Student Group Travel Tip #5: Pick The Right Destination

When planning a trip for 100 or more rambunctious, instrument-toting students, it’s easy to overlook small details. Of these seemingly minor details, one that warrants some attention is picking the right destination. Finding a destination that works for your group, meets your expectations, and makes sense financially and logistically is not always as easy as it sounds.

So, what do we mean by by the right destination? Well, you can make sure that your destination is the ‘right‘ one by considering a few factors:

1. Easy To Get To

We recommend selecting a destination that has multiple incoming flights per day. This ensures that if your whole student group, or even just a handful of students, misses the scheduled flight you won’t get stuck sleeping in the airport or trying to come up with last minute accommodations. Although changing plans last minute is never ideal, the option to board another flight is a nice one to have.

2. Easy To Navigate

Once you arrive at your destination, how easy will it be to get around? Will you spend a lot of time waiting in traffic, trying to get from Point A to Point B? You must consider the proximity of your hotel to transportation, attractions, dining and your performance venue. Then, you have to consider how easy your destination city will be to navigate on foot. In tourist-dense areas, it may be challenging to walk through throngs of people with 75 choir students in robes. Add to these considerations a lack of local knowledge and the responsibility on your shoulders becomes overwhelming.

3. Easy to Enjoy

You’ve reached your destination, you’ve figured out how to get where you’re going–now what? Another consideration when planning a large student group trip is picking a destination with plenty to do and see. Although a remote town in Iowa may be hosting an inexpensive student band competition, if there is nothing exciting to occupy your students in their downtime, that trip probably won’t go down in the record books as a class favorite. Selecting destinations like Orlando, New York City, and Chicago guarantees that your group will never be short on entertainment. Class trips as well as student band and choir trips don’t happen everyday, and should be both memorable and rewarding for students and Directors.

Considering all of the elements detailed above while simultaneously coordinating performance rehearsals, selecting chaperons, and planning fundraising opportunities will guarantee that you won’t be able to think straight by the time your competition date rolls around! Save yourself the headache, focus on your students, and let American Tours & Travel do what we do best–planning student group travel.

Click here to start planning your next student group adventure today!

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Travel With The Pros

By Larry Liner

I had to chuckle over the disastrous travel experiences David Hanson related in the January issue of The Instrumentalist, and I am glad he can chuckle about these mishaps. Any performance or competition is stressful for directors, even without the complexities of transporting hordes of students and equipment to another city. The night before departing on such an enterprise, most directors have flashes of doubt and probably wonder how they got into this.

In 37 years of organizing group trips I have seen or heard just about every sort of snafu there is, from sick students and unexpected expenses to stolen deposit money. I’ve known directors to show up at Walt Disney World to buy tickets for 200 expectant students only to discover that the park wouldn’t take their check. One director thought he got a great deal on a trip because he was able to cut out bus transfers from the hotel to the theme park by using the hotel’s free shuttle. On arriving there the director wished he had spent the extra two dollars when it turned out that the hotel had only two shuttle vans that ran every 30 minutes and carried only eight passengers. His band ran a little late for their performance that day.

Although school buses are not the most reliable way to travel, sometimes a group can’t afford another choice for a trip. However, I have heard stories about travel disasters that were easily avoidable regardless of the budget.

Just as a student can learn to play the piano without a teacher, the reality is that he will probably learn more with guidance from an experienced professional. The same is true with travel. The time spent competing and traveling will be more rewarding with expert help.

Before planning a trip, think through each aspect. It is difficult for a director to be a travel planner as well as an educator, mentor, coach, and cheerleader. Few directors would attempt to perform brain surgery on themselves, but many of them feel an inner sense of confidence at the prospect of planning a trip for 70 active students.

If this is the year for a band or orchestra to travel and students want to participate in Disney Magic Music Days, it may seem that fundraising is the only big hurdle. A director might conclude that planning a trip to Orlando can’t be that hard because he has been to Orlando before. Reserve the buses, buy all the tickets for the attractions, and lead the students to victory in the competition. If these thoughts cross your mind my advice is take a deep breath, smack yourself across the face, and try to snap out of it. It is possible for a director to travel with a group of students without a hitch and emerge victorious at a competition, but the odds are against it.

My advice is to contact several travel companies that are experienced in moving groups of student musicians. These companies have the best transportation value and know what hidden charges might pop up. Some bands have been denied air transportation at the last minute because they could not pay unexpected fuel surcharges or transport bulky instruments.

I believe directors should pick only licensed, bonded, and insured companies to contract for transportation and hotel rooms. This also reduces a director’s liability if something goes wrong. Find out how much insurance a company carries before making a commitment, but understand that insurance will not cover the risk of a travel company going out of business before the trip takes place. I suggest reducing this risk by dealing only with companies certified by the American Society of Travel Agents or the National Tour Association, which insure travel deposits up to $100,000 at no extra charge.

It is a fact of life that accidents happen, students get sick, and luggage gets lost. Such unplanned occurrences are less likely if an experienced travel company arranges the trip. These companies have been through the same problems many times and have learned how best to avoid or solve them. Take a little of the pressure off yourself and go with a pro.

Larry Liner is the owner of American Tours & Travel, Inc. and has been in the group travel business for over 40 years. He started the All American Music Festival for student musicians in 1985 and hosts thousands of students in Orlando each year. Liner is a strong supporter of the VH1 Save The Music Foundation and has donated thousands of dollars to the cause.