As I make final preparations and arrangements for taking two dozen students to Italy this April vacation, I thought readers might be interested in things I’ve learned over the years about how to plan and run such a trip effectively.
When and Where to Travel
In New England, there are really only three choices – February break, April break, or over the summer. February is the cheapest, and it can be surprisingly warm in Italy (it was in the 70s the last time we were in Sicily in Feb.), but the weather is the most risky (one year school got cancelled the day we had to leave, and there was snow in Rome which caused the Colosseum to close temporarily). Summer is the most flexible in terms of dates, and the easiest to arrange with another school if you have a small group and want to keep the costs down, but it’s also the most expensive time to go generally and can be very hot (our bus almost broke down near Mycene, and we had the choice of waiting with air conditioning or continuing on without). April weather tends to be good, if sometimes rainy, but you sometimes run into issues with holiday closures around Easter.
Everyone’s first thought is to go to Italy (Rome, Pompeii, etc.), or Greece, or both, but think about broadening your scope. There’s a surprising amount of Roman sites in France and Spain, Turkey can be amazing, and I’m particulary fond of the UK not only for all the great sites, but how well done their museums are. And don’t discount wanting some variety for yourself, too; it’s sad, I know, but I’ve caught myself saying “but I’ve been to the Vatican museums so many times…” once or thrice.
How to Choose a Company
There are a lot of companies out there, big and small, who offer all sorts of trips for a variety of prices (as of this writing, most trips seem to be in the $2600-3600 range, depending on size, length of trip, quality and convenience of hotels, and time and location of travel). I’ve heard good and bad reviews from almost every company out there; the most important thing is to find a company who is flexible, who will insulate you from sudden cost changes, gives authentic meals, and has a tour director in the host country that you like. Talk with a colleague that you know and trust and use their suggestions if you haven’t travelled yet.
Finally, be aware of all the hidden costs – tips are usually expected for tour leaders and bus drivers, lunches are usually not included, “extra” activities which they want to charge you if you want to participate, double rooms instead of triple, and what happens if someone cancels (i.e. if/how prices change for other participants). You should also be aware that some companies like to put in “buying” opportunities for students, usually in situations where you find it awkward or impossible to say no.
What to Do When
I start planning for a trip about a year ahead of when I actually want to go. Our school requires us to get bids from multiple companies, though I have the final say on which choice I want provided I can sell it to the school committee.
Let’s take an April 2015 trip, for example. I’d want to make a decision about where to go and who to use in March or April of 2014, get school committee approval by mid-May, and take it to the parents by the end of May. This means (hopefully) that I would have a decent idea of how many students I can expect to have by the end of the school year, and families have about 6-8 months, depending on the company’s payment schedule, to budget and make payments. I usually set a minimum number of students (12-15).
You’ll also want, at the beginning, to determine whether or not you want to travel with a second school. Some companies will want to combine small groups to save on costs, and you might be expected to travel with strangers whose trip goals are different from yours (i.e. shopping vs. academics, and also behavioral expectations). If you can coordinate with a school who you know, you can avoid that and have opportunities for students to meet before the trip.
During the summer, fall, and winter is when you want to do the bulk of your fundraising if that’s your plan (see below for more on this). Most companies have Jan or Feb deadlines for payment for an April trip, so keep that in mind. I also think it’s a good idea to introduce students and chaperones to the places you’ll be visiting, so they have context when they arrive (and to build excitement).
The new year (i.e. Jan 2015) is a great time to make arrangements for going to and from the airport – my experience has been that it’s much better to have everyone travel back and forth together, after meeting at the school, than to worry about caravans of cars. It’s also about the time you’ll want to finalize rooming arrangements for students and chaperones.
As April approaches, it’s good to call your cell phone company and get an international calling plan, a temporary phone if yours won’t work where you’re going, and also to set up a calling-tree with parents and administrators for check-ins (“we’ve arrived!”) or emergencies.
Throughout all of this, a parent meeting about once every two months with an email list for particulars is a good way to maintain interest, drive fundraising, and organize all the little details like room assignments, what to pack, student conduct expectations, etc.
This has been for me, traditionally, the most work and least fun part of the whole process. The trip is probably going to be very expensive, and if you don’t live in a wealthy district, your administration or parents may expect this. The problem is that most fundraisers don’t really work at the scale you need them to to pay off. In the end, we usually fund the transportation to/from the airport, the tip monies, and students have some spending money while they’re there.
We’ve done movie nights, dinner nights at Chili’s, Pizzeria Uno’s, and Friendly’s, raffles, holiday pies, etc. I’ve even heard of a school that did a Kickstarter-style fundraiser. CANE has a scholarship called The Means Fund to help students travel. Just make sure you know all the rules about money and fundraising that your school has and that parents in charge know too!
