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Adjusting to the New Normal for Family Trips

This post was written by Nancy, who is a regular contributor. She also runs a blog Savingforadream and has an awesome YouTube channel

For the past six years, my family has taken many fun vacations at a steep discount. We’ve used miles and points to drastically reduce the cost of our trips, but we’ve also taken advantage of traveling during off-peak times when kids are usually in school.

Even though we live in Texas, which has strict truancy laws, I’ve worked with the administration at my children’s elementary school to use up 10 permissible unexcused absence days each year. My kids’ academics have not suffered at all, and we have been able to stretch our vacation budget.

Without pulling them out of school, we would not have been able to afford taking most of our Disney Cruises (which have a huge price difference for non-peak vs. peak times). We’ve benefitted from renting a condo in San Diego for ~$500/week and snagging $36 flights to Florida during off-season.

Our little one-millionth visitor

Funny story about pulling my kids out of school—when my oldest was in kindergarten, we traveled to San Diego in January while school was in session. My other children were 3 years old and 3 months old. I filled out the required form to miss a week of classes, but I didn’t publicize it too much that we were “ditching” school. I was a little nervous since this was the first time we were pulling out of school for a trip.

One of the things we did in San Diego was visit Legoland and the adjoining Sea Life Aquarium. When we walked up to the aquarium, there was a big celebration because my son was the one-millionth visitor! We received a private guided tour of the aquarium, annual passes to Legoland, a free lunch and some gifts.

We were on the local news in San Diego, and there was even a blurb in our local town newspaper in Texas. Ooops, so much for the low profile! His teacher was cool with it, though, and actually showed the class the news video when he returned.

new normal

One-millionth visitor!

Unfortunately, our days of week-long trips during the school year are over. It’s the end of an era.

What’s Changing?

We have two big changes that will affect the cost and timing of our future trips. The first one is that my husband started a new job with different benefits. He has fewer flexible vacation days but a new mandatory vacation week at the end of the year. Also, he cannot carry over any vacation days to the next year like he could with his old job. He’s gotta use them or lose them!

We are not used to traveling the last week of the year between Christmas and New Year. The airports are crazy around that time, and many destinations are insanely crowded (whatever you do, don’t go to Disney at the end of December!) Plus, the weather can sometimes be a factor in getting around.

The second big change is that my oldest son is starting middle school. Not only will the classwork be more difficult, but he will have seven teachers to coordinate with instead of one or two. Missing school for trips and making up work is going to be more challenging. Yes, home-schooling for the sake of a flexible travel schedule has crossed my mind!

What’s the Plan?

I’ve started to embrace our new normal for trips, which will mean traveling at some peak times and during weeks when we’d rather not travel. We still want our kids to know our family (none of whom live close or visit us), so that means we have to fit in trips to see relatives as well as true vacations. We plan to do this:

  • Rely on miles and points more than ever. While traveling over peak times is more expensive, many hotel and airline point redemptions remain constant throughout the  year. For example, next year we plan on visiting Florida during Spring Break. While the cash rate of our hotel varies  from the mid $100s to over $300, the hotel has a constant cost of 10,000 SPG points per night and we are not impacted by the high Spring Break pricing. Also, surprisingly, we found airline award tickets to Colorado the week of Thanksgiving!
  • Tag on extra trip days to school and national holidays. While I won’t be comfortable pulling my son out of school for a solid week, we can take off a few days next to school holidays to piece together a longer trip. For example, this fall there are two teacher workdays on a Friday and Monday surrounding a weekend in October. We scheduled a trip to Mexico during that time so that my kids will only miss three days of school. They will also have some random three-day weekends in the spring which we can use for short trips to visit family.
  • Recognize the upside of traveling during peak times. While peak times have more tourists, many attractions have more activities during those times. I’m positive that Hyatt Lost Pines had many more activities during our visit in July than it would have during a random weekday in October. Disneyland has many more shows during peak days. In addition, traveling during peak season sometimes makes it easier to meet up with family and friends on a trip. Even taking off work can be easier around corporate holidays when many other co-workers are on vacation and you miss fewer meetings and emails.

Three years from now, when my oldest enters high school (gasp!), we may need to adjust our strategy again. Missing even one day of school for a trip may be impossible. And who knows, I may be working outside of the home by then and we will have to juggle two different work schedules. But for now, we will embrace our new normal. There are still ways to enjoy our vacation time and utilize  miles and points to stretch our vacation budget during the times we have available to travel.

Is anyone else finding it more difficult to schedule travel as your kids get older and more involved in school and activities? How has a new job affected your travel schedule?

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Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

7 thoughts on “Adjusting to the New Normal for Family Trips

  1. The new normal is hard. We did the same thing when our children entered middle school. Our transition this year is having our oldest in college with a school break that does not match our other children’s breaks. Sadly, this means we will be traveling without him as we can’t pull him from college nor can we pull his brother and sister from high school and middle school to make our vacations match. On the upside, we’ve never traveled as a family of four and the world seems to be set up that way for travel so we have more options available to us this year. For what it’s worth, we had no problem pulling the kids a day early/stay a day later from school vacations and holidays to get a better deal in high school and middle school. Most teachers, even at the high school level, appreciate a student having the opportunity to travel and learn outside of the classroom!

    • Michelle–I’m sure that’s so hard with your oldest in college! I haven’t really thought that far ahead yet. Major scheduling challenges! You’re right about the upside though…the travel industry is built around families of four!

      I noticed at my kids’ school that attendance is way down on the last day of school. I hadn’t considered pulling the kids just one day early, but maybe I should!

  2. We started traveling over winter break for the first time last year. Before that, my husband’s job prevented him from taking vacation days over the holidays.

    I have to say, winter break is the worst time to find affordable travel. It’s not even close to Spring break, either. Last year we went to Cancun for winter break, but that’s only because I booked a Marriott Air + Hotel package like 9 months ahead of time. This year we’re going to Puerto Rico, but the flights were not cheap (no award availability). I was able to use our IHG nights for the InterContinental San Juan. I was surprised they had availability.

    • Holly– That’s discouraging about the availability of affordable travel over winter break. Unfortunately, we are stuck with that week. I’m glad you were able to find hotel award availability! This year we are going to spend a few nights at a resort in Texas so we don’t have to deal with flights.

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