How I Traveled to Europe for FREE the Past Three Summers!
Did I get your attention?!? Good! Now listen up! What you read is true…I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Europe for FREE the past two summers and am going on my third free trip to Europe next week! So how did I manage this? By sponsoring and leading student trips, that’s how!! 😀 Basically, if enough students sign up for your trip, you get to travel for free. In the summer of 2015, I led my first student trip to Spain with WorldStrides, the leader in educational travel (with 50 years of experience). I took a small group of students and spent 10 days exploring Madrid and southern Spain with a tour guide as a part of a larger student group, and the great part was that I didn’t have to pay a penny (except for one meal a day and souvenirs)! Everything was covered, from the round trip flights to the hotels and meals, any and all transportation, and all entrance fees to museums, parks, etc. I had heard about these types of trips for years as a teacher, but I didn’t believe it myself until I actually experienced that it is possible! The experience was so phenomenal that I decided to organize another trip to Spain and France the following summer (2016), which was just as amazing. This year, I had decided to take a break from organizing a trip, but fortunately for me, a student trip to Italy just fell in my lap. One of our history teachers at my school had planned this trip to Italy two years in advance, but she ended up having her first child during that time span and needed someone to take over as the trip sponsor. I eagerly accepted the responsibility and am overjoyed to be returning to Europe this June!
As a Spanish teacher, a trip to Spain where the language began makes total sense, but you don’t have to be a language teacher (or even a teacher at all) to organize a student trip! The trip to Italy that I’m leading this summer, for example, was organized by a history teacher at my school with a focus on the Renaissance. I’ve also known science teachers that have led trips to Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands to study exotic animals down there. If you work with teenagers (middle school through high school age) in any capacity, then you could potentially lead one of these trips without being a teacher. In fact, most school districts will not directly sponsor these types of trips (meaning they are independently sponsored by individual teachers), so it’s not out of the realm of possibility for an after-school dance teacher or a community/religious youth leader to lead one of these trips. You just have to find the right travel program that speaks to your audience. For help with this, explore your travel options here or contact customer support at WorldStrides.
To help you decide if this type of travel opportunity is right for you, I’ve made a list of the pros and cons based on my experience:
-With enough student travelers, you get to travel for FREE! (Does it get any better than this?!)
*If you don’t have enough students sign up for you to travel for free, you only have to pay for a percentage of the trip instead of the whole cost. This happened to me on my second trip when one of my students backed out at the last minute.
-Every trip expense is taken care of…you literally don’t have to worry about how to pay for anything while you’re over there (except for one meal a day and your souvenirs)!
-Your itinerary is set for every day with your own 24/7 tour director to take you everywhere! You don’t have to worry about how to get from point A to B, because all of that is handled for you.
-You get to stay in nice hotels, far nicer than I can afford to stay at when traveling on my own dime! WorldStrides generally uses centrally located 3- and 4-star hotels that have excellent access to sites and transportation. When I researched other educational travel companies, I discovered that in order to save a few hundred dollars, you stay in hotels that aren’t as nice and are located up to an hour outside of the city! Location is so important on trips like these, because you don’t want to lose two hours commuting each day when you could be exploring a new city!
-The food is phenomenal! You will eat a hearty breakfast every morning (which can be hard to find on your own, especially in Europe) and will indulge in an authentic dinner. For example, we ate paella one night in Spain and crepes in France. You’re on your own for lunch, but the tour directors are skilled at recommending the best local restaurants and dishes to try.
-The tour directors are amazing AND they’re bilingual (or trilingual like my tour director last year for Spain and France). If you want to take your students to Italy to study the Renaissance but don’t speak Italian, that’s no problem! Your tour director will make visiting a foreign country a breeze for you and your group.
-High school students can receive college elective credit for attending these trips. In order to receive this, they will have to complete some online coursework. It is my understanding that WorldStrides is the only educational travel company that offers this.
-If enough students register for your trip (6 student travelers = 1 adult sponsor), you can take another adult with you for absolutely FREE! How cool would it be to bring along your significant other, your mom, or your bestie?!?
-Both you and your student travelers will have the opportunity to make new friends and interact with people from different walks of life with different worldviews, all the while broadening your horizons with these new experiences. And isn’t that what travel should be all about?
-The relationships that you will develop with your student travelers will warm your heart and remind you why you work with teenagers in the first place. The memories that you will help them create will last a lifetime for you both, and even though they may not always come back to visit you in the classroom (or dance studio or church, etc.), they will always remember you (and visa versa)!
-You are responsible for the teenagers traveling with you. For me, this is not a big deal, because I’m selective with the students I allow to travel with me. However, I’ve known some teachers who find the thought of this responsibility to be too overwhelming, and therefore would not embark on a journey such as this. If that is you, I would say to have an open mind and just give it a shot! I have a pre-departure meeting with my student travelers and their parents before our trip, during which time I set forth high expectations and rules for my travelers. Each student and their parents sign an agreement saying that if they do not abide by these rules and expectations, then they will be sent home on their parent’s dime.
-If you travel with a small group like I have the past two summers, then your travel dates and itinerary may be subject to change slightly based on the travel needs of the larger group(s) that you are matched up with. Therefore, you will need to make your travelers aware of this from the get go so that there are no conflicts if and when your travel dates get shifted around. Also, you do not get to choose which other groups you travel with (unless that is pre-arranged with another sponsor). Generally, this should not be a problem, but one of the groups I traveled with did not set high expectations and rules for their students in advance, and certain students’ behaviors detracted from the overall experience (think of your stereotypical obnoxious American traveler, and that’s what we dealt with for 10 days!).
-Your itinerary is set for every day, and yes, I also listed this as a pro. So how could this also be a con? If you’re super adventurous like me, it can be a bit stifling to have to follow a set itinerary and go with the group everywhere. I personally love to explore a new city by myself and on my own terms, but I find that all the pros of these student trips far outweigh this con.
-All of the planning and recruiting that it takes to get one of these trips off the ground can be a bit time consuming, but it’s totally worth it in the end when you set foot in Barcelona or Paris or Rome, knowing you didn’t have to pay a dime! 🙂
As you can probably see, the pros far outweigh the cons! Don’t wait seven years like I did to start traveling overseas for free…start planning your trip today! If you have any questions about how to plan for your own student trip or have already sponsored one of these trips and have additional feedback, give me a shout in the comments section below. Bon voyage! 🙂