Should You Take Your Kids Out of School to Travel?

Is missing school a detriment to your child’s education or an enhancement?

Two children with their father at the edge of a stream in West Maui

The author’s family explored West Maui this month—including several days when school was in session.

Photo by Michelle Baran

Earlier this month, I sent a note to the office at my seven-year-old son’s elementary school to let them know that I was being sent on assignment to Maui and that my family would be coming with me. My son would miss three days of second grade prior to the long President’s Day weekend, so I asked if we could program independent study for him. This is my son’s first year at the school, and when we pulled him out for a few days at his previous school, I sensed some displeasure with our decision to opt for an unforced absence. So I was nervous about whether the administrators at his new school would be supportive.

“How fun! Of course they need to go with you,” the office replied. As it turns out, independent study in our Northern California school district applies only when a child is out for a minimum of five days—so no independent study was necessary in this case. My note served as the reason for my son’s absence. We let his teacher know, and she provided him with a small packet of homework for the trip, including a fun assignment that tasked him with taking three photos and writing about what was happening in each.

With that, we were on our way. It was easy, I felt supported by the school, and it didn’t seem at all like we were doing anything unsavory by taking our son out for a few days to travel to Maui. (The process was equally seamless for our daughter, who attends a private preschool.)

Two young children sitting at the large front window of the AirTrain at San Francisco International Airport

The author’s children on the way to the airport at the same time that their peers were on their way to class.

Photo by Michelle Baran

The benefits of travel for children

For many families, the benefits of travel—which often go far beyond the simple notion of rest and relaxation—outweigh the possible drawbacks of missing some school.

This past fall, the Family Travel Association (FTA) released the results of a survey (conducted with the NYU School of Professional Studies’ Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality and Edinburgh Napier University) to gauge the current travel habits of families. The survey polled more than 3,300 parents and grandparents nationwide, half of whom reported that they’ve noticed lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their children, ranging from an increase in anxiety to a desire for more time alone and less physical activity. The vast majority of respondents—88 percent—felt that travel helps children overcome some of those lingering effects. For instance, 84 percent reported that travel helps children be more adaptable and open to new experiences, 62 percent said their children have a more positive outlook on life when they travel, and 61 percent said travel helps kids with their social skills.

The potential physical and mental health benefits aren’t the only advantages of travel for children. Travel “can only enrich their education,” says Jeannette Andruss, founder of Spotlight Schools, a local newsroom dedicated to covering education in Southern California. Andruss has two children—a daughter in third grade and a son in fifth grade—and has pulled the kids out of school a few times over the years, often to travel internationally, with the longest stretch being seven days of missed school.

“You’re going to different countries. There’s nothing [like that] in a classroom—hearing different languages, the exposure to different cultures. It’s amazing,” says Andruss. “I place a really high value on that in raising children. I view the kids as citizens of this world. In order to do that, you have to go other places.”

Two kids on a see-saw in a playground full of children in San Sebastián, Spain

This past fall, Jeannette Andruss pulled her two elementary-aged kids (pictured) out of school to travel to San Sebastián in Spain.

Photo by Jeannette Andruss

Attendance, independent study, and virtual learning

But why choose to travel when class is in session rather than during the provided school breaks? Timing matters, Andruss says. Her family prefers to be home (they live near the beach in Orange County) in the summer and during the December holidays, when popular travel destinations also tend to be too hot or overcrowded.

School breaks also coincide with peak travel periods, when the increase in demand pushes airfares and accommodation prices higher than what they would be when school is in session. In the FTA-NYU family travel survey, caregivers were asked to identify up to five factors that make family travel difficult, and affordability was listed as the No. 1 challenge, followed by the timing of school breaks.

Yet some families feel that time out of school should be relegated to school breaks only. One mother based in New Jersey, who preferred not to give her name, told me she is “very against missing school for travel.” Children “already have so much time off [from school]. I’d rather use that,” she says, adding, “I know some people who do it because it’s cheaper, but I find that unfair to teachers who can’t leave early or take a different week. And teachers really don’t like it” when kids don’t show up to class.

The issues surrounding education and travel become a bit more complicated when considering that some countries, particularly in Europe, can inflict financial penalties on families whose children don’t have an excused absence for missing school. Attendance is compulsory, and caregivers who wish to travel during periods other than school holidays often must jump through hoops to get approval for their children’s travel and time away from the classroom.

