Sarah’s Biggest Homeschooling Mistake: Not Traveling More

Written by contributor Sarah Small of SmallWorld at Home

One of the things that really aggravated me when our son was in public school in first grade was being told that we shouldn’t go on trips that would make him miss school.

Really? So being in a classroom is more culturally valuable than going to a Greek festival? So he’ll learn music better if he’s jingling bells than if he is at a symphony? History is more likely to come alive for him within the four walls of school than at Gettysburg?

When we decided to homeschool, I knew that much of my children’s education would consist of hands-on learning that included going lots of places. I imagined us taking the Civil War trail along the East Coast, following Lewis and Clark’s adventures out west, digging up dinosaur bones in Utah, ogling masterpieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I even had it calculated that my husband would be eligible for sabbatical when our oldest was in high school, so we would spend six months somewhere far away (and per my husband’s career, botanically interesting), like Australia or South Africa.

The best laid plans, eh?

As so often happens, the reality of our life clashed with my vision. We had another baby, and we said we’d travel when he got a little older. We decided to be financially responsible, and, well, what would Dave Ramsey say about traveling when we really didn’t have the money? As the kids got a little older, we had too many commitments: church, Scouting groups, sports, sleepovers, and eventually teen events. And the weekends that were free? Well, all we wanted to do was recuperate.

Oh, we took a lot of local field trips; we are homeschoolers, after all. We live in an area that is loaded with historical museums and other sites, nature centers, and hands-on science opportunities. Also, our proximity to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park allows us regular visits to what is, for many people, a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. During the years that we studied American history, we splurged and visited Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, and Gettysburg.

And sure, we’ve taken lots of trips to visit family or friends in different states within a day’s driving distance. We’ve been to Disneyland and the beach.

But my kids have never been to Washington, DC; Boston; or Philadelphia. We’ve never explored together the wonders of a major city, like New York or Chicago or LA. And we certainly haven’t traveled abroad as a family.

We kept waiting for just the right time, when everything lined up perfectly, to take our big trips.  And now, suddenly, our window of opportunity is more than halfway closed. Our oldest (that first grader whom we were determined to show the world to) is already in his second year of college and the youngest (that baby who needed to get a little older) is 11.


We should have been less concerned about missing something and more determined to be adventurous. We should have seized more opportunities. We should have taken more 3-day trips instead of waiting for the time when we could swing two whole weeks.

My advice? Go places.

Photo by Frank Pierson

Go north or south or east or west. See skyscrapers and pig farms, eat lobster, take a cheesy picture in front of the White House, spend a day in the Art Institute of Chicago, cruise through the Painted Desert, watch the sea lions frolic, stick your toes in as many bodies of water as possible.

Don’t wait for the perfect timing.

Don’t wait for the day when you’ll have the financial resources to stay in nice hotels and eat out for every meal. We have less than 20 years with these kids of ours, but you can see a lot of the world in 20 years, one trip at a time.

Have you made travel part of your homeschooling experience? Where do you most want to take your kids?

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About SarahS

Sarah has graduated one child from homeschooling and is happy to have miles left on the journey with her 11 and 15 year old children. With a master’s degree in English/creative writing, Sarah enjoys teaching writing and literature classes at her co-op and blogs about learning at SmallWorld at Home.


  1. Thank you!! This is so encouraging. We love to travel but don’t always take the time and money to do it. Traveling as a family is some of our best memories. It reminds me of a quote….. “Oh, darling, let’s be adventurers!”
    Rebecca’s latest post: Double digits

  2. I Live in An Antbed says:

    We love to travel. With seven children, we decided a travel trailer was the answer. We have pulled it from Texas to Tennessee to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan to Mt Rushmore, to Glacier National Park and many, many places in between. Our children are seasoned road warriors. And what grand memories we have made! We are planning our next epic road trip for the Pacific coast. 🙂
    I Live in An Antbed’s latest post: Link Up Day is Tomorrow!!

