COMMENT:

My middle child, aged 12, just brought home a letter about his school ski trip in 2020 – it's to Maine, and will set us back to the tune of NZ$2,280. No chance.

Ah, January. The beginning of 12 months of paying instalments towards your child's annual school trip.

Yes, I breathed a sigh of relief when my son said he didn't want to leave our UK home to go to Maine in the US. I'd made it clear we'd make it work if he did, because that's what parents do. We make sacrifices, happily, so our kids can seize all the opportunities that come their way.

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That's why I didn't balk when my son brought that letter home. I'm a long way from being able to write a cheque to pay for the trip in full, which I imagine many of his peers' parents can do. But I was totally prepared to stump up the hefty deposit and commit to a year of forking out $140 each month to get my kid on that plane to Maine.

But why?

As a freelance journalist, I'm in the fortunate position of being able to take on more work when needs must - in theory. But I'm also in the unfortunate position of never knowing if there'll be a pay cheque next month, never mind where it might come from.

Still, had my child set his heart on joining the school ski trip, it would have brought me nothing but pleasure to rise to the challenge of making the necessary extra few dollars each month.

But a friend thinks it's absurd that parents even contemplate handing over that kind of cash for what she calls "exorbitant" school trips.

What if he hates it?

"What if he hates it? What if he gets homesick? What if he breaks a leg? What if his friendships change over the next year and he ends up sharing a room with kids he doesn't even like 2,700 miles away from home?"

On a more practical level, what if they'd just gone somewhere closer, for a fraction of the price?

I had answers for all of that, except the mileage bit. Nearly 4500km is a long way to let your kid go without you, especially for their first proper trip away from home.

For balance, I asked around to see if I was alone in being prepared to drop over a grand on a school trip.

"Much better to put the money towards a family holiday," said one friend.

"My husband did his first ski trip aged 11 with his school and skiing became his favourite sport, his happy place, and the way he earned a living for a while," said another.

Yikes.

Expensive trips leave too many kids out

"What I hate about expensive non-educational school trips is the fact that so many kids are left out because their parents can't afford it," said another friend. "There's a huge level of poverty in my town, so the idea of some families blowing that much money on a non-essential trip while others have nothing but the clothes they're standing up in makes me want to set fire to things."

Fair point, well made.

When I was 11, I went on a school trip, via coach, to Cologne. It involved a tour of the cathedral and a boat ride down the Rhine, but little else. The sixth formers tormented me for refusing to help them open their contraband wine by lending them the souvenir bottle opener I'd bought my dad. That's all I really remember of the trip, aside from getting bubblegum stuck in my hair and having my teacher cut it out. I've no idea what my parents paid for that trip but if it was anything north of a hundred quid, they were robbed.

Extravagant school trips also seem to bring out FOMO (fear of missing out) in many parents. A friend refused to let her teen go to Disneyland Paris with his school because she'd always wanted to take her family there. She wasn't prepared to hand over a wad of cash so some disinterested teacher could see her child's face when he clapped eyes on the Magical Kingdom for the first time.

That same friend reckons our family of five could go skiing much closer to home for about the same price – a challenge I am prepared to accept. I'll let you know if I succeed.

In the end, whether it's absurd to spend so much money on a school trip became a moot point in our house. My son isn't fussed about this one, but I suspect that'll change in years to come.

But my position will remain the same; if an opportunity comes his way that he's keen to take advantage of, I'll gladly do whatever it takes to make it happen for him. Even if it means spending money I don't technically have.

This article was first published on the Daily Telegraph UK.
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