Covid-19 has impacted our lives in many ways, from work and school to events, interactions with family and friends, and so many other things. I will be honest and admit, as an educator and world traveler, the one thing I have missed the most during the pandemic is traveling.
For years, I took for granted that I would always have the freedom to travel around the United States and world. Never did I think that a virus would halt the hospitality and tourism industry worldwide. Unfortunately, it also put a long pause on student travel. For those of us who lead student trips, we miss the opportunities to take students on educational trips and observe them having ah ha moments as they try new foods, learn new cultures, and have once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Now that vaccines are readily available and cases have been reduced, tourism and student travel is commencing again. However, travel will never be the same after the pandemic. How do we, as educators, move forward in a safe way? How will we gain the trust of school administrators and parents to continue to offer these traveling educational experiences? What kind of post-Covid travel protocol do we need to put in place to ensure participants have meaningful experiences without being frustrated? These are valid questions and some that we may not have answers for until we start traveling again; however, there are some key things we must accept and adapt to now.
First and foremost, we need more patience than ever. Due to the lack of staff and resources (many jobs were eliminated, and businesses permanently closed because of the pandemic), there are less people in the hospitality industry available to assist us in the planning process and during the journey. Perhaps your favorite student educational travel company no longer exists, or your favorite travel agent no longer works for your preferred company, which means you need to start over and build relationships.
The airports, train stations and bus stations will be overwhelmed with the renewed capacity, and the lines will be long. The restaurants and tourist attractions may have limited capacities and/or are still practicing social distancing, which adds an additional challenge of handling a group of 40 people. The trip participants must be open-minded throughout the entire traveling process. They must realize and accept that it will take longer than normal to do things, so educators and trip planners are encouraged to build extra time into the schedule to relieve some of the stress and encourage patience.
Another key point is etiquette. Remember, the students are watching and listening to everything the educator says and does, so first and foremost, we must be kind and positive in reactions to post-Covid travel challenges. In addition, students should utilize appropriate etiquette and consideration themselves. Naturally, we get frustrated when things don’t go how they’re “supposed to,” but we should remind ourselves that travel has changed, and if we want to continue to travel, we must adapt to the changes.
I suggest travel groups take thank you cards or small gifts along. When you meet a hospitality employee who is patient and kind with your group or goes above and beyond, reward them with a card or gift. The students will seek those situations, which may help them to focus on the positive, and the recipients of the cards will be grateful. If you are leading a group in a foreign country, learn how to say thank you in that country’s native language. People are appreciative of this small gesture.
Safety is the most vital concern in post-Covid travel. What is the school policy in terms of vaccinations for those participating (educators and students) in educational trips? Do tour guides, bus drivers and other company employees your group contracts with need vaccinations? Will masks be required (even if a destination does not require them)? How will you handle those in the tour group who choose to not adhere to the safety protocols that are put into place? What will be the policy and process if educators or students becomes sick during the trip?
The sponsoring school administrators need to establish policies for student travel, and all who participate (including the parents and guardians) should sign a waiver agreeing to these policies. The waiver should cover all aspects of safety protocol, trip reimbursement fees if someone becomes sick or the trip is cancelled, and procedure to follow if someone becomes sick. In addition, the policy should address the issue of destinations greatly impacted by COVID, which may force your trip to be shortened or even cancelled. I highly recommend educational groups utilize a STYA travel agency and ensure that travel insurance is included in price of the trip. If someone becomes sick on the journey and the trip is postponed, delayed, or cancelled, this is when the patience and etiquette rules come into play. Blame should not be directed toward the sick person(s), and everyone should treat them with respect, because all agreed and understood the travel protocol before the trip commenced.
Finally, over the past year, we’ve all witnessed the unbelievable acts of violence due to a lack of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. These topics must be addressed as a group, collectively, and individually. Educators should work with their school administrators to determine which approach is the best to tackle these topics. How will an educator react to students who don’t treats others with respect because of their race, ethnicity, political views, gender identity, or other diversity issues? How will you as an educator create fair, accessible opportunities for all in your group or those you encounter on the trip, so that others feel a sense of equity? What can you do to build an inclusive culture and group?
I recommend that educators do activities (before and during the trip) that encourage trip participants to not only respect others’ differences but also look at situations from a broader view. This will not only help the group to develop cohesiveness, but to appreciate others you encounter with an open mind.
Harvard Business Review shared a great activity called, “Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes” to encourage others to see things for a different angle. The activity asks people to pair up team members with diverse backgrounds (race, sexual orientation, cultures, etc) and have each person write a few lines on the distinct challenges they think their partner could face. Then, share and discuss these challenges in pairs or with the group. According to the Harvard study, this exercise can produce more empathetic group members.
I do believe student travel will come back and be successful, but we must adjust our attitude, adapt our way of doing things, and accept the silver-lining lessons that COVID-19 taught us. My mantra is “Adventure On,” and it is time that we as educators accept this wisdom and realize that post-Covid travel is an experience to be lived and learned.
Written by Julie Beck, Contributing Writer for Teach & Travel