From arts to history to language to STEM, many educators are looking abroad for their student travel options, and for good reason. International travel has many benefits, such as boosting young people's confidence and expanding their horizons. It also requires a bit more planning than a domestic student tour or a local field trip.
Not to worry — Team Brightspark has your back! If you've decided to bring your classroom to life across the globe, here are our top tips for getting ready for your trip.
1) Better safe than sorry
As you prepare for your trip, make sure you have all your necessary paperwork in order. Visit the Department of Homeland Security for the latest protocols regarding passports and visas. Get started early - visa applications can take a long time to process depending on the country you're visiting, and passports can take a few weeks to arrive if you apply during peak travel times. Keep tabs on upcoming changes to travel protocols. For example: starting in 2021, visitors will need to register trips to certain European countries even if you don't need a visa.
Additionally, some countries require certain vaccinations, or they suggest you bring particular medications along just in case. If you have regular prescriptions, make sure you visit your doctor before departure to get refills and ensure you have enough doses for your trip. And regardless of where you travel or your medical conditions, it's always a good idea to bring a "survival kit" - this can include pain relievers, antibacterial ointment, bandages, hand sanitizer, and even earplugs and snacks for a long flight.
2) It pays to be prepared
Many groups fundraise to help cover the cost of the trip, but students and chaperones will still want to bring along spending money for additional meals or any souvenirs. Learn the general exchange rate in your destination, so you can have a sense of how much things cost in dollars and make your funds last. Try to convert your dollars into local currency before you depart. Not every country is as credit-friendly as the U.S., so you'll want to have cash on hand. If you need to exchange cash once you've landed, try to find a bank instead of a conversion center; you'll save on fees and get the most accurate exchange rate. While you can exchange bills back to dollars once you return home, you cannot convert coins, so make sure you use up as much loose change as possible before you leave your host country.
Bonus tip: Unlike the U.S., many countries use coins for large denominations. Pay close attention to the amount you have in both coins and bills, as they can add up quickly!
3) Speak the language
If you're traveling to a country where the primary language isn't English, you certainly don't need to be fluent to make the most of experience, but it will benefit you to learn a few key phrases, such as:
- Please and thank you
- Yes and no
- Hello, goodbye and excuse me
- Numbers 1 - 10
If you do come across English speakers throughout your travels, make an effort to accommodate language barriers. Stay away from slang phrases, and speak plainly to avoid any miscommunication.
4) Pack it in
The first rule of travel? Never pack more than you can carry. Don't assume someone will be there to help you with your bags throughout your trip, so make sure you are efficient with your choices. Check the weather in your destination to make sure you're packing appropriate clothing and gear. Also, try to pack versatile layers and multi-functional pieces, such as shoes that are comfortable enough for a walking tour and also nice enough for dinner and a show. While we hope you never encounter any hiccups during your trip, sometimes a checked bag can get lost or delayed. Play it safe by packing a change of clothes in your carry-on.
If you're packing any electronics, make sure you bring an adapter that works with your host country's outlets.
5) Reading is fundamental
Before you go, research your travel destination. Learning about the history, customs, or laws of a new country can influence what you pack or how you present yourself. You should also look up the best ways to get around, find local eateries to try, and get a grasp on the general layout of the city in case you get lost and need to find your way back. Many travel apps will give you tips and information to help make your trip a success, but you don't need to rely on digital tools. Purchase a travel guide and download offline maps of the locations you'll be visiting in order to feel connected even if you can't get online.
6) Hit the road
Once you're packed and ready to depart, bring a positive attitude, a sense of adventure, and a desire to learn. Always respect your hosts, historic sites, and cultural attractions. Remember that you represent your school and your community to an international audience. Take advantage of new experiences, meet new people, and make lifelong memories as you discover awe-inspiring destinations far outside your comfort zone!