School-year vacation: Why and how to pull it off

Just because school’s in session doesn’t mean you have to swear off all family getaways. In fact, non-summer travel offers some of the best bargains on hotel and transportation options.

Here are lessons in school-year travel:

1. Shoulder season travel is a steal. Spring and fall are called “shoulder seasons” in the travel biz. Book during the shoulder season, and you’ll typically save about 25% off of summer prices.

2. Winter offers dark days and deep discounts for hardy travelers. Up to 40% in some tourism-dependent regions like Victoria, BC and the Oregon Coast. If you select a city location with plenty of indoor options (Seattle, Portland, Vancouver or Victoria), you may be happier and drier.

3. Research weekend getaways that only require a two- or three-hour drive. From Portland, a Friday night departure can offer two full days for coastal stormwatching. Remember though that winter nights start early in the Pacific Northwest – around 4:30 p.m. – so for a daylight drive, see whether you can leave work a few hours early or pick your child up at noon.

4. Return home on early Monday mornings to ensure a full weekend getaway. We typically leave Vancouver, BC at 5:30 a.m. The kids sleep en route, and we arrive in time for work and school.

5. Plan a trip around a long three-day weekend falling on a holiday like Veteran’s Day or Remembrance Day. Then take the kids out on Thursday for a five-day fall or spring vacation. Or look for teacher in-service days (which seem to fall in random fashion), which can also give you three-day weekends.

6. Select a destination with plenty of hands-on learning possibilities. Particularly if you’re going to pull the kids out of school for a few days, Seek out museum-rich cities, tidepool-dotted coasts and historical sites. You may even find an educational   option on your trip, such as a glass-blowing class at the Museum of Glass (ages 8+), create a historical lantern at the Burnaby Village Museum or a engage in a hands-on science lab at OMSI where kids can build robots or dissect a squid eye (ew).

7. Chat with your child’s teacher beforehand. Many teachers are OK with a short trip or smarts-building journey. Offer to create a parent-child journal or online blog while on vacation and spend a half-hour reading and writing about the smart stuff you’ve learned while traveling. But ensure that you’re not leaving during the class pizza party or an important test.

8. Integrate learning into your travel day. Money management teaches math, reading a ferry schedule is real-world time-telling, a museum weaves real stories into history and beachcombing reveals natural science. But remember, you’ll need to take the lead on integrating fun, interesting facts and learning opportunities into the day. Do your parental homework when choosing a destination (#6) and researching the trip.

9. Bring a little homework help. Worried about your child falling behind? It’s unlikely that five days off will ruin your kid’s future at Harvard. (But you’re taking advice from someone who never did any homework until sixth grade. Long story.). If you’re so compelled, ask the teacher what will be covered. Some parents worry more in middle school, but by this age, your child should be able to juggle assignments. If not, then a three-day holiday break may be best.

10. Listen to your child. If they resist a school-year trip because they’re afraid of missing out, that should be respected as well. Seek a series of days that work well for everyone’s schedule.

Do you have any suggestions or advice for taking kids out of school to travel? What’s worked for you?

What to do in Westport, Washington with kids

When you enter Westport, Washington, you’re greeted with this sign:

And that may sum it up. There’s a lighthouse, but kids under 40 inches tall aren’t allowed to climb the narrow, steep stairs. The under-construction aquarium offers only two tanks. The whale watching options can’t compete with well-developed tourism in Washington State’s San Juan Islands. The museum is OK (the fresnel light is impressive) but needs an infusion of funding for the kids’ area. The town’s streets don’t boast cute bookstores or toy shops. Most restaurants are iffy — lots of grease and meat for high prices.

But still, if you wrote it off, you’d miss moments like this:

When the sun cleans out the grey Washington skies and lays out a blue blanket above you.

You’d miss the chance to run through dunes of sand-colored grass.

You’d miss meeting the gregarious owner at Little Richard’s Doughnuts (2557 Westhaven Dr.), who handed off a bag of free doughnuts to us at the end of the day (We tipped very well). You’d miss eating coconut-topped, chocolate and old-fashioned o’s.

Westport may require you to bring your own food and find your own fun. But for creative visitors, that’s not too difficult to do. Westport is full of promise and potential — I’d love to see the empty storefronts full once more.

Where we stayed: This part is important, because you may find yourself hunkering down. We stayed in a very clean and up-to-date, kid-friendly condo at Vacations By the Sea — at a prime location right on the beach dunes. The two-bedroom condo offered a large kitchen, two bathrooms and two sets of bunkbeds. Outside, there’s a pool, hot tub, small playground and mini putt-putt. Highly recommended.