When You’re There
My advice is to see as much as possible and keep the kids as tired as possible at the end of the day. Make sure, though, that you build in some off-time, particulary in areas where you feel comfortable that your students can go exploring. Try to give the students as authentic a culinary experience as you can manage within the bounds of cost, convenience, and student diet requirements. Give responsible students some leadership role in managing and organizing your needs (like a quick way to determine whether anyone is missing, or wake-up checks, or whatever). Make sure you have a procedure for the students to follow if they get lost or in trouble.
Something will go wrong. A student will cancel at the last minute, right before the final payment is due. People will argue about room assignments. There will be drama between teens. Somebody might lose a passport, or have it stolen. Luggage might be lost. Parents will get a divorce and use the trip as a petty power play over custody. A student might get suspended and there’s a discussion about whether they should still go based on what they’ve done. A student will have an allergic reaction to something. Parents will hear something on the news and freak.
The only thing you can really do it take it all with a sense of aplomb and take all those Stoic lessons from Seneca and Cicero to heart. But I do have some advice for being ready. Keep a level head, and choose chaperones who have one too. Investigate insurance options and make sure to get who is covered by what in writing. Keep multiple copies of passports to make getting a new one easier. Have enough chaperones that, if someone needs to stay with a student or even go back on a plane with one, that the trip can still function. Don’t keep all your valuables in the same place, and advise students not to take anything that they’ll go crazy if they lose it. Rely on debit cards but keep some cash handy. Make sure the company and the tour director are very aware of allergies and dietary restrictions.
Solon will consider you lucky and happy when you’ve all returned, as I’m sure you will, with nary a hitch! If you’ve traveled before, and have some tips, please share them in the comments section below (but please don’t use it as a forum for praising or criticizing individual companies).
UT-Austin is offering its Intensive Summer Greek course again: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/classics/courses/Summer.php
The Vergilian Society has a variety of trips and classes available for the summer: http://www.vergil.clarku.edu/cumae.htm
Ascanius’s LatinSummer program is open for applications for students in grades 1-7: http://www.ascaniusyci.org/latinsummer/ (There’s one in Amherst, MA, as well as sites in VA, SC, and MO.) (via @etclassics and Ascanius)
Conventiculum Bostoniense runs from 27 July to 4 August: http://apaclassics.org/index.php/apa_blog/apa_blog_entry/conventiculum_bostoniense/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter (via @apaclassics)
UGA Classics Summer Institute: http://rogueclassicism.com/2013/02/07/ed-ugaclassics-summer-institute-2013/ (via @etclassics and @rogueclassicist)
Excavation in Umbria: http://quemdixerechaos.com/2013/01/14/romarch-roman-period-archaeological-field-school-in-umbria-vicus-ad-martis/ (via @rogueclassicist)
Archaeological News and Links
A gold wreath was found in a Greek subway: http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/ancient-gold-wreath-found-in-greek-subway-130207.htm (via @Archaeology365)
Pompeii updates: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/06/good-news-and-bad-for-pompeii/?partner=rss&emc=rss (via @tronchin)
Roman air pollution: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Air-Pollution-Has-Been-a-Problem-Since-the-Days-of-Ancient-Rome-187936271.html?device=ipad (via @c_katsari)
City of Rome
Culture Week in Rome has been canceled: https://saverome.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/culture-week-canceled/ (via @AIRomanCulture)
Maps and Reconstructions
Roman hairstyles recreated: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324900204578286272195339456.html (via @DrKillgrove et al.)
An album played on the lyre: http://www.reverbnation.com/store/view_item_album/artist_1132710?item_id=1718745 (via @AncientLyre)
Maps of the travels of Odysseus (click on the map on the page linked to for more): http://hehasawifeyouknow.tumblr.com/post/42424998856/ever-wonder-where-odysseus-travels-took-him (via @ancientblogger)
An article on new mapping of the Roman Empire: http://romanarcheo.blogspot.com/2013/02/getting-measure-of-ancient-rome.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter (via @jntribolo)
Pictures of other artifacts from Antikythera: http://phdiva.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-antikythera-wreck-photos.html?spref=tw (via @DorothyKing)
A digital reconstruction of a Roman silver dish: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2274073/Fine-dining-Roman-style-Archaeologists-digitally-reconstruct-ornate-plate-fragments-buried-Scottish-hillside-1-500-years-ago.html#axzz2KPUWDqCr (via @DorothyKing)
A free copy of a Latomus article on Caesar and topography: http://historyoftheancientworld.com/2010/03/caesars-battle-descriptions-and-the-defeat-of-ariovistus/ historyancient
SAT score news, with break outs by language: http://research.collegeboard.org/programs/sat/data/cb-seniors-2012 (via @mamacheatham @magisterstevens)
Three authors, dressed as Roman soldiers, are walking Hadrian’s Wall for Doctors without Borders and Combat Stress: http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/benkane