The Lord will guard you from all evil;
He will guard your soul.
The Lord will guard your coming and going
Both now and forever.
-Psalm 121: 7-8
The U.S. Travel Association reported that direct spending on leisure travel by domestic and international travelers totaled $718.4 billion in 2017, and nearly three out of four domestic trips taken were for leisure purposes. Adding in business travel spending brought the total up to $1,036 billion in traveler spending in 2017, generating $2.4 trillion in economic output and supporting 15.6 million American jobs.
As these hefty statistics show, over the last few decades travel has become an increasingly prevalent opportunity and even expectation for our personal life and for business. Whether your travel experiences be for leisure or business, don’t let them be occasions of your priorities being upended. Even if you’re taking a break from work while you’re traveling, preserve the proper order in your life by maintaining your relationship, through prayer, with the triune God.
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Know that the Traveling Goal is Good
One way to keep God as the center of your day while you’re traveling is to embrace the fact that the goal of your travel is good— it is good that you have this job that entails visiting new places, or that your family is taking this vacation.
Be at peace knowing that the goal of your traveling is a good one. Along the way, be receptive to the graces that the journey has to offer. Travel can be a beautiful reminder of the immensity of God, that there is a wideness in His mercy. Let the little blessings of the journey, the way people show you hospitality and the beauty of new natural sights, remind you of God’s greatness. G. K. Chesterton commented that “the traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” Don’t be so set on controlling what you will see and what you will do that you don’t actually see all that is available to you!
And what about the inconveniences and failures of hospitality you encounter along the way? Traveling can be a reminder that life is a pilgrimage, with ups and down on the way to a good goal. In fact, traveling is almost like a microcosm of our life, and a good opportunity to practice preserving our equilibrium. If the goal of our journey is good— and God is with us along the way— then a two-hour flight delay shouldn’t upend our peace. God is present, even in that moment of delay and frustration.
Another way to intentionally invite God into your travel is to bring items with you that serve as physical reminders of Him. Bringing items to remind you to keep God first does not have to add bulk. Keeping your rosary in your pocket or a holy card as a bookmark in your planner can be a simple but effective way to remind yourself of God’s presence, regardless of where you are. Such reminders can also be a subtle way to witness to the Catholic faith. If holding a rosary or wearing a scapular prompts a conversation, don’t be afraid of that! There is an intrinsic persuasiveness to the beauty and structure of the truths of Catholicism, and God works even through our imperfect airport conversations.
Keep an eye out for other physical reminders of God. If you have extra time at the airport, see if it has a chapel and take the opportunity for some quiet time there. If you are driving, is there a shrine or Church off the highway that you can stop at for a holy half-hour?
Have Your Apps Ready
There’s a lot of truth to Antoine de Saint Exupery’s comment that “He who would travel happily must travel light.” You might not want to carry prayer books and devotionals with you on your trip. But traveling light is very achievable by having your smartphone and apps ready to support you in your prayer life en route. Download the next week’s Divine Office on iBreviary so you can pray the liturgy regardless of reliable WiFi availability. Download some Catholic podcasts so you have easy, uplifting options for spending your time well as you wait in the airport or rest on the plane.
Also, before praying the Divine Office on your phone, be sure to switch your phone to airplane mode. Having a text message or notification pop up during prayer is a huge distraction, and one you can do without. Allow those seven minutes or so to be singularly focused on God and as distraction-free as possible.
Moreover, while having the spiritual resources you need on hand is essential, the noisy, oft-crowdedness of airports, bus terminals, and travel spaces can sometimes be surprisingly fruitful ones for self-reflection. Don’t be afraid to use traveling time to enter into interior silence, regardless of outside noise.
Finally, it’s not a crime against spontaneity to begin your vacation day with the question, “What are my hopes for this day?” Do I need to spend at least an hour or so in reflection? Am I feeling called to friendship and engagement with others, to spend a day sight-seeing with family or friends?
Making a plan means that you’ve made an intentional choice, and hopefully a good one! At the end of the day, you won’t be wondering where the hours went and why you didn’t get prayer time in, because you’ll have already thought about and planned for your priorities for the day.
If you’re traveling for fun with others, for instance, you could even start this question for the group, asking over breakfast, “What are everyone’s goals for today?”
It can be disorienting to experience jet lag, time with far-away friends, and changes of scenery, only to find yourself suddenly submerged back home in your old routine again. But living in such a way that God is your first priority, both at home and during travel, makes transitioning through place easier.
One of the special “graces” of traveling is the new perspective it can give you to wonder about and appreciate where you’ve come from. George Orwell said that to see what is in front of your nose is a constant struggle. This can be true with ideas and beliefs, and it is certainly true with our physical locations! Let travel be a reminder that life is a pilgrimage, and let coming home be an opportunity for re-seeing where you started and appreciating it all the more.
God is with us, always. Let our times of traveling be an opportunity to strengthen our friendship with Him, uniting to Him in prayer whether we’re in the wilderness, on the beach, or in an airplane miles above ground.