Are you a student, teacher or parent looking to travel abroad and don’t know where to begin?
Planning international travel is a big undertaking. For many student travelers, it will be the first time that the student will be traveling internationally, independent from his/her family. Also, international student travel is an incredible financial undertaking as international flights and student travel program’s costs can add up quickly! You want to be assured that your well-earned money is being used in an efficient and meaningful way.
Choosing a meaningful and enriching experience that meets the student traveler’s unique needs can be a challenge. Lastly, but MOST importantly, it is essential that the student traveler(s) is safe.
As a teacher, an administrator, a parent or a student, one can become overwhelmed by the variety of methods you can use to book your student travel abroad:
- Research and plan your trip independently
- Book your travel through a student travel agency
- Sign up with a local student travel company directly
In this article, we will address the pros and cons of these three approaches, as well as run through a quick series of questions to help guide you in making a decision as to which student travel option is right for you.
Pros / Cons of doing the research on your own
Many people choose to personally research and book student travel trips independently. One can search the various options and read up on testimonials using the Internet. You can visit YouTube and see videos of destinations as well as learn more through companies’ Facebook Pages or through Trip Advisor, where you can read traveler’s’ personal experiences and or read travel blogs. Through your own research, one can piece together the exact services you are desiring and not have to pay a student travel agent fee.
However, researching your own student travel program takes time and the amount and variety of choices can often be overwhelming. It is challenging to trust the end product as you don’t have a personal relationship with provider. At times websites have nice photos and the sales person on the phone seems qualified and trustworthy, but the actual service and/or experience is not as it was depicted. Sometimes you believe the price you pay online includes everything you will need for you trip, but once you arrive, you realize there were additional expenses that you had not considered.
Pros / Cons of hiring a Student Travel Agent
Student travel agencies are typically trustworthy, qualified, and have a variety of partners in the industry. They are experienced in helping you when things go wrong with your travel such as when a flight gets cancelled, a traveler becomes ill, and/or there is a death in the family and you need to return home earlier than planned. Due to a delay in your flight, you will need to rebook airline tickets and/or rebook hotel rooms. You will need to coordinate new transportation. Your travel agent can take care of these situations on your behalf. Most travel agents are on-call for you during your travel 24 hours a day.
Student travel agencies also can advise you as to which destinations are ideal during what time of year, as well as suggest travel insurance policies to purchase based on your needs. They can point you in the correct direction to apply for a passport or a travel visa if needed. It is also nice to talk with someone face-to-face or over the phone about different destinations and student trip options, as well as specific goals for your trip. Many time travel agencies are able to get you deals on flights and hotel rooms and might even be able to throw in an extra perk, such as a free massage at the hotel spa. They can give you travel advice and help you feel fully prepared for your trip.
However, booking travel through a student travel agent might increase the cost for your trip with added service fees. If you are on a tight budget, you might not be able to take on this added expense. At times travel agents are not solely focused on booking student travel programs, but may specialize in vacation planning for families and groups of adults.
Student travel agents tend partner with or be affiliated with larger travel companies that give them incentives to book particular programs; this might limit the available options they present to you for accommodations and destinations. Depending on your desired destination, your student travel agent might not have the in-country knowledge that you could get when you are booking directly with a local student travel company that has years of experience working in that particular country or destination. In the case of an emergency within your destination, your student travel agent might not be familiar with the closest clinics or hospitals and/or understand the logistics within the country as far as transportation back to the nearest airport.
Pros / Cons with booking directly with a local Student Travel Company
Local student travel companies are experts in their particular service – student travel to a particular destination with a particular philosophy of travel offered. There are two types of local student travel companies – those that are umbrella student travel companies that offer student tours to multiple destinations and run many student programs throughout the year – we’ll call them the “big box” companies. They typically have a US administrative base and then pilot bases within each of the destination companies, or they outsource a local travel company that is an expert within that one destination. The other type of local student travel company is one that offers services to one destination and offer a specific specialty or type of program. We call these student travel companies “boutique” companies. They typically have a specific travel philosophy and have more room to customize their tours as they run far fewer programs annually and manage a smaller amount of student travelers each year.
