While it’s definitely not a good time to travel at the moment travelschooling takes a lot of planning and now is the perfect time to get started for next year.  I usually plan my trips 10-12 months in advance.  (Except this grand adventure we are doing this year.  This one will be totally on the fly thanks to coronavirus. Six weeks out and I still have no idea…. ) I should get some of my travelschooling guides up on the website soon too to help give you some ideas, but in the meantime  as promised here is my step by step travelschooling plan broken down into the fine print. 

Decide on your theme and establish objectives. 

This sounds like “teacher speak” and it is, but honestly it applies to every single type of trip I plan.  People have a million reasons to travel.  Some are seeking adventure, while others simply want to relax.  Honeymooners and couples are usually seeking romance. After I initially talk to a client about a trip I always jot down a list of objectives based on what they told me about their interests and reasons for traveling.  It’s kind of my self-evaluation to be sure I am planning “their” trip based on what “they” want and not “my “ based on what “I” would want to do.  For travelschooling the objectives are a bit different, but the process is the same.    

A travelschooling trip ideally covers a variety of themes and objectives.  For example, one of my favorite travelschooling trips we ever took was a Panama Canal cruise.  It was a homeschooler’s paradise.  I created a curriculum that covered everything from the history of the canal to it’s engineering to the biodiversity of the rainforest. 

Objectives don’t need to be complicated.  For the Panama Canal trip my objectives were a simple list:

  1. Briefly explain the history of the Canal and it’s importance to international trade.
  2. Locate the Panama Canal on a map and identify the surrounding countries.
  3. Explain some of the engineering challenges the canal presented and how those challenges were met. 
  4. Describe what a rain forest is and why biodiversity is important.
  5. Identify and classify a wide range of flora and fauna of the rain forest. 
  6. Explain what a cloud forest is and how it is unique.
  7. Understand how volcanoes are formed. 
  8. Discuss the cultures of the native populations of Central America.

I also add in a few non-school related objectives because, of course, travel is about much more than just learning.   Things like swimming at the beach, hiking, spending time together as a family are usually on that list.  I always get the kids’ input no matter their age.  I remember one time years ago my then three year old wanted to be sure to include pushing buttons on the hotel elevator.  We added that to the list.  It’s very random and to most of us insignificant, but it’s important everyone feel part of the planning process.  Especially with smaller children it goes a long way to preventing meltdowns. 

Make a map

Or two.  I usually use My Maps by Google in one tab for a final product that can be saved and then I have just regular Google maps open in another tab for planning purposes.  I can then juggle between to two and try out different routes in google maps adding final decisions to the My Maps that will be saved.  This is a great exercise for older children to help with their geography skills.  In this day of GPS so many kids just simply don’t have a clue when it comes to plotting routes on a map. 

Do your research

  1. The BEST option is first-hand knowledge.  If you or someone you know well lives or has travelled to an area recently ask them.  There is no better research than this. 
  2. Also very helpful are tourism bureaus and similar government run websites.  You can call/email if you can’t find what you are looking for on the website.  I have found tourism bureaus to be one of the most useful sources
  3. Blogs and Travel Magazines also can be helpful, but always ensure you are getting multiple sources of information on a single location before deciding on a highlight.  Not everything you read on the internet is true.
  4. A site like Tripadvisor also is a good resource, but take it with a grain of salt and support any findings with additional resources.  Like blogs and travel magazines just be sure you have multiple sources of info.  As I said before not everything you read on the internet is true. 
  5. Look at Project Expedition and/or Get Your Guide.  We use both these companies for our clients. In addition to booking trips through them they are good also just to see what there is to do in an area.   Many of the activities on these sites can be done on your own with a little research if that is what you prefer. 

Plot highlights and optional stops and break it out into sensible days. 

As I described above you can toggle back and forth to plot out points of interest you discovered during your research on your map and determine the most sensible path to take. 

The term “sensible days” is highly subjective.  I have planned a great deal of trips—road trips and otherwise—and what is sensible to some seems impossible to others.  That being said usually we find for road trips people are happiest with keeping long driving days to the first (second if you are doing a fly/drive) and last day with all other days in between maxing out at 4 hours of driving which gives you half a day to explore.  For every 7 day/8 night itinerary we also aim for two locations to be two night stops so you aren’t driving every day.  Like I said though this is really a personal decision and it also varies based on location.   

Decide on a budget and choose hotels and paid activities that fit in the budget.

Key to keeping everyone happy is reducing stress and keeping to a budget is paramount in this regard.  You have to be realistic about what things actually will cost and adjust your itinerary to be sure you won’t be stressed about money the entire time. 

Choose your priorities wisely.  Some people want top notch resorts where they can just relax and stick to the free activities.  Other people want to stay in the least expensive hotel they can find and spend all their money on experiences.  Most people are somewhere in between.  Whatever type of traveler you are be honest with your travel companions about your priorities and plan the trip accordingly.

Prior planning keeps reality in line with expectations and ensures you get the vacation you want. I think it’s important to book the more expensive items ahead of time so that you are less likely to fall prey to incidentals and last minute spending that will kill your budget and prohibit you from doing those things that you really have your heart set on doing. 

Find the curriculum and reading lists that will help your kids meet their learning objectives. 

I like to list before, during and after materials.  

Doing the bulk of the learning before you go gives kids an edge with visiting historical sites or nature study on the road.  It gives them context for what they will see and do so it sinks in.  Finding a spine curriculum to guide you helps, but if not then just mix up some reading with projects and local field trips that support your learning objectives. 

During the trip I like to keep things simple.  I include a gentle pace of audiobooks and/or regular reading and journals.  My kids have a love/hate relationship with trip journals, but I think they are very important.  Just have them do some writing every night and it will reinforce what they are learning.  If you want to give them questions or writing prompts to help get them started that is easier for some kids.  Younger kids can just draw a picture and then dictate to you a sentence about the picture to copy into their journal. 

After the trip you can have them do a final project of their choosing.  Kids who like to write can do an age appropriate report or term paper.  Some kids might like to build a model of something they saw.  Cooking a meal, drawing a picture, writing a story etc.  Really this is where they can use whatever their passion is to communicate a bit of what they learned.  We also conclude by going through my objectives and having each kid relate how well they did in terms of meeting that objective. 

Easy Peasy.  Now you’ve got a great plan.  Let’s just hope the coronavirus goes away…. 

Still feeling overwhelmed?

Shameless plug: use a travel agent.  Especially one who knows how to plan a travelschooling trip.  Like, Christopher Travel for example.  Hint.  Hint.  We offer preplanned trips as well as custom and semi custom options.  We don’t charge a planning fee for cruises, tours or preplanned itineraries!  And I will always help you find the right curricula to support your trip!  mary@christopher.travel

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About Mary

Mary Stephens holds a degree in international affairs from Georgetown University and a Masters in Teaching from the American University. Mary spent almost twenty years homeschooling her four children and is now navigating post homeschool life in Alaska. She offers personal insights, recipes, homeschooling tips and tricks and travel advice on her website penciltreks.com. Mary also owns Christopher Travel, a luxury travel company specializing in exquisite vacations around the globe.

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