I received this inquiry from a reader:
I’m wondering if you would be able to give helpful hints and suggestions for our family whose holidays have to be taken “prime time” as I teach (and to add a bigger twist, my hubby’s busy time is summer so he gets only a week during the summer months). I know you will have some interesting advice to help us out. We are excited to show the world to our kids. Thanks.
While we have a different school break schedule than most, we often find ourselves in crowded European cities during the summer. In my post on Venice in High Season with Kids, my primary advice was to get a local guide who could get you away from crowds and plan unique kid activities. We’ve done this all over Europe. Not only can guides customize kid-friendly activities and show you off-the-beaten path areas, they can also get you past lines at museums. So my primary advice to Jennifer is to go where you want to go, but work out ways to escape the crowds once you get there. The downside, of course, is that in-demand destinations are more expensive at peak times, so that may not be a viable strategy for everyone.
I therefore asked several family travel writer friends for advice as well – people who also find themselves planning trips during the same weeks when everyone else is. Here’s their advice.
Jessie Voigts from Wandering Educators
I’d go to less popular destinations that will have much to offer, but be less crowded. Instead of driving the Ring of Kerry, or exploring the Dingle peninsula, in Ireland, maybe drive and explore the Beara Peninsula. Also, have the kids help plan and decide what to do – that way, the trip will be much longer in terms of how you’re living it, planning it, etc…
Eileen Gunn from FamiliesGo!
Join AAA because membership grants a lot of discounts to hotels and attractions. I’d see whether being a teacher gets them discounts, especially at museums, etc. Even in summer, weekends are more expensive, so travel Sunday to Friday if they can. Do theme parks midweek. Also, find the places that are off-peak in summer. For example, ski resort towns can have a lot of things to do in summer but still need to offer discounts to pull people in because they are not top of mind. Also see how your summer compares with others. NYC schools go back very late, so we travel at the very end of August/start of September. It’s a bit of a shoulder – not cheap but not quite peak prices or peak crowds.
Katie Dillon from La Jolla Mom
If you can, book well in advance. In my experience flights and hotels gradually rise as dates get closer. Look into skip-the-line tours – it is more expensive but not always a lot more. Last summer, we did a great Louvre scavenger hunt with skip-the-line tickets that wasn’t a crazy premium to regular tickets, plus it was an added value experience. I also booked skip-the-line catacombs for this summer. You really just have to embrace the fact that you’ll pay more than off-peak (which is tough).
Corinne McDermott from Have Baby Will Travel
We are beholden to both school and competitive sports schedules, so we’re usually only able to travel during peak times as well. We’ve found that getting to places (theme parks, tourist attractions) early–like thirty minutes before they open, early–really helps with avoiding crowds, and in some cases, you’re already ready to leave as the big lines are forming. Booking as much in advance as possible also helps with expenses. It’s been my experience that prices don’t drop, and waiting only ends up limiting your choices. It’s a bit frustrating to not be able to just spontaneously take off on a whim, but we appreciate that we’re able to travel at all, and make every effort to continue to do so.
Vero Autphenne from Pax Travel Design
Here is my advice: 1) If you’re flying, do not be ‘married’ to a destination. As a family, choose 2 or 3 destinations and let the airfare dictate your trip. You’ll save money and have fun in the process! This is how we ended up in Ecuador and Peru instead of Europe a couple of years ago, and saved $2,000 on airfare for our family of 5. 2) Book as far in advance as you can. It’s easy to do, since your dates are not flexible. 3) Make sure your airline loyalty plan lets you use miles during peak season. We have United and have no problem with that, as long as we book way ahead of time.
Tara Cannon from Pint Size Pilot
I’ve found that by booking things for high season way out (such as airline tickets), I get a much better deal than waiting. For Norway this summer (also in high season), I found hotel discounts of 30% if we stayed 2+ nights when I booked months out. The same rooms are now at best 10% off. When hotels are especially expensive, and I have booked at the last minute (such as this summer in Reykjavic, Iceland), I move to secondary accommodation options such as Airbnb.
Karilyn Owen from No Back Home
Booking well in advance is key. We always do a national park summer holiday which is peak season and it’s always been great! For Europe, travel during early June when Europeans are still in school.
Jenna Francisco from This is My Happiness
We are also prime time travelers since my husband and I are both teachers. We try to go to less popular destinations and to be creative – for example, this summer we will go to Lake Tahoe instead of Yosemite (the former is still crowded, but not nearly as much as the latter!), we will try Lassen National Park instead of other packed ones, and we will stay in a cabin in the woods where no one goes in Washington. And we try to book in advance as much as possible since prices and availability shoot up as summer approaches.
Ann Belle from Kids Travel Books
High season travel is different for different destinations, so while it may be a prime time to go to popular destinations because the kids are out of school, it can still be low or shoulder season for other destinations. Also be flexible with dates. Sometimes changing a day here or there can really make a difference.
Paige Conner Totaro from All Over the Map Travel
I agree – look for off-season destinations. The Caribbean in summer is a great example. Often the weather is nicer there than where I live in August (though you do have to be sure to buy travel insurance in case a hurricane decides to pop up).
Allison Dover Laypath from Tips for Family Trips
My post where I give tips for surviving and thriving in crowds is here. My husband is an educator and my kids are on the traditional school schedule, so we do most of our traveling with the herd.
If you have other advice for traveling during peak vacation/holiday periods, please comment below!