  3. Yes, Sarah! My husband and I decided last spring that our retirement plan of traveling in an RV shouldn’t wait until retirement. When we decided to homeschool, it was with the intention of learning in the world and experiencing life to the fullest. What better way for our then 6 and 8 year-olds to learn and grow with us while traveling. My husband left the cubicle 8-to-5 and began teaching online on his own time. We sold everything and bought a motorhome. We’ve been on the road for 14 months with no end in sight. I just put together a brief slideshow (I’m overwhelmed thinking about doing the full-length one!) of our first year on the road and cried seeing all of the amazing things we’ve seen and experienced. More than I ever would have thought possible in a lifetime. (It’s on our blog.) And there’s more to see, do, and learn! When we’ve seen ‘enough’ of the states, we have plans to explore internationally. This is an amazing way to live, learn, and raise our children.

  4. I’m so lucky to have spent the last 3 years in Europe with my family. For the first 2 school wasn’t an issue in traveling because my two were in an informal Kinder/Preschool program. Once my oldest hit first grade, things changed. Every year we spend 6 weeks Stateside with my folks; when we got back the school told us that she COULD NOT miss one more day or she’d have to redo the year. Fine, but then my husband was honored with an award, and that ceremony would give the family a chance to travel. On the list? Prague, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Slovenia. Needless to say, we went. I wanted to homeschool anyway, and the 6 weeks out combined with the possibility of taking this amazing trip made me take her out of school so fast the door caught fire! I wasn’t going to let her stay behind, especially at a school that was forcing her into the “she fidgets so she’s a bad student” life. Best. Decision. Ever!

  5. Travel opportunities are a huge factor in why we decided to homeschool this year. We are an American military family living abroad for 2.5 short years and trying to take advantage! Our children are only 5, 3, and 1 . . . so I doubt the youngest two will remember, but our “kindergartener” loves going new places. I also would just cringe how people get so worked up over “taking them out of school” . . . as if seeing places in real life was somehow less important! On the agenda for the next few months: travels to Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Paris, and London. I love homeschooling!
    Valerie @ Momma in Progress’s latest post: 7 Quick Takes Friday (13)

  6. Absolutely agree!
    Take the time to head out somewhere, even if it’s a spontaneous couple of hours.
    And the children are never too old for this, either.

    We had a day trip to the coast today. It’s always funny how it takes at least 1/2 an hour before everyone feels ‘settled’ enough to really get stuck into having some fun. But, despite being stuck in a storm on the way home, it was a fabulous adventure and learning experience.
    alecat’s latest post: Out for the day .. Lorne

  7. Melissa R says:

    My family is very lucky to travel a lot with daddy on business trips. And by that I mean 1-8 months at a time. We don’t just visit a place, we live it! Homeschooling and long-term travel go together so well. We are currently away from home for 8 months. It’s glorious to learn in a new place with new people to meet. Homeschool groups exist everywhere so there’s always one to join. The hardest part is leaving the new friends when it’s time to return home again.

  8. Kathleen K says:

    Great article. We are in the midst of making a house purchase decision–do we get the most for the most we can (comfortably) afford, or do we set the limit much lower to have extra for things like retirement and travel.

    If you could go back and do over, what activities, commitments, and expenses would you cut to allow more travel time?

    • That is a great question and one I’ve thought about a lot. I think I would have made it a practice to give very small Christmas gifts and make “going somewhere” our family Christmas gift. I know that the one thing I would not have eliminated is our commitment to Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and American Heritage Girls. It has taken a lot of our time, but it has been so worth it. However, I would have minimized our weekend commitments to those groups to only one weekend/month combined. DH and I would NOT have been Sunday School teachers. That severely cut down on our weekend availability.

      As far as expenses goes, I think we would have made more conscious money-saving decisions, saving specifically for traveling.
      Sarah at SmallWorld’s latest post: My Biggest Homeschooling Mistake: Not Traveling More

    • This is definitely a topic that has floated around our home a lot lately. When we bought our current house, we were struggling to find a home with the features we wanted, so the one item we compromised on was square footage (homes with the features we wanted in the sq ft range we wanted exist, they were just rare, at least in our area) and for us that meant buying bigger! Now we wish we had compromised elsewhere and had the smaller home and smaller payment. That, coupled with wishing we had gotten my husband another sedan instead of a truck when it was time to replace his vehicle, has seriously impacted our ability to travel as much as we’d like. Our daughter has been to a few states, and at 5 y/o we know that is more than some kids have the opportunity for in their entire childhood, BUT we know it’s our financial decisions that have prevented more of that. We thought we wanted to spend the money on the house, because that’s where we would spend most of our time (unfortunately, my husband’s job is not the sort than can be done on the road) but what we forgot was that we didn’t want to spend so much time at home! If travel is important to you in raising your kids, and for yourselves (and if retirement is something you don’t have planned for elsewhere in your budget) then I suggest the cheaper home. We are taking a trip this summer for a week to visit with family, and are feeling pinched the whole way planning it/purchasing for it. I wish we hadn’t set ourselves up for those types of trips to be so stressful.

