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Christopher Elliott
Aren and Iden in Albuquerque in 2015.

If you're searching for transcendence, connection or meaning in your life, maybe you've contemplated a spiritual vacation. You know, getting away to discover a greater truth. And maybe you've also wondered if your family is comfortable with that kind of inner journey.

They might be.

Religious and spiritual tourism, which usually involves like-minded people on a quest for meaning, is actually one of the oldest reasons to travel. By many estimates, the number of these spiritual tourists is growing, although exact figures are difficult to come by.

Even so, this is an excellent time to talk about spiritual tourism, whether you want to be part of next year's Hajj, plan to attend the Oberammergau Passion Play in 2020, or just have plans to commune with nature in a national park.

Kids sometimes have a limited capacity for understanding adult spirituality. They can grasp some broader truths, though. That's why every parent should try a vacation that offers a deeper spiritual experience — even if they don't quite succeed.

Christopher Elliott
Aren Elliott takes a contemplative walk in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2017.

Along the path to enlightenment

I tried to introduce my 16-year-old son, Aren, to Sedona's transcendent side on a recent visit to Arizona. Sedona is a center for spiritual tourism, with a wide variety of churches and temples and mountains that are said to contain powerful energy vortexes that can lead to enlightenment.

Aren is a no-nonsense kind of guy. He has to see something to believe it. So when I invited him to a seminar with one of the leading vortex experts, he balked. "You don't believe in that woo-woo, do you?" he asked.

Well, that's a hard question to answer. I'm not a fan of organized religion, but I believe in possibilities. The vortex expert said my soul was a 10-dimensional bubble. Is it? Who knows?

Aren didn't like that answer.

I offered to take him to one of the vortexes (yes, they call them called vortexes, not vortices). The famous Airport Vortex was only a mile from our rental, and it's an easy hike. On a flat, red mesa, we found people meditating, with stunning 360-degree views of Sedona below. But alas, no energy beams, no fire in the sky. Aren was not impressed.

But I was. Even if there is no vortex and no 10-dimensional bubble, the top of the mountain is a beautiful, tranquil place where you can contemplate the cosmos. It had plenty of meaning for the seekers who visit this special place. The vortex may be empty, but it is filled with purpose.

Aren shrugged. In a few years, maybe he'll understand.

'I like this place'

So maybe your next spiritual vacation won't help your kids find true religion, if there is such a thing. But it can definitely broaden their perspective.

Christopher Elliott
Iden Elliott in Ogden, Utah, in early 2018.

Case in point: Utah. We've traveled all around this state and met everyone from the fundamentalist groups in southern Utah to the sophisticated, city-dwelling members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City and Ogden. They are remarkable hosts, and we always feel welcome there.

I don't expect my kids will ever convert to any kind of fundamentalist religion — although you never know — but what has changed is their appreciation for other perspectives.

"I like this place," said my son, Iden. I know what he was saying. He liked the fact that everything was clean, that the people were friendly. And he loved the food. But somehow, he also knew there was more to Utah.

We got a similar vibe in Rome, particularly at the Vatican. We filed into St. Peter's Basilica with the faithful and watched as thousands of pilgrims made a closer connection with their faith. It wasn't our religion, but we could also feel something special. The "something" made our visit all the more meaningful. We got a sense of what the practitioners were experiencing.

Every vacation is a spiritual vacation

I have a few tips for you if you're going to go on a spiritual vacation with your kids. They're based on my experience of first being raised in a religious family and then raising three skeptics. Even the best-behaved young children can't stay quiet for long. Don't subject them to lengthy rituals, meditations or services unless you're prepared for a disruption or meltdown.

Christopher Elliott
A path leads to some redwood trees in Mendocino, California. Nature is one of the best places to contemplate your faith.

Also, don't use a vacation to push your religious beliefs on your kids. Why? Because it's a vacation. If you want to share your faith with them, do it before or after your trip. While you're there, let the place speak for itself. Honestly, there are few things as awe-inspiring as St. Peter's or the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Let them do the converting, if that is your goal.

And one more insight from a parent of three strong personalities. Don't try to control the outcome of any spiritual journey. Instead, be a guide. Give your children resources and opportunities to make their own discoveries. Trust me, you can't force anyone to believe anything.

1 comment on this story

Truth is, every vacation you take has a spiritual dimension. Whether you're visiting a cathedral, a Buddhist temple, a shrine or spending time outdoors communing with Mother Nature, you can always find a deeper meaning.

Perhaps that's the real takeaway. Many tourists will book specialty tours to Israel or Rome to deepen their faith, and that's fine. But maybe a hike into Sedona's mountains can expand your understanding of the universe as much as a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It all depends on who you are — and who your kids are.