We just got home from a spur-of-the-moment week-long educational field trip to Washington DC! Since we live in the West, being able to see our American history memorials, sites and documents is a really big thrill for my kids . . . and for us parents too! Louisa is studying the American Revolution right now in her homeschool history studies, so this was a perfect learning tool. We had a chance to go for cheap, so we jumped at it, and off we went! The White House, the Capitol building, Smithsonian museums, the National Archives, the Lincoln Memorial, Mt. Vernon, Library of Congress, Smithsonian museums . . . hurray!
In my opinion, an educational trip counts for about a year of book-learning, so we travel as often as we can manage it. In the botanical gardens of Florida, snorkeling on the reefs in Mexico or sitting in on a Supreme Court session—real education happens! Most importantly, we change. Every experience cranks our minds open. We aren’t a big fish in a little pond anymore. The wider the world gets, the more we see how we fit into it and that is humbling. We come away asking, “How can I contribute to this big world?”
Being a homeschooling family, we are always looking for opportunities and nothing packs opportunity like travel. Seeing new people, new types of houses, unfamiliar lifestyles, unique cultures, trying new foods, traveling on forms of transportation we are unaccustomed to—they all are mind-expanding.
We travel light and cheap. We eat plain. My kids say we went through Europe on foot, on bread and water—and it is true! We are hungry for history, thirsty for adventure! We figure we can eat more lavishly and dress more fashionably when we get home. Going light and cheap means we can make it happen! As soon as our kids can pull a rolling suitcase, they are in charge of holding their own. We aim to go to bed early, get up early and pack each day when we travel. We have to get along in close quarters. (Yes, there are rough moments.)
Going cheap: We search for ultra cheap flights, use Priceline to bid for crazily inexpensive car rentals (our trip to Washington DC landed us a luxury van for just $15 per day). We’ve stayed in 5 star hotels for $40 a night by “name your own price” on Priceline. Although staying in a 5 star hotel is a fabulous experience that is super-fun for kids (and adults), I would recommend bidding for the 2.5 star hotels, as they usually have free breakfast, which helps a lot! We use the grocery store instead of restaurants. As soon as we arrive and pick up our rental car, we go to a grocery store, buy a cheap $3 styrofoam cooler, fill it with inexpensive, simple and wholesome food, and load it from the hotel ice dispenser each morning. We go light. Every family member is allowed one small rolling suitcase (carry-on size for clothes) and a lightweight shoulder bag which holds his reading book, card game, activities, water bottle and food pack. Less stuff = less work.
Food packs: I got tired of being the food dispenser, and all-over-my-lap-in-the-car sandwich maker, so it is fabulous having everyone take charge of themselves! The “food pack” is just a zip-lock bag with each family member’s name on it. All of the day’s food goes into this zip-lock bag, making everyone self-sufficient between breakfast and dinner. Each morning after a simple breakfast (fruit with yogurt, bread and peanut butter or cream cheese), the food packs are loaded with the goal: “only pack what you will eat”. Family members are assigned to make up the individual components (a baggie of baby carrots, or nuts and raisins, sandwiches, etc.) and they are laid out wherever convenient (you have to get creative in a hotel room). Each person takes what they will need and hauls their own food pack. Then during the day, everyone helps themselves when hungry or thirsty, giving mom a vacation too, and saving the budget from hunger-induced purchases or eating in restaurants. On each trip, we make sure to go to a local restaurant once or twice and eat what the locals eat—be it yucca root, okra and green tomatoes, crab cakes, bread pudding, poi or alligator! We look forward to that new adventure, and usually order one of each unusual traditional food and share our plates. Eating unusual food alone expands our experience greatly! And gives us some startling memories to laugh over: fried dill pickles, ugh!
Daily journal writing preserves the fun memories, the learning moments, and gives expression to the many questions and pondering that takes place as you learn something new. They are also a great evening activity in a hotel room, as well as reading travel brochures and planning the next day. We don’t watch TV in hotels, but we definitely swim! Anyway, those travel journals pack great memories!
We read all the plaques, stop at all the museums and points of interest, go wherever we want to go, and study whatever piques our curiosity. Education at its most sublime! We plan each day loosely and enjoy lots of spontaneity. My husband gets the all-time-award for being the most versatile driver! I am known to call out suddenly, “turn here!!!” as I see something of interest. And he does! From tiny crowded one-way alley streets in Italy to dirt trails up steep mountains in the Rockies, he amazingly responds to my “let’s go there!” and we’ve had some marvelous (and scary) adventures! And seen wonderful off-the-path sights too, like a bubbling mineral hot spring hill formation right out in a field in Colorado that we took off our shoes, rolled up our pants and waded around in. And concrete WWI Nazi bunkers on the cliffs of Normandy, France that we climbed down in and felt sobered by. That spontaneity has paid off and we’ve had amazing learning experiences!
Think about educational travel. It is possible. You can do it for cheap. It teaches your kids so much! Those experiences bond your family in wonderful ways! The world can be your campus.
As we were unpacking from Washington DC, my kids were already talking about where to go next . . .
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