      • Oops, just remembered I’m going through old posts, and that you’ll be well past that decision now. Well, hopefully that will help someone else making a similar decision down the line, and hope you guys made the decision that works best for your family!

  9. Sarah,

    I live in the same state as you and since we’ve moved here, I’ve been determined to go places and do the state up as well as visit many of the surrounding states – we’re closer to more states than we were before our move here – and beyond; Chicago (again and again), D.C. here we come! There were so many places I wanted to take my children in the state where we lived before we moved, but they were really too young at the time (2-4) for where we planned to go. For now, we’ll travel domestically and hope that an international opportunity arises OR maybe we’ll just have to create one.
    Jennifer @ Milk & Honey Mommy’s latest post: The Forever {to Make} Dress

  10. I really agree. We did monthly outings with our co-op when our kids were really young, which was wonderful. After a move to a small town and a change in our finances, we did almost nothing for 2 years. Then, we sold our farm and went on the road for 18 months which was really one long field trip! I thought it was the most wonderful homeschooling years, but my kids cringe now when I mention or even look at a museum! So now, we almost never do field trips. [Sigh]
    Our children need to visit interesting people and places. We need to take them to see artisans, artists, factories, farms, and businesses. They need regular trips into nature. We try plan our holidays with this in mind. But, it doesn’t have to be “educational”. I have had to learn that life is the lesson and I can trust the Lord to teach and enlarge our hearts and minds as we go along.
    Nadene’s latest post: Appreciating Vuillard’s Patterns

  11. We traveled a little more last year (our first year homeschooling) than we did in the years before that, and enjoyed it so much! We got to go to the beach for a much-needed break in November, when all our friends were in school, and we visited our friends up north on their farm–a delightful and extremely educational experience!

    But travel is expensive and I always have to talk myself into it, so THANK YOU for the encouraging words here!
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: Halloween: Love It or Hate It?

  12. Sarah in GA says:

    this is very encouraging. i grew up traveling a lot and want my kids to have that experience too, but like you mentioned life just seems to get in the way. we have been lucky to go to visit my parents in the Netherlands a few times but now they are moving back to the States we have thought of using our budgeted “travel money” for other things. now i am inspired to keep that budget item in there and make taking trips more of a priority.

  13. I like your advice: take more 3-day trip instead of shooting for 2 week vacations. I would love to travel more, but it is as you say. SO my focus ill be those 3 day trips and we’ll see where we got from there.
    Becca’s latest post: The Homeschool Mother’s Journal – October 28

  14. Can’t agree with you more. We travel a lot as a family, currently we are living in England and we have traveled to Wales, Scotland, Greece, Italy, Germany, Brussels, Netherlands and we currently planning a trip to Portugal over the Thanksgiving holiday. We head back to the states in 2 years and we plan on continuing to traveling probably with a camper. Yes it may cost a lot and we aren’t saving as much as we should but when will we or the kids ever have such an experience again.
    Anna-Marie’s latest post: Halloween cooking

  15. So true! I set up our current school year to do book work Monday-Thursday and field trips/play dates on Fridays. It’s a flexible system that is allowing us to take a lot of field trip opportunities. So far this year we’ve road tripped from Rhode Island to Arkansas, had a long weekend in Massachusetts, and taken numerous day trips. Later this year we’re flying from RI to San Antonio, TX. Alamo here we come! Still on my list for this school year is the Freedom Trail in Boston and NYC: Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Broadway show and the Bronx Zoo. One day I hope to take my kids to visit WWII sites in Europe, see Indonesia where their dad grew up, and marvel at God’s creatures on safari in Africa.
    Stephanie’s Mommy Brain’s latest post: Thanksgiving Children’s Books Recommendation

  16. Brilliant advice, all around. Seize the day and go where you please. 🙂
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  17. Great post – thank you. We’re sitting on the front end of our journey and I can already see how deliberate and creative we’ll need to be to travel to all the place we’d like to go. Our girls are six years apart (eight and two). Two year-old’s aren’t the greatest travelers, yet we’re still trying to hit places they can both enjoy. Last spring we went to Yosemite which they both loved and still talk about to this day. Nature based trips seem to feed everyone’s soul regardless of age and stage.

