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.
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!