My friend, Andrea Lemke-Rochon, is the youngest of five sisters whose ages span 17 years. This past spring, for the first time since she was an infant, Andrea spent a week with them — the five were invited by their aunt to be guests at her timeshare in the Bahamas.  While the setting was gorgeous and the weather was perfect, what was most significant for Andrea was the uninterrupted time the five had together.

“We all agreed to unplug for the week, so we wouldn’t have distractions,” Andrea said. “We had no phones; we ate together; we sat on the beach and looked at the water; we spent time with each other. It was lovely.”

While ads for vacation destinations may lead us to believe that the perfect vacation is all about choosing the right place, the truth is that the value of a vacation has less to do with the sights we see and more to do with the people we see those sights with. The root “vac” in “vacation” means “to empty.” At its core, a vacation is an opportunity for us to empty ourselves of our regular responsibilities. In their absence, we can better be present to those who we are vacationing with.

A vacation, done well, gives us the time and the space to connect more deeply with each other.  That connection can be completely non-verbal — a shared experience of jumping in the waves or flying down a rollercoaster drop. It can include learning something together — a history tour or museum visit.  And a good vacation doesn’t have to be one hundred percent cheerful fun. It can include an afternoon for an important, but difficult conversation. In planning a vacation, a more important question than “Where do we want to go?” is “How will we connect with each other?”

Connecting with Immediate Family

Soheil and Lisa Badran, parents of three daughters, have noticed that their vacation stories hold a more solid place in family lore than other memories. “Whether it’s collecting sand dollars on the beach or finding that ice cream shop on a hot day, it’s the memories from vacations that always come up during family dinners,” Soheil said.

Again, the idea of “emptying” plays its part in family vacation. As much as parents may need to escape work, kids need a break from the pressures of school, extra-curriculars and friendship drama.

“We went to a dude ranch in the middle of Colorado last summer,” said Emma Gillette, mother of three grade school kids. “No internet, no WiFi, no TV, no screens at all. It was amazing – it was a real ‘reset button’ for our family, and has made me reconsider what kind of vacations we’ll take going forward.”

The Power of Extended Family

The advent of transportation and technology has led to more families scattering, with grandparents, aunts and uncles not as involved in a child’s day-to-day life.  Vacationing with extended family gives children the opportunity to become close to those they don’t see regularly. My uncle Mark, a father of five adult children, settled with his family in Nebraska in the 1970s, having grown up in Chicago and Milwaukee. Each summer, when I was young, the Scobey side of the family would get together at a reunion picnic in Chicago, at my aunt and uncle’s home on Crescent Lake, near Rhinelander, or at our family’s home in Whitefish Bay — this was the only time I saw my Nebraska cousins. “Through these trips, our kids gained an understanding the people who shaped my life over the years,” Uncle Mark explained. “It was a chance for them to see physical differences and similarities of relatives, and how locations where their relatives lived were similar to or different from their own home.”

Connecting with God’s Grace

It is easier to feel the grace of God when we are present to the moment. For Andrea, who took the trip to the Bahamas with sisters, a moment of God’s grace was found in a jewelry shop with her oldest sister, Kathy, who had recently lost her husband.

“It would have been Kathy and Ray’s 50th anniversary this year, and Kathy wanted to find a piece of jewelry to commemorate that,” Andrea said.

Kathy and Ray had spent their married life in the town of Aurora, Wisconsin, named after the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights. “As Kathy browsed in the little jewelry shop, she found a beautiful ring and noticed that the line of jewelry was called Aurora Borealis, because the stones in the line had the same colors as the Northern lights. We just stood in the jewelry shop and cried together. God was in that moment.”

As the first whiffs of warm weather hit, and Bill and I look toward the summer and plan time with our family, the wisdom of all these stories of the good vacations stay with us, reminding us we don’t need an exotic location or luxury accommodations. What we need is simply time away. Time for our family to “vacate” — to empty ourselves, so as to refill with love.

(Annemarie’s writing on faith and family life has won local and national awards. She and her family belong to St. Francis Parish, Milwaukee, and Holy Family Parish, Whitefish Bay. To see past columns, go to