  18. Awesome post! My kids are little and I have big dreams of lots of travel. I will be saving this blog to look back on. Thanks for sharing!
    Melissa’s latest post: The more I think about unschooling…

  19. Oh, thanks for this. This year the kids are involved in so many extras, that I feel we’re stuck back in the same rut we were when they went to public school. I don’t want to not take a trip because we might miss music class or spend all our extra cash on gymnastics so there’s nothing left for an extended weekend trip down south.

    Thanks, I think I’ll work on planning our next vacation this weekend.
    Kerry’s latest post: Totally in Love With . . .

  20. This makes me want to get a camper! LOL I have wanted one for awhile now so we can take little trips with the kids as they grow (and we live pretty close to a lot of historically significant places), but DH and I try hard to not “live above our means” …. this article makes me want to throw caution to the wind and just go for it!

  21. When my oldest (now 6) was almost 1, we went to Colorado with some friends and their almost 1 year old. At dinner one night, an older couple commented on what great memories we were making with our babies by traveling with them. The mom said that they had never remodeled their bathrooms or put in new carpet, but had made a point to travel instead. And she didn’t regret it for a second! Her comments stuck with me, thanks for bringing them back to mind and encouraging me to just get out there!

  22. Funny you should write abou this right now! 🙂 We just moved to CAlifornia from Arkansas and at first, I was worried about the transition messing up school too much. But really, I only have a kindergartner and then two other little ones, so, I wasn’t TOO worried. But still…and then I realized that we would be driving through an amazing part of the country. So we discovered Route 66, The Petrified Forest Nat’l Park, the Painted Desert and the Grand Canyon all in a week. It was wonderful! We were so glad for it and now both my 3 and 5 year olds talk regularly about everything that we saw. SO much better than worrying about trying to squeeze in some handwriting in the car…

  23. We just took a mom and dad trip to Chicago and used it as a recon trip to plan a family vacation to Chicago and the museum, zoo and several other lesser known attractions. Did you know the Congress hotel has a chair from the oval office dating to four U.S. Presidents including Pres. Harding? I never would have found it if I wasn’t staying there.
    Mitten Mom’s latest post: Chicago Field Trip Recon

  24. Travelling is like second nature to us. Coming from 2 different countries on opposite sides of the world (Denmark and Australia) and with family in other places, our kids (4,2 and 5 months old) have already been to a handful of countries (Norway, Germany, Czech Republic, Australia, Denmark, USA, Oman, UAE). My advice is to not wait until you think your kids are old enough…they are taking in the impressions around them all the time. I am amazed at what my 4 year old can remember experiencing, even without photos! We are only at the beginning of our homeschool journey, but it promises to be full of travels as we prepare to relocate our family to Eastern Africa (via India) in the next 2 years. There is nothing like “experiencing” a place and culture!

  25. We homeschooled for 8 years. And for 5 of those years we were self-employed with a seasonal business. This allowed us to travel fairly extensively up and down the east coast. We visited so many historic places, along with Washington DC. We have so many great memories of those years!
    Living the Balanced Life’s latest post: 85 nuggets of wisdom from Relevant

  26. I could so easily be you! This is a great reminder to not put off till tomorrow. Thanks for be inspiring!
    Melissa W.’s latest post: Getting Home Ready for the Holidays

  27. Good advice, but traveling within one’s means is important. Those 3 day trips you guys took in your own areas are just as meaningful as traveling to Boston or Philadelphia or wherever. It’s not the destination that is important: it’s the act of traveling as a family and experiencing new things. We do as much as we can within our means. Right now, that means staying within the Midwest region. But I am ok with that. Not everyone in the world will go abroad or even outside of their own state/country. I feel so privileged that we are able to travel as much as we can, despite the fact that the destinations might not be “Exotic.”
    tracey – justanothermommy’s latest post: Living in the Present

  28. This is interesting. I have very little desire (actually, basically none) to travel abroad any more than I already have done so. But that’s just me, I am more of a home person that way. However I would love to show my kids particularly the west coast of where I live (Canada) and we do hope to do a trip out there. However we do say “when they are a little older” “when we can afford it” so I wonder sometimes. It must be balanced somehow…since I do want my kids to be old enough to remember (and therefore benefit) and money is a big issue too as it is for many families. I wonder how to put these two thoughts together (want to go, its good to go, but want to wait, but maybe wait too long).

