How to plan your first student tour
One of our favorite things about our jobs is student travel. It’s the ultimate hands-on, learning-in-practice, chemistry-labs-ain’t-got-nothing-on-this, learning experience for our kids. It’s what we most look forward to every year, except for that transition between first and second semester when you have to get grades in and start a new term with nothing but Saturday and Sunday off.
Our trips even shape some of our curriculum, makes our structured input more exciting, and connects all of our students...even those who don’t go, to the anticipation of experiencing culture first hand. In fact, a bunch of the kids who are going on this year’s trip showed up in some imperativo structured input, and the ENTIRE class was engaged in what they would say to each other, if it were a true scenario, and who would tell who to get up first. They clearly don’t know me that well. I’m up before five everyday. But that’s not the point...the point is they were connected.
I love that.
Almost as much as I love traveling, and almost as much as I love watching my “travel partners” go from being tourists into travelers. In all honesty, our first tour together turned out super successful, but we definitely stumbled along the way, more so before leaving than while we were on tour. However, lucky you, you get to learn from our mistakes! This is what we learned and what we began to implement as we planned our next five tours...and counting!
Get some feedback
Scope out tour companies and the tours themselves. We all start to get those recruitment calls around November, to see if we would like to travel with one of the million tour companies out there. We have traveled with a few different companies and mostly settled on EF Tours, thanks, in large part, for wanting to keep our same tour director on subsequent return trips to Spain, but, no matter where we've been, we've been happy. You may find that after you establish with a company, staying with them has it’s advantages, but each and every company has their “strong point” or what they do really well. You’ll find some of our Pros and Cons here.
Get more feedback -- from the people who matter most
This is the feedback that you need from the most important group: your potential travelers. Before you solicit their help, narrow your tours down to your top two or three, considering locations, days abroad and price. Central American tours are generally the cheapest. European itineraries are more expensive, and the South American tours go from “most expensive” to “break the bank”. Get students in your class to vote, to give feedback, to debate “which trip is better”, etc, to give them some ownership over your tour choices. Then, you can make the final decision, and present it to families.
Which tours to pick?
In order to narrow it down for the kids, think about a few places where YOU want to go. We always go for “culture heavy” tours, where we get immersed in the culture, like we did in Cuba, or where the kids get to discover a lot of different places, like our Spain tours. The best is when they see things that are extremely different from what they know, like we found on our recent Peru tour. If there are other travel programs at your school, you may want to consider doing something completely different. Three different trips to Europe from three different teachers doesn’t give the kids a lot of variety. Also, talk to your tour consultant. If they say that a certain tour isn't very successful, maybe there's a reason. This is also a good reason to engage different companies. On our Cuba tour, we went with a company that had more experience there, which probably contributes to a more successful experience.
Know your support
Our district does not support student travel of this kind, so, from the very beginning, we are careful to repeat ourselves ad nauseum that we are not hosting a district nor school affiliated tour. On the other hand, some of our neighboring schools have full support of their administrative team. We’ve even met teachers who HAVE to travel as part of their professional responsibilities. Talk to your principal, assistant principal, department chair, etc and get a feel for what the situation is at your site.
Before booking your tour, make some decisions as to who you’d bring with you as another chaperone, who will help you get the word out, and how big you’d like to see your group be. There is definitely a difference in traveling with a small group of 15 and a large group that fills a bus! The chaperone that you bring will be your biggest support while you are on tour. So, be sure it is someone who “gets kids”. If someone is sick, one of you has to stay back. When you have that inevitable “what should I do moment”, you want a great sounding board. We always travel together, but as our additional chaperones, we keep those friends close. We prefer to have teachers be our wing man, whenever possible.
One of our tour consultants gave us the great idea to send invitations to students to invite them to the meeting. The more personal (their name on it) the better. First, make a choice: Is the trip open to ALL students? Do you want to know them first? Should they only be Spanish students? You decide….then get some of your colleagues to help you hand those out, or have them distributed during a common period. Your tour consultant may even be willing to mail them home if you can get them a spreadsheet of addresses!
Host a meeting
Choose a location to host a meeting and present the trip to parents and students. We have always been sent a Power Point presentation that details the tour, or you can create one on your own. Be sure you have a handle on ALL aspects of the tour, or at least as many as possible. Detail for the parents the extra fees that are outside the tour cost (tips, baggage fees, meals), passport requirements, visas, fundraising opportunities, etc. Then encourage families to sign up quickly by posting a deadline to do so.
Talk it up -- then talk it up some more
Send emails to families to remind them of deadlines and to be sure that they have every opportunity to keep payments low, for kids to work over the summer, etc. Add some fun tidbits about your destination in class, so the kids can get familiar with the culture. We even had a debate in class about where we should go on our next tour: Ecuador, Spain or the Dominican Republic. I was mentally set on Ecuador, but La República Dominicana has now, because of their debate, earned a place on my ever-growing bucket list.
If you have a teacher-y Instagram or social media account, post information, teaser photos, or Wanderlust Wednesday posts to get your kids’ attention.
This is so, SO important: go on the training tour. Not only is it one of the more fun weekends that an adult can have, but you will be experiencing a tour for yourself. I distinctly remember hearing teachers complain about being tired, about walking too much, about the long days...things that completely surprised me, of course but that are also things that I heard the kids complain about on tour, so I was better prepared to handle that, and to prep them for what they should expect. Speaking of…
Prep your group
This is one of the things that I am so thankful we did...starting with our second tour. We warned our group to start their immune boosting regime early, since everyone gets sick (cough, cold, etc). Host a meeting with just the kids to get them excited. It’s the perfect forum to show them some of the things that they may see. For example, we were sure to expose them to pictures of the market in cusco, where pigs have heads on, and chickens are whole and hung by their feet. We also discussed the “tourist” way to respond to those images and the “traveler” way to respond. Talk to them about their impact on the whole group if they are late, crabby, don’t sleep, cause drama, etc. You get the idea. All of that pre-prep makes for a much smoother trip overseas.
So...what are you waiting for? This promises to be such a renewing experience for you and an unforgettable, character building one for your students! We are headed to Costa Rica and Panama this year...where are you going to go? Comment below!
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