ecuador

Traveling with Students, Part 1: Getting Started

So it’s been a bit since I’ve written anything around here (basically two years–wow!) Here are a couple life updates!

  1. I am now teaching part time and am currently in courses to complete a Masters degree in December in Curriculum and Instruction.
  2. I am working on another project that I am excited to share but can’t yet.

Probably THE highlight of last year (and maybe life??) was a trip to Ecuador with my students and two of my colleagues, as well as some awesome chaperones.

Note: please get permission from your school district BEFORE advertising a trip to a foreign country. I didn’t, of course (ask for forgiveness later?) because our school district did not have a policy for this before our trip. However, we hit some roadblocks later on (will do a post about this in the future) regarding planning for student health issues. We figured it out as we went, but the overall gist is: get permission and let your district know you’re carting 15 kids and some adults to a remote and wild place. 

A couple of my colleagues had taken students on international trips before, so I had always been thinking about doing the same. We saw the trip options on Explorica’s website and decided that Ecuador was just too good to pass up.* In my opinion, Explorica’s itinerary and general ‘feel’ trumped EF tours. The Galapagos Islands have always been a dream of mine to visit (ever since my sister and I watched short videos of the Galapagos Tortoises from Encyclopedia Brittanica we had on our family computer because we didn’t have internet access—oh how times have changed!)  Student teaching in Belize gave me the travel bug for Latin America, and I have always wondered how I can share the same experience for personal growth and knowledge of a new place with my students. Traveling is a privilege that a lot of them do not have direct access to, but do have access to through some hard work and perseverance.

When we shared this idea with some of our students, they were so excited. To receive a quote with Explorica, it is quite easy to do once you have a teacher account. You do need a lead teacher to do this—I requested the quote and began communication with an Explorica representative, so I was listed as the lead teacher on the trip and therefore ended up being the main point of contact. I shared many of the responsibilities with my colleagues, but was the one to go to in regards to Explorica’s policies, procedures, etc.

While the price tag was out of reach for some of our students, the cost was actually quite reasonable once we factored in the benefits. With a 9 day trip, it amounted to about 3,400.00 per student (prices are probably different now, so just use this as an estimate). That included about four flights, two boat rides (including some seasickness carnage) and 8 nights in Quito and the Islands. This price also includes all meals. This was less expensive than if I were to plan this trip myself, and way more ‘easy’ in that I didn’t have to coordinate with hotels and airlines, just Explorica. I highly discourage anyone without any connections, experience, and language proficiency to take students to a foreign country without a guide. It is not only more dangerous, but could be illegal in some countries where their National Parks and sites require a certified tourism guide. Honestly, with managing a large group of tired, hungry teenagers, the last thing you need is to worry about whether or not the bus driver is going to show up. Go with an educational tourism company—save the unplanned travel for your personal trips!

Also, if you have enough paying travelers, you do not pay for your spot. But believe me—you DO pay for it with time, effort, late-night email writing, organizing, Google doc making, passport verification, after-trip disciplinary meetings when students decide to drink alcohol on the trip, and it goes on. I would never have gotten to travel to the Galapagos islands without this perk, but you pay for it in time, energy, and sanity!

To determine if this trip would even be possible, we had to have an informational meeting with students and parents. I was impressed to see so many students who were beyond excited for the opportunity, which made me even more motivated to help make it happen for them! During the meeting, we shared a presentation that Explorica provides to teachers and students to overview the trip and Explorica’s policies. There was also a handout provided by Explorica to give to parents and students about trip cost and itinerary. If they wished, students could sign up for the trip immediately, but they definitely need to read everything about this financial commitment they are making.

 

This presentation included:

-An overview of who the teachers are and why they want to take students on a trip (I created these slides myself)

-The potential itinerary, with photos of past trips (this got the most excitement)

-The total cost and payment deadlines

-Insurance options (Trip insurance is required to ALL travelers to Ecuador now, per the country’s rules. Your students should have insurance, period. As should you.)

-Our school policies (I created these slides myself)

-Time for questions

-We also included a fundraising survey to gauge how many students needed and wanted to fundraise

 

Explorica offered a discount for students who enrolled before a certain date. At enrollment, students could determine the payment plan they wanted to follow (Monthly or Quarterly). Trip insurance should be paid at this point as well as part of the initial enrollment. It is very, very important that parents, guardians, and students understand the trip cancellation costs. I’ll get into this in a later post, but we had some heartbreak and discord over some cancellation policies. These policies can be convoluted, hard to read, and are essentially “the fine print.” They’re very important for you to understand. Next time I do this, I will create a ‘reader friendly’ contract that outlines Explorica’s policies, because my parents and students did not fully understand them (nor did I) when we decided to do the trip.

By the end of our meeting, we were able to determine that the trip was going to happen. We had enough serious students and parents who were ready to commit to going on the trip. Without knowing this, we probably would not have been able to make it happen. Advertising the trip and getting the information out to parents and students is critical to getting started!


Here are some ways you can advertise your trip: 

-Include information in your school’s weekly communication to parents–via website, newsletter, email, etc. Give them a way to contact you here–email is preferable.

-Include information in your school’s weekly communication to students—bulletin boards, announcements, school new broadcast, newsletters, social media accounts, etc.

-Make the trip visible—Explorica provides posters that you can put up in the entry way to the school so all students are exposed to the opportunity.

 

Next up, Part 2: Fundraising

What tips do you have for getting started with taking students on a trip? Comment below! 

-SB

*None of this information is current as this trip happened in 2018. Please consult an Explorica representative for accurate information. I am not paid by Explorica to provide any insights; I’m just sharing my experience with Explorica, which will hopefully provide a balanced perspective for my readers.

 

 

 

 

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