No matter where your child is in the college planning process, it can quickly take over your life.

And with spring break on the horizon, family vacation time may be given over to campus tours. Family vacations and campus touring don’t have to be mutually exclusive, however. If you strategize carefully, you can turn these college visits into memorable family trips.

Build Your Vacation Around a College’s Location

For California resident Amy McElroy, her older daughter’s interest in attending a New York City college offered the perfect opportunity to plan a family vacation. The city provided plenty of sightseeing and culture for everyone to enjoy, so they planned a seven-day excursion. During their visit, the family toured five schools — Pace, Columbia, Sarah Lawrence, Wagner and New York University — no small feat for a weeklong trip. But McElroy and her family balanced out the tours by taking in a few Broadway shows, spending time at museums and exploring Central Park.

“The trip absolutely helped our daughter fall in love with NYC,” says McElroy. Being in the city for an entire week rather than flying in and out strictly for campus tours helped give the McElroys a realistic sense of the city and made for a great family trip.

Plan Ahead

To pull off a trip that’s both functional and fun, some advance planning is in order. “Make sure you schedule all the [campus] tours way ahead of time,” says McElroy. “Some are hard to get into and others don’t offer tours on certain days or times.” College-visit consultant Janice Caine, of Brentwood, California’s Custom College Visits, recommends booking tours and campus visits at least 30 days in advance if you can.

After this critical part of the schedule is in place, you can begin to build the rest of your vacation. Katie Kubitskey, owner of the Louisville, Kentucky–based travel agency My World Travel, suggests researching and making a list of things to do in the area before you set off. That way, you have an easy reference of options while traveling instead of doing on-the-spot searching. McElroy advises, “Plan anything fun you absolutely want to do ahead of time, so you know you can fit that in too. If you’re counting on seeing a certain show or event, make sure you have tickets before you go.”

Caine adds that with the right planning, you don’t even need that much time to squeeze the vacation feel out of a college visit — even just a couple of available evenings will do the trick. Look for museums that stay open late, make dinner reservations at local restaurants and look into concerts or other events that correspond with your trip.

Be Realistic

As you create your family vacation plans, be mindful of what’s truly feasible to accomplish in a single day. “It’s best not to try to see more than one school per day, even if you can fit it in logistically,” says McElroy. “It’s too much to process and it’s exhausting. Mixing fun and a tour in a day — taking the opportunity to enjoy what’s around a school — gives you a much better sense of a school and an opportunity to digest it.” 

Build in the extra time for fun and relaxation to ensure there’s still a “vacation” component to your trip. “I’ve also worked with families that have chosen to break up college visits and, when driving from place to place, have stopped for a day to do some sightseeing or hiking in between,” Caine says.

Don’t Forget About Siblings

College visits are typically interesting for college-bound students and their parents, but the same can’t always be said for everyone in the family. Be sure to have a plan for what siblings, especially younger ones, will do during campus tours. “You might think about staying a bit farther away from the college campus and spending a night at a resort that would appeal to kids. It might take you a little longer to get to campus, but the kids will feel more like they’re on vacation,” suggests Caine.

Caine offers another idea as well. “Have the younger child bring a friend. That way they have company and the parents aren’t always tasked with entertaining them,” she says.

For McElroy, the solution was to lean on other family members during their New York City trip. “We were lucky to have some extended family and friends in town because our younger daughter wasn’t interested in seeing all of the schools,” she explains.

While touring campuses may not feel exactly like a week of sun and sand at the beach, follow these easy tips and your college trip can turn into an enjoyable vacation for the entire family.