It may come as a surprise, but my daughter misses very little school to travel. In fact, last year, I pulled her out for 5.5 days. And the half-day is because I read the school calendar wrong and thought Veteran’s Day was on a Monday when in reality it was Tuesday.
With creativity, we travel during school holidays and occasionally take trips on our own. I took a bucket-list trip to Germany’s Christmas markets while my husband held down the fort. Then, he took a trip to Central America while I kept things running at home.
I often feel paralyzed by the school calendar when it comes to planning trips, but in reality there is plenty of opportunity to vacation during the school year without missing school if I plan and execute in advance. Here are some other tips that have worked well for us in reaching a compromise between the school, ourselves and our daughter.
1. Find Out School Policy
This goes without saying that you should research what your school and school district absence policy is. What parents do after the fact is entirely their business, but I am of the mind that if I don’t respect these policies then how can I expect my daughter to?
2. Look at the School Calendar Well in Advance
Toward the end of the current school year, the following school year calendar may be posted on the district site or elsewhere. Make a note of every single holiday and/or minimum day as soon as you can. Then start thinking about the types of holidays that you can schedule during these days or partial days off and be prepared to execute.
3. Plan Travel Well in Advance
As someone who is notorious for impulse travel, this remains difficult for me but it is the wisest way to vacation during school holidays. Book travel that overlaps school holidays as soon as possible—even a year in advance—to avoid accommodations selling out and inflated airfare.
As an example, you’d think that six months ahead of time, I’d be able to book my accommodation of choice in Beaver Creek during President’s Day weekend. Wrong. The entire property is fully-booked.
4. Plan to Pay Peak Rates
If you like to travel but don’t want to pull your kids out of school to do it, you may have to pay high season rates. I take a deep breath and embrace it.
We went to New York City during the holidays last year and while the hotels were operating at eye-watering rates, the experience of ice skating at Rockefeller Center and magic of New Year’s Eve there was so worth it. And, my daughter didn’t miss a single day of school.
5. Consider Taking Kids Out on Contract
Our school district allows kids to vacation while on what is called a “contract” if the scheduled absence is five days or longer. I do not like traveling to Hong Kong (where she was born) during the summer because it is so, so hot. Instead, I take these five days around spring break to create an extended holiday.
Last year, my daughter’s teacher arranged for five days of school work to be taken with us, which my daughter studiously did for blocks of time here and there while on on the plane to Hong Kong or in our fabulous luxury hotels. Everyone wins this way. The school and school district are happy and my daughter doesn’t fall behind at school. Plus, this gives her something to do during downtime.
We completed it all and returned on the day she returned to school with no issues.
6. Work with School Staff
We, probably like you, have had teachers who support learning outside the classroom (travel) and those who don’t. And, both sides usually have good arguments proving their points.
Reasonable people disagree, but these are the people that you have made responsible for your child’s education while they are not at home. Move them to a different school or homeschool if absence due to travel is heavily conflicting with school policy.
I am told (by friends who are teachers all over the country) that there is a problem with children not completing assignments sent with kids who are missing school due to vacation. Then, the teacher is often forced to catch the child up during class time. Don’t be that parent. Make sure the work gets done and isn’t disrespectfully rumpled because it was shoved in a carry-on.
7. Give Advanced Notice
Of course, sometimes things happen and you need to pull your child out of school at the last minute. In the event that you can plan in advance, let all parties involved know as soon as possible so that they can plan accordingly. I find that as my daughter gets older, there are group activities in class or things due that need to be planned around.
Even though we pull our daughter out of school to travel less than most, I always lob in a conversation with the teacher during fall conferences that travel is a part of my work and important to our family because my daughter was born in another country that is a huge part of her self identity. Managing expectations in advance can never hurt.
8. Consider Your Child’s Wishes
If there is a particular day at school with a certain activity that your child loves, do your best not to miss it. In Kindergarten, my daughter had book buddies with a second grader every Friday that she absolutely loved. As inconvenient as it was, we did our best not to miss Fridays at school for that entire year (which was a drag, admittedly).
The one time I missed an assembly that she really wanted to attend because of a family vacation, I heard about it throughout the entire trip. It was so not worth it.
9. Don’t Be Selfish
Just because you want to travel (and, I do), doesn’t mean that your child always wants to. And, I suspect this becomes more of an issue as kids get older.
Also, be careful with how you present your vacations to other parents. You never know who might feel that multiple absences for travel are an abuse of the system, especially in public schools.
Not being selfish also means moderating discretionary travel for mom and dad which can be painful, trust me.
10. Add an Educational Piece to EVERY Trip
This is something we, like many travelers, make an effort to do regardless of where we’re headed. My daughter was born in Hong Kong but every time we go I can find more age-appropriate, educational things for her to do. We made our first trip to the Big Buddha last spring and found new-to-her museum. Next time I think I’ll take her to more temples and perhaps the UNESCO Geoparks.
The brilliant thing is with apps and travel books geared toward kids, drumming up tidbits of knowledge to chat about during a family vacation is easier than it used to be!
There are brilliant people all over the world who for one reason or another did not have the opportunity to travel as children. And, of course, there are those who benefitted tremendously because they did. Remember that global citizens can be raised with good parenting close to home or afar. Either choice you make is likely a good one for your family.
Do you pull your kids out of school to travel?