Since my kids were little bitty, we have gone and done all that we could afford and fit into the schedule. I decided early on that they would have to roll with it when it came to schedules…that is, I didn't keep strict schedules of mealtimes, naptimes and bedtimes – not if it interfered with doing something fun or meeting a friend out for a walk or coffee and playtime.
There were certainly lean years that we could afford only the nearby and free events, but more recently we've been able to go farther and do more, more frequently. Traveling when and where we want to is just one of the perks of homeschooling.
So, my kids are still having to roll with it and drive and fly and walk wherever I find a good deal to go and explore. In this past year we've spent time in Florida, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Illinois, Georgia, Iowa, Wisconsin and explored our own state of Minnesota. We go where I find cheap airline tickets and where we have family and friends.
Traveling teaches so much. Of course, we learn about the history or industry or art or culture of the particular area in visiting museums and going on tours, etc., but we also learn about the people who live there, the ins and outs of a city – the way a city feels, especially the cities we walk. Traveling itself can teach patience and resilience and going with the flow when things go wrong. But more than anything else, removing yourself from the familiar and going out into the world and exploring and experiencing new things broadens the mind. And this is what I strive to achieve when we hit the road or soar into the sky.
Oh, sure, there's often whining or complaining along the way, but I choose to ignore that and keep pointing out the beautiful, interesting, new things we're seeing. And once we get somewhere the boys forget their worries or complaints.
So, that's the why and here's the how.
I search for deals.
I particularly like to fly Southwest Airlines. There are no hidden fees, each person gets 2 checked bags free and you can get really amazing fares. Recently, we flew to Atlanta for $49 apiece. For this most recent trip, I actually bought us 3 different one way tickets and it saved us about $700 in the end.
I check Groupon and Living Social for specials on activities. I do this for local activities and for the places we travel to. I have gotten bus tours and mini golf and boat tours and museum passes and even transportation deals this way. I even found a fantastic deal on a hotel in Miami through Groupon. Sometimes I call the business and check on availability or schedules before purchasing and often they give me a better deal to just go through them.
Learn about the area if you won't have your vehicle with you and figure out if you can walk from hotel to activities/tours, etc. or if there is mass transit that's a good option. In D.C., we had several good, economical mass transit options to choose from. We went with the D.C. Circulator bus week pass that cost of $11 apiece.
If no good mass transit options exist, perhaps Uber is a good choice or maybe you need to rent a car. If you end up needing to rent a vehicle, do call your insurance agent beforehand and see if she/he suggests skipping the added insurance that can really raise the price of the rental. My insurance agent told I didn't need to get any, no matter what the rental agent told me.
If you will be traveling for more than a few days, plan to bring along snacks of nuts, fruit, crackers, granola bars, tins of tuna, meat sticks, packets of nut butters, etc. I have been known to make a mean little smorgasbord from our snack stash. This point is especially important if you have special dietary needs and may not be able to get food that fit your needs in airports, on the go or in the middle of nowhere. I speak from experience.
Be sure your kids have activities to distract them from layovers or early or late travel. I have found that all my kids really need to keep themselves occupied while traveling is a computer or tablet, but I still encourage bringing along travel games, sketchpad and book, some snacks in their own bag and some suckers, if flying. My favorite suckers are the Organic Trader Joe's suckers – no artificial colors or flavors – and they work well for takeoffs and landing.
Do your research before your go. Be sure you know the costs and times of activities. Check weather and map out distances. Plan out an itinerary – even if it's just a tentative plan. Know where restaurants are in conjunction with your activities, especially if you have picky eaters or special diets to consider. Hangry kids are no fun! Plan accordingly.
Double check with TripAdvisor. There are reviews on just about everything these days, and I have found this site to be very helpful in deciding whether to go somewhere, how long we will need to allow for activities, the cleanliness of hotels and which rooms/floor/side to request, etc.
If you homeschool, be sure to ask if there is a special rate for homeschools/educators/students. There often is a discount to be had.
And if you have a membership at your hometown museum or zoo, be sure to check reciprocity deals. Our Minnesota Science Museum membership has more than paid for itself due to its many partnerships with other museums.
Now, what's stopping you? The whole world is out there waiting. Over and out…