Last Updated Jan 26, 2011 10:05 AM EST
"Off peak" are two of my favorite words. We spent an overnight during MLK Day weekend in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Yes, the famed amusement park was closed for the winter, but we're not really roller-coaster people. We got a deal at the Hershey Lodge that included tickets to three different museums and free breakfast (which our carb-addicted kids maximized). Three times, we rode the silly ride at Chocolate World explaining how chocolate gets made.
The town of Hershey was freezing, yes. But it was empty. And we had a ball.
Avoiding crowds and taking advantage of lower prices? That's my kind of getaway. One of our best vacations ever was Ocean City, New Jersey, the week after Labor Day. It was 90 degrees, the rental was cheap and the beaches were wide open. The waitresses were all smiles. But now that we have a school-aged kid, we're standing in line - and shelling out - like everyone else.
I hear frequently of families who yank their kids out for up to a week at a time to avoid crowds and save money on vacations. Just last week my daughter reported that one of her classmates was at Disney World. So, I whined to my better half, couldn't our daughter miss just two days for a long weekend away? I was painfully aware that I sounded like a petulant child: "All the other families are doing it," I pleaded. "It'll be much cheaper than going anywhere other times of the year."
My husband is against it. He believes that when school is in session, kids ought to be there. And I don't really have a comeback for that. I asked travel writer Tim Leffel, author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, how he handled this dilemma. "If you want a good deal, you have to go when everyone else is not going," he says. But that doesn't mean he carelessly yanks his 10-year-old out of school. "A lot depends on where you're going and how you do it," he says. Assuming you can convince your spouse, here are his tips for gracefully springing your kids from school for an off-peak siesta.
- Consult with the teacher. Get the kid's work ahead of time. If you're supposed to be reading or drilling multiplication tables, by all means do it. The teacher requests a special project about the trip? Be ready to oblige.
- Choose carefully. Leffel's daughter has missed a few school days for Costa Rica, where she saw jungle critters up close; the Yucatan, where the family toured Mayan ruins; and even Huntsville, Alabama, where they spent a day at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. "It's not like we sat on the beach and did nothing," he says. "That's harder to justify."
- This should be obvious, but be careful of your image. Keep a low profile, if you can, and if you're bringing your kids along because you're traveling for work, make sure the teacher and your child's friends know that. Play up the educational value of the trip. Avoid any hint of a too-cool-for-school attitude.
- Ask for room upgrades. If you decide to take the plunge and find your destination empty, see if you can get a room with a more desirable location or a kitchenette, which will save you even more.
- If you have kids who aren't in school yet, take advantage. Go now! Make it some place you want to go. They won't remember. But you will.