Many new trip sponsors take on the responsibility of planning a student excursion without the benefit of a "mentor" or any previous experience. Although the eventual travel experience can be highly successful there are many obstacles that could just as easily result in a negative experience. That doesn't have to be the case if you take into account the following tried and true guidelines.
During my years as a middle school trip sponsor we took an annual grade level trip to Washington, DC.Initially, I was hesitant to make the trip because Washington, DC can be a huge travel challenge. The capital area is a densely populated region with a heavy traffic volume. In addition, there is little or no parking near the popular museums, monuments and memorials. I learned, however, that with careful preplanning you can all but eliminate these issues and ensure that your group will have the experience of a lifetime.
One of the most critical, and frequently overlooked, aspects of trip planning is making sure a knowledgeable "destination specialist" accompanies the group. A destination specialist isn't just an expert on navigating about the area, but someone who can also assist a motorcoach driver and make recommendations to the trip sponsor to reduce the time between stops and create smooth transitions between venues. This same individual will call ahead to confirm reservations, work with the trip sponsor to adjust the itinerary during the trip, and facilitate the arrival and departure of the group from hotels, attractions and meals.
The best destination specialists are individuals employed by student tour providers. They are frequently referred to as tour directors or trip escorts and either reside in the destination or specialize in escorting trips to that region.
An equally important key to a successful trip is organization. A well structured travel experience begins with the realization that your group must have the best possible supervision AND the clearest expectations for the participants. I recommend that you extend your school code of conduct to cover the trip or adopt behavioral expectations for travel on a motor coach, touring and at the hotel. Students and parents must know the behavioral expectations and consequences prior to the trip departure date.
I also recommend that you select adult chaperons for the trip that are either staff members or parent volunteers with experience in working with the age group of the student travelers. These individuals will be supervising students while they are away from home and must be effective authority figures. Their ability to handle minor discipline problems, ensure that students are in the right place at the appointed time, and conduct nightly room checks will help assure that the trip is a success.
Once this group has been determined I suggest scheduling a "Chaperon Training Session". An excellent time to hold the meeting is a day or two prior to departure. Getting all of the adults together at the same time will allow you to review the rules for the students as well as those for the adults. Stress that the trip is an extension of the classroom and that each chaperon has the same responsibilities as a teacher. You should also stress being on time for activities, staying with their student group at all times, and being a good role model.
During this meeting it would be a good idea to review the final itinerary, emphasizing the learning experiences and providing tips for a memorable experience. While reviewing the schedule, review the chaperon responsibilities at key points such as check-in, on the motorcoach, in the hotel, and at meals and attractions.
Another important component of a safe travel experience is nighttime security. Following nightly curfew in the hotel, the trip sponsor and chaperons need to get a good nights rest and be refreshed for the next day of the trip. A reputable student tour provider like Travel Adventures will include a local nighttime security firm as part of your trip package. Trained guards will be stationed on each floor throughout the night to protect the students, keep them from becoming a distraction to other hotel guests, and to prevent them from leaving their room or visiting another room. This trip feature will increase the safety and security, while allowing the adults to get a good night's rest.
Providing a safe travel experience also means that you must plan for health care and the handling of medication. When parents allow their children to travel with the school, they assume that provisions are in place for an unforeseen illness or accident. Parents also want to be assured that an adult will be responsible for dispensing medications and daily prescriptions.
Most schools have clearly defined guidelines for the administration of medication and have adopted a uniform "Health Form" for use on field trips. These can easily be adapted to your trip. Generally speaking:
- Medication cannot be dispensed without written permission of parent/guardian.
- Parent/guardian or school personnel must administer all medication (Unless school policy allows for exceptions).
- Students may not carry prescription medications on their person (occasionally high school aged students are allowed to carry their own medications). Exceptions are usually made for Epi-pens, inhalers, and diabetic supplies.
It is also strongly recommended that parent/guardian sign a "Medical Release and Proxy Form" in the event of an emergency. This form should include space for the parent/guardian to provide up-to-date insurance information and emergency contact numbers.
Successful student travel is not simply selecting a travel date and destination, making reservations enrolling students, and collecting payments. It takes thorough planning, frequent and effective communication, and attention to details. The tips provided in this article are suggestions that are not only applicable to an excursion to Washington, DC, but to other destinations as well.
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