It’s official: ‘Schoolcations’ are the hottest new travel trend for families

Sep 21, 2020

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In the spring, the overnight transition from normal life to sheltering-at-home while online schooling was a hot mess for pretty much everyone involved. (You haven’t lived until you’ve watched a Zoom class for preschoolers who don’t remotely comprehend the mute function.)

But now, we’ve had time to hone our remote school and work skills, and plan for the months ahead. So, while the pandemic still presents a very real and ongoing risk, the country is also much more open for exploration than it was in March, when schools first shut down and we all stayed home.

Really, it’s no surprise that, as businesses and destinations reopen and online schooling becomes more organized, a new travel trend has been born: the schoolcation.

We’ve done it, we loved it and we learned a few things to help us have an even better schoolcation next time.

Related: School’s out — how the pandemic may change family travel

Repeat after me: This is not a vacation

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

The first — and arguably most important — part of planning a schoolcation is knowing it’s not a vacation. Don’t get me wrong, you’re going to have fun, but if you still have school (and work) obligations while you’re away that must be at the forefront of everything.

If your kids aren’t used to schooling on the road, emphasize what this setup will look like to them early and often.

For us, that meant as soon as breakfast was finished, the school day had to start. Swimming, making sandcastles or going to the ice cream shop wasn’t an option until the afternoon, when school was over.

It also meant we weren’t staying up super late the way we might on vacation. There’s still a bedtime during the week during schoolcation, just like at home. For us, it helped that several families with kids were also on the same schoolcation schedule, so there was positive peer pressure to make it work.

Related: Tips for homeschooling for people who never planned to homeschool

Look for resorts with educational amenities

(Photo courtesy of The Four Seasons Orlando)
(Photo courtesy of The Four Seasons Orlando)

Remember when I said schoolcations are a legitimate trend? Well, hotel resorts took notice. In fact, several properties are making it easy to mix school and pleasure with five-star amenities and services.

Kimpton currently has a new position, a chief virtual learning officer, who is available at the Kimpton Van Zandt in Austin and the Kimpton Hotel Monaco in Salt Lake City, among others. This person can help troubleshoot technical problems, bring essential school supplies to your room, help transform a hotel desk into a kid-sized space, provide complimentary “snack packs” with juice, fruit snacks and Oreos, and more.

Hyatt has rolled out its Work From Hyatt program that comes with private workspace options (either a suite, connecting room or private meeting room), a complimentary food and beverage credit, parking, high-speed Wi-Fi and waived resort fees, among other perks.

And then some hotels, such as the Four Seasons Orlando at Disney World, have truly taken things to the next level. At this Disney-adjacent property, kids can be registered for a full- or half-day supervised study session in a small group classroom setting with no more than six children per class. The full-day session includes lunch and costs $100 (half days are $50).

The staff running these classes are trained Kids For All Seasons staff members, who traditionally ran the kids clubs and children’s programs back when resort stays were mainly for vacation.

While these may sound like a “nice to have” amenities instead of necessities, if you’re working while your kids are learning, you may find times when you need an extra hand (or two). It’s hard to help a kid having connection problems during his or her Zoom class while you’re in the middle of an online work presentation or meeting. Doing all that in a shared or unfamiliar space and … having on-site study sessions or a chief virtual learning officer sounds mighty nice.

Related: How we took a socially distant family vacation

It’s all about the Wi-Fi

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Your grand plans of schooling and working from the road will come to a screeching, frustrating halt if the internet isn’t top-notch.

Resorts may have your back with high-speed internet, but if you’re taking a DIY approach from an RV or home rental, you need a back-up plan in case the Wi-Fi isn’t up to par.

At the last property we booked for a school-and-work getaway, for example, the Wi-Fi really only worked upstairs, making it harder for us to spread out and find quiet spaces for Zoom calls, studying and more.

A Wi-Fi booster can come in handy if the wireless signal is a bit weak in certain parts of the property, such as when we were working from downstairs in a recent home rental.

In a pinch, you can also be prepared to create a hot spot using your smartphone. (If you have an iPhone, for example, you can turn on your personal hot spot under your settings.) The downside, of course, is you may chew up whatever data comes with your monthly plan. Even if you have unlimited data, your data is still likely throttled to a slower speed if you go exceed a certain threshold. For that reason, I’d have this be a Plan B — not your primary connectivity plan.

Related: How to choose the perfect beach house rental

Bottom line

School hard, play hard (Photo by Andrea Bacle Photography)
School hard, play hard (Photo by Andrea Bacle Photography)

There isn’t much good to be said about 2020, but the freedom to learn and work remotely has been a positive outcome during an otherwise awful year.

We have one successful week of schoolcationing, and are eyeing a much longer stint this winter if all goes well.

If you decide to give it a try, know there will be moments of frustration (just like at home). Don’t go somewhere that pushes your budget so much you feel compelled to make the most of every minute of your stay because you’re probably going to need to spend hours per day schooling (and perhaps working).

That’s why I recommend going to a single destination for at least a week, so you have a weekend and multiple afternoons to explore and enjoy.

Try and book more than just one standard hotel room, too. If you’re in a hotel, look for a property that’s offering dedicated space for spreading out for learning or working, if you can. If all else fails, just be sure to bring along good headphones, as competing Zoom calls only results in everyone losing.

And remember, for “recess” or at the end of the day, you get to go jump in the pool, take a hike, float down the river, order room service or hit some theme park rides … which isn’t a bad reward for some old-fashioned hard work whether you’re 7 or 77.

Featured image by John Lamb/Getty Images

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