We’ve been asked many times by teachers about the most effective ways to plan for Washington, D.C. trips. To help ease the mystery of planning, here is the guide to student travel planning for teachers.
Step 1: Meet with at least 3 tour operators and discuss pricing and services. You should begin the tour operator search about a year and a half in advance of your trip. Ideally, you will book your trip one year in advance if you plan on visiting D.C. during busy season (April – June). If you want to lock in competitive bus rates, hotels that are close to the city, and the opportunity to eat at good restaurants, do not book late.
Meeting with your potential tour operator as opposed to just getting a quote is an important step. The best price does not necessarily mean you are getting the best service. You do not want to work with a company that will book buses that just barely meet the DOT satisfactory requirements or book hotels where mouse traps line the cigarette scented hallways.
You also want to interview these tour operators to make sure that you like them. While they will not be in your school every day as a coworker, you will be working with them throughout the school year. An in person meeting can help you make a better decision.
Step 2: Get approval from your building administration and school committee. In order to sign a contract for a D.C. trip, most teachers must first have official permission from their school committee. In many towns, the school committee will ask the teachers to present the trip at a meeting. If your school committee asks you to present, you should come prepared with not only with a sample itinerary, but more importantly, with an explanation of the standards supported by the trip. You should also reference the growing research in support of Place-Based Education (PBE).
Step 3: Determine the school specific documents that you need parents to sign when registering their child. The tour operator will most likely have their own liability waiver that they will provide parents. What documents does your school require? Many schools require their own liability waiver and behavior contract as a minimum. At Inertia Travel, we post all of your documents to your school specific website so that parents can electronically sign them.
Step 4: Determine how you will provide scholarships or financial aid to students. Some parents may request assistance with paying for the trip. If you decide to go the scholarship route, then you will be awarding scholarships to select students based on criteria (i.e. essay, grades, recommendations). If you decide to provide financial aid, then you will be awarding money on a needs basis alone. Check with your local state laws and your administration to determine which method of assistance is the right fit for your school. We have sample scholarship and aid applications available for all clients.
Step 5: Set up an initial parent meeting at least 8 months before the trip. The best way to introduce your D.C. trip to parents is with an in person meeting and then a follow up email. The meeting should cover all of the trip basics (itinerary, how to register, chaperone information). Many strong tour operators will create the agenda, provide the meeting slides and a parent handout, and attend this meeting. As the teacher, you should approve the tour operator’s slides prior to the meeting and book the space.
Step 6: Determine if fundraising would be beneficial for your school. Some schools fundraise so that all money raised benefits the scholarship/financial aid account. Other schools allow every student to fundraise money towards their own account. Make sure that the tour operator you have selected allows for custom invoicing so that students can make payments based on their personal fundraising throughout the year. If fundraising is something you want to do, you should plan 2 – 3 fundraisers to support the trip. There are numerous fundraising options available now from online only to rebate style to the traditional cookie dough sales. Consider your student population and determine what will work for your school. Consult your tour operator for advice on fundraisers that they recommend.
Step 7: Select your chaperones. A good ratio is 1 adult for every 10 students. You should bring at least 1 nurse with you. Some schools also bring their school resource officer. Be sure to inform all chaperones at least 5 – 6 months in advance. Leaving one’s significant others, children, and other responsibilities for consecutive nights often requires advance planning.
Step 8: Determine your system for selecting roommates. The aspect of planning the D.C. trip that will most likely take the most time and energy involves the process of placing students into appropriate rooming groups. At Inertia Travel, we provide you with a step-by-step method for informing parents and students about the process, roommate request forms, a method for matching, and a method for informing students about their roommates.
Step 9: Schedule a second parent/child meeting 60 – 90 days in advance of the trip. At this meeting, review medication forms, ID tags, and packing lists. You should also clearly describe the medication drop off process and luggage drop off process. This meeting is an appropriate time to remind parents and students about any behavior contracts they may have already signed.
Step 10: Pack. Teacher leaders should have a rechargeable cell battery in the event that their bus does not have working outlets. At Inertia Travel, we provide bus boxes for each bus that contain essential items, such as paper towels, trash bags, crackers, ginger ale, and hand sanitizer. Find out if your tour operator provides a box containing these key items, and if not, solicit parent donations and put together 1 box per bus.
While this list may seem daunting, please remember that a good tour operator will walk you through each of these steps over the course of a school year. If you are interested in getting started, please contact us.