Taking your kids on a trip is a fabulous opportunity, if you can swing it. They learn new things. They get to try different foods, experience different cultures, gain exposure to new languages, and experience new ways of life. All of these benefits will stretch their minds and their world-views in ways that are priceless. But if you’re contemplating a quick family getaway during the school year, there are a few things you need to factor in before you snag those super-amazing last-minute bargain-basement-price plane tickets.
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I have to admit, I am NOT a spontaneous getaway person. My husband’s life as a classroom teacher just is not conducive to that sort of thing. But whether you plan your family vacations eons in advance, or do things on the fly, these tips will serve you well either way.
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Read This Before Booking a Quick Family Getaway:
1. Time Off School
I vaguely recall starting kindergarten and then (less than a month later!) flying cross-country for several weeks, to visit cousins I hadn’t seen in ages.
Those days are all but gone, if our school district is any indicator:
- Travel is only allowed for “educational” trips;
- Excused absences for travel require advance permission from the building principal;
- The district only allows ten absences per year; any absences after that require a doctor’s note;
- And of course, absences cannot conflict with any standardized testing, including our annual statewide assessments.
This is a catch-22 for many families. Resorts and airlines always seem to know when school breaks are, and they jack up the prices accordingly. You may think you’re beating the laws of supply and demand by snagging a trip outside the standard vacation windows, but the consequences may not be worth it. In some places, such absences are illegal, and the family will rack up fines for doing this!
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So if you’re considering pulling your kids out of school for a last-minute trip, you need to make sure your ducks are in a row. At the very least, educate yourself on your district’s policies, including how much advance notice they require for excused-absence paperwork. Also remember that your kids’ teachers will send along a pile of work to cover what they’re missing, and they’ll expect all work to be completed when your child returns.
Finally, if your child is already struggling in school (or even if they’re an “average” student), think twice about taking them away during the school year. Teachers are less likely to be willing participants in this if your child will be missing a big test. Even a week of missed classroom time could mean that your kids will fall behind, and struggle to catch up when they return.
2. Legal Documents
Considering an international getaway? You’ll also need to line up your legal documents, especially if you and Other Legal Parent are no longer together. As child custody attorney Betsy A. Fischer points out, your child’s other parent has legal rights regarding where they can and cannot go, so you’ll need that parent’s blessing to take your child abroad.
This is true even if you and Other Parent are still happily married. Although I’ve never had to show this letter, I’ve always taken a Letter of Permission along when leaving the country with the girls, so there are no questions.
To DIY this: Type a letter stating that Parent A of Such-and-Such Address gives Parent B permission to travel with Child(ren) Name(s) to Such-and-Such Place on Such-and-Such Dates. Then Parent A brings several copies of the letter to a notary, signs them there, and gets them notarized. (We usually do this at our local AAA office, where it only costs a few bucks and you don’t need an appointment.)
And don’t forget about passports! Even infants need one to travel internationally. U.S. citizens can apply for a passport at many post office locations; some require an appointment, though, so check ahead. (You can generally get passport photos there, too, but you’ll find it cheaper to get them done elsewhere; the best prices I’ve found are at Costco.) And you’ll need to have both parents AND the child present when you go to get your child’s passport.
Also, keep in mind that passports often take months to process or renew, and it’s hard to travel with a passport that’s nearing expiration. So if you’re even considering a quick family getaway overseas, make sure everyone’s passport is up-to-date first.
It’s also a good idea to make sure everyone’s vaccinations are up to date before you travel – even if you’re not leaving the country. With recent upsurges in once-rare diseases like measles in Europe late last year, and in the Pacific Northwest in early 2019, not getting your vaccinations updated before you go equals needlessly putting your family at risk.
And besides being on top of your child’s regular vaccinations, you and they may need special vaccinations for travel to different climates. This is why it’s important to keep your own doctor and your child’s pediatrician in the loop on any potential travel plans. They will know best what extra vaccines you or your child may need, and can help get you vaccinated far enough before your trip for the vaccines to be effective.
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Bottom line, check recommended vaccinations for any destination before you commit. If vaccinations are required and the flights are before the recommended waiting period ends, you might be better off skipping the trip, or planning one further out on the calendar. Safety comes first, and you don’t want your children to become sick.
4. Temperature and Weather Conditions
Finally, it’s worth researching seasonal trends and weather conditions before you commit to a trip. If an itinerary is suspiciously cheap, it may be because the usual weather at your destination during your proposed trip is subpar.
I’ve had the good fortune to travel to Hawaii twice in my life. The first trip was in March, and we had a great time visiting different beaches and snorkeling. The second trip was in early December. We didn’t think anything of the fact that it was so easy to get reservations at this time of year. Until we got there, and found that the weather was a lot different. The surf was rough, we couldn’t swim at the same beaches as we had on our previous trip, and we could barely see any fish when we tried to snorkel because of the surf.
Make sure to double-check the anticipated temperature and weather conditions before you snag those suspiciously-cheap tickets. If it’s too hot for your little ones to be outside midday, or if you’re stuck indoors during monsoon season, what seemed like a fun getaway could quickly become a disaster.
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The bottom line:
Yes, sometimes a quick family getaway can be a super idea, and you can get a really good deal. But don’t make a decision you’ll later regret or can’t follow through on, without considering and working through the considerations I noted above.
Have you done a last-minute family vacation? What were your biggest challenges? Would you ever consider a quick family getaway on short notice? Let us know in the comments!
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