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9 Student Tips for Better School Trips

After several rounds of intense regional contests, I was headed to my first Technology Students Association international competition in Orlando. I was just a measly high school freshman, and most of my friends had been weeded out by the state championship. On the massive charter bus, I sat with my headphones on, pretending to enjoy the CD I’d listened to for the past 4 hours. I had chosen an empty seat towards the front, in order to sit near the teachers, rather than be surrounded by the loud seniors at the back of the bus. A large student who played basketball promptly sat next to me. I was short girl and only weighed 100 pounds, so he probably figured he could monopolize my leg room. The movie Sweet Home Alabama played as we were driving through that state, and suddenly one of most popular seniors shouted, “Where’s my bag?! Has anyone seen my bag?!” He eventually realized that the bag had been left in his car, which was still parked at school. Although his projects were with him, his TSA blazer and dress shirt were in that bag. His mother ended up shipping the bag overnight in order to get it to the conference in time.

While that might have been the first time I saw panic on a school trip, it definitely wasn’t the last. Taking a headcount may seem sufficient; you think, “45 students competing – 45 heads present. Yep, looks good, let’s go.” From experience, however, we have found that it is much more effective to use a travel checklist to ensure each student has everything needed, such as luggage, projects/equipment, food, money, medication, etc.

Once while on a trip to Chicago, one of my classmates started to feel motion sickness. The bus must have stopped at least five times, but he wasn’t able to empty his stomach, at least, not until he got back on the bus. This goes to show that, in addition to containing an emergency medicine kit, buses should have sickness bags on board, in case students get car sick or are otherwise ill.

On the same trip, returning from Chicago, our bus was stuck in traffic for six straight hours! Imagine 50 students on their way back from an exciting but exhausting five-day trip, cramped for that long in a bus going nowhere. The chaperones definitely learned the importance of keeping extra snacks on board, because nobody wants to be around hungry and cranky high school students.

Many students are not the most punctual people–sometimes disregarding schedules and being more concerned with looking perfect than anything else. On another high school trip, the students were supposed to return from morning volunteer work, take showers and then go to an awards ceremony shortly thereafter. Problem being, there were up to four students in each room, and everybody wanted to look their best for the awards ceremony. By the time everyone had showered and gotten ready, our group ended up 15 minutes late and almost missed receiving our award. You should always plan buffer time before and after every student activity, especially when they’ll need to eat or get ready.

Having a list of allergies, health issues and emergency contacts is a must, but that is not always enough. For example, teachers and chaperones may need to monitor a hypoglycemic student’s food intake. These types of special needs must be noted and communicated to those responsible for looking after student safety.

Are teachers responsible for everything a student does on a trip? How about when a student wants to dye his or her hair mid-trip? This could certainly pose an issue for many parents, so be sure permission slips are detailed enough so that you understand individual limitations and can communicate those to students. When talking about permission slips, it’s also important to know what students are allowed to do from cultural and/or religious standpoints. One of the biggest issues I’ve seen teachers face was when a classmate claimed that her religion didn’t allow her to go to dances. All the chaperones were needed at the competition’s student mixer, but they also couldn’t leave a student at the hotel alone without adult supervision. These types of issues can be avoided by asking parents to approve all of the activities on the trip beforehand.

It is also strongly recommended that school trip leaders keep copies of all identification, insurance or other official paperwork on hand for each student. This proves useful when, for example, a student loses his or her wallet and needs an ID to gain entrance somewhere.

Speaking of lost items, we’ve all accidentally left personal items in hotel rooms. Something learned after many trips was to always have students swap rooms and perform a final check of the other room. Once all luggage has been taken out, match students from one room with another room, and then instruct them sweep their counterparts’ room for personal belongings. This step is surprisingly effective, because what one student may overlook, a fresh set of eyes often discover.

While it’s possible your students are well-behaved little angels, in my experience students tend to trash hotel rooms. Whether that means shaving cream spattering the bathrooms or mattresses strewn about, students can be a little destructive, especially when they feel there are no consequences. Always perform a room check before letting students check out. You also want to make sure students understand that, if the hotel has any complaints, they will have to face consequences.

While there is no way one article can cover every possible complication you may face, working with an experienced student travel agency can help. That, and properly preparing well in advance, will go long way towards making your next trip seamless and unforgettable.

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