When the school bell rings, must family travel plans come to end?
Here are five ways to keep your family vacation dreams on track while school is in session.
Know your options.
Scan the school, sports and activity calendars to assess windows of opportunity. Will your children participate in multiple sports, school theatre productions or volunteer activities? Pair those results with your work and personal calendars for the best picture possible.
If you have multiple children in different schools, do their holiday and other school vacation times match up? Do any family members have milestone birthdays, reunions or anniversary celebrations in the works that you won’t want to miss?
Once you’ve reviewed commitments and calendars you are ready to plan.
Research reveals that by planning ahead, more families will actually take much-needed and longer vacations and thus reap a multitude of personal and professional benefits.
Taking time to create a thoughtful bucket list can make it easier to plan for meaningful vacations, those that are a deliberate reflection of your values, hopes and dreams. So before you begin listing desired destinations, ask yourself what aspects of the world - geographically, spiritually and culturally - you want to share with your family.
By crafting a strategy in advance and executing early, you’ll have more flight options, your pick of tour departures, the best cabins on a cruise ship and more options in popular resort areas.
A day here. A week there?
It’s no secret that holiday weeks and Spring Break in popular destinations can be pricier than at other times of the year. So does it make sense to snag a few days from the school calendar to learn and experience the world outside the walls of the classroom?
That’s a decision only parents can make given the requirements of individual schools, the temperaments and needs of each child and the cost benefit analysis of each opportunity. If you do decide to travel while school is in session, you’ll find fewer crowds, better prices and expanded options.
The vacation mindset.
The true value of a family vacation has less to do with boarding a snazzy cruise ship or checking in to a faraway resort. It’s more about the quality of a shared experience. So when time is short, make the most of the hours you do have available and put your plan on the calendar.
Go fishing, hiking or horseback riding for a day. Visit a water or theme park. Spend the night at a nearby hotel. Camp in a state park or even your own backyard and enjoy the mini- getaway.
A family sabbatical.
For those who would like to travel deeper, learn a new language, immerse in a culture or simply see the world with the kids while they can, a longer adventure may fit the bill. Consider spending the months ahead planning a lengthy holiday – weeks, months or even a year - with the kids. Consider an adventure that may involve road schooling, financial reconfiguration, the disposition of some belongings and some rigorous map study. Many who have chosen this path, report that the transformative experience was well worth upsetting the family apple cart.
How and why one Colorado family left it all behind and found what mattered most.
All while traveling "Children Class".
There are two classes of travel: First class, and with children.
- Robert Benchley
He's right, you know; there is no posh, no pamper, no true relaxation when traveling with children.
When we grownups travel or walk into an office or a sit in a pew or stand in an elevator looking anywhere but at someone else, it is because we have been trained how to behave in certain situations or settings. Children, haven't a clue. And so when traveling they are as exasperating, frustrating, entertaining, and exhausting as any other day of their lives.
What is different with travel is that we grownups finally have the time to be properly trained by them. For example, when children take a break from study or chores or other responsibilities, they do not seek out a hammock with a Mai Tai Kool-Aid with a wee umbrella sitting close by. No, they seek play, which is really just work with a different purpose. We grownups tend to think that proper relaxing is the complete cessation of all physical exertion (save for waving down the pool boy for just one more Mai Tai). Relaxation, our children continually try to teach us, is not rest but the freedom to pursue your own purpose.
Children couldn't care less about physical rest, and when they do, they usually settle down to something calm yet mentally engaging and creative, like drawing or building (or for boys, wrecking). And when children are active, there is no relaxing for parents (until after that second Mai Tai).
In order to put into practice, then, what our children have been trying to teach us all these years, my wife, Diana, and I decided to take a 14-month family sabbatical in Ecuador, to travel Children Class. We quit our jobs, stored our stuff, rented our house, and moved to Cuenca, Ecuador. The kids attended local school, we all learned Spanish, and we spent much of our non-school time traveling and discovering Ecuador and its people. We played and learned. We engaged and studied (Salsa lessons, Internet marketing, Ecuadorian cooking).
That's the short version.
We have since returned home but have not returned to our old jobs. Diana is now an independent marketing and communications consultant. I am writing and have also started a website to inspire and help other families to take their own sabbaticals. Everything we do now is designed to remain independent, flexible, and mobile. Our time away not only inspired that life change, it gave us the time to learn how to do it. (By the way, here's how to do it—just do it! We've discovered all the important learning comes after you've begun anyway. Everything before that is just to give you the confidence to do it.)
So here are 10 reasons to take your own family sabbatical:
1. Spend more and better time together as a family.
2. Get to know yourself and your world by leaving the life you know for a bit and viewing it from the outside.
3. Give your children a rare and valuable education beyond the school walls and their usual borders.
4. The chance to reinvent yourself. Find a new and better career, income, or skill. Learn guitar, painting, or cooking.
5. Looks great on a resume (if you ever need one again). Creatively reference the skills you needed or learned—creativity, improvisation, bold action, planning, budgeting and financial management, independence, self-sufficiency, flexibility, list making.
6. It's a down economy; why struggle to make money? Go live somewhere less expensive and come back when the money hose turns back on.
7. Learn another language.
9. Liberate your life from stuff.
There is no perfect age for the kids to do this. It will not get easier if you wait. It is not as difficult as you imagine. But, it is more amazing than you imagine.
And the Buddhists might be wrong—this may be the only life you get.
Matt Scherr is the editor of Radical Family Sabbatical and is married to Diana Scherr.
Together, they parent two world wanderers, Piper and Duncan.
Editor's Note: Teddy Hayes took a break from collegiate studies to spend six months in Ecuador learning Spanish, salsa dancing, volunteering and traveling. He spent time bunking with family friends who were in the midst of a year long Ecuadoran adventure. Their goal: to provide their two young children the taste of another culture.