Meaningful Student Travel, Part Two

In the first installment we discussed the benefits of travelling with your students, as well as types of travel and what you can do on your trips. Now, we’ll cover the most basic nuts and bolts of planning a trip. Regardless of the length or distance of your trip, you can plan a trip that will benefit your students. I have nothing against contracting an organization to plan a trip. There are some great travel organizations out there; I just prefer to do it myself, and I would encourage you to give it a try, as well! Some questions to ask:

  • Will the group perform, attend concerts, and/or just have fun?
  • What are the strengths/weaknesses of the program and how can a trip improve on those?
  • What are the goals of the program and how does travel fit into that goal?

As I stated in the first article, you know your band, students, and their musical abilities better than anyone. You’ve seen them at their best, and I’m guessing at their worst, too! Plan a trip that will complement your group’s abilities and varying levels of maturity/leadership, while at the same time stretching their comfort levels. As for an abbreviated checklist:

  • Set your dates, and have a couple of options! Look at festivals, concerts, conferences, and plan around those dates. Be sure to check the school calendar for conflicts! (SAT, anyone?)
  • Get your administration on board before you mention anything to students and parents. Find out any policies regarding travel, i.e., does the school require chaperones, financial aid, travel insurance, school-approved travel agent, admin approved trip request, etc.
  • Contact the group desk of several airlines and hotels. If you have colleagues who have travelled to your city – preferably with students – ask them what worked and what didn’t. Be flexible – several times I’ve found that it’s cheaper to fly into a neighboring airport and shuttle to our destination when compared to a direct flight.
  • Once you have an approximate cost per student let your students and parents know on the same day. I’ve found that speaking with my kids in class after I’ve sent out an email with details to all the parents works for me. From there I give them a deadline for a deposit and a payment schedule.
  • After I have the exact number of students, chaperones, and the associated , I’ll then add one full trip cost to the overall budget to cover unforeseen expenses…and there most certainly will be unforeseen expenses! If you somehow find you haven’t used that money on the last day, treat all of your students to breakfast. On one trip my airfare contract stipulated that we were responsible for baggage costs, but when we arrived at the airport the airline waived it. What to do with an extra $800?!
  • Get chaperones you trust and who know your kids. I have several guest artists whom I bring in on a regular basis – they know the kids and the kids know them. Delegate head counts, being the bad cop, etc., to those chaperones so you can focus on making the trip great and working out any behind-the-scenes problems.
  • Once you get to your destination be sure to enjoy yourself!

Finally, I can’t stress the importance of communication. To all the parents, students, and administration I give an itinerary and my contact info – yes, my cell phone. If a student gets lost they can immediately contact me so I can retrieve them. In addition, I post to our Facebook and Twitter pages so that parents can keep up with what we’re doing. This not only helps the parents understand that their money is being well spent, but that their child is having an enjoyable, educational experience. Enjoy your trip!

Steve Holley, posted Nov 27, 2012 © National Association for Music Education