For her family vacation next year, Liz Thimm has booked a 10-day trip to Bocas del Toro, Panama, in February. She requested time off from her pharmacist job a year in advance, checked out guidebooks from the library and has shared itinerary ideas with her daughter and son — who are 11 and 9 — to involve them in the planning process. One thing she has not and will not do? Schedule the trip around a school vacation.
Much of Ms. Thimm’s approach to planning comes from the high costs and time constraints endured during a spring-break vacation the family, who lives in Wauwatosa, Wis., took to Puerto Rico in 2019.
“We paid $2,260 for four seats, had a six-hour layover on the way there and a 2:15 a.m. departure on the way home,” she said. “And those were the cheapest tickets we could find.”
Taking a trip during the off-season traditionally offers travelers fewer crowds and reduced fares and has long been considered a boon for budget-conscious planners. This trend is all the more pressing as the appeal of a traditional summer vacation has diminished, particularly after this year’s hot, crowded, expensive and natural–disaster–filled season.
But can families with school-aged children take advantage? While tacking on a day or two before or after winter and spring break has been a relatively normal occurrence for some families, now some well-off parents, emboldened by the rise of remote work and schooling in the pandemic and fed up with the record-breaking high prices of peak-season travel, are saying yes.
“People are feeling more freedom to be flexible,” said Natalie Kurtzman, a travel adviser with Fora Travel in Boston, noting that many of her clients with families are increasingly comfortable extending school breaks, and skipping a few days of classes in the process, to avoid high airfare prices that tend to appear during vacation periods.
“You can see that parents are becoming more and more brazen about doing it,” said Karen Rosenblum, the founder of the Spain Less Traveled travel agency.
But teachers and school administrators worry about ramifications, like students falling behind in schoolwork, and the mixed messages that the practice of skipping school might send.
“I feel like education is a privilege, and some students see it as a burden,” said Joanne Davi, a middle school teacher at St. Peter Martyr School in Pittsburg, Calif., who has noticed a major uptick in students missing school to travel since the pandemic. “When you make…