Travel Tips

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?

Lora Shinn writes about family travel, Pacific NW travel, grown-up travel...and travel in general. Her travel-related articles and essays have appeared in Family Fun, Parenting, AFAR, National Geographic Traveler, AAA magazines and Redbook, among others.