You may have seen the term “schoolcation” floating around on social media. Maybe it sounds ludicrous to juggle schooling and working while trying to vacation or maybe it sounds ideal to keep your family from going stir crazy in the confines of your own home. Either way, this article will shed some light on what it is really like to take a “schoolcation” and why we consider it a resounding success for our family.
I am a travel advisor, so travel is not only my career, but my passion. The trips that I curate for my clients are always inspiring me to add to my family’s bucket list. I am constantly planning ways for my family to get away. Our family was meant to travel to Spain, Portugal, and Mexico earlier this year, but of course, we have had to reschedule those trips for next year. However, our wanderlust remains, and we needed to do something to satisfy that wanderlust.
How Our ‘Schoolcation’ Came To Be
Since states started opening back up earlier this summer, I have been creating potential itineraries. My boys were on a real National Geographic kick throughout the summer, so many of these itineraries involved travel to the National Parks out west. Our family is based in North Carolina, so I thought it made more sense to go far while we had time on our hands.
Despite my interest in traveling out west, we never made it happen this summer break. When summer started, we were not quite comfortable with straying too far from home. There was too much uncertainty. We were supposed to go to Mexico for my sister’s birthday in June, but we ended up going to the Outer Banks beaches in North Carolina instead. We could have gone out west in July, but our family just really loves beaches and pools, so we opted for the beaches of the Florida panhandle. Then, Florida became a hotspot so we got a little jumpy about travel. After researching the area where we would be visiting, we realized it was a low risk area so we made the trip.
We had such an amazing time on our trip to Florida. We were relieved to see everyone following safety and social distancing protocols. It made us feel more comfortable with traveling because we knew we could do it in a safe and smart way. However, school was starting soon so there was not much time left to do additional traveling this summer. Then, the school made the decision we were expecting (but did not want to admit to ourselves) – our twins’ school year would start virtually.
As soon as the virtual school announcement was made, I knew this was our chance to go out west. My husband is working from home indefinitely, but he still wanted to clear it with his boss. Once she gave the green light, I went to work feverishly planning an itinerary that would allow us to cover a lot of ground and be tourists each weekend while having a good base during the week for work and school.
What was really attractive to me about working and schooling from the room is that my husband would not have to take many vacation days. Even with COVID, we are very intentional with how he uses his vacation days. The stress of our new lifestyle of less socializing and spending so much time at home means we wanted to “vacation” by relaxing and enjoying the beach. Also, my husband’s company is allowing people to roll over a week of vacation next year, so we want to take advantage of that in hopes that there is a vaccine and we can travel like normal next year. And by normal, I mean internationally.
We love international travel and never really consider traveling outside our part of the USA for domestic travel. Before COVID, our most recent trips had been to England, Greece, and Thailand. While I have always had a desire to see the National Parks out west, I never thought of it as a vacation. That is why the ability to work and school our way through the big parks out west was so appealing. We could see a big part of the country without spending too many vacation days.
Our month-long adventure took us to Gateway Arch National Park, Badlands National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park. It was time to discover our own country.
As I have mentioned, I am a travel advisor. I create custom vacations for a living, so planning was not an issue for us. While domestic travel is not what I normally plan for clients, I do have some amazing travel industry partners who help make the job easier. Domestic travel suppliers have been bending over backwards to include more options in their offerings – even RV and home rentals. Thus, if the logistics of organizing your own “schoolcation” seems overwhelming, there are paid professionals who can help you.
Of course, “schoolcations” do not have to be as complicated as our epic road trip. Some resorts are offering “schoolcation” packages and some families have opted to simply find a home away from home to base themselves for a change of scenery.
Whether you want to plan a trip yourself or enlist help, I have gathered some helpful hints based on our experience to help you understand what is involved in implementing a “schoolcation.”
Tips For Planning Your Itinerary
Research Quarantine Rules
Understandably, not all states and countries are open for business. Many require a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival, but that is easier said than done. New Mexico requires all out of state visitors to quarantine for fourteen days upon arrival. Most people are not going to want to pay to stay somewhere where they can not leave their accommodations for two weeks. New Mexico is one of the state’s I am most interested in exploring, but we had to skip it because of their quarantine rules.
Other COVID Considerations
We made every effort to stay in places with mask ordinances because that is what makes us feel comfortable about traveling during the pandemic. For the most part, we visited National Parks on the weekends. For our weekday destinations where we worked and schooled, we made sure that there were outdoor activities to keep us occupied since that is what we are most comfortable with at this point in the pandemic.
Another consideration is the accommodations you choose. We chose stand alone type accommodations, as well as hotels and resorts with fewer levels so that we could take the stairs instead of the elevator. I had directly requested lower level rooms and everywhere we stayed was quite accommodating.
Consider Work Schedules and Time Zones
Before we left, I sat down with my husband and mapped out his work schedule. There are certain days that he simply can not be off of work.
We were lucky that we were traveling west from the East Coast. I was able to finish the kids school by lunch so we had time to explore our weekday destination then my husband could join us at 2 PM or 3PM every day. During the week, we were able to move at a more leisurely pace. Some of the fun activities we were able to experience after school and work included a covered wagon ride, horseback riding, and attending a real life rodeo. Yee-haw!
