The winter from hell has wreaked havoc with schools' spring vacations across the country, as snow days force makeup days even in parts of the U.S. that seldom, if ever, have to deal with harsh winters, plows and salt.
But for all that, makeup days appear not to be eating into travel plans.
Families across the country are playing hooky, heading off as planned for their vacations even when their school districts are holding classes on days that had been scheduled as break periods.
“I have several clients in school districts that have reduced or eliminated their spring break, and every one of them is still traveling,” said Amanda Klimak, president and co-owner of Largay Travel in Waterbury, Conn. Some Connecticut school districts have had as many as six snow days this school year.
“People are just taking their kids out of school,” said Heather Petrosky, travel consultant and team leader for Liberty Travel’s Chestnut Street store in Philadelphia, where the school district is making up for snow days by holding classes on three days originally scheduled as spring vacation.
Travel agents in other parts of the country are reporting the same trend.
Travel insurance “is not going to cover snow days,” said Tammi Volkinburgh, owner of Private Travel Consulting, a Travel Experts agency in Portland, Ore.
Her clients plan their trips as much as a year to a year-and-a-half in advance, and staying home is not an option.
“They’re like, ‘Nope, we’re going!’” Volkinburgh said. School snow days typically only would be covered by “cancel for any reason” travel insurance.
Lisa Freeburg, owner of Travel a la Carte of Omaha, Neb., said, “I can’t imagine any parents, especially with all the cancellation penalties that go with canceling a trip, would say, ‘Sorry, we’re not going.’”
Some schools are accommodating families. One school that scheduled classes during spring break rearranged exams for a child whose family’s spring break trip meant the child would have missed them, Petrosky said.
And it’s not just families dealing with school schedules; it’s teachers, too.
In fact, Petrosky said she is seeing teachers facing more problems than families when school districts extend classes into summer.
For one thing, many of them are young, and June is wedding month. She has one teacher client who is getting married and then going on her honeymoon in St. Lucia in June. Because of the extended school year, her client is going to take unpaid time off to avoid having to spend thousands of dollars to change the dates for her honeymoon.
Petrosky said that Liberty had another teacher client whose upcoming vacation had been long planned and paid for.
When the school scheduled classes on what had originally been vacation days, Liberty provided the school district with documentation of all of the teacher’s payments for the trip, which had been planned well before any snowstorms hit. In that case, the documentation saved the teacher’s trip.
Snow days have pluses and minuses for travel agents.
“They’re insane, they’re wonderful!” Petrosky said. That’s because Mother Nature can become an agency’s best marketing partner.
“It’s great for business,” said Lauren Maggard, travel consultant with Chicago-based JetSet World Travel. She lives in Asheville, N.C., but also has clients in Chicago and across the country. “Snow days, phones just ring off the hook.”
Snow days have also spawned another kind of niche travel for Maggard: mom getaways.
“They’ve been stuck at home and need to get away from the kids,” she said. She booked a group of 10 women to South Beach in Miami Beach and three to the new Nizuc Resort & Spa at the gateway to Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
But snow days are busy because agents are also working to re-accommodate travelers whose trips have been disrupted.
The other downside is that snow days can have a chilling effect on summer travel. Petrosky said some families that normally would book travel in June after school gets out seem to be holding off on booking anything while they wait to see how their schools decide to schedule makeup days.
That scheduling is becoming a big issue for school districts and state legislatures across the country. Some states are considering shifting from a day-based requirement (typically 180 days) to an hourly requirement to facilitate making up lost time by having extended days or holding classes on Saturday mornings.
Maggard said that her North Carolina school is making up lost time by having school on Saturday mornings. And some states are looking at waiving their total-day requirement just for this unusually disrupted year, so that schools only have to make up some of the days.
Largay Travel’s Klimak pointed to the educational value of travel to justify playing hooky during makeup days.
“Fortunately, I think most teachers understand the educational value of traveling and that the exposure to different destinations and cultures is key to the intellectual growth of children,” she said.
Klimak added that she herself has embraced another growing family travel trend: culturally rich travel.
“I am taking my kids to Peru during the April break,” she said, “and I can honestly say that even if our break is canceled, we will still be traveling, even if we have to bring work with us.”
Maggard said she, too, is getting a lot more requests for educational and cultural trips.
She recalled two mothers who rented an apartment in Paris for themselves and their two 12-year-old daughters last fall. The mothers took the girls out of school for the trip.
And she has booked a spring break trip for another family to Paris; both the father and the son have been taking French lessons for the past six months to prepare for the trip. They’ll do a scavenger hunt in the Louvre, take a pastry-making class and meet with a Parisian in a cafe for the express purpose of spending an hour speaking French.
Lindsey Woodcock, a consultant with JetSet World Travel based in Sun Valley, Idaho, has one family client that has built voluntourism into an upcoming trip to Costa Rica. Kids and parents will help local residents with a garden for a school and will work with local children, families and fishermen on a beach-cleanup project.
It’s important in voluntourism to “not be an outsider looking in but to really work side by side with the local communities,” Woodcock said.
Volkinburgh, who specializes in high-end travel, reported that she was “seeing more in-depth trips. It used to be a trip to Europe with the kids for a week; now, it’s ‘Let’s take them to Bali or to India or the Amazon.’ It’s a little more in-depth, it’s a little more exotic.”
Photo of family at the beach courtesy of Shutterstock.com.