Educational Family Trips: Planning Guide

From national parks to beach vacations, design an in-the-field learning experience the whole family will enjoy

Prisma Staff
February 2, 2023

Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community

One of the great perks of homeschooling is how it opens up the travel calendar, so that you’re not limited to planning trips during those popular slivers of time when every other family is hitting the road.

When you take your family somewhere new — or explore familiar places with a new lens — the opportunities for learning are everywhere: from major historical sites and breathtaking natural wonders to quieter eye-opening experiences, such as tasting a new food, navigating a new subway system or kayaking across a new body of water.

For kids who learn by doing, an educational family vacation might be just the thing to jump-start their interest in a subject that hasn’t quite gotten them leaping for joy. If a science textbook lulls them to sleep, try having them study an eco-system in real life: snorkeling face-to-face with fish, looking at a geyser up close at Yellowstone National Park, or taking a helicopter over the Grand Canyon. If history seems like a drag, watching it come to life in Colonial Williamsburg might inspire them to dig a little deeper.

At Prisma, educational travel is near and dear to our heart: Our families love it and so does our (fully remote!) staff. Taking advantage of our home-based, online set-up, we regularly incorporate educational trips into our curriculum, from our BioBlitz exploration of local flora, to our deep dive into the hidden histories that surround our learners.

Families also take advantage of the flexible schedule to design extended trips — sometimes with other members of the Prisma community — where kids do schoolwork, parents work from ‘home’, and in their free time, they take advantage of what their new surroundings have to offer.

Whether you’re looking for a family trip that’s structured or free-form, local or global, intensive or laid-back, here’s how we recommend approaching your next adventure.



Sometimes the earliest phases of a trip can be the most entertaining. Before you start booking flights and scheduling tours, give yourself time to dream: What’s on your bucket list?

When brainstorming vacation ideas as a family, focus on the kinds of activities and experiences that get you excited: nature, arts, history, urban planning, architecture, engineering, sports, food.

Start broad, and you’ll be more likely to find plenty of family friendly options, with something for everyone:

  1. A trip to Las Vegas puts you within striking distance of Utah, Colorado and Arizona, with opportunities to visit multiple national parks, the Hoover Dam, Native American reservations, and more.
  2. A trip to New York City offers art, science and history museums, world class dining, a climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty for exercise and a view, and even a little something for the naturalist who lets themselves get lost in the wonders of Central Park.
  3. A Southeastern vacation can give your astronaut-in-training plenty to do with the NASA museum in Alabama, followed by the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and put you within reach of Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
  4. A Washington D.C. area trip could let you take in the national monuments and museums like the Smithsonian, with Colonial Williamsburg and the nearby water parks and theme parks of Busch Gardens just a short drive away.

While you’re in the early stages, test the waters by experimenting with destinations closer to home. Day trips can help you figure out what kinds of activities excite your kids — and how much stamina they have — before you embark on a whirlwind tour.

Look for learning opportunities nearby: state parks often have free programs to teach about local ecosystems and get them involved in conservation efforts; many offer junior ranger badges to help get kids engaged.

Plan (with an open-mind)

Once you have a general destination in mind, hone in on the kind of trip you want to have. Family travel can mean anything from a non-stop, action-packed adventure, to a work/study-cation in a beautiful new home-base, with a stable weekly routine and lots of weekend road trips.

Get every member of the family involved in this phase, and you’ll be clear on your expectations up front. As a parent, know what you consider learning, and then ask your kids set their own goals and objectives for the trip.

This might mean stepping back from traditional measures of learning, like pages read or worksheets completed. Maybe if you’re in a foreign country, a goal is to use the language a few times a day (or more!). Maybe if you’re on public transportation, a goal is to plot the most direct route between two attractions.

Planning itself can be a great lesson for kids, helping them build executive functioning and communication skills: give them a budget and have them schedule a full day, researching and reserving restaurants, transport and attractions. Set your parameters, then let them choose the kinds of activities they want to do, whether it’s planning a mountain bike route, scheduling a horseback riding adventure, or attending the opera or a sporting event.  

As you develop a plan, we recommend hitting a balance between more structured activities (reservations for top attractions / must-sees) and time for free exploration and play. This kind of much-needed downtime can ease friction — and leave space for the most exciting learning.

In addition to the more hands-on research of planning a trip, use the planning phase to get creative: read books, listen to podcasts, find news stories, anything to drop yourself into the world you’re about to enter. While you research, keep a list of questions that you might hope to answer during your time there to get the most out of the experience.

Reflect (with others)

One of the great joys of travel is remembering it — and sharing those experiences with others. Build reflection into the trip, whether it’s individual journaling, photography/videography or an evening family check in where everyone shares their highlights: What did you learn? What are you still curious about? What are you inspired by?

After your return, you can use the experience to create a memento as a project: an annotated photo album, a display of their memorabilia, a Minecraft or Lego representation of their favorite scene, or a travelogue. An interactive project, like creating your own visitor center, can be a great way for your kids to put themselves in the perspective of a new traveler and figure out how to help introduce them to the area.

The culminating part of any trip is when you share it with others: at Prisma we like to tie together these in-the-field experiences with sharing opportunities for learners to compare, contrast and generally celebrate their travels.

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