Find more secret spots and stops at DeliciousBaby’s Photo Friday. Read more about Westport at this post on Wandermom’s blog — Family Weekend Getaways: Westport Washington.

Westport Family Vacation

Rainy Day Rambles: All-weather hikes with kids

You’ve got a hike planned. But it’s raining, pouring, dumping outside.

Just go, says Jennifer Aist, the author of the book “Babes in the Woods,” a guide to hiking, camping and boating with babies and small children.

“If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you need to embrace the wet,” Aist says. “Otherwise you’ll rot away on your couch.”

An Alaska resident, Jennifer’s been on plenty of hikes with her three kids in Washington State and British Columbia. She knows rainy days. “I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent in the rain in campgrounds, on trails and on beaches,” Aist says.

But rain is a magical, surprising twist on the everyday hike, in Aist’s opinion. Let’s find out how to make your drizzly-day family hike a fantastic success.

Why is a rainy-day hike such a great idea?

Aist: To kids, rainy days just mean putting on another layer of clothing.

Rain brings out different critters on the beach. Rain brings earthworms to the surface for easy picking. Rain makes for perfect fort-building conditions. Rain sounds neat. Rain makes fantastic puddles. Rain makes for better wildlife sightings. Rain makes great little creeks for damming up.

Rain keeps lots of folks inside so you get the whole trail to yourself.

I hadn’t thought about it that way. But how do you prevent wet babies?

Aist: ERGOBaby makes a sport model of their carrier, which uses a fabric that is a bit better for rain than their cotton counterpart. Ergo also sells a cool add-on Weather Cover, made from fairly waterproof/windproof material that you put on over the carrier. But really, all soft structured baby carriers are going to get wet.

The makers of the Kindercoat have rain ponchos and jackets that are designed to be worn over a sling/wrap/mai tai or ergo or other soft structured carrier. These are great! A bit pricey, but great. You can even wear 2 babies at once in them.

External frame backpacks, like those made by Kelty and Sherpani are generally made of nylon and come with rain/shade hoods so they fare better. If you’re pushing an infant on a fairly flat, even trail, the Chariot or other system has very effective rain flies that keep baby nice and dry.

And of course, you can always carry an umbrella.

The author's daughter in Puddlegear.

Good tips. How do you keep walking-age kids dry?

Aist: For mobile kids, I’m a big fan of the one-piece rain suit and some tall rain boots. Puddlegear makes some really nice PVC-free ones. Molehill Mountain makes great kids outdoor gear. Great poly pro options, rain gear, all sorts of cool stuff.

You have to assume that little kids will stomp in puddles and get lots of water in their boots, so wool socks are a must.

Hats from Sunday Afternoons keep the rain off your face.

I also avoid cotton clothing wherever possible (wet cotton makes you cold). I give more details on how to dress in warm layers in the book, as well.

How long of a hike should parents aim for?

Aist: Length of trail really depends on lots of different things. With young infants, it is much easier to go farther and longer. You may have to stop and nurse on the trail, but otherwise they are usually pretty content just hanging out.

Toddlers and preschoolers are a whole different story. Start short and test out the waters. Thirty minutes may be plenty for some.

My oldest could easily hike 10 miles at age 4, but her brother pooped out at 3 miles at the same age. Better to get back to the car wanting to do more than dragging a kid in the midst of total melt down back to the car.

Also, is the trail interesting? All uphill? Easy? Good views? Cool landmarks like a fun bridge along the way? Look for those little extras to boost your child’s interest.

Are there any warm-your-soul snacks or drinks for a rainy-day hike with kids?

Aist: I bring a thermos with hot cocoa or hot apple cider with us on cold days. This is always a big hit. I also aim for snacks that hold up well when wet.

Sandwich bread is a total bust. Apples are good, berries are great, hard granola bars do OK.

Is there a good rule of thumb that parents should keep in mind regarding rainy-day hikes?

The author with two of her three children.

Aist: Rule of thumb? Make it fun! Make it so they want to get out and do it again. Better yet, make it so fun that mom and dad want to take them out again.

So go ahead and stomp in the puddles yourself. You can clean up when you get home.

The number one reason people don’t like to take kids out in rainy/cold weather is because someone is cold. Gear up to keep everyone toasty. Bring snacks–or pick them along the way. Sing, be silly. Share in the natural wonder kids enjoy.

And know when to call it a day. If a meltdown is imminent, head for home!

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Discover Canadian-made rainy day clothing recommendations from Yoyomama.