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Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, remote learning and WFH (Working from Home — what did you think it meant??) is the norm for many families, at least for the foreseeable future. Back to school during Covid-19 means learning and working from some place other than a classroom and the office. But learning and working from home doesn’t mean you have to actually do it from home! The world can be your classroom and office. Read on for remote learning tips from veteran “road schoolers” and deals from destinations courting distance learning families.
As the fall semester ramps up, school district reopening plans continue to morph. Will they have students in the classroom full time for face-to-face in-person instruction with social distancing rules? Or will the school day be spent online learning via Zoom? Or some combination of the two? Google “distance learning” and you’ll find a host of different school structures. And just when parents get used to the new normal, someone tests positive for coronavirus and everything changes.
Yes, we know it’s super stressful right now. But if you’re a TravelingMom — and you’re reading this, so we know you are! — there’s an upside to all of this upheaval. Not being tied to a physical classroom this school year means more opportunity to travel for parents who also have the option of working remotely.
Here’s how to be a digital nomad family that learns and earns while traveling.
Remote Learning Tips for Home (or Not)
It may feel like you need a whole Microsoft team on your side or a degree in computer science just to get through the days of learning and working via Zoom, but it doesn’t have to be so stressful. Parents all over the world — homeschoolers, road schoolers, unschoolers and digital nomads — have been doing it for years.
Here are their tips for seeing remote learning as fun and very doable.
1. Be Open to the Opportunity
Turning the whole family into digital nomads — a term most often used for adults who choose remote work as a way to support themselves while seeing the world — means the world becomes your virtual classroom. Gym class can be paddleboarding on the lake outside your VRBO. Pre-k and elementary-age students can learn science with a walk in the forest. High school civics class can focus on learning how local government works in the area you’re visiting.
For Bionca Smith, who travels full-time with her 11-year-old son, Carter, in a 1989 Ford Econoline and shares their adventures on social media as Off the Grid with a Kid, it was a longer-than-expected stop in New Mexico that made them really appreciate the opportunities remote learning offers. They “initially had written it off as a flyover state” but when their van broke down, they ended up staying in New Mexico for a month with friends of friends who were born and raised there.
“We learned about indigenous cultures there, about the Hatch Chile and its significance, we attended community events and went to the farmer’s markets. New Mexico has some of the best farmer’s markets in the world and the culture was so rich, it felt like we were in a new country,” she says. “It was the experience that showed us we need to stay a little longer in certain states and we have so much to learn about communities in the U.S.”
2. Have Great Wifi
Whether you’re Zooming into a classroom from an apartment in New York City a VRBO rental on the beach in California, the only thing that matters is whether the wifi is up to the challenge. Wimpy free wifi isn’t going to cut it. If you’re going to be running computers for the kids and for yourself, you need some serious bandwidth. So, before you book a month at a VRBO rental at some quaint lake town, ask some hard questions about the wifi strength.
Suzanne Jones Doyle of Roswell, Georgia, who is planning a 6-week RV trip with her husband and three kids, plans to invest in a hotspot powerful enough to support the whole family’s needs. That will ensure her husband can connect to the office while the three kids, ages 11, 8 and 4, do their schoolwork.
TravelingMom Tip: We like this Skyroam Hotspot for reliability and bandwidth. It can support up to 10 devices at once so you can run those webinars while the kids Zoom into class! USE CODE: TRAVELINGMOM for 10% off!
3. Know the Rules
Remote learning rules and options vary by school district. It’s important to understand what your local department of education expects from students.
Texas TravelingMom Breeze Leonard‘s three daughters, ages 7, 9 and 11, attend a charter school that is following a hybrid model with some students attending via a virtual classroom and others attending in person. Breeze is keeping her kids at home. They are expected to attend live Zoom meetings daily with their class and complete the same daily assignments that the in-person students are completing.
It only took two weeks of learning from home for Breeze and her husband to start thinking about taking learning on the road. They’re monitoring travel deals looking for the right opportunity to learn from not-at-home.
“I’m tasked with finding destinations that cater to our new schedule,” she says. “Our days will still be filled with Zoom meetings and deadlines, however, a destination that allows us to break away in the afternoon for some socially distant fun is going to be ideal. Our future trips won’t be vacations necessarily, but we certainly want to take advantage of our new freedom to change our location and incorporate more travel into our everyday life.”
4. Create a Learning Plan and Structure
In some cases, the learning programs and structure will be imposed by the school and children will be expected to be online for a portion of the day, dialing in to live lessons presented by a teacher in real time. In other cases, like Nasreen’s kids’ learning experience, there is more flexibility. But structure is always important for kids. If there isn’t a school-imposed plan, create one yourself.
This is especially important if you have younger kids who are used to a rigid in-class learning experience. Without a daily/weekly schedule, chances are the kids will view remote learning as a vacation, veteran road schoolers say.
5. Stay Flexible
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Bionca Smith recommends designing your lifestyle around your kids’ curriculum.
“For example, if your kid is going to be studying marine biology, travel near the ocean. If you’re studying Black history, travel to certain parts of the South to find new points of interest that may not be in the textbook, and complement what they’re learning,” she says. “Imagine reading a text book about a subject and standing right before it – that is where learning can really take off for a child and captivate their curiosity.”
