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happy young family have fun on beach at sunset

One of the best tips you'll ever find for affordable travel to exotic destinations is to have a flexible schedule. You'll find cheaper flights and hotels during shoulder seasons, plus you won't have to face the crowds and long lines.

Unfortunately, if your children are in school, you don't necessarily have that kind of flexibility. The older the kids get, the harder it is to take them out of school and activities for extended periods of time without facing major consequences.

As a former teacher who is also married to a teacher, I'm no stranger to having to work around holidays and long weekends to book travel. And now that 2 of my children actually attend school, it's getting even harder to fit travel into our schedule.

However, I see how valuable and educational travel can be when I watch my kids learn about the world around them through experience. Because of this, we've learned to make travel a priority in whatever way we can. Here are my best tips for finding time to travel even when your family has to stick to a school schedule.

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Perfect the Art of the Weekend Getaway

Sometimes when you're traveling with kids, less is more. Weekend getaways are short and sweet so everyone leaves feeling refreshed. It's a break from your normal routine and a chance to make wonderful family memories without breaking the bank or missing school.

Explore nearby cities, visit friends or just simply spend a weekend in a hotel swimming and relaxing. You can leave on a Friday right after school ends and be back by Sunday afternoon in time to throw in a load of laundry and prepare for the week ahead.

No, you won't be able to fit in exotic vacations or transatlantic flights, but local weekend getaways are important, too. The more kids travel, the better they become at things like packing their bags and entertaining themselves en route. These mini-trips are a chance to exercise your travel muscles so you're ready for the larger trips. Plus it's a chance to appreciate the area you're from!

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Make Use of Holidays

Some schools get an entire week or two off for certain holidays, which could be a good time to take off on a bigger family vacation. Of course, the downside is that everyone else is traveling during this time, too, so everything is more expensive and crowded.

One way to get around that would be to travel to smaller cities or destinations that are in their off-season during long school breaks. You can also save some money and double your fun by traveling with another family and splitting a vacation rental.

Our family had an entire week off school for Thanksgiving last year, so we used the first half of the week to road trip through the Florida Keys and see Dry Tortugas National Park. We went with another family to split the cost of accommodations and ended up having one of our most memorable vacations.

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Extend a Weekend Trip

Maybe you like the idea of a weekend getaway, but have a destination in mind that's a bit farther away or one that requires more time to explore. By wrapping a 4- or 5-day trip around a weekend, you'll only have to take the kids out of school for a few days instead of an entire week.

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Take the Kids Out of School

On that note, sometimes the best solution to family travel during the school year is to take the kids out of school for a week or so. As a former teacher and current teacher's wife, I know that this can be a pain for the teacher to deal with. It involves extra preparation, printing worksheets ahead of time, collecting and correcting assignments long after everyone else has turned them in and just generally more administrative work. It's not ideal for the teacher, and not ideal for some students either.

Know your child, and be honest about whether missing school is worth it for them. If your child has no problem keeping up with the work or learning on their own, this may be a good fit for your family.

My best advice would be that if you're going to take your kids out of school, give your teacher plenty of advance notice and make your trip somewhat educational. Make sure they're getting something out of your travels that they could research or write a report about. Know their interests and delve into historical destinations, science museums, artistic communities or National Parks.

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Not Everyone Has to Go

One way around the school schedule for me, personally, is to realize that not everyone in the family has to go on every trip. If there's somewhere I really want to go, but my first grader would rather be at school, I'll leave her behind with Dad while I take the younger kids with me.

Or perhaps your kids attend different schools, and one has a break while the other is still in school. Arrange an individual trip with one of your kids for some quality time together. If you're lucky enough to have grandparents nearby, see if they will watch the kids while you and your significant other sneak off for an adults-only vacation during the school year.

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Plan Ahead

No matter which options work best for your family, it always helps to plan ahead. Once the school schedule and activity schedules come out, comb through your calendar and find open weekends or holidays.

Compare the time available with a list of destinations you'd like to visit and decide which are going to be most practical and affordable during that time.

If you're proactive about planning and decide that travel and adventure are one of your family priorities, you don't have to wait until summer to plan your next trip.

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(TravelPulse is a leading travel authority on the Web, providing consumer travel news and insider tips and advice for an ever-changing travel world. Read more stories at travelpulse.com)

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