Sacrament of Confession prior to leaving for each trip. These small acts set the tone for our travels each day and prepared us spiritually in the days leading up to our journeys.
Plan Your Trip
Another seemingly obvious tip, but I don't mean simply plan your route and what activities and attractions you hope to enjoy over the course of your travels. Specifically, I mean plan your prayer time.
Whenever we are out of our regular routine, it is incredibly easy to let certain spiritual non-negotiables, such as those included in our Rule of Life, slip. Just because we are on vacation does not mean we also take a break from the backbone spiritual practices such as daily mental prayer, daily examination of conscience, daily Rosary, and, of course, attending Mass to fulfill our Sunday obligation. You need to be as intentional with these practices while traveling as you are at home in order to make sure you are still finding time to allow the Lord to nourish you each day.
That said, your Rule of Life may a few tweaks in order to account for routine changes. For example, if you're staying in a home with four other families (as we did on our Colorado trip - 2 grandparents, 6 parents, and 9 children, all under one beautifully noisy roof!), waking up at 5 am for a quiet cup of coffee and an hour of mental prayer may simply not be feasible (particularly when 5 am Mountain Time is everyone else's 7 am Eastern Time, and all the cousins are under age 10 and bunking together). Take this into consideration before you go, and make allowances for reasonable ways to keep your commitments to the Lord.
For me, this frequently looked like praying mental prayer or the Rosary in the car while driving many days or taking a walk using the Hallow App. Some days, it meant finding a quiet corner to sit down, beginning to pray for 5 minutes, and then being interrupted by a family member who needs consolation. In these latter instances, I simply told the Lord I loved Him and that I was happy to spend time consoling Him in the disguise of the face in front of me.
Daily Mass is another part of my Rule of Life that I simply was unable to keep while traveling, so I substituted instead with a commitment to praying as many of the Hours of the Divine Office as I reasonably could. Because the Divine Office, or the Liturgy of the Hours as it is sometimes called, is part of the Church's liturgy, many of the same graces we get from attending Mass are available to us simply by uniting ourselves to the Church's liturgical prayer. Add in a heartfelt Act of Spiritual Communion, and you can be sure that you are receiving many of the same benefits you would have received at Mass!
Finally, make sure to plan your family's Sunday Mass attendance. This can be particularly tricky if you are traveling with family members who are not Catholic, but I have found a lot of discomfort can be avoided by simply having a plan ahead of time and stating something to the effect of "We are planning to go to the 9 am Mass at St. _______ on Sunday if you would like to join us!" This preempts any assumptions or confusions as to what your family's plans are for that particular Sunday. I have also found the website ReverentCatholicMass.com to be an amazing resource for finding beautiful, faithful liturgies in towns where I may not be familiar with the various parishes.
Bring a Blessing Box
My last tip is to pack a "Blessing Box." My box is technically a bag currently, but I hope to replace the bag one day with a vintage-style metal First Aid kit!
Inside I keep a blessed candle (these travel candles from Theology of Home are perfect for this!), exorcised Epiphany salt (you could substitute with regular blessed salt), Epiphany water in this beautiful glass bottle from Reliquary Supply (again, you could simply use Holy Water), and a miniature crucifix. Make sure to pack matches in case the place you are staying does not have a lighter.
Whenever we arrive at the place we plan to stay for the night, we bless the room and ourselves with the Epiphany salt and water. Then we light our blessed candle and pray the Perimeter Prayer. We do not do this out of a spirit of fear, but rather a spirit of confidence that Our Lord is our constant protector and defender and in the hopes that anyone staying in these lodgings after us will be invited into the Lord's peace. That said, I have at times felt a definite "lightening" of presence following these prayers.
We continue to use the blessed candle throughout the trip for our nightly family prayers (and for my own individual mental prayer times). You could also include a blessed green scapular in your box, or even bring extra blessed green scapulars to leave behind!
Happy and blessed travels to each of you, and if you have any other tips, please leave them in the comments below!