Now that I am officially recovered from my final trip as a tour leader for the 8th grade East Coast trip (Washington DC, New York and Boston), I wanted to write a letter to my colleague who has chosen to take on this adventure. Cheers to Lauren who will be making lasting memories for many years to come!
I am so elated you chose to take over the rewarding job of heading the East Coast trip for the 8th graders. I wanted to leave you with a few bits of advice from my years of experience.
- Logistics: All of the logistics are taken care of by the company with whom you are travelling. Ask questions, make suggestions, but don’t worry. The representatives will do their job. This is a business, and you are the customer. They will do what it takes to make sure every moment is planned out well, laws are followed and every student eats well. (The last alone can be a feat, considering 8th grade boys’ appetites). Believe me, the company wants you, the tour leader, to be happy.
- Roommates: Besides fielding emails from parents, your biggest job before the end of the school year is making sure students are placed in roommate groups. This can be a bit tricky. It is best that students choose, but you might need to do some adjustments. Often you will have one who has no idea with whom to room. I often do a lunchtime meeting to try and sort it out.
- Pre-Departure Parent Contact: A couple of days before departure day, email all the parents. This gives parents a sense of security and ease, after all they are sending their precious child across the continent with you. Plus it gives you the opportunity to share a few things. I will often have students join a Remind class or simply just give everyone my cell phone number. I also take the opportunity to let them know that I will be collecting about $10-$15 per student (not mandatory) as an extra tip for the driver and tour guide on the trip. I collect this the first night (while the students still have money). The extra money is a nice gesture that the ones leading the trip appreciate. I pick up a card on tour and have students sign towards the end of the trip.
- Night Before: Before you go to bed to get just a few hours of sleep, get all the name tags ready. I don’t put last names on the tags, but do write them large enough to see from across the street. This will be a great way to “check in” students at the airport, but it is also vital for the adults on the trip who do not know all of the students’ names.
- Airport Necessity: Bring a pair of cheap scissors to the airport with you. The wristbands always have that extra bit that will be incredibly annoying after a few days. Cut it off right away. I usually have time to stick the scissors in my suitcase before I check my bag. If not, I can just toss them.
- Relax: My advice for you during the trip is really the most vital for the students’ and your sake. It can be narrowed down to one sentiment: relax. The students are fine. Sure there are moments of students not getting along, a few that are not at the meeting spot on time, and someone inevitably throws up, but for the most part, the kids are fine.
- Don’t Worry: The students are given a lot of freedom, that may seem stressful for a new leader. They are told in the middle of a busy Times Square in New York City that they may venture off with a group (no chaperone) and simply return in an hour. It’s okay. They can do it. Don’t worry.
- Accounting: Before you move on to a new destination, you will need to make sure all the students have returned. I have found the best way is to have each of them stand in roommate groups. Chaperones can be in charge of certain rooms. This is quick and efficient. Do not spend your time constantly counting bodies. This delays tour time and is often very unnecessary. These kids are 13-14 years old and heading to high school. They do not want to be left behind in a large city. They might forget the time, or think they have enough of it to run back to buy a magnet, but students do not want to lose you.
- Just Keep them Safe: Taking a large group definitely has its challenges, but just remember, it’s the students’ vacation. Your job is not to discipline them for every little thing they might do in a classroom. They are going to be goofy. They are going to talk too much. They are going to knock off each other’s hats and step on each other’s toes. They WILL be loud. Just remind them to be respectful and above all, be sure to keep them safe. That is your real job.
- Pools Save Lives: Oh and one more thing– if there’s a pool at any of the hotels, give the students at least 20 minutes to act like fools in the pool. This accomplishes two things: they get out some energy, and they get a “pool bath.” It’s almost as good as a shower.
Enjoy every moment! It’s exhausting, rewarding and worth every grey hair sprouting from your scalp.