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ROAD & TRAVEL Travel Advice: Taking Kids Out of School for Vacations

Vacationing During the School Year

Family travel is no longer limited to summer and school holiday time. Parents today put more emphasis on family bonding and finding alternate times to travel as a family. In fact, 60 percent of parents say they would be willing to take their children out of school for a vacation (up from 57 percent in 2003), according to the 2006 National Leisure Travel Monitor.

"Today’s family travelers are baby boomers or Gen Xers who want their children to have the kind of travel experience they cherished as a child."

More families are traveling during the off-season when prices are lower and crowds are smaller. Fall, (October, November, December) in particular, is fast becoming a popular family vacation time and now accounts for 24 percent of all family travel in the United States, according to the Travel Industry Association. This season is second only to summer (July, August, September), which accounts for 33 percent of family travel.

“This year-round family travel trend reflects that parents, due to work schedules or budget, view the entire year as providing opportunities to travel with their children, rather than just the traditional summer vacation,” said Robert Darbelnet, President and CEO of AAA. “Today’s family travelers are baby boomers or Gen Xers who want their children to have the kind of travel experience they cherished as a child. For some parents, it is a chance to give children the family vacations they never had. Since [often] travel means taking children out of school for a period of time, additional planning may be needed to ensure that schoolwork is covered and that families get the most out of their vacation.

Here are some valuable tips for parents planning school year vacations with their children:

  • At least two weeks before the trip, meet with your child’s teachers to determine the impact of missing some school days and develop a plan for managing school work during the trip. Schedule your trip so that your child misses as few school days as possible, and avoid days when your child will be taking a test.

  • Plan time for homework, either before or during the trip.

  • Have your child keep a journal with pictures, clippings from local newspapers, menus from restaurants, brochures from places they visited, and then bring them into school for show and tell.

  • Use maps for more than just directions. Make a game out of finding cities, states, national parks, and major highways on a road atlas to help children learn more about geography and the sights that they are seeing.

  • Pace yourself. Don’t pack too much into every day. Consider your child’s attention span and energy level.

  • For security reasons, always carry recent, high-quality photos of every child on the trip.

  • Teach your child how to lock hotel room doors and proper procedures for answering the door.

  • If feasible, equip everyone with a cell phone preprogrammed with each other’s numbers. At the very least, have your child carry a piece of paper bearing your cell number and other local contact information. Have a plan for what to do if you get separated.

  • Check daily schedules for museums, cultural and historic sites, and national parks in advance. Some change their hours during fall and winter. However, incorporate some playful activities to provide balance and, as some experts believe, to stimulate creativity.

Those planning a school-year vacation should first visit their local travel office or for a wide variety of family-friendly trip planning resources, such as the TripTik travel planner. This interactive online tool is easy for school age children to use so the entire family can help plan the vacation. While the adults check out the lodging and dining, the kids can research destinations and plot attractions and other places to visit.

AAA guides, free to members at offices nationwide, are another great resource. The 26 regional TourBook guides -- covering the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean -- provide a wealth of information about cultural and historical sites and list inspected and AAA Diamond-rated lodgings, including those where children stay for free. Listings indicate family-friendly amenities such as swimming pools, in-room movies, DVD players, playgrounds and products that make travel more fun for children.

In addition, AAA provides free maps and sells numerous games, activity books, and other children’s travel items at office locations. The association also offers the assistance of knowledgeable, professional travel counselors who can help you map your trip, plan the activities that will help you and your children get the most out of your vacation, and get some exclusive money-saving deals.

(Source: AAA)