Every year, families around the world book their tickets, pack their bags, and hit the road, sky, or sea for family vacations.
For some families, these trips are a tradition that they experience every year. For others, they mark a once-in-a-lifetime chance to relax, play, and bond with their parents and siblings. For many, these trips are about experiential travel, such as participating in a WOOFING adventure, volunteering, or taking part in an educational adventure.
No matter the reason for family travel, it seems that most family vacations tend to follow a predictable pattern. And that pattern lies in those few weeks of the year when traditional family holidays are booked: summer vacation, spring break and the Christmas holidays. As thousands of families rush to secure tickets and bookings during these precious few weeks of freedom, the cost of travel skyrockets by as much as 45 percent, according to a 2022 report released by online travel agency Hopper.
“It’s very cost-prohibitive for families to travel on school breaks,” says Kirsten Maxwell, a frequent family traveller based in Texas. “By travelling during the school year, we avoid high costs and the crowds.”
Maxwell and I are both amongst the parents and guardians who remove our children from school for travel. Personally, I’ve travelled with my children to over 25 countries across five continents, with much of this travel being done during the school term. For my family, travel has always been about combining education, culture, and adventure into unforgettable experiences that help us to connect with the local communities and grow, both personally and as a family.
If you’re considering pulling your own kids out of school for a mid-term adventure, here’s what you need to consider.
Travel itself can be an educational experience—but school boards may not see it that way.
There’s no question that children learn while they’re on holiday. Countless studies have found that children and youth who engage in education travel perform better academically, are more likely to pursue post-secondary education, and have higher incomes as adults, when compared to those who did not travel.
Yet, the concept of trading time in the classroom for time in the world is a contentious one. In one corner are those who believe that travel, in and of itself, is an educational experience that offers value that could never be achieved in a classroom. Others see pulling children from school as a selfish measure reserved for those who are desperate to “save a buck” by sacrificing their children’s educational future. This debate is exacerbated by the bureaucratic rules behind school attendance.
Where I’m located, in Ontario, Canada, there is a very free-flowing approach to attendance. Attendance is monitored but—so long as proper communication is managed with the school— absences for family travel purposes are often celebrated as offering children a greater chance at learning. However, in some locations, the concept of removing children from school for travel may not simply be discouraged but, in some cases, can even result in fines levied against the parents or guardians.
In much of the UK, for example, school budgets are linked to both attendance and performance. If a child is absent from class—for any reason—the school will receive less funding for the following fiscal year. Between 2018 and 2019, the percentage of parents who were fined (at a rate of up to £600 per day) rose 93 percent.
It's important to have the “travel talk” directly with educators well in advance of your holiday.
It’s hard to ignore the argument that it’s disruptive when kids are pulled from school. Educators have to perform juggling acts in order to accommodate children missing school. Group work, testing, and topics covered during lost time can all lead to a child being left behind or added work for teachers who have up to 30 children in a classroom.
“The hardest part is when a parent or guardian puts an obligation on the teachers to supplement the work that the child might miss while they are away,” says Ontario elementary school teacher Robin Ashworth. “Many parents feel it’s their right to get detailed notes, workbooks and lesson plans for absences—and teachers simply don’t have the resources available to make that happen, especially on short notice.”
Both of my parents were educators and, as a parent who pulls his children from school several times a year for the purposes of travel, I sympathize with both sides of the argument.
How do parents and guardians counter a strong desire to educate through travel and achieve experiential learning while also respecting the institutions of learning?
So, how do parents and guardians counter a strong desire to educate through travel and achieve experiential learning while also respecting the institutions of learning?
The first step to navigating the complexities of education and travel is through communication. School boards employ truancy and attendance officers to help ensure a safe, accessible learning environment for children, no matter what their home situation is. But, they are not there to be attendance police.
Speaking with your child’s teachers before removing them from school for travel helps set up a tone of respect. By clearly outlining the reasons for your in-term travel schedule and the benefits that it will bring to your child, you can help to encourage open communication about your decision. A good discussion is a great way to get the teachers to understand your side and for you to understand theirs.
By outlining the excitement and learning opportunities from your travel plans, you are showing respect for what they’ll be missing out on in a traditional learning environment while also indicating areas for growth that can’t be obtained in that same environment.
Once you do learn about the schoolwork your child will miss, schedule it into your travel plans—whether that means planning for downtime to work through homework, or finding travel experiences with an educational component.
“The key thing is that students keep up with their reading while away and check with their teachers when they get back,” advises Ashworth.
Be aware that removing children from school will only get more complex as they age.
Claudia Laroye, a Canadian family travel blogger and a regular contributor to Verge says that she’s had good support from her school system for absences, but things became more complicated as her children got older.
“Older children who are in the more academically competitive environment of high school—with peer groups and sports or interests that involve their time and dedication—may not be keen to be removed from school,” says Laroye. “The workloads are demanding and it’s not always easy to catch up on extended periods of missed work.”
That being said, there are many families who travel full-time, engaging in homeschooling, world school, unschooling or even registering with local schools abroad for temporary periods, right up until their children reach college age.
But, for the rest of us, it’s best to keep in mind that the opportunity to travel mid-term may not last forever—so if your kids are elementary-aged and you’re thinking about it, now is the time.
In the end, travel during the school term is about what’s best for your family.
My wife and I made the choice to travel with our children during the school term because it helps us bond as a family. Getting outside of our comfort zone and living out new experiences acts as both an educational outlet and a way for us to share in something profound.
I am also firmly in the corner of being a leader in the life experiences that my children have. This began long before their schooling began, and will, hopefully, continue long after they have moved on from traditional education, no matter which route they choose to follow.
At only 9 and 11, my boys have interacted with children living on reed islands on Lake Titicaca, Peru and taken tea with local families in Petra Jordan. They’ve witnessed luxury and poverty firsthand—experiences that have helped build empathy, which simply can’t be taught in a classroom.
Canadian Dave Finn’s daughters are now adults with their own families, but he says they still clearly remember the travels they took as a family.
“I believe travel has made them more appreciative of the rest of the world — from the people they met, the cultures they experienced, and the unique places they got to visit,” says Finn.
From social media to the evening news, parents and guardians in today's world receive pressure from all sides when it comes to their methods for raising children. And all of these challenges need to be navigated between the ever-increasing loads of homework, sports, extended family, social obligations, and many other traditional family pressures.
But raising smart, empathetic, and socially responsible adults can be done in many ways. A broad perspective of the world shows that there are no two ways that are exactly alike and no ways that are exactly right or wrong. Ultimately, deciding what matters most for our children’s future and education is our responsibility and choice.Add this article to your reading list