Held Hostage By The School Calendar? Year-Round Schools Allow Parents To Travel Offseason

hostage tied upIf only kids were in school year-round, the rest of us could actually get a good deal on flights, hotels and cruises in the summertime. As the father of two boys, ages 3 and 5, I still have the freedom to travel outside the traditional summer vacation season, but that freedom will soon evaporate when my older son starts school and I’m not looking forward to it.

We try to travel in the shoulder seasons, but there are times when we have to travel in July and August and I’m always resentful of how everything is more expensive and crowded. A few weeks ago, we visited relatives in Dekalb, Illinois, a town about as far off the tourist trail as one can get. It was a spur of the moment trip and we were shocked when the two best hotels in town were both sold out. We ended up staying in an overpriced, glorified motel for double the price it would be at any other time of year.I was willing to chalk that experience up to a fluke – even though there were no events in Dekalb, at least that we could ascertain, but over the last few weeks, I’ve encountered nothing but high airfares online, sold out hotels and crowds pretty much everywhere we’ve been. Welcome to high-season travel, where everything costs more.

Since I’m accustomed to offseason and shoulder-season travel, I’ve had to recalibrate what’s a good value in my mind, but I still have a hard time swallowing the inflated prices. Our experiences traveling on the East Coast and the Midwest over the last few weeks have me dreading the arrival of the 2013 school year, when my 5-year-old will start kindergarten.

As compulsive travelers who can’t sleep well if we don’t have a big trip somewhere on the horizon, I fear that we’ll have just two unappealing travel options once our kids are in school: prepare to pay a lot more to travel during school vacations or pull our kids out of school to travel.

This parental budget traveler dilemma had me thinking: wouldn’t year-round schools be a boon for travelers? Year-round schools give students the same amount of time off as traditional ones, but the breaks are typically spread out in shorter, more frequent increments across the year. If my kids had, say, three weeks off in May, rather than July, for example, I could afford to take them to the Greek isles or Italy, where we’d enjoy lower prices, smaller crowds and more comfortable weather.

Also, there are some destinations, especially ones in the Southern Hemisphere that are too far to visit on a brief holiday over Christmas, that have less than ideal weather during our summer. For example, I wouldn’t want to visit Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, or Southeast Asia in July or August.

Obviously school administrators don’t set up to the school year for wandering parents like us, but some educators believe that the year-round schedule helps kids retain their lessons better than the traditional school year with a long summer break.

According to a recent Huffington Post story, about 14% of U.S. public schools used the year-round calendar in 2008. Research on the effectiveness of the year-round calendar is mixed but has anyone surveyed the parents and asked them how the year-round calendar has impacted their travels? If more American schools were on the year-round calendar, the entire travel industry would have to adapt, but in general, it would spread the business and crowds out more evenly through the entire year. The tricky part would be for families with kids in different schools that have different breaks.

Despite the potential downsides, I’m hooked on the idea of year-round schools for my kids but finding one can be tricky, depending on where you live. Based on my research, it appears as though most year-round schools are in warm weather states – California, Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida and a few other places. If you’re looking for a year-round school for your kids, the National Association for Year-Round Education maintains a list of them, but before you yank your kids out of their school and plan an off-season trip during the school year, double check it, because it may be outdated.

What do you think about the year-round calendar? Does it give parents more flexibility to travel? Is it better or worse for kids?

(Photo by SinDesign on Flickr)