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How to Choose a Safe Student Travel Tour Group

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In the wake of American student Natalee Holloway's disappearance in Aruba in late May, 2005, parents, students and teachers questioned the safety of organized student travel tour group activities. Holloway was on an unofficial school expedition when she vanished on the Caribbean island. According to the Birmingham News, the 124 participating students were accompanied by four male faculty members from Mountain Brook's high and middle schools and three of the their wives, a chaperone ratio of 1-18 (industry standard is one adult to ten students).

FBI spokesman Bill Carter said in a Dallas Morning News story that cases in which Americans vanish on school or group trips abroad are rare. However, what constitutes a school / student trip and what is a student travel group tour? And what do you need to know about both?

Tour Groups vs. Independent Student Trips

  • Determine your purpose: Planning to lay on the beach and spend the evenings in clubs? Or are you looking for adventure and education? If partying is high on the agenda, an organized and chaperoned tour group won't suit you. The flip side is that you won't have the safety net a group tour provides should you run into trouble.

Jennifer Fontaine of Global Education Tours says, "Travelling out of the country should never be taken lightly. On a non-chaperoned trip, (a student) will be on their own to make decisions. Kids tend to think think they are invincible and don't always use common sense. Parents and students need ask the right questions (to determine a trip's safety)."

Some questions to ask in determining the safety of a student trip or group tour:

  • Does the company require or recommend adult chaperones (volunteer parents or faculty)?

  • Does the company provide its own tour directors or company representatives who accompany the traveling students?

  • What's the student-adult ratio if company representatives join the trip or adult chaperones are recommended or required?

  • What is the company's function in assisting adults with planning student tours?

  • Does the company mandate rules and regulations for student security and behavior or are such guidelines merely recommended, if they exist at all?

  • Must adult chaperones must fill out an application? Are they screened and trained in accordance with any company guidelines?

  • If tour company rules, such as a nighttime curfew, exist and are violated by traveling students, will the adult chaperones or company tour leaders have mechanisms in place to be made aware of such violations and, if so, what steps will he/she take?

  • Does a student tour group director (a company representative back at company headquarters) exist? At what point do tour group leaders contact the tour group director or the tour group director contact headquarters in case of emergency?

  • What does the tour company consider an emergency - i.e.: would a situation such as a traveling student missing for the night (meaning until daylight) constitute an emergency? How will an emergency be handled?

Student Trips and Tours via Travel Agencies

Outfits like Spring Break Travel offer cheap flights and hotels and the opportunity to party, party and party some more. Airport transportation is provided to and from a hotel chosen by Spring Break Travel but no chaperones are required or recommended. Student travelers are briefed once they arrive at a hotel, but the kids are most definitely on their own.

Student travel agencies such as Student Universe offer discounted flights, rail passes, accommodations and organized tours to student travelers. You can join or plan a Student Universe trip run by independent operators which are carefully screened by Student Universe staff; Student Universe does not sponsor school trips nor guarantee student safety, although every effort is made to ensure a student group trip is a pleasant expedition run by reputable outfits or planned by a Travel Advisor employed by Student Universe. Student travelers will not be accompanied by a Student Universe representative and Student Universe is in no way responsible for travelers' safety.

Please go on to the next page to read about escorted student trips and tours and organized educational student tours.

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