Students enjoying the view in La Fortuna on Costa Rica Travel Study
Travel Study

How to organize a university travel study

When I started my job as an assistant professor in the USA in 2014 I had already traveled to over 35 countries. Travel is certainly a passion of mine and something that I had always taken for granted. I soon found that Americans don’t travel much and the majority of my students had never left the country (some had never been on a plane or left the state they lived in). I also learnt quickly that travel studies are encouraged by American universities particularly in the university that I work at due to its focus on experiential learning. So I set out to plan my first travel study and after 4 successful trips I am currently planning my 5th and 6th trips. Here is my advice to help you get started…

Organizing a travel study has several steps:

  1. The planning period
  2. Recruitment
  3. Setting expectations
  4. Pre-departure meetings
  5. Leading the trip
  6. After the trip

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1. The Planning Period

The first step is to choose the time and place of the travel study. This should be done at least a year in advance. Timing and place need to be considered together. When choosing when think about breaks from school, in my experience most schools are happy to excuse absences 1 day before or after a break but much longer and you may not get approval. I have successful taken trips to Italy and Japan during Spring break, Australia during winter break (YAY! Southern Hemisphere summer), and Costa Rica in May. Trying to fit a trip to Australia (with 2 days of travel either end) into Spring or Fall break will leave your students with not enough time in country.

For your first travel study go somewhere you are very familiar and comfortable with. I took 30 people to Australia on my first trip but as I grew up there and spent 28 years of my life living there it was stress free. It wasn’t until my 4th trip that I took students to a country that I had not visited before. By trip 4 I was very comfortable with how to run the travel study and what the students would need me to know.

While you are deciding on the when and where you should start discussing your trip with your department, college, and international office. The international office (or equivalent) will have a process to follow and be able to support you with advice.

Put yourself in the students shoes, consider the places that student will want to go and your area of expertise. While I love teaching about bottom of the pyramid marketing I know that India would be a bad fit for my students who experience intense culture shock in Italy.

Once you have the when and where sorted it is time to work with a booking agent. The university that I work with has a travel agent so I sent him what I want and he books everything. This makes life very easy but it also makes the programs a little more expensive that I would like them to be. If your university doesn’t have a travel agent then you can book through dedicated travel study companies. I haven’t used these as our university policy does not allow it so make sure you double-check that you can do it before your students start paying. I talked at length with EF College Study Tours and was about to try them out for my Costa Rica trip before being told by the higher-ups that I couldn’t use them. Check out EF’s (Education First) website for more information – certainly a good place to get information if this is your first travel study.

2. Recruiting

Okay now the hard part (yes this is harder than actually leading the trip in my opinion)… recruiting students. No matter how much I do I just cannot get the word out about my travel study’s and I feel like I have tried everything (I am a marketing professor – it really shouldn’t be this hard). Each trip I add to my list of ways I advertise, here is my current list.

  • Flyers – hang on office door, department notice boards, international office notice boards, give one to each professor in department/college to show to students during advising
  • Social media posts – official college Facebook, personal Facebook, personal Twitter. (Pro tip – tag previous travel study students in posts to get more reach).
  • Email – sent to all current students within college
  • Announcement – Information on the portal (seen by all students when they log into their university account)
  • Information Screens – our campus as a channel you can add an image to that is shown on TV screens all over campus (at the gym, rec center, lobbies, library etc.
  • Visit classes – I visited over half of the classes in our college taking 2 mins at the start of class to talk about the program and give our flyers and interest forms to anyone interested.
  • Ask any students who shows interest to tell their friends

So one would think that with all these efforts I should have the program in front of all students however for each of the 4 programs I’ve done, a week or two after the deadline, multiple students email/drop by my office to tell me they only just found out about the program and ask can they please, please join.

What do you need to have on your advertising materials?

  • Dates
  • Destination (with major highlights
  • Price (and any scholarships that are available)
  • Pretty pictures (unsplash or google images)
  • Credit they will receive
  • Your contact details

3. Setting expectations

There are two approaches to step 3. Option one: hold an informational meeting. Set a date and time and talk with all interested students at once. Advantage – the students see who else is interested and talk each other into the trip. Disadvantage – not everyone will know about the meeting/be able to make it/remember to come. Option two: Which I have found to work best is to get students to meet with you individually. I have a checklist I discuss with them and get them to complete an expression of interest form. Click here to see my expression of interest form.

My first couple of travel studies I didn’t realize that this social media generation actually believed the world looked like an Instagram post. I took students to Santorini and they were disappointed that the whole island wasn’t covered in the blue domed buildings that splash across social media.

4. Pre-departure classes

I’ve seen (and done) this multiple ways but first lets talk content of the classes. The ‘classes’ will consist of both travel information and academic information. As the majority of my students have never traveled before my pre-departure classes are about 50/50 travel info/course content.

So how will you deliver the content? Here is a list of the main options here

  • Traditional class time (meet every week during semester leading up to the travel)
  • Meet every second week
  • Online/self paced online ‘lecture’/content/quizes etc with 1-2 in person meetings to discuss the travel component
  • Completely online (I will be attempting this semester as I have online MBA students attending my next travel study)

Don’t think too much about this. Go with your gut and try it out. If it doesn’t work mix it up next time. So far I have found that meeting every second week works best for first time travelers however the online self paced with a few meetings also works well and I think the students prefer it.

5. Trip time

All the hard work is now going to be realized. Just like traveling for leisure be prepared for unexpected issues to crop up. Understand your universities emergency procedure, have contact details for all students and family member, make sure parents/family have a copy of the student’s itinerary (I put my number on it so that if they can’t contact their child they can call me), have copies of all traveler’s passports.

Some professors use the trip time to relax and separate themselves from their students, each to their own but I love hanging out with the students encouraging them to push their comfort zones by trying the food or participating in an activity. Watching their faces light up when they feed kangaroos, eat Italian pizza, try sushi for the first time, or take of in a plane for the first time is really why I do the trips.

Don’t forget to send your university’s PR department pictures from the trip so that those back home can have FOMO and want to come on your next travel study.

6. After the trip

Once back in country, I make sure all students have their stuff and have connected with their ride home. Then it’s home for a good nights sleep and a weird realization that I don’t need to count heads anymore. Now the boring part, doing expense/reimbursement paperwork and grading student’s work.

Want to connect with other professors plannin travel study and study abroad? Join our Facebook Group

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