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6 Things Crazy Family Vacations Teach Us About Real Life


I recently returned from a family camping trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas. To say things didn’t go quite as planned would be an understatement. Nonetheless, it was absolutely worth it and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Here are six ways summer vacation is a microcosm of real life.

1. Sometimes You Need to Back Up and Change Course

Six people went on our camping trip. The plan was to sleep three of us in a tent and three of us in a small trailer. The first night went perfectly. We set up camp, grilled steaks outside in the dark, and drank wine while looking at the stars. Then we settled down to sleep. The next morning we set off on our first excursion, a canoe trip down the Rio Grande.

As we were finishing our canoe trip, one of the guides pointed out the gathering clouds. “Looks like rain,” she said. And rain there was. Torrential, gully-washing, road-obliterating rain. We returned mid-afternoon to a soaked and demolished tent and bedding, with no sign of the rain letting up.


Did we move to a cabin? We did. Does that make us failures? Some might say so. But when it rained again the next day, we were very glad we had!

2. Things Won’t Always Make Sense

Like when your desert vacation gets rained out and you wake up at your RV site to find there’s no water and no electricity, so you walk to the community bathrooms only to find there’s no water there either and both toilets are marked “out of order” because the supply to the whole area has been compromised, at which point you look out the window just in time to see a wild boar taking his morning constitutional down the campground’s main gravel road.

When that happens, don’t try to make sense of it. Just get your clothes on and head for town.


3. Technology Can Be a Blessing and a Curse

Sometimes the experience of being constantly connected can get you into trouble, such as when you are planning to rendezvous with your husband, who is coming from elsewhere, but you become confused about exactly where, only to discover you can’t call to ask how to find it because your cell phone is out of range. Then you realize you don’t even know the name of where you’re staying, because all you wrote down was the address.

On the other hand, when you finally do make it to your campground (praise the Lord!) and it has Wi-Fi, you can use it to identify the stars and planets that are beyond breathtaking in a sky that is bigger than any you have ever seen before.

Terlingua Ranch Lodge at sunset

4. It’s the Little Things that Make It All Worthwhile

When it seems like hardly anything is going as planned, there is still wonder in the details:

  • Listening to James Taylor’s “October Road” CD as your car winds its way toward the mountains;
  • Climbing out of canoes on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande to sing the Kyrie with your family in four-part a cappella harmony;
  • Seeing the look on your youngest child’s face his first time to ride a horse;
  • Finding your heights-phobic self on a trail ride atop your own horse on a terrifyingly narrow ridge with the ground dropping away on either side and getting through it with the encouragement of your 23-year-old son;
  • Cooking with your family by flashlight on a single propane burner when the electricity in your cabin has gone out yet again;
  • Playing the “I’m going on a trip” game with your 12-, 20-, and 23-year-old kids and wondering with a lump in your throat if this will be the last time you take a car trip with all three of them at the same time.

5. You Can’t Put a Price on Friendship

Shortly before we left on our vacation, both our cars had major issues, deeming them un-roadworthy for such a long drive. Renting a car was not financially feasible. Then an angel in the form of a friend from church came to the rescue, offering us his almost-new Ford Explorer to drive.

Other friends and family cared for our dog while we were gone, gave us a place to overnight on the way to and from Texas, and watched our house and watered our plants while we were away. Without all of these people, we could not have taken this trip. In life as well as on vacation, we get by with not just a little help from our friends.


6. The Secret of Happiness Is Taking Joy in the Journey

On vacation as in life, reality often doesn’t meet with expectations. Sometimes that turns out to be a good thing, sometimes not. Either way, life isn’t about the destinations as much as it is about the journey. Where you are doesn’t matter as much as whom you’re with.

In our family vacation, Big Bend was awe-inspiring. My home state of Texas was as beautiful as ever. But we could have gone anywhere, and the most important element would have been unchanged: time with family. On a trip where an awful lot went wrong, that aspect went unaffected. In the end, that’s all that mattered.

Terlingua Ranch Lodge Sunrise

It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Whether everything is going wrong or everything is going right, our experience is in no small way shaped by our attitude. What helps me in my own life is keeping my eyes fixed on the ultimate destination of life in Christ.

But I also find it worthwhile to pull another page out of James Taylor’s songbook: “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time. Any fool can do it. There ain’t nothing to it. Nobody knows how we got to the top of the hill. But since we’re on our way down, we might as well enjoy the ride.”

Enjoy the ride, friends. On vacation, and in life.