Turning a vacation into a pilgrimage

Adding faith to one of the most anticipated events of the year

By Casey Keeley

A journey becomes a pilgrimage as we discover, day by day, that the distance traveled is less important than the experience gained.”Ernest Kurtz

Vacation is one of the most looked-forward-to events of the year—a well-deserved time to break away from day-to-day life and exist somewhere else without those obligations staring you in the face.

And the days when vacation was strictly observed from June to August for one to two weeks only are long gone. Vacations now happen around the calendar, from January to December.

Whether it’s just a weekend getaway or a month-long adventure, we need not put our faith on the back-burner during these trips, however. In fact, by taking a step back and making the trip more God-focused, it opens the door to becoming the most relaxing and inspiring vacation.

Casey Keeley, left, and pilgrimage pal Mary Klug.

How a vacation can help you grow in your faith

I highly suggest that everyone find themselves a Mary Klug to travel with. A Mary Klug is a dear friend who matches your temperament and traveling style—in my case this involves finding a cheap destination and making a tentative guide to explore the city, while really being down for anything that comes up and willing to change said tentative plan at a moment’s notice.

Mary and I have so far traveled to three cities in each other’s company, and each of these trips has been a delight for us while simultaneously not breaking our wallets and keeping us on track with our faith. One of the best things about traveling with your own Mary Klug is that you can turn what is a leisurely trip with your friend into a mini-pilgrimage regardless of your destination or the duration of your stay.

What is a pilgrimage?

Pilgrimage is an amazing way to grow in your walk with the Lord. According to Oxford’s Dictionary, a pilgrimage is a journey made to some sacred places as an act of religious devotion.

A few locations that may immediately pop into your head at the mention of pilgrimage likely include Jerusalem, followed by our own Rome sweet Home, and possibly Lourdes, Fatima, or some other site made famous in the orthodox community by a holy act and generations of people passing the stories of those miracles down to their children.

But if you think about it, you really go on a pilgrimage every time you take the drive to church.

Since the definition encompasses a lot of ground, it makes it easy to make your quick getaway into a pilgrimage simply by holding to your weekly Mass obligation.

Listed below are a few things I have done on my travels to make the trips more God-centered.

Prayer gardens are located outside nearly every church and can be excellent places to meditate.

Making your trip more of a pilgrimage

  • Pray an interactive rosary on the ride (or listen to one of the many podcasts run by strong Catholic influencers).

The amount of multimedia readily available to Catholics is growing at a rapid rate, with podcasts such as “Pints with Aquinas” and “Catechism in a Year” to worship songs and recitations of the rosary available across multiple platforms.

Laudate and Hallow are popular apps for believers, but popular streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora host these apps as well.

  • Attend daily Mass. Whenever I make plans to go out of town, the first thing I research are the local churches. I typically attend the most historical church in that area out of personal preference, and I base my lodging accommodations and activities on that area.

I recommend booking a place within safe walking distance from a church so that you can start your day off with exercise and Jesus!

  • Meet up with a young adult group in that area. There are numerous groups and clubs available to Catholic young adults across the world.

From university Catholic centers and Theology on Tap to seminars, it isn’t difficult to find these groups. Many of them are listed on the church bulletins, which are often listed on the church website and are just a quick social media search and direct message away from connecting with new friends.

  • Take a day to explore the holy sites. Every city I have ever visited has a Catholic shop with iconography, books, rosaries, and local faith-based crafts from members of the church. And these shops often are inside churches.

Even if you don’t end up buying anything, it does the soul good to browse through and be inspired by the physical reminders of our faith.

Cemeteries are another commonly overlooked way to increase your faith. Not only is praying for the souls in purgatory good for the purification of the souls of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us to reunite with our Lord, it also instills peace and grace into the heart of the individual doing the praying.

  • Book a trip to an older city. The older the city the richer the history and the more older churches there are to see. You can definitely tell I was homeschooled by the way I absolutely nerd out over history.

Boston has been my favorite location so far for our mini-pilgrimage journey due to all of the historic sites and the deep history involved with the whole city.

Travelers on a pilgrimage can come across artifacts of holiness simply by walking around any historic city or town. Many Catholics practice the trend of combining annual vacations and faith-based pilgrimages.

Similar to praying for souls at the cemetery, being in a location where history was made reminds us to pray for the people involved in that history throughout the generations.

  • Sunday Mass. The staple of every successful trip is attending Sunday Mass. It definitely inspires feelings of awe and wonder to realize that the body of Christ extends to more than just your corner of the world.

Being there with people who live hundreds or thousands of miles away from you saying the same prayers and worshiping our Lord in the same reverent way as you would back home is awe-inspiring.

A pilgrimage is about strengthening your connection with God at the end of the day.

Whether you choose to spend a weekend in Nashville or an extended stay at the beach, there are endless opportunities open for you to convert these journeys into something that makes God the central focus of the trip, thus converting the trip into a pilgrimage in itself.

Happy pilgrimage!


Casey Keeley is a parishioner at St. Mary in Johnson City and a regular contributor to The East Tennessee Catholic.

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