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girl looking out at hillsA growing number of American families with school-age children are turning their wanderlust into reality, reports a recent New York Times article. Increasingly, more and more parents are willing to exchange violin lessons and soccer practices for a chance to dig for sapphires in New Zealand or learn about land mines in Laos.

Planning a route, however, can be daunting. Should you take the smorgasbord approach, spending a little time in a lot of places, or opt for longer stays in fewer locales, thereby gaining a deeper knowledge of a given place, the article poses. Both have their advantages, and it mainly comes down to what everyone wants to get out of the experience.

Planning ahead and keeping an eye on the dollars are essential

For Lisa and Jeff Holmstead of Gaithersburg, MD, the original concept was to take their four children (ages 15, 12, 9 and 6) around the world for a year, dividing their time among four countries. “We wanted to be in places where the people spoke English for the most part,” Mrs. Holmstead told The Times. “Our children wanted to go to New Zealand because of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies, and our son does Irish fiddling, so we put Ireland on the itinerary.” But after giving it some thought, they decided to go for a more diverse itinerary, and added Greece, India, Nepal, Thailand, Bali, Australia, Hong Kong and Mexico to the list.

To afford the year away, the Holmsteads came up with a workable strategy: they rented out their house, sold their cars, set up health and travel insurance, researched home-schooling programs and met with a travel nurse to get appropriate vaccinations. They designed the trip on their own, booked all their flights in advance through Air Treks, and used the Lonely Planet guidebooks for food and hotel advice, which they booked as they went along. The price tag for their trip? Roughly $140,000, which included everything—flights, food, lodging, entertainment, insurance and souvenirs.

Alternatively, before leaving on their trip with their two daughters (ages 9 and 6), John and Sandy Bagan of Boise, ID, booked their flights through the Star Alliance airline program, using its Round the World Fare, the article explains. The Bagans chose business-class tickets for $8,000 each (children under 12 get a 25% discount), rather than coach tickets for $5,500 because the higher fares enabled them to make up to 15 stopovers and cover up to 34,000 miles; they planned their route based on the destinations included in the program.

A year of family travel works best when kids are between 9 and 12

This seems to be the ideal age range, when children are old enough to appreciate what they’ll see, young enough to get their schooling on the road, and are still willing to engage in family time. “Once kids have made that transition from parents to peers being the most important people in their lives, there is resentment about being pulled away from a peer group and activities,” said David Elliot Cohen, author of “One Year Off: Leaving It All Behind for a Round-the-World Journey With Our Children.”

Though challenging to educate kids while living out of hotel rooms, it can be done.

The Bagan family enrolled in a public charter school program and used home-school materials from K12, a technology-based educational company that provides entire school curriculums, The Times reports. They were assigned a local teacher in Idaho who helped them plan curriculums for their kindergartner and third grader.

Other popular home-schooling programs are Saxon and Singapore (for math instruction). And don’t forget, the journey itself can provide much of the basis for learning. Kids can keep daily journals, research the history and culture of countries they visit, and write essays on the subjects they encounter, such as Egyptian pharaohs, Greek mythology and Roman history. Home-schooling requirements vary from state to state, and if you’re considering an extended family trip, it’s wise to check with your state’s department of education.

Even on a yearlong trip, you may not get to all the places you want to see. And inevitably, there will be numerous ups and downs along the way. But one thing seems certain: the family that travels together is guaranteed to become closer. Without the distraction of sports, school and the mall, who knows what kind of fascinating experiences and discussions will take place. That in itself is worth the trip.

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