The group leader’s to-do list for organized student travels

There are no set rules to organized student travel, but following some of the following advice might prove useful to aspiring group leaders. Once the participants have been selected, hold a preliminary meeting and get organized.

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Go through the WH/H- items with the students and their families:

  • What the aim of the trip is.
  • Who is going.
  • Why they are going.
  • When they are leaving and returning.
  • Which company they are traveling with.
  • How hotel rooms/host families will be allocated.
  • What new foods they will eat and what they may or may not enjoy.
  • How daily activities are organized.
  • Check that each student has a valid travel document – passport or national ID card and that the name on this document coincides with the name on the airline ticket.
  • They should also hold a national health card valid in all EU member states. Get the students to hand in a photocopy of identity document.

At the second group meeting discuss what parents are agreeing to with particular reference to point 10 of the list. Allow time for mingling and informal conversation during this meeting so that the group can gel. If students are from different classes or schools get them to exchange contact info. They can also discuss a common policy on posting videos, photos, messages on social networks. Phone calls to/from home. Be careful of Internet access as an extra in
some hotels, hostels.

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First-time travelers need to know how to pack and what will not pass security checks. Ensure that the student has a personal tag on his luggage to make it easy to spot on the airport carousel. Ensure that the students knows what they can and cannot carry in their hand luggage and what the max weight for checked in luggage is.

Advise students to travel as light as possible as they will be responsible for their luggage during transfers and on arriving and leaving hotels. They may need to be reminded to leave some space and weight for souvenirs and clothes they may buy. If students are going on a language-learning trip, it could be suggested that they buy toiletries at their destination and to use this as a language production exercise.

Assign students the task of reading up on their destination location. How much money to bring. What, if any, extra costs. If students are given full-board hospitality, the average amount of pocket money should not be more than the equivalent of €10 per day. If going to a non-Euro destination, discuss whether to change currency before leaving or on arrival and to cut costs, suggest one transaction by the group leader of a set amount of say €100 per student for a 10- day stay. This solution may not be acceptable to all students or to their families.

Discuss airport procedure. From the word go, create a climate where parents are relaxed about the event and students enjoy every moment starting with the buzz and the pace of the airport. What to do in an airport emergency or if a student is separated from the group. Instil in the students the importance of learning by observing. How to behave on board the plane for the first time traveler. How to deal with flight panic.

Impact with the location. First impressions are important. The group dynamic changes at this point. Being part of the droves of tourists on the move or queuing for hours will not suit everybody. Clinging students will fret, the adventurous ones won’t want to waste a second of their time. Group rhythms will clash with personal rhythms: organizing outings for 9 am when part of the group has been clubbing until 4 am. Long bus trips, delays, traffic jams, hotel difficulties, group tensions. Find the right balance for the group and remind the students of their responsibility towards each other.

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Changing one’s eating habits can be stressful, take buffet-style breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reaction to self-service may mean over-eating or going out and indulging in comfort eating at the take-away. Constipation or diarrhea can often result. If such issues have been discussed prior to departure, the students won’t be embarrassed to confide about them.

Cultural awareness cannot be over-emphasized. The group must be told about respecting customs and dress codes of host countries. They must not belittle such customs. If they observe the locals on, for example, public transport, they should know what is a suitable tone of voice.

Holiday romances and heartbreak, shop-lifting, alcohol consumption in public spaces and drug use will be part of the group dynamic. This is where parental involvement comes in. A signed statement should be signed that, in the event of a student being expelled from a state for a serious crime, the return journey will be at the expense of the family, including any extra cost for restitution of stolen goods or for unaccompanied minors being repatriated,

Another area where a school may be left to foot a heavy bill is if hotel property is damaged. This problem can be off-set by having students pay a refundable deposit of about €50 per head. If the families agree, we usually refund this money for the student to have on the final day of his stay.