By Beth Marshall, Academic Travel Adviser and ACIS group leader since 1995 – trip #15 under her belt and counting!
As I reflect on the trip I recently lead this past month, I am so thankful that I successfully delivered smiling faces safely back to thrilled parents at the airport upon our return. I believe that the trip’s success for any group is always due to many factors specific to the itinerary itself such as hotels, itinerary, guides, etc, but also a sense of belonging within the group that I feel is critical. I do my best to create an atmosphere of respect for all members of the group in the trips that I lead. Here are some ideas for you to create a sense of “team” even before the plane takes off to your next destination:
#1: Many formal and informal opportunities for the group to connect prior to the trip
Throughout the year or so leading up to our departure, I hold many meetings to plan how to pack, safety and security and communicating abroad, but almost as important as the information presented is the sense of building our team as well. Some of my most successful meetings have been mostly social time, where students either do ice breakers, or take part in an activity to begin to introduce the language and culture of where we are going. This past year, we held a cookie party where students were asked to bring cookies from one of the four countries that we were visiting. This past spring, we made Belgian waffles and watched “Loving Vincent” in preparation for our trip to Belgium and Holland. Students loved feeling prepared and knowing at least a few friendly faces prior to takeoff. We planned a day to exchange money and had lunch afterwards and also had meetings to give students “survival Dutch and French” which had them ready to get on that plane ASAP!
#2: Connecting the group via social media
Prior to our departure, I created a Facebook group to share articles prior to leaving, pics when traveling for participants and friends/family and a way to continue excitement in the trip in the months prior to the trip. I also created a group on the app “Remind” to send group texts and used the app “PhotoCircle” before, during and after the trip so that students and parents alike could upload photos. Many parents were thrilled to see what we did every evening when we returned to the hotel and uploaded our favorite photos from the day; it reassured them to see our smiling faces each day with very little work for me! Next time I travel, I plan to have my student ambassador create groups on other social media platforms prior to leaving.
#3: “Switch it up” during the trip at dinner, in rooming, etc…
When dealing with many different personalities and backgrounds, I set ground rules before going on the trip that they might be rooming with many different people throughout the trip, which helped lessen surprises and kept them polite with one another and less likely to form cliques. I also had them “mix up” who sat with whom each evening to allow many people to get to know one another. I found that by the end of the trip, the two hour dinners with intellectual conversations with a unique mix of personalities and views each night ended up being what students told me that they liked best about the trip!
#4: Hands-on activities and packing your sense of humor
The trip should truly be a vacation, where everyone feels comfortable laughing at themselves. I love hands-on activities right at the beginning of a tour which allows students to see everyone in a comical light and works on team-building activities. Whether it was a Shakespearean acting workshop at the Globe in London, a cooking class in Paris, a yodeling lesson in Switzerland, a flamenco lesson in Spain, dancing and performing at a sugar shack in Quebec, making gelato in Rome or having an impromptu trivia competition on the bus, each activity allowed students to work in teams to create a sense of accomplishment and pride. There is nothing better than seeing their faces light up and laughing when finishing these workshops!
#5: Certificates of Achievement to All Participants
At the end of the trip (either on the last evening of the trip, on the bus to the airport, or at a reunion party), I create certificates to highlight each person’s unique qualities, funny experiences, etc that made them an important part of the trip. Some of my past awards have included “Most likely to open up a French bakery in France”, “Student most likely to replace Rick Steves on TV” etc…
#6: Reunion Parties
I have always enjoyed hosting some sort of reunion party where students and families reunite to talk about their favorite memories from the trip. Some past parties have been at à home of one of the travelers, at a nearby restaurant, or even à pool. Each person recreates their favorite dish to share and a few of their favorite pictures to reunite. This fall, I plan to invite all the past participants to participate in a canvas painting party (I call it “Tableaux et Chocolat Chaud”) where everyone brings their favorite photo from the trip to paint while we drink hot chocolate.
Not only do these activities create a sense of belonging that hopefully continues after the trip, but it also is a wonderful marketing tool as you plan your next trip!
Bon voyage, tout le monde!