Both student travel company types work solely with students and understand the needs of students, teachers, and parents. These companies often have strong, experienced bases located within your travel destination and have strong local contacts and knowledge. They personally qualify their partner organizations such as transportation companies and adventure companies and can easily maintain personal relationships and control over every aspect of the program. They have defined emergency plans in the case of an in-country accident and/or illness. Typically destination-based student travel companies contract and personally train local, in-country guides, so you are receiving the most accurate information and guidance while on your tour. Because student travel companies have firsthand knowledge of the product and access to resources, many are able to customize your student travel to meet your unique needs and program dates. When you book directly with locally-based student travel companies, you will not have to pay an additional student travel agent fee. For teachers, many student travel companies will make organizing an international student travel program easier by helping you market to your school.
Some student travel companies offer programs with set dates and to set destinations, so your travel schedule might not match up. Student travel companies often offer programs or courses to specific age-ranges limiting access to certain programs. You may find that you really match with a certain student travel company’s philosophy, but find they only offer private group travel programs and don’t have programs available for the individual traveler. Because student travel companies focus on a few or maybe even one destination, you are limited to the number of countries that are offered by that particular travel company. It can be hard to find and decide upon which student travel company will work best for you or your student group, this can take time to research.
Factors to Consider Before Booking Student Travel: A Quick Exercise
It is important to identify your student travel goals before looking for specific student travel opportunities. Reflect upon the following guided questions about your travel desires and take notes. If you choose to research your travel on your own, with a student travel agent, or book with a local student travel company directly, you will be prepared to ask pertinent questions that will help you choose the program that best suits your unique travel needs!
It’s a BIG world out there! With around 195 countries to choose from, which one is the best destination for student travel? Here are some things to consider.
Is it safe?
First and foremost you want to make sure the country is safe for travel. Before booking student travel, visit the U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consulate Affairs – to view current travel destination warnings put out by the United States travel.state.gov.
We also suggest that you visit the CDC Center for Disease Control website https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list to review any Travel Health Alerts for the country in which you are visiting. The CDC also lists any mandatory vaccines needed to enter the country as well as recommended vaccines / immunizations.
Before departing consult this website to make sure you have done your due dilligence before traveling to an international destination. View their Traveler’s Checklist. These questions will help you be well prepared for travel. For example: Do I need a passport? Do I need a travel visa?
What is the estimated cost of a flight to/from your desired travel destination?
Most student travelers are working within a certain budget. You might have identified the perfect program and destination for your desires, but then find out it will cost an arm and leg to purchase airfare to/from your destination during your proposed travel dates.
Will you be in charge of booking travel or will the travel agency and/or travel company? Can you apply airline travel miles to purchase your flight? Will your flight include baggage fees or will these be additional? Will you be responsible for meals throughout your travels to/from your destination? Is the airline provider reputable? How many flights to/from your destination do they have daily in the case your flight is cancelled?
Once you arrive, will their be someone to meet you at the airport and transport you to your first destination? If not, how will you join up with the group? Will you need to book a hotel for a night? How many additional meals and what additional in-country transportation costs will you be responsible for? These are additional costs to consider when looking at your overall budget.
It is very important to think about what type of culture are you wanting to experience? Take into consideration the language spoken, type of food offered, means of transportation, climate, destinations you will visit, types of hotels, ease of travel. Is this a 1st-world country or a 3rd-world country? Will you be able to communicate and navigate your way through the country? Will you enjoy the cuisine, music, art, surroundings, climate and people? Do you need to dress a certain way to fit in with their culture? Will you be taking cold showers or warm showers?
Time of Year?
What time of year will you be traveling? Depending on the time of year, weather, saturation of other fellow travelers and raised prices due to “high season” increase the demand for flights and accommodations, which can drastically affect your travel experience. For example, if you would like to go to Central America. Will it be the rainy season or the dry season? Are you paying premium prices because you are traveling during US National Holiday Dates or Spring Break? If you are fearful of insects, maybe a humid, rainy tropical rainforest environment might not be your ideal destination.
How much do you have to spend? Make sure to carefully read the inclusions for a program before booking. Ask the question, how much extra spending money do you believe I will need for this program in addition to the listed trip cost? For example, will all meals be included? What do the meals consist of? If meals are not included, please ask not you need to be prepared to know how much on average do those meals cost. Will you have access to a kitchen where you can purchase groceries and make your own meals.