Consider Internet Accessibility
Clearly, you are going to need a good internet connection to allow for the children to school and grown ups to work. You must ensure that wherever you are staying has excellent connectivity.
Work and School Days
Do not move on work and school days. The long hours in the car are tough on everyone, so do not complicate the long travel days with additional school or work. Also, do not arrive at a destination late at night and expect to work and school the next day. We covered a lot of ground each weekend day arriving at our “home” for the week on Sunday afternoons. This gave us time to recoup and restock.
Rest: This is not strictly a vacation. You will be juggling a lot, so try not to overextend yourself. Build rest days into your itinerary. My kids are young — they are seven-year-old twin first graders. As much as I wanted to go, go, go, I knew that they would not get everything out of their school days if they were exhausted each day. Not to mention, my husband and I were tired from working while trying to see as much as possible. I had to give up some of what we would have liked to accomplish.
While On The Road
One of our biggest goals during our trip was to avoid places where we know there would be crowds. This was especially true in South Dakota where we were attempting to see two of the biggest attractions in the state during the Sturgis motorcycle rally (that was eventually linked to 250,000 COVID cases).
We woke up before sunrise two days in a row to avoid the crowds, which is very unlike our family! We had to drive a few more hours to get to Badlands National Park, which put us there around 9 AM. This seemed to be early enough to beat the crowds and it was not until we were leaving the park that the motorcycles really started to congregate.
The next morning, we arrived at Mount Rushmore before sunrise which allowed us to see if in three different lights: before, during, and after sunrise. We also pretty much had the place to ourselves.
There was really no getting around the crowds at Yellowstone National Park but we did space out our days there and avoided being there on a Saturday. Yellowstone asked that we wear masks in crowded outdoor areas, which we did. We wore our masks around our chins the rest of the time so there were no issues keeping up with our masks. Although every time we got in the car, I suddenly had three masks thrown at me because apparently it is Mommy’s responsibility to keep track of all masks at all times!
Based on everything we have learned about COVID, we are only comfortable eating at restaurants with outdoor seating. I put a lot of effort into choosing a variety of dining options for us when we travel. Food is one of our favorite parts of travel. It was not always obvious online whether restaurants had outdoor seating, so we always called before heading to a restaurant. There is nothing worse than my family when they are hangry, so we wanted to make sure there would be no disappointments upon arrival.
Please note that COVID protocols are fluid and vary among states and other borders, so keep on top of the local regulations.
You may have to take things off of your itinerary if your family is having an off day, and that is okay! You also may learn things along the way that you want to add to your itinerary because it sounds like a perfect fit for your crew. Either way, just be flexible with your plans.
Also, be prepared that not everything is running like normal, so one must also be flexible with one’s expectations. The National Parks are famed for their Junior Ranger programs, but they were pretty much nonexistent while we were there. We were given Junior Ranger workbooks for our boys, but there were no interactive activities with the National Park rangers. While it was disappointing because there likely was a way to do these activities in a socially distanced way, I understand that the parks are short staffed and everyone is doing their best right now.
Ways To Limit Screen Time On The Road
We are guilty of letting our kids have too much screen time on the road, but we were adamant that they would not be on screens while on the scenic parts of our trip. This was made much easier by listening to podcasts together as a family. Our favorite family podcast was “Story Pirates.” I recommend that families looking for alternatives to movies on a road trip find a podcast that they all enjoy listening to together as we did. Now, we have our own special inside jokes from the hours of episodes we listened to as a family. It is one of my favorite memories of the trip watching my boys giggle in the back seat as they picked up on the humor in the stories.
Our kids love to draw, so we loaded up on pads of paper and colored pencils before we left. Sometimes mommy and daddy need a break during waking hours, especially during such a busy trip. I felt so much better about them being creative or running around while my husband and I had a glass of wine (or two) than I would have if we just passed them our phones.
I do not let my kids use markers at home because they lose the caps and the marker ends up everywhere, but I bought a set for my purse that I would allow them to use at restaurants. They thought it was such a special treat to use the markers, I honestly could not believe it. This made restaurant meals enjoyable. They are always explaining their art and making up stories about it, so an added bonus is that it gave us something to talk about with our seven-year-olds. Sometimes you run out of things to talk after being together nonstop for a month!
No matter what type of “schoolcation” appeals to you, one thing is certain: you need to act now. For those of us with the means and virtual schedules, now is the time to take advantage of the flexibility afforded to us with our new remote lifestyles. If COVID has taught us anything, it is that we can not predict the future. Things seem to have leveled off enough to allow some travel for those willing to travel smart and safe.
There are hurdles to overcome when traveling during a pandemic such as negative COVID tests for entry, possible quarantine, road closures, and fewer amenities than normal. For those willing to face these logistical challenges, a change of scenery is a welcome respite from the monotony of the last few months. We would all rather have our old lives back, but you know what they say about lemons, they make tasty lemonade – so it is time to drink up! Cheers!