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A typical autumn brings with it a predictable routine for families. School supplies are purchased. New shoes and clothes take the place of those worn out from an active summer. Parents pack lunches and snacks, wave goodbye to kids from the carpool drop-off line and plan for after-school classes and playdates. Families look forward to the holiday break and the vacation they booked months ago.
Of course, 2020 has been anything but typical. Life in the U.S. came to a halt in March, and home became not only a place to eat and sleep, but also a place to learn, work, play and exercise, too.
It took a few months, but we’re starting to see a silver lining to all of this: With the usual confines of a traditional school year gone, families can consider traveling in different ways — and the kids can still learn while seeing the world.
Some hotels and tour operators are ready for this change. Here’s what industry partners are already offering, and what travel professionals are seeing from their clients this fall and into 2021.
Hotel HolidayThe hotel industry has been hard hit by COVID-19, but with safety guidelines now clear and protocols in place, more families are booking rooms. Some hotels and resorts are courting this demographic by offering programs that facilitate remote school specifically, or what some are calling “schoolcations” or “edu-cations.”
At select Montage Resorts locations, for example, high schoolers can join the new Montage Academy, which includes all-day supervised study hall; help from an information technology support team; around-the-clock access to virtual tutors; and afternoon “electives” that range from archery and yoga to farm-to-table cooking.
With air travel to Mexico unrestricted, many resorts in the country have special offers for families. Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita has launched Knowledge for All Seasons, where school-age kids in the program can complete remote classes in a poolside cabana equipped with Wi-Fi access, headphones and other tech tools. “Study buddies” are also available to help children complete assignments. And the school day can be extended with on-site classes on local cuisine, history and culture.
For parents, Royalton Riviera Cancun, as well as Royalton properties in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, are all offering the “Upgrade Your Office” package. This gives clients access to luxury workstations and video conferencing spaces, plus kids’ club time for their children and quiet work areas for students doing remote learning.
“We used to try to avoid what I would call ‘relocation’ — same work, different place,” said Amie O’Shaughnessy, founder of travel agency Ciao Bambino. “But now, clients kind of want to relocate. They want to be doing the same work, but in a new place.”
Stays at spacious domestic resorts are being booked, as well. Fellow Ciao Bambino advisor Susan Robinson recently planned family stays at Tanque Verde Ranch in Arizona and The Resort at Paws Up in Montana. Both offer Wi-Fi access for those working and learning remotely, plus myriad outdoor entertainment and educational opportunities for kids of all ages. At Tanque Verde, class options include desert flora and fauna lessons, guided nature hikes and horseback riding lessons. At Paws Up, Wilderness Workshops teach skills such as photography and edible plant identification.
Rainer Jenss, founder of the Family Travel Association, says all of these options are attractive to families right now.
“The appetite to travel is there,” he said. “Traveling is not substituting remote learning, though. It’s enriching it.”
The appetite to travel is there. Traveling is not substituting remote learning, though. It’s enriching it.
Home Schooling, in a WayClients seeking more private space than a resort might offer are hunting for vacation rentals, and preferably those they can reach by car. For O’Shaughnessy’s Northern California-based clients, that means rentals in destinations such as Lake Tahoe or Carmel in California, or Vail, Colo.
For families with school-age children, Wi-Fi access is again a must-have so that the kids can attend virtual classes before heading outside to explore. And since learning (and working) remotely is possible now, clients are tending to stay longer in their rental than in a typical year where they may have been more likely to go for just a long weekend.
Renting a home has not always been a task that clients take to their travel advisors, O’Shaughnessy says, but 2020 has created more potential opportunities. And the Ciao Bambino team is making themselves indispensable with its curated, destination-centric resource lists.
“We’ve done the vetting in the region, we know the idiosyncrasies of the place, and we’ve compiled a list of great resources that we share,” she said. “That really has an impact and is key to clients feeling comfortable with taking the trip.”
A family staying on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, for example, would get a resource list with kid-friendly hiking trails and restaurant suggestions for the area. Near Incline Village, they might try the out-and-back Tunnel Creek Trail for nature time and stunning views. If they are hungry after their hike, the Tunnel Creek Cafe is recommended for a meal on their outdoor patio or for take-away.