Money is a huge factor in the final decision to purchase of your trip. Research carefully before falling into the trap of a deal that is too good to be true.
Fundraising for your Student Travel Experience
Depending on the intent of your travel, there are many things you can do to fundraise for your trip. If you are traveling on an educational program, many times relatives and community members are willing to help you out or at least contribute what they can to helping you realize an educational goal. There are also grants available for students participating in international educational programming.
Philosophy of Program / Type of Desired Experience
Before you pull the trigger on booking a trip, reflect a bit as to what are your personal goals for participating in an international travel experience. Are you interested in participating in an international service project? Would you like to challenge yourself on an adventure program? Are you wanting to improve your Spanish-language skills with immersing yourself in the culture? Do you want to tour the highlighted sights / famous destinations of a country? Are you interested in learning more about the ecology of a new environment? What do you want the focus of your trip to be?
What is the currency used within the country that the student traveler will be visiting? What is the exchange rate? Are ATMs accessible? Does the student traveler’s ATM card work there? Can you pay by credit card at restaurants? What types of credit cards are accepted? Are their international fees that you need to worry about? Are US dollars accepted? Should you bring some of the foreign currency with you to get you started?
Program Inclusions: Beware of Hidden Charges!
Before booking a student travel program, make sure you are aware of the type of lodging / accommodations included. Are you comfortable sleeping in a tent? Sharing a bunk room with other students? Would you prefer to stay in a hotel with a private room or sharing a room with another participating student? What is the access to a bathroom / showers? Do they have hot or cold water?
If you are staying in a hotel, can you send a link to the hotel website? If they are staying in homestays, what is the homestay selection process? Have the homestay family members had background checks? What are their intentions in receiving students? How often do they receive students? How far away are the homestays away from one another? Can you get the personal information of the homestays before the student arrives in order to initiate communication?
Meals, Tours and Activities
Which activities and meals are included in the price? Which are optional and will you have to pay for these in addition to your upfront trip expense? Are tips included with the price of your meals and activities?
Describe a typical breakfast, lunch and dinner. What is the typical cost of each of these if they are not included.
Which tours are included in the price of the trip? If they are adventure tours, what are the safety standards that the adventure companies are using? Do the adventure companies hold an insurance policy? Are they accredited or have proper permits? What are the qualification of their adventure guides? Do they have insurance? Does the student need to have previous experience? Does the student need their own equipment?
How will the student be transported within the country? Are the vehicles insured? Do they have seatbelts? Do they have the proper permits? Will the student traveler be in charge of paying for his/her transportation within the country? Is their access to public buses? Are they safe? How expensive are they in comparison to taxis?
Who will the student traveler be reporting to? How accessible is in-country leadership? What are the qualifications of the guides or student travel leaders? What is the extent of their local knowledge about the destination country? How often will they be leading / in charge of the group? What type of curriculum will they be instructing? Are they First Aid / CPR certified? What are the safety plans in place?
Is a travel insurance policy included in the price of your trip? When traveling abroad, it is always important to know that you are protected financially in the case of an emergency. There are a variety of travel insurance policies and/or student protection plans available. It is in your best interest to purchase a policy at the time you book your trip. The student protection plans range from those that cover the overall price of the trip including “Cancel For Any Reason” options to travel insurance policies that cover basic accident / illness & emergency evacuation health plans.
Summary: Do Your Research!
If you are a school administrator, a teacher, a parent, a middle school student, a high school student, or a college student it is important to do your research and ask pertinent questions before choosing the right student travel program abroad. Student travel experiences abroad can be an incredibly positive learning experience for all those involved when your unique travel needs are taken care of and when the end product meets or exceeds your expectations. It’s well worth putting in a bit of time to research into which option is the best for you!
Have Questions? Want to Plan an Educational Trip to Costa Rica? Contact Us
Molly has 10+ years of experience as a classroom teacher and service-learning coordinator planning student trips to Costa Rica, and has lived and worked in Costa Rica for over 15 years. In 2006, she fulfilled a dream of hers and co-founded Costa Rica Explorations, an authentic cultural-immersion, service-based educational student travel program, that continues to be one of the most respected and trusted High School and Middle School student programs offered within Costa Rica.