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Traveling Abroad With Students: Tips and Tricks

Updated on June 13, 2014
Chateau-Frontenac in Quebec City
Chateau-Frontenac in Quebec City

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Deciding on a Tour

Unless you get a huge high out of making a thousand tiny decisions and potentially having many dissatisfied customers, I would highly recommend that you not plan the tour yourself. There are plenty of reputable companies out there that are doing a great job of planning trips. Sure, no trips are perfect, but neither would one planned by a teacher themselves. The price is a bit higher, of course, that a trip one might plan themselves, but not so much higher to make it worth the work.

waterfalls outside of Quebec City
waterfalls outside of Quebec City

If You Choose a Tour Company, You (Usually) Get...

  • a personal website where you can keep track of sign-ups and other tour details. There is also a website that is specifically designed for our tour that students can look up that has details regarding itinerary, prices, dates, etc.
  • an orientation tour. What this means is that I will be going to NYC in January to get first hand experience of what a tour looks like. Can you say sweet?!
  • your tour covered (not counting spending money, lunches, etc.) with 6 full-price paying travelers. Most tour companies do 6 students but for some it is 10 enrolled travelers.
  • a discount for family members to travel with you. However, at least with the tour company I am traveling with, anyone who receives a discount does not count as an additional numbers toward the 6 or 12 or 18 you need to have a person travel for free.

Informational Meeting

After you've done your fair amount of marketing (via word of mouth, emails, posters from the company, etc., you'll have The Big Night! At our school, you have to fill out an official building permit request, so you may want to check and see if that is what you need to do at your school.

The night of the event, put signs up at certain places in the building to help direct people to your classroom, even if you think it is easy to find.

Have a sign-in sheet with student name/parent name/parent email at the door along with a bowl of hard candies. I liked the hard candies because it was something thoughtful without requiring too much work on my end.

Think about a good meeting time. I would suggest 6:30pm or 7pm. Of course, there are inevitably those parents who won't be able to make it either way.

Set realistic expectations. You won't have 20 kids go home and sign up that night, but you might have 2, which is a great start!

First Group Meeting

You'll have to consider the time frame of your trip when you are thinking about planning your first trip meeting. A teacher friend of mine and I had our trip meetings in the same month, but because her trip was on a two year schedule and mine was only on a one year schedule (i.e. sign up in September travel in June) than my first group meeting was sooner after the informational meeting than her's.

Items you'll want to have on hand for the meeting:

1. an agenda - one for them and one for you with more details so you won't forget

2. emergency contact list - Get the cell phone numbers for parents and students to take with you when you travel.

3. OTC medication form - It gives you permission to give the students a variety of medicine should they need it for your average traveling ailments: advil, tums, etc. signed by the parents.

4. Passport applications and other similar forms - all the kids will want one unless they already have a passport.

5. A list of FAQ - like reminding the students that this is not a vacation where we sleep in every morning, or going over what students might need like shots, paperwork, electricity converters, etc.

Fundraising

Some ideas for Fundraising (and what I thought if we did it):

1. Our city (and I imagine most major cities) has a company that prepares books of coupons. We get the books on consignment which we sell for $20 each. At the end of the fundraiser we pay $10 for each book or return the books. It is a great deal because it is almost no risk but pretty high reward. I had one student raise $170 plus he received a $25 gift card for being the top seller.

2. We worked concessions at a local college sports event. This was fun for the students but required a high amount of man-power for little reward. Not sure if I would do this again.

3. My friend does a garage sale with her group. We might do this if we have some time next spring.

4. At our school, a club does offer "windshield insurance" during the winter. The teachers pay $20 for November through March or $5/month to have a student go and clean off their car from ice or snow should it occur during a snow day. I love this idea! Of course, you'd have to live where there is snow but this is a great service-based idea that provides pretty good reward for the labor.

5. A friend I met at the orientation weekend gave me a cute idea. They hold a cookie walk. The way that they do it is that they have a bunch of people make a bunch of cookies. Then you invite a people to the school and have them choose from all the cookies. You give people boxes to take them home in and you weigh the box at the end. She charged $6/pound.