As a journalist who covers education, Andruss is keenly aware of the important role attendance plays in school curriculum and funding. But, she says, her district “has made it easier for people to do independent study.” As for funding, she says, “There is an effort underway to change how schools are funded so it’s not just based on whose butt is in a seat.”

The rules around independent study vary by state, but typically independent study gives children the opportunity to continue their academic learning outside of a traditional classroom. It can be used for any number of reasons, including health concerns (for instance, for children who may be immunocompromised) and educational reasons (say, for students who want to complete their studies at a more rapid pace), and it can be used by families who want to travel.

For better or worse, the pandemic helped to propel an entire cottage industry around virtual learning and homeschooling, often in the form of online learning tools, programs, and tutoring services. The combination of these virtual education options and the increase in remote work opportunities for parents and caregivers has created greater flexibility for families who want to travel during the school year.

“We have been homeschooling our kids for three years now, and a big part of choosing to homeschool was the freedom to travel,” says Danielle Ehrlich, a mother of two daughters, based in Ramona, California, who is one of about 3 million families across the United States that opt to homeschool their kids, according to the National Home Education Research Institute. Like many families, Ehlrich made the switch to homeschooling during the pandemic and hasn’t looked back.

Ehrlich’s husband works full time, “so we don’t travel for months at a time—although we wish we could—but being able to take my girls out into the world is the best schooling you can get. Spending your days in nature and in museums will far outweigh the benefits of a classroom setting. My girls have seen some of the most beautiful places in the United States, and our journeys are far from over.”

Just because kids aren’t sitting in a classroom doesn’t mean they aren’t learning, says Ehrlich. “As adults, we have to remember that learning [doesn’t happen in] a box; it’s experiencing life around us. Even topics like math and language arts can easily be taught in nontraditional ways.”

A group of people paint a mural in Morocco during a Quartier Collective gathering, with one girl in a yellow T-shirt that says "Future Artist" in the center.

Families participating in Quartier Collective’s Morocco gathering paint a mural together.

Photo by Taryn Elledge-Penner

A more global classroom

There’s a general understanding in parenting circles and even among educators that pulling kids out of school to travel is easier to do when they’re younger and their schooling is less intense (like in preschool and elementary school). As children enter middle school, they start to be responsible for a greater number of assignments and exams. They might play sports and have commitments to other extracurricular activities, and by high school, their school choices can affect their college or university path.

One family completely upending the notion of a traditional education road map is husband-and-wife team Martin Penner and Taryn Elledge-Penner, founders of Quartier Collective, a creative agency that hosts family gatherings throughout the world. The events occur in destinations such as Morocco, Portugal, Japan, Greece, and Mexico and range from one to four weeks. An educator leads daily lessons and activities for the children, and time is scheduled for community-building and immersive interactions with local artisans and experts for all family members. Originally from Seattle, two co-founders have been traveling full-time with their three kids—ages 13, 11, and 7—for the past five years.

“Every school district has its own curriculum and standards about what kids in grade 7 should be learning—and we don’t really map to those,” says Martin Penner on a WhatsApp call from Morocco, where Quartier Collective is currently hosting one of its family gatherings. The following day the group was scheduled to connect with a local Moroccan artist to paint a mural.

“The good news for us is that the typical ways that kids are analyzed and that [college] admission is organized isn’t really producing the best result. The standard test score road map for college admission is pretty much no indication of whether that kid is going to do really well in college or not, whether it’s going to be a good environment for them or not. What is more interesting is whether this is a dynamic human who has some amount of life experience,” he says. “That’s what I think is a better indicator, and colleges are figuring that out, too, just like parents are.”

After shifting away from standardized testing during the pandemic, more than 80 percent of U.S. colleges and universities will not require fall 2025 applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest).

“Test-optional policies continue to dominate . . . because they typically result in more applicants, academically stronger applicants, and more diversity,” FairTest Executive Director Harry Feder said in a recent release.

For families considering more of a global classroom approach, the trend away from standardized testing and a curriculum that supports it could potentially open up more options for them.

“When we think of education, we think of this really pure goal of trying to prepare kids for the future in the best way we can,” Penner says. “When we think about the future, what doesn’t jump to mind is all of the typical things that one may learn in school. Instead, I think of things like adaptability and creativity and flexibility and the ability to understand the perspectives of others. . . . Those things are things we think are so important for our kids’ future. And I don’t know a better way to give them that than showing them how amazing this big world is.”

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at Afar where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined Afar in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR