Where to Begin?
Travel is a transformative experience, and the unique learning opportunities offered by educational travel can inspire young minds and last a lifetime. But anyone who has traveled with students will tell you one very important fact: The devil is in the details. Knowing that you’ll want to find a travel company that will consider everything—even things you don’t realize you need. You’ll also want to choose a company that will make it easy for you—in the planning stage, during your trip, and even afterward—so that you can continue to focus on your classroom instruction. All educational travel companies are not created equal, but there are sure-fire ways to determine which ones are the best. In evaluating educational travel companies, be sure to ask the following questions.
How long and what kind of experience does this organization have in the student travel industry?
There is no way we can be experts in all areas of life, and we certainly can’t be everywhere at all times. Every day we rely on specialists for advice and guidance, and choosing to travel with students should be no different. Coordinating vendors, booking hotels, and securing travel arrangements involves a lot of moving parts, so choose a company that will take care of all of these aspects.
Working with an experienced educational travel company is crucial for the success of your trip and allows that organization to utilize its network of resources while you focus on what’s important: educating your students. The best educational travel providers will help you prepare and customize your program so that all you have to do is show up and execute your plan. These providers also have long-standing relationships with vendors that make securing and handling travel arrangements easy. Avoid a logistical nightmare, and be sure to choose a company who has documented experience with taking students on tour.
It’s also helpful to ask the company for references from teachers who have traveled with them previously. These teachers have been in your shoes and likely had some of the same questions you did. Their experiences will help give you an idea of what to expect from the company. And, like any other good research, it’s also beneficial to check out independent reviews to get balanced input.
What systems are in place to prevent incidents from occurring and to mitigate ones outside anyone’s control— when they inevitably happen?
As teachers, mothers, and fathers, we know that accidents happen. Certainly new experiences like travel involve unexpected changes, and you should be wary of any travel organization that tells you otherwise. I am very proud of the safety and security innovations that WorldStrides has put in place in the nearly 50 years we’ve been in the educational travel industry. A quality educational travel company has the following features:
- A well-defined system that helps prevent mishaps in the first place. This structure should include things like overnight support, important phone numbers on name tags for students to wear throughout the duration of their trip, and the use of reputable vendors who have your students’ best interests at heart.
- Access to trained support if issues arise while on tour. Be sure there is a direct line to a representative at a central office staffed 24/7 with company employees—not a third party. I also recommend having the ability to reach an experienced on-staff physician should a medical emergency occur.
- Comprehensive liability insurance coverage that allows the school to be named as an insured party. Also, per the National School Board Association, many tour companies are increasing their coverage amount. WorldStrides proudly maintains both an industry-leading $40 million policy and allows schools to be named as insured.
While it may be unlikely that you’ll need to utilize all of these resources during a single program, the availability will give you peace of mind to rest easy and focus on your students’ experience while you’re traveling.
Who is with me while I’m on tour?
Having help as you prepare for your trip is essential, and that support should continue while you’re traveling. Select a company that will be with you every step of the way. Ensure you have access to both an emergency call center and to someone on-site for more immediate needs (e.g., getting your bags at the airport, last-minute changes to room assignments, a run to the pharmacy to grab a prescription for an ill student, or help locating the breakfast location so you can corral your 40 students).
You should also consider who will be leading your group as you visit each destination. Choose a travel provider who employs a course leader to engage your students and who prompts your group with thought-provoking questions. The best course leaders have been trained in instructional strategies and differentiation, and they know how to make meaningful connections between classroom lessons and trip experiences. These leaders also use technology and speak the language of today’s students. These features add value to your program by extending education beyond classroom walls, and make an otherwise rudimentary program meaningful and stimulating for your students.
What if my students need help funding their trip?
It is no secret that there is a cost associated with taking education beyond classroom walls, but it’s also an investment with immeasurable return. That’s why it’s important to choose an educational travel company who understands the value of making experiential travel accessible. The best travel providers offer reasonable trip prices but also provide:
- Financial assistance
- Installment plans
- Suggestions for fund-raisers
- Assistance with grant proposals
There are a number of resources available to help fund these life-changing experiences. Be sure the company you choose offers these opportunities and will work with you to help make experiential travel possible.
What are the educational benefits of taking my students on this trip?
A focus on education is paramount when you decide to take your students on a trip outside the classroom. It’s the reason for the entire experience and, without it, you’re simply working with a travel agency and your students are at a disadvantage. Be sure the educational travel organization you choose values education as much as you do and can show accreditation from organizations including Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, and AdvancED (parent organization to NCA CASI, SACS CASI, and NWAC). This accreditation verifies the high academic quality of the travel provider’s programs, and ensures the organization’s commitment to safety, security, and financial stability.
It’s also important that the company’s programs are aligned with national and state education standards, and that students have the opportunity to earn high school and college credit. Credit opportunities for your students should not be dependent on you, but should stand alone as an opportunity available through the program provider. Academic credit should be available to all students on all programs, and it is best when it is optional so that your students can determine their interest in participating. Determine up front the criteria on which your potential tour operator’s programs are based and ask about credit opportunities available to your students.
How can I develop my skills as a teacher through this experience?
Help your students by helping yourself. Choose an educational travel provider who can help you identify opportunities to earn professional development in your state, assist you in the development of your portfolio, and help you earn points/hours of professional development. Some of the best educational travel companies will even help you earn low-cost graduate credit through partner universities.
Keep in Mind
There are a number of educational travel providers available, and many of them are happy to tell you things you think you want to hear: “It’s cheap.” “It’s easy.” “We’re the best.” But don’t be lured in by promises of swimming pools in the hotel and freebies that don’t enhance your students educational experience. Ask probing questions and do your homework. After all, you want to remember this once-in-a-lifetime experience — but for all the right reasons.