  29. We’ve mixed school and homeschool over the years, but spent 9 months of 2010 travelling round the world with our kids (aged 10, 6 and 2). We volunteered in Cambodia and Kenya, went to Egypt and Mt Vesuvius (high on the kids agenda), spent 3 months in a camper in Europe and the UK, 2 weeks in Vancouver and several weeks in San Francisco and LA. We have also spent two years in outback Australia nad will head back to our “home” country, New Zealand later this year.

    Traveling was hard and sometimes scary but we look back on it all with great memories and pleasure and the kids are busy planning to return to Cambodia to do more volunteer work and then go to greece which is their current fascination. We thought it was a “once in a lifetime trip” but it appears they have other plans!

  30. Very well said… We have made the same mistakes too. There are lots of little trips people can take locally but the big trips are definitely worth planning.
    Heidi’s latest post: Pocket Lapbooks Kit

  31. Currently our kids are in public school, but as they get older, we too are struggling with balancing travel with school. Due to our religious beliefs, we keep the Feast of Tabernacles every fall and my husband is one of the coordinators. We usually are gone for almost 2 weeks. Everyone is shocked and can’t believe we do that. Thankfully, my older two children work on a little homework every day (not fun having that hanging over our heads) and the teacher is always amazed they can catch up so quickly. But this is 5th and 3rd grades. What about middle school and beyond? We have friends that have managed to handle it all but it’s a lot of stress for us. We also travel a lot on the Sabbath due to churches far away and Sundays are not enough time to get rested up for the school week. Anyway, this blog is one reason why we are considering homeschooling for next year. We live a day’s trip from grandparents and it makes it hard to visit often. I agree, they get so much more out of travelling especially in regards to our religious observances . But I feel we are sacrificing family time for school. My dad is getting older and I want my kids to spend time with him even if we need to pack up during the week and visit for few days and take our school work with us. I just found this website and have learned so much-this is our year to make a decision. I will be visiting, commenting and asking questions often! Thanks for listening
    now, if I can just get my will be Kindergartner to want to homeschool! Need some advice on that

  32. Great Post, thank you for the insight. It sounds like your family still had a beautifully enriched life. Kudos to you.
    Is it really too late to travel with your younger 2?
    We have been homeschooling for 2 years now and have just returned to Canada after living in Jamaica and Seoul, South Korea. My husband and I were huge travellers in our twenties and my parents moved and traveled extensively when I was a child. We always wanted our children to have the same experience. We kept saying when we have this amount in the bank, we have this settled……but we had bought a house, got settled and then realized we would miss the boat if we didn’t take action. So we did. My husband started his writing business and was able to work anywhere. I quit my career and we started. Funny thing, opportunities to travel are plentiful but money, not as much. This was a reminder that we wanted to live simply and off the beaten path. This is what we chose to live. We do not have a lot of material goods, we live simply, but we have a happy family, engaged children, and amazing memories. My kids were happy to return home for a while, but they still say that they don’t want to give up traveling. My 5 year old asked excitedly on our return to Canada- “where are we going next?” Take the opportunity. Without a doubt it is worth it.
    Robyn’s latest post: Letting Go

  33. I just came back to read this for the second time, since it’s such good advice, and good reminder to “seize the day.” My 13yo homeschooling son and I are leaving this Sunday to drive around all 48 states for 11 weeks. It’s amazing how it all came together once we decided to do it. Your encouragement helped me do it now instead of waiting for a more perfect time. Thanks!

  34. Wonderful article… thank you!
    Megan’s latest post: Timing is Everything: How Grief led me to Simple.

  35. This is so true. There is no time like the present to stretch your wings. Happy Travels!

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