Learning from Not-Home
If you’re learning and earning from home but don’t HAVE to do it from YOUR home, where should you go? Just about anywhere that is socially distanced and has good wifi.
Sometimes it’s just the ability to look at four different walls. We even know a few TravelingMoms who have booked an Airbnb or VRBO a few miles away because it has a better view, is closer to a natural resource or it has a pool to use at the end of a long day of remote learning and working.
Airbnb says remote working is leading to longer rentals — 28 days or more. Guest reviews now are three times more likely to mention remote working and they’re more likely to look for rentals that allow pets so the whole family can come along.
Finding a long term rental that takes pets would mean that TravelingMom Christy Emmanuel could take the family’s cat and dog when she and hubby head to a warmer climate for the winter. Having her three kids, ages 10, 8 and 6, learning remotely will make it possible for them to miss the unpleasant winters of their home near Washington DC.
The “fiasco” of remote learning last spring left Suzanne Doyle with a sort of PTSD. Knowing it was coming again, her husband announced he was going to buy a Winnebago. She responded, “Sure you are.” After all, the family had never even gone camping. But he was serious. The prospect of having the kids learning from home meant they could take school on the road.
That’s just what they plan to do, with a 6-week trip this fall. Her kids are just the right age for life in an RV, Suzanne thinks. They’re small enough to be comfortable in the bunks and young enough that they won’t mind being without friends for the length of their 6-week trip.
Their plans involve a trip from Georgia, north through Kentucky with a stop at Mammoth Cave, into Indiana and Illinois, then west through Kansas, into Utah, and south through New Mexico and Texas on the way home. The plan is to spend the most time in Utah, hiking in Zion and Bryce and seeing the gorgeous slot canyons. Because the kids won’t be tied to a daily classroom meeting, they can be flexible and work lessons around their travel.
Still, she’s staying flexible. They’ve only booked campsites for the first two weeks, with a Plan B in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Resorts Marketing to Remote Learners and Earners
While an Airbnb or VRBO vacation rental in an exotic location is an easy choice, Skyft, an online news service that covers the travel industry, says cash-strapped resorts have created unique learning environments and are eager to have you.
“Some tourism destinations are pivoting their offering to cater to this recently-expanded market. And in doing so, they are helping make up for the steep decline in short-term leisure tourism revenue. If travelers are avoiding coming for just a few days due to the headaches of travel restrictions, Covid testing on arrival, and/or quarantine, why not invite them to come for months?”
Bermuda, for example, has created a “Work from Bermuda” certificate program that allows visitors to stay for up to one year. The countries of Georgia and Barbados have adopted similar programs, Skyft says.
TravelingMom Tip: Before booking any vacation, especially now, buy travel insurance and perhaps even medical evacuation insurance. Be sure to read all of the fine print to make sure it covers Covid-19 related travel disruptions before you buy!
Great Wolf Lodge is offering a “Howl ‘n’ Learn” package at its water park resorts in Illinois’ Georgia; Grapevine, Texas; the Poconos, and Arizona.
The package includes late check-out so kids can attend “Wiley’s Schoolhouse.” For three hours a day, parents can get an e-learning break by sending kids to Wiley’s Schoolhouse, where members of the Great Wolf Lodge Kids Entertainment team will be watching over them while they study. It includes “recess” breaks for physically-distanced yoga, a craft project, or character encounters. The classroom is set up in a large conference room with desks set 8-10 feet apart and protected by plexiglass barriers. Everyone needs to wear masks and use hand sanitizer frequently. The desk areas will be sanitized after each use with hospital grade disinfectants.
Long Term Deals
Colorado’s dog-friendly Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in the heart of the Vail Valley is offering monthly rates starting at $3,690 from September through November. After work and school is done, head out to the Eagle River for fly fishing and kayaking, or hike and bike the 40-mile paved path that runs directly in front of the hotel. All of the units include a fully stocked kitchen and laundry.
Club Wyndham, the nation’s largest vacation club, is offering “Back to School, Back to Your Bucket List” vacation packages of up to 30 percent off. The deal is good for all-suites resorts in the United States, including Williamsburg, VA; Park City, UT; Branson, MO, and Sevierville, TN. It includes upgraded wifi, an extra power strip to ensure everyone has a place to plug in and a Club Wyndham backpack with a pencil case, erasers and notebooks. Parents will receive noise canceling headphones to use for the length of their stay, and a complimentary bottle of wine, which tells me that Club Wyndham understands that this remote learning thing is no picnic for parents.
Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa is offering up to half off monthly rates for Main Inn guest rooms and 2- and 3- bedroom luxury units.
The “Work. Learn. Play.” Family Package at JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country starts at $899 per night for stays from Aug. 15-Dec. 30 for connecting rooms.
The Paramount Hotel in Portland, Oregon, has a Family Field Trip package that includes 2 connecting rooms with one King Deluxe connecting to one deluxe double queen room, both with large desks and complimentary wifi. Rates start at $201 per night.