6. There is always the selling of items: cookie dough, pizza, wrapping paper, etc.

7. We've been having a lot of clubs do sponsor nights at local restaurants. For example, you get a local popular place, like Chipotle, to do a night where 10% of the sales are given to your club for anyone who comes in and mentions your group name.

Olympic tower in Montreal, Canada
Olympic tower in Montreal, Canada

Items For Pre-Departure Meeting

Musts

  • Items provided by the company (back packs, luggage tags, etc.)
  • Agendas
  • Travel Itinerary/Flight Information
  • Packing List
  • Behavior Agreements

Optional

  • Get-to-Know-You Questionnaires
  • Thank you cards for tour guides and bus drivers

Pre-Departure

You'll want to make sure and plan a pre-departure meeting about a month before your anticipated departure date. By this time, you should have air or bus arrangements, in addition to a planned itinerary for the trip which are both good things to go over at the meeting. I also had students sign a behavior contract. This is an especially good idea if you have students traveling with you who you don't know very well or were never in your class since you might not know what to expect from them (of course, I wouldn't take any student without a teacher recommendation from a teacher I trusted). I also had students/parents double check emergency contact information. If going abroad, your tour company may also require students to have a notified permission slip stating that their parents have allowed them to travel into the country. We had these but never needed them during the trip. Lastly, at our pre-departure meeting, I had students fill out a little get to know you questionnaire that included questions such as "Do I hit snooze when my alarm goes off or do I wake up right away?" and "Am I usually on time or late?"

I had the meeting off-campus, at a local eatery in their conference room, just for a fun change of pace but it wouldn't be necessary to do so. If you are doing a trip that is longer between sign up and departure (2 years for example) then you may want to plan a 2nd pre-departure meeting some time a few months ahead of the departure date to remind families of various items like getting passports and travel expectations.

Of course, you will want to keep track of how students are doing as far as paying toward their trip, and consider any add-ons that the company may provide. Also, you will have things to do like arrange student rooms, put together a med-kit (feminine products, advil, sun screen are musts), get thank you notes for your tour guide and bus driver (I had students sign these at our pre-departure meeting and you'll have to collect extra tip money from the students if it isn't provided by your tour company), make copies of passports and arrange to have this information with you at all times, etc.

Another thing I would suggest is checking in for your flight ahead of time. We flew with an airline that would not let us check our bags at the desk but required us to check them in electronically so we ended up going to the self check-in computer about three times before we got checked in for our flight. You'll have to check your individual airline policy about this one but the airline we were traveling with allowed each person to check in and pay for a checked bag separately which would make it easier for you, the group leader.

During the Trip

If you planned well, and went with a travel company, it should be pretty smooth sailing from here. The larger your group size, the more planning you will have to do to ensure that smoothness. With just 6 students, for example, it is fairly easy to keep track of everyone. However, with 30, it will require more division of labor which is a bit more stressful. 6-1 is a good counting ratio, so I would suggest making sure each 6 travelers is assigned to one specific group leader. That way, instead of counting 30, you just check with the other 4 group leaders who have already checked to make sure their 6 are present (or however the numbers would work out with your group). You'll be doing a lot of counting heads as you go.

If you went with a travel company, the most work you will be doing is counting heads, since the tour guide arranges and organizes everything else. This was a great relief to me and really allowed me to also enjoy the trip. Occasionally you may have students who don't fit in with the rest of the crowd in which case you'll want to do some thoughtful maneuvering whenever students need to be in groups or whenever they seem a bit lonely.

If you are doing an international trip, it is likely you will not be provided with overnight security. Therefore, you may have to be the one (or again, division of labor!) to get up to check and make sure students are in their rooms. I have not found students out of their rooms more than 5 minutes too late so I don't envy the teacher who finds kids out at 1am - hope that isn't you! My students really wanted to use the pool when they got back to the hotel at night so I set our curfew time as in-rooms at 10:30pm, but it depends on you. I told students they had to be in their rooms but not quiet, which also depends on you.

Most of the rest is common sense I think, which I'm sure you have as an educated professional.We have a great time on trips! with the biggest problem being someone left their shoes at one of the hotels.Hope these suggestions help you prepare and have a wonderful adventure!

I would love to hear some more suggestions from travel veterans!

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