If there’s been one silver lining of all the caution and cleaning and careful procedures of the past two years, it’s that these practices have helped reduce colds, flus and other contagious illnesses across the board.
While the pandemic is easing up in some ways and any restrictions have all but disappeared, it’s still a good idea to do what you can to keep your students, chaperones and group leaders healthy while travelling. Nothing casts a pall over a lifechanging trip like a bug spreading through the ranks. We’ve heard numerous teachers talk about how nice it’s been to have no sickness at all on their trips, now that they’re extra vigilant.
So let’s combine what we learned from COVID and what we already knew to see how we can keep health top of mind:
Keep your hands clean. Touch is still a huge factor in spreading illnesses, especially for young people, who have an almost impossible time not sticking their fingers where they shouldn’t. It’s been said many times because it remains true: Washing your hands remains an absolutely crucial way to beat colds, flus, respiratory and diarrheal infections. You can’t monitor every student for every second, but it’s crucial to remind them of the importance of washing hands. Give out hand sanitizer to each student and make a show of using it regularly—if you can make washing hands or sanitizing a habit, it will become second-nature.
Consider keeping masks. While wearing a mask may not be as important in everyday, individual life, we know for a fact that they help prevent illnesses from spreading among groups. If you and your students can bear it, wearing a mask in unventilated spaces (like planes before they take off, or some public transportation) will do wonders to help prevent students from catching illnesses and from spreading it to others.
Hydrate often and safely. You likely already know to do your research on whether tap water is safe to drink at your destination, but you might not know the importance of keeping students hydrated. Drinking water regularly throughout the day helps with energy, digestion, the immune system, motion sickness, diarrhea and more. Keep your students stocked with water and remind them to hydrate!
Get vaccinated. This has become a controversial topic, but it doesn’t only apply to Covid-19. We’ve heard our share of stories of student groups with mumps and measles outbreaks, among other vaccine-preventable diseases. Even if you’re running a short, three-day program, it doesn’t take long for an illness to spread quickly when students aren’t properly vaccinated.
Prepare students for the hardships of travel. Motion sickness, ear pain, jet lag, sunburn—there are certain things lifelong travelers innately prepare for, and students do not. I bring along extra meds on trips, make sure I have chewing gum for the plane ascent/descent, and am constantly reapplying sunscreen. When I first traveled as a student, I wasn’t ready for any of that, and often had to ask peers or chaperones for conveniences and even medicine (which probably shouldn’t have been allowed). Make sure your students are more prepared than I was, and that you have a process in place for handling medications.
Outdoors is still better. Groups that have their activities and meals outdoors see dramatically fewer illnesses. All ventilation helps, including leaving the windows open when lodging, if possible. Simple as that!
Overcommunication is more important than ever. This may seem obvious, but actually making it a top priority is another story. Let your students know they can come to you with any health concerns, especially any symptoms that are developing. It’s crucial to make sure everyone in your group is on the same page, and nearly as important to update students’ parents whenever possible.
While these tips don’t cover every possibility, chances are, your SYTA tour operator is highly informed and prepared on this topic! Work with your operator to develop a plan ahead of time that works for your group.
This article originally appeared in Teach & Travel’s September 2022 issue.