22 February 2015

Recruiting for your trip

So you've got your tour all set up.  It's been approved by whomever needed to approve it and now you need to recruit. What should you do?

ADVERTISE! 

Advertise your upcoming tour around your school, through school announcements, on the school website, through a message sent home to parents and of course, in your classroom! Let everyone who might be eligible know that you are leading a tour and set a meeting date. Initial meetings should be held at a time when parents can attend, since it is ultimately up to them if their child will be allowed to travel.  Students of course are welcome but parents are the decision makers.  

Once you've advertised and you've set a date, you should put together an agenda.  Your organization will speak volumes about how you will be as a tour leader.  Remember that you are asking parents to trust you with their most precious possessions. If you seem nervous or poorly organized, they might be hesitant to let their child participate.

Here's what I would include in my agenda:

I. Introduction -- Introduce yourself, giving any pertinent professional information like how many years you have been teaching and how your supervisory skills are.  Tell parents who the chaperones will be (if you know) as well.  If they are in attendance, a brief introduction would be appropriate.

II.  The tour - If you like, you can put together something very easily using PowerPoint or other presentational software to show pictures of the places you plan to visit.  Go over the itinerary with them in some detail.  What will you be doing there? What will you see?

Next, I would go over what a typical day on tour might be like.  In my experience, we usually wake early and are out early on guided sightseeing tours.  From lunch to dinner time, is free time.  How will you structure your free time? Will you allow students to go off on their own and meet back at an agreed meeting spot or will you structure even the ¨free¨ time?  I personally prefer to break up into small, pre-assigned groups led by one of the chaperones.  Within these smaller groups, you will decide where to have lunch and what they would like to do : shop or take in some more sights or both.  Then all smaller groups meet up at a designated meeting point to go on to dinner where they can all discuss what they did during their free time.  I prefer pre-assigned groups to avoid confusion as to who is with who today. Another great way to make sure you have everyone is to assign everyone a number and have them count off each time you all get back together as a large group and before you move on to your next stops.

III.  What is included? Let parents and students know exactly what is included in the tour price.  Usually, tour price will cover airfare, hotels, some meals, admission to some museums, guided sightseeing, transportation within the country of travel and a tour director.  Some typically non-included costs are: tips, transportation to/from airport, some meals, passport fees, insurance and souvenirs.  Once you've covered this, you can tell them the pricing.  There are usually payment options available.  Check with your tour operator for their payment options.  I do like to plan about 2 years in advance so that the payments seem more manageable.

Here is also a good place to let parents know about currency exchange rates, how much you recommend per day for spending money, if you will arrange for transportation to/from airport (your best bet to make sure for a smooth check-in at airport), when/if you plan to collect tip money ahead of time (highly recommended).

IV.  Passports 
For all foreign travel, students will need a current passport.  Check with the country where you plan to travel.  Many countries require that passports be valid for up to 6 or 7 months after you return.  Passports can generally be obtained through your local post office and can take up to 8 weeks to process.  If a student is under 16, both parents are required to be at the post office at the time of application and their passport will be valid only 5 years.  After 16, passports are valid for 10 years.  For more passport info, click here.

V.  Miscellaneous
Here you might want to discuss school rules regarding the trip.  I have students and parents sign a behavior contract so that they know what type of behavior is expected and what consequences there can be if they do not adhere to rules.  

VI.  Question/ Answer
Ask parents if they have any questions about anything they have seen/heard.  Answer the best you can.  If you don't have an answer, ask for contact information and tell them you will be in touch with answer.  Offer your professional contact information because many will think of questions afterwards.  Remember, this is a huge decision for many and knowing that you are available will ease their minds.

Good luck with your recruiting! I'll be back to talk about other important travel topics like choosing your chaperones, how to handle the enormous responsibility, customized vs. book tours and more! Stay tuned!

So you want to travel with students...

So you want to travel with students... 

Leading a student tour to a foreign country can be exciting and rewarding, if you do it right. It will require enormous responsibility. It will be very demanding and can be exhausting but all the positives for me outweigh the negatives. 

Where to begin?

The very first thing you should do before even contacting a tour operator or even looking at catalogues is to know all of your school's policies regarding these types of trips.  Some schools have very strict rules about who is allowed to lead a tour, how a trip is to be approved, when you are permitted to travel and even down to who the chaperones are allowed to be.  If you are the first to ever propose a trip of this nature, I would consult your administration and ask how you would go about setting a policy together.  If anyone has done trips like these in your district, reach out to them and pick their brains.  They might be able to give you feedback that will either encourage you to go ahead with your plans or not.

If you should need board approval or administrative approval, my recommendation is to gather all of your materials before approaching them.  So where to begin?

If colleagues have led tours before, ask them what tour company they use.  This will be great for consistency within your school district.  If you are starting from scratch, consult some of the following tour companies:

EF Tours - They are probably one of the most used travel operators for students and can offer a great value for your money.

Explorica - A little less popular that EF but usually of similar quality and offering similar pricing.

ACIS - A large tour operator for students that retain they offer exceptional tours.  For my groups, they have consistently been on the pricey side.

WorldStrides  I think they were formerly NETC Travel.  I did travel with them once. A good overall tour but a bit pricey.

These are just a few of the companies that I have had some contact with or have traveled with. My suggestion is to start here and see what they offer and then price out your tours.  If price is an issue for your group, your choice of company might be more obvious.  Know that all of these companies are very reputable and you should not think that a cheaper tour will be terrible.  Yes, it can be that you get what you pay for but know what you are paying for.

Price differences

Some tour operators are able to offer better pricing because they are offering a basic meal plan or have hotels that are not centrally located. Others have higher prices because they offer only centrally located hotels and offer different experiences that a basic tour might not like a cooking class.  Always ask the tour companies exactly what their tour includes and does not include.  Try to compare apples to apples as best you can because once the tour differs greatly, so will the price differential.

Hotel choices and meal plans

Usually, the base price of a tour will include hotels that can be a good distance from all the action of a city center.  This can be very cost efficient for those on a tight budget.  These hotels can often even be a bit better quality than those that are centrally located.  I have done both types of hotels and my preference is to pay a bit more and stay central.  My reasoning for this is that when you are 45 minutes from the city center, you won't be motivated to take an evening stroll to show your students something different.  This can also mean that students will be looking for something to do for the few hours after dinner and before light out. I have seen other groups of students who ride the elevators for fun, play ring and run with other rooms and can be downright disruptive to other hotel guests just because they have nothing better to do.  I like to keep my students busy and turn in tired. 

As far as meal plans go, the basic meal plans can be just fine.  If you are looking for fine dining or very traditional meals, you probably won't encounter them with this meal plan. Many countries will serve what they think Americans eat, which can be less than exciting.  I remember bringing my first group to Italy and our first dinner was chicken cutlets and french fries! Really?? We're in one of the gastronomic powerhouses of the world and that's our meal?! Typically, with a basic meal plan, most of your meals will be in your hotel.  However, you can also request upgraded meals.  The upgraded meals, to me, are worth it, although can still be lacking.  Save your adventurous spirit for lunch and go to town! 

Whatever your choice, your trip will be an amazing, life-changing experience! If money is tight for many, basic may be the way to go.  The fact that your students are in Italy or wherever will be enough to give them an unforgettable experience.  If you feel that you want the centrally located hotels and upgraded meals, then you can always think about fundraising!

After you've got your approval and have gotten your tour picked out, next step is to recruit!