There are few things I love more than travel. And by “few,” I mean Jesus, my family and friends, and…that’s about it. Because it’s so sacred to me, I am always searching for ways to make trips even more meaningful than just going to a location, doing the tourist thing, and heading home.
I’ve been traveling with the same group of college friends for several years, and we’re taking our tenth trip together this summer. Our traveling camaraderie began with a birthday celebration trip to Vegas…
There were no difficult conversations in the Vegas planning process, an initial sign we’d hit the traveling companion jackpot. I mentally circled the wagons and pretty much decided I was never leaving home without these people again.
The first step to having a more meaningful trip is to choose your traveling companions wisely. No one wants to deal with drama, yet you can also travel with a “party” of 5 and still leave feeling completely empty. One of the reasons I love my traveling crew so much is everyone is invested in making our time together count.
Here are a few ideas we’ve found helpful:
1. Create a Trip Playlist
A few weeks before we left for a trip to Colorado, everyone submitted 3-4 “secret” songs for a playlist that would be revealed when we arrived. It has now become a tradition for us, and our personal music libraries have grown because of it. My friends learned of the greatness of Josh Garrels while we were traveling by rail across Spain. Likewise, I learned that I actually liked the Zac Brown Band as we were driving to see our alma mater play football. And on our trip to New Orleans, we all learned that just because 2% of our group loves Muse, the rest of us shouldn’t have to suffer through their music. All good things in life need a soundtrack, and I love that each of our trips now have their own.
2. Rent a House
Our group usually consists of at least 4-5 people and it’s co-ed, so we’ve found renting a house to be a much better option than hotels. We’ve used HomeAway, VRBO, and CraigsList for finding great deals in cities across the U.S. The biggest reason we love renting houses is because it gives us a gathering place. We’re usually up late talking or playing games, and hotel rooms just don’t provide good space for getting together. Besides, even if you gather in a hotel lobby, you have to worry about your volume level and, well, who wants to do that?
3. Budget for Cool Dining Experiences
We’re Southern. Good food is a part of our travel experience. We plan our restaurants months in advance, and we get excited about tasting the best of the local culture. It sounds like a trivial detail, but it really does make a trip more fun. We each try to order different dishes so that we can all taste a wide variety of delicacies. Whether it’s fried seafood in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward in our home state of Louisiana, roast suckling pig in a back alley in Spain, or cupcakes from a food truck in NYC, cool dining experiences make a trip more memorable than the typical tourist hot spots.
4. Read a Book Together
We read David Platt’s Radical in the car on a road trip across Texas and Louisiana. We wrestled with the hard topics Platt addressed, and then some of us read Radical Together on our trip to Spain. Before Colorado, we read a book about loving others as Christ loved them. We had theological and practical discussions about what this should look like in our daily lives. You can’t help but be changed by a focused time of study and discussion. It’s why churches do retreats, and it’s why I love to travel with the people I travel with.
5. Ask Questions
As a group, we spend a lot of time on highly ridiculous conversations that leave us laughing for days. But we also try to make sure that our time together counts for knowing each other better and challenging each other to walk worthy of the calling we have received through Christ. We’ve instituted the practice of asking questions over meals, questions that spur on deeper conversation. A different person has to come to the meal prepared to ask a question each time. I’ve never laughed harder with a group of people, but more importantly, I never leave them without thinking of how I’ve been challenged spiritually.
6. Go to Church
We aren’t always able to attend church when we’re on trips, but we fit it into our planning when we can. Since we don’t all live in the same state, it’s cool to be able to attend a worship service together. If we can’t make an actual service because we’re trying to catch a flight or get to another destination, then we’ve been known to use our playlist to hold our own impromptu worship service.
7. Participate in Mission Projects
This is one area where we have not been completely successful…yet. We tried to coordinate an opportunity to get involved in local missions when we were in Austin one December and it didn’t work out. Likewise, we tried to meet up with local missionaries when we were in Madrid but that, too, fell through. This is a goal we’re working towards, though. We want to use our time to minister to others, too, when we travel.
8. Leave room for spontaneity
No one loves to plan all the details of a trip like I do, but we’ve also found that it’s important to not plan every waking moment. After tiring of the Vegas strip, we decided to rent a car one afternoon and go see Hoover Dam. That was not on our radar during our planning, but it turned out to be one of our fondest memories from that trip. When we went to Colorado, nearly everyone was so exhausted from stressful work schedules prior to the trip that we threw the schedule out the window and ended up spending a large portion of our time in the condo relaxing, visiting, and catching up. It still remains one of our favorite trips of all time.
The funny thing about making travel more meaningful is it leaves me craving time with my friends far more than I crave travel itself. For me, vacations have now become a time of spiritual renewal and not just checking another city off my list.
Do you have any tips for making travel even more meaningful? Share your ideas in the comments below!
Photo credit: bluebirdsandteapots