Jessica Griscavage, of McCabe World Travel in Virginia, says her clients are also sticking close to home, and that they are opting for extended weekend trips so that they don’t have to worry about remote school. If a family wants a lengthier vacation, they’re waiting for winter, spring and summer break.
Even so, a shorter trip to Charleston and Kiawah Island in South Carolina, for example, can include educational elements. On a recent version of this trip, Griscavage’s clients learned about Charleston’s history on a private carriage ride in the city, then continued to the island to learn about sea life, including the famous loggerhead turtles that nest here.
The key goal for parents, Griscavage says, is having fun away from a screen.
Tour TalkWhile it might have initially seemed that booking a tour during this unprecedented year would be off the table completely, some operators have done the reflecting and retooling required to host families on safe and inspiring itineraries. Austin Adventures is one of them.
Though all of the company’s tours include elements of learning as guests explore the destinations they visit, its newest option — custom private home itineraries — has been especially popular this year and into 2021.
One family trip built by company president Kasey Austin uses Big Sky, Mont., as a home base. On weekend days, the group will take longer guided excursions into Yellowstone National Park, learning about the flora, fauna and geological features of the region. On weekdays, the children will complete their remote schooling in the morning before taking off on guided treks in nearby national forests.
“On these hikes, we get to see wildlife and mountain lakes up close,” Austin said. “While we’re there, we focus more on ‘leave no trace’ principles with the kids. We’re teaching them how to be great stewards of the outdoors. A lot of them arrive here and have no idea what that actually means.”
Austin, who has a degree in elementary education, even went so far as to create and share educational video presentations on select destinations when COVID-19 first halted business. Her “Virtual Adventures” cover places such as Utah, South Dakota and Costa Rica, and are available on the company’s website.
Some families are looking to 2021 as a possible year for international travel outside of North America. (That is, assuming more country borders open back up to U.S. travelers.)
In response to demand, Intrepid Travel has launched its new Family Retreats line. The itineraries model “slow travel,” keeping groups in one region for the duration of the trip and away from crowds. They can be stand-alone vacations or easily paired with other family offerings from the brand.
We’re teaching them how to be great stewards of the outdoors. A lot of them arrive here and have no idea what that actually means.
Dyan Mckie, family product manager for Intrepid, notes that the trips offer diverse opportunities for hands-on learning, from cultural experiences to animal encounters.
On its four-day Morocco Family Retreat, the small town of Ouirgage — just outside of Mount Toubkal National Park — is home base. Itinerary highlights include hikes through villages and farms in the nearby foothills and a hands-on cooking experience with locals.
To comfort prospective travelers, Intrepid is allowing booking changes up to 21 days from a start date. (New U.S. and Canada retreats are in the works, too, for those who prefer a domestic adventure.)
On the RoadFamilies took many road trips this summer, and this mode of vacationing is expected to do well into 2021. Most advisors are seeing families plan adventures during school breaks, not over school days.
Kara Slater of SmartFlyer organized a multiday journey from Los Angeles to Tennessee for a family of five with a clear historical lean. En route to Blackberry Farm in the Great Smokey Mountains, the group stopped at Lincoln’s grave in Springfield, Ill.; Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument in Alabama; and
Natchez Trace Parkway, a travel route in the Deep South used by Native Americans, European settlers and slave traders.
Robinson of Ciao Bambino has organized family trips that set aside time for learning experiences, as well. Road trippers to Jackson Hole, Wyo., took a wildlife safari in Grand Teton National Park. A group on a fall getaway to Arizona booked a tour at Taliesen West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and an architectural marvel. Another family trip to Arizona included stargazing in Sedona, a jeep tour in Coconino National Forest for rock-spire viewing, and a private Grand Canyon tour to explore ruins, lava fields and the canyon interior.
Ask an ExpertFor Seattle-born Natalie Ethridge, another Ciao Bambino advisor, travel may be the ultimate way to learn. Not only do her own children participate in online school in Los Cabos, where they have lived for the last three years, they also do remote learning when they take off on longer trips. They have dug into history and culture firsthand while on the road in Nicaragua, Germany, Italy and more.
“I get that doing that feels unusual and even far-fetched,” she said. “But now advisors have been thrust into this position. Our thinking is, ‘How can we make it better, instead of just being frustrated?’”
She and a sea of expert advisors stand ready to help families navigate new waters this fall.