Lindsay Dollinger, Buckeye Chapter AATSP President
Spanish Teacher, Jonathan Alder High School
I am 10 days from leading my fifth student trip overseas, this time back to Spain with a group of 20 eager, anxious, and seemingly prepared students. Often colleagues and others, when they find out I’m traveling with students, make remarks like, “Wow you’re brave!” or “I would never do that.” But, with some preparation and organization (and a little faith), you can! Briefly I wanted to share some of my tips for organizing and executing a successful trip abroad with students.
1.Start planning early! I usually start planning in fall 2017 for a summer 2019 trip. This allows for time for board approval and plenty of time for students to make payments. First, decide if you’re going with an established travel company or planning on your own (I recommend using a company at least your first couple trips). What kind of experience do you want–a tour of a specific country or multiple countries? Do you want to focus your stay on one city/theme or do you want to get a variety of experiences? Are you going for language immersion, culture, art, or all three? Are your students going to stay in homestays or hotels? Do you want to pay extra for a private bus or share with student groups from all over? These are all questions a reputable tour company representative can help you with, as can other colleagues who have traveled in the past.
2.Do your research! Once you’ve talked to your tour company, you don’t have to decide right then which tour you want, or even to go with that company. Look around and call a few companies. See who you “mesh” well with because ultimately, you need to be comfortable with the company. Also, you need to know that they are going to meet the expectations you set for them since you are essentially representing them to the parents and students who are traveling with you. In addition, research the tours and what is included. Sure, one company’s tours might be cheaper, but is the quality the same? Ask for a list of sample hotels and restaurants/menus. Clarify what entrances are included and which things you “visit” but only from the outside. This makes a huge difference in the quality of a tour.
3.Host more than one informational meeting, and hype the tour! Make announcements; posters; send home invitations to your meetings; and announce it in your classroom. Show pictures of the places you’re visiting, especially if you have been there personally and can add a story to the picture. Ask your tour company to help you prepare for the meeting and have plenty of handouts on hand for everyone who may come. Practice your presentation beforehand, and anticipate questions. Everyone wants to know what the cancellation policy is, what fundraisers you will offer, the cost (save this until the end), and how you are going to keep their child safe. Know your company and school policy on safety. Have you thought about if you will allow parents abroad with your group or not? Go into the meeting with the answers to these questions.
4.Be transparent! From the recruitment meeting to the departure meeting, be transparent with the parents and travelers. Let them know your expectations. Set deadlines for students to show proof that their passports ordered. And, be sure to follow up when you haven’t seen proof–this just happened to me!. If you tell your group something will happen by a deadline (for example, we will know our hotels by March 1), and there is a delay, send them an email and let them know. This helps build trust in your group and makes those nervous families a little less nervous.
5.Be organized! Get a folder when you start planning and keep everything in it. For the tour itself, have copies of everyone’s passports, insurance cards, medical profiles, allergy lists, etc. I have a Code of Conduct and a Prohibiting Alcohol form that parents and travelers all sign as well.
6.Be flexible! We all have this expectation of the perfect trip, but things happen. Transportation strikes happen all the time. Traffic jams change reservation times. Weather strikes. Kids lose items (hopefully not passports). People are picky eaters. Someone has to go to the bathroom right now even though they didn’t use the free public one you passed thirty minutes ago. Go into your tour with a positive attitude, and you will get so much more out of your experience.
7.Have a fabulous time! The main reason I take trips every summer with students is I love seeing their faces as they are experiencing a new culture for the first time. I love seeing them laugh at themselves when they try to ask for a napkin but get handed a beer instead. Those kids you take with you into the new country are not the same ones you bring home. They are more mature, more cultured, more independent, more appreciative. And while there may be hiccups and lots of work for you, it’s worth it tenfold.
Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about student travel! I’d be more than happy to help. ¡Buen viaje!
Jonathan Alder High School students in Segovia, July 2016