The “workcation” deal at Royalton Riviera Cancun, Royalton Negril and Royalton Splash Punta Cana is called “Upgrade Your Office.” It starts at $900 per person for a 14-night stay and includes 24-hour access to the Diamond Club Lounge, complimentary Business Centre access and resort-wide wifi. Kids can spend the day at the kids club playing, learning a new language and Zooming into classroom instruction — all with someone else watching over them.
Mexico’s AAA Diamond Velas Resorts’ ‘Home to Grand’ program offers a 10 percent discount at the company’s properties in Los Cabos, Riviera Maya, and Riviera Nayarit. It includes secluded work spaces, most with ocean views, private beach and pool access. Kids 11 and younger stay free in the same suite as an adult.
Maine’s pet-friendly Inn by the Sea offers a 20% discount for stays of longer than 7 nights. Students may also book a complimentary Beach Ecology walk with the Inn’s Green Program Manager to learn about the Inn’s habitat restoration projects with the Maine Department of Conservation. The elegant Inn by the Sea is a luxury oceanfront property near Portland, Maine, that has 61 cottage style suites with full kitchens, dining and living space and furnished outdoor decks.
The Ritz Carlton has several promotions aimed at school-age kids, including:
- The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, Florida: The Junior Artisan Academy gives kids access to 20-30 minute hands-on classes such as mindful meditation sessions on the beach; lessons on growing vegetables and flowers; guided beach runs, lap swimming, bike riding or basketball in the tea garden, and cooking classes.
- The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Georgia: Ritz Kids Study Buddy program supplies tutors to oversee kids’ Zoom schooling. There’s also an arts tent opening in September where kids can make ceramics and play arcade and lawn games. Kids will also receive a tackle box filled with Play-Doh, cards, and school supplies based on age level.
- The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Florida, has the “Ecology Field Trip Package.” Developed in partnership with the prestigious Reef Institute in West Palm Beach, it is a five-day, four-night educational program that engages children in marine ecology and biology activities to learn about the barrier island that is home to the five-star resort. Children will explore native dunes and go kayaking to study complex water systems, sand dwellers and coastal biospheres. Kids can Zoom into classes from classrooms set up at the resort in a socially-distanced space with high speed wifi.
Work and learn from the Resort at Grande Lakes Orlando. The program at The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott, Orlando, includes a “Business Butler” to help with business needs, such as organizing a remote office location (poolside cabana, anyone?). A series of “distance learning” experiences for parents and kids include the chance to help the kitchen team make ice cream, learn about growing a sustainable garden and fly fishing.
The Family Staycation package at Eden Roc Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic includes unlimited Spanish lessons and piano lessons for kids when the family stays for 20-30 days.
The “Edu-Cation” package at Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, California, includes: luxury overnight accommodations in one room and the use of another room during the school and work day; one hour of K-12 on-demand online learning help from tutors at The Princeton Review; insider tour of the Ocean Institute; museum exhibit on the Origins of Surfing, curated by the Surf Heritage & Culture Center; ocean-inspired cultural enrichment programs; participation in world-wide student research project on Plastics and the Sea; complete menu of outdoor family activities options, ranging from surf lessons and SUP tours, to family fitness classes, electric bicycle tours, custom running & walking app, private beach club access, sparkling pools, and oceanfront golf; and $100 resort credit valid toward poolside cabana “classroom” or dining.
Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, is offering Spanish Baja Cultural Immersion. The weekly program, which starts at $250 per person for the week, allows families to immerse themselves in the Baja culture, people, traditions and local environment with customized private itineraries and Spanish language lessons. The week-long program includes three 90-minute Spanish classes, one Wellness Class (such as tennis or yoga with meditation) and an optional Cultural Exploration add-on experience such as swimming with whale sharks or snorkeling with sea lions in Baja’s Sea of Cortez.
Marriott Cancun Collection is offering “N.E.D Talks” (nature, education, and discovery), designed with elementary and middle school kids in mind. Highlights include piñata making classes, cooking lessons, decorating turtle eggs, mocktail classes (for measurement purposes), and more.
Altamer Resort in Anguilla has a Live, Work, Play and Learn package that starts at just $30,000 per week with a minimum 14-day stay. If you can stick around for a month or more, the rate is $110,000 per month. Hey! It includes continental breakfast each day!
But that’s not all! It also includes accommodations at Altamer’s palatial Antilles Pearl villa, with a nanny or tutor’s quarters; workstations arranged per request/upon booking (includes printing station, writing materials, landline/phone, high speed internet and other accommodations such as HDMI and monitor set up, upon request), private pool and beach access, one complimentary tennis lesson and one complimentary yoga session on the beach, a one-day private island charter and one private excursion of your choice.
Bring Your BFFs
If you can’t image being so far away from family for such a long time, gather up your Pandemic Pod and book the W Fort Lauderdale’s “Buy Four, Get The Floor” deal. Book four of the hotel’s two-bedroom residential suites and the hotel will block off the rest of the floor, ensuring zero distractions and full privacy for the entire team.
Are you planning to travel while you work and the kids learn remotely? Tell us about it in the comments below and we might add your experience to our post!