While travel helps round out a child’s education, it can be difficult to schedule family travel with school-aged children. Here are three, simple steps that have worked for me.
Even with a full-time job, it was relatively easy to plan family travel when my children were young and not yet in school. Everything from a day trip across town to a two-week road trip to visit out-of-state family was relatively simple and provided them with experiences beyond what even the best daycare or preschool could offer.
It seems relatively easy to schedule family travel when your children are homeschooled and the world is their classroom, provided you still have a flexible job. Or, maybe a trust fund. For years I have daydreamed about waking up to a surprise windfall and the immediate steps I would take to homeschool my kids on the road. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened in the real world. Darn!
But even with the most flexible job, finding time for family travel can be difficult when your children attend a traditional school, and the challenge seems to grow each year as they advance toward high school graduation. Although it’s a challenge, it’s not impossible. And I believe that traveling is even more important to your child’s education as they grow.
My children have been lucky to attend school in a nationally-ranked school district full of bright, challenging, compassionate educators. But supplementing their classroom education with travel has always been important to me, because there is only so much that even the most gifted educator can do within the confines of the classroom. Continuing to add travel into the mix, especially as a single, working mother, has grown more challenging each year, but this three-step family travel planning process has served us well:
1 – Keep a Family Travel Calendar
The kids’ school schedule follows a nine-month, fall to spring calendar; vacation time doled out by my company is allocated on a 12-month calendar cycle. So I maintain a rolling, 12- to 18-month view of our family travel plans, making two big updates each year:
- Adding all school calendar breaks as soon as the new school year calendar is published
- Inserting all planned work travel at the beginning of the new calendar year
After these two calendars help me identify when the kids are free from school and where in the world I’ll be at those times based on my work schedule, I add other big events on the horizon.
These big events include:
- Family Reunions
You know, the big milestones in life that are always so fun to celebrate with family and friends.
After these “big boulder”, non-negotiable plans are scheduled, I try to schedule one out-of-town trip per month and at least three smaller family trips. These smaller trips are everything from an overnight trip from Kansas City to places like Omaha, St. Louis, or Bentonville, to an activity in Kansas City like a visit to Union Station, Crown Center, or an art museum.
To help identify these smaller trips, the kids and I:
- Consider how many days we have for family travel based on their schedules
- Evaluate where my work travels will take me each month
- Think about the time of year and what the weather will be like at different destinations
- Do a quick airfare and Southwest points balance check to help us choose between flying and driving
- Consult my travel bucket list for inspiration
2 – Make Your Family Travel Plans Collaborative
My day job keeps me busy enough, so I share the heck out of our family travel plans. To make collaboration easy, I keep the master calendar in Google that is shared with:
- The kids
- My parents and sisters who are occasional co-travelers or whose homes are often travel destinations
- The independent driver who shuttles me to and from the airport for work trips
I also have two travel itinerary templates, one for back home and one for our travels. These are also shared via Google so that we are all on the same page about:
- who is taking the trash to the curb on Wednesday night
- what days I’m in Salt Lake City this month
- where we’re going for Spring Break
- when our cats need to be fed
- how we’re getting to and from the airport
3 – Fill in the Blanks
Once we’ve established that our family travel plans will take us to Tucson in February, New Mexico in March, Washington, DC in April, and Boston in May, one of the parts I enjoy most is filling in the blanks. I’ve found that tackling things in this order works best:
Flights (If Needed) and Accommodations
If we’re not going to drive to our destination, ensuring that we have secured the best flight times and prices for our travel dates is the top priority. After that, or if we’re driving to our destination, we ensure we have a place to stay in the desired location each night of our adventure. I know that there are plenty of travelers who “wing it” when it comes to overnight accommodations, choosing instead to just find a place when they’re ready to stop for the night. I have been through enough freak ice storms and other travel catastrophes to be thankful that I always, always, ALWAYS have my accommodations in place when we travel.
Where to Eat
I’m not ashamed to admit that we seriously put as much time into planning where we’re going to eat as we do what we’re going to do and see. You can either eat to live or live to eat, and we definitely love to eat amazing food!
Because some restaurants are closed on Sundays or Mondays and others are only open for certain meals, taking the time to plan ahead helps ensure we aren’t disappointed by showing up at dinnertime to a place that’s only open for breakfast and lunch.
While we do plan ahead, we also retain some flexibility when it comes to restaurants and usually have a backup plan for each meal, each day of our trip, based upon what else we plan to do and see.
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Each of us contributes to the “everything else” list, adding anything and everything of interest as a starting point. Our list of things to do and see is always longer than the time and budget we have available, but we start our list with no limits. When it’s time to add a reality filter to our list, everyone is asked to identify their one “must do” item, and we schedule those first.
As a final step, we fill in the blanks with other activities, once again maintaining some flexibility. Over the years we’ve realized that even the best plans can go awry. Activities have been closed due to an unforeseen circumstance like a private event or a fire. Sometimes activities end up taking less time than we’d expected, allowing us to add something else to that day’s adventures. And sometimes we change our minds when we arrive at our destination and get updated feedback from the locals.
What about you?
Do you travel as a family with school-aged children? What tips, tricks, and techniques work best for you when planning family travel? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Please note: All photos are courtesy of the community of talented photographers over at Pixabay.