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School vs. Family Travel: What Should Be No. 1?

Matt Villano

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! Welcome to the scheduling conflict for the ages!

In this corner, having just resumed for the year, the regular activity where your little ones learn important stuff such as grammar, algebra and social skills—School! And in this corner, available whenever you can afford it, the sporadic activity that introduces your kids to exciting new people and places and things—Family travel!

One of these activities must reign supreme on your list of priorities. The $10-million question: Which one?

To aid your decision-making process, consider how others have acted in the past. In March, a TripAdvisor.com poll showed 78 percent of 1,709 respondents with kids have let them miss school for a family vacation. Many of these people cited cost as a key factor in their decisions—after all, it’s cheaper—sometimes dramatically so—to book flights and hotel rooms when demand is low (i.e., when everybody else is still in school).

On the other hand, consider the sacrifices. Teachers build lesson plans on the assumption that kids will actually attend class; if your kid misses, he or she might be at a disadvantage. Furthermore, educators worry that if children skip lots of school at a young age, later they might feel that attendance is not important at all.

(Tightwads, remember that if you pay to send your kid to some form of private school, there’s a cost to missing as well.)

The truth is that there’s no right answer here; the decision involves a number of individual questions—most of which lead to different answers for every family. A recent post on Family Vacation Critic listed many of the most important queries. Some of the biggies:

  • Does your school allow it?
  • How is your child doing in school?
  • What grade is your child in?
  • How does your child feel about missing school?

IMHO, missing a day or two for the occasional family trip isn’t awful, especially if you or your partner meet with the teacher to review the material your child will miss.

That said, it’s important to practice moderation when scheduling.

I’m not crazy enough to sit here and judge which trips are more important than others, but if you’re going to take your kid out of school to travel multiple times a year, perhaps the traditional school environment isn’t the best option for your family as a whole.

At the end of the day, the best way to justify family travel during the school year is to bend over backward to make sure your vacations are educational. Instead of pulling junior out of third grade for a self-indulgent trip to Disney or a to play groupie for a series of Carly Rae Jepsen concerts, visit Gettysburg the California Academy of Sciences—places where they actually can learn stuff.

With this strategy you really aren’t choosing between school and travel, you’re prioritizing knowledge across the board. No teacher can quibble with that.

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