A Blog for Tour Leaders

Creating Your Own Pre-Tour Boot Camp

A fun and interactive exercise to fully prepare your students for the life-changing adventure on which they are about to embark. 


Pre-tour Preparation is the Key

As an educational tour leader, you obviously appreciate the benefits of experiential travel. There is nothing more satisfying to a true educator than to witness the personal growth a student experiences during travel. Beyond the educational gains, students are faced with new cultural and social challenges and will likely not have their family and usual support structure to rely upon. These challenges, however, may become your greatest teaching moments. 

The staff of School Tours of America has witnessed thousands of our nation’s best educators employ their unique travel perspectives and plans.  We have learned there is no single model applicable to every tour group.  Every group is unique and has its own special needs. The techniques that make one tour a success, may not work on another group of students from an entirely different background. 

There is one rule, however, that is universal.  The groups that come the closest to maximizing the full potential of the tour, engage and prepare students prior to the tour.  Preparing students to handle new, unfamiliar scenarios, while empowering them with a sense of responsibility, gives students more self-confidence and ultimately a greater sense of accomplishment. 

Our goal with the Tour Boot Camp is to create a preparatory blueprint for creating a self-confident traveler and a cohesive travel group. It addresses the challenges your group will face on the road and encourages students to establish their own tour goals and action plans for ensuring a successful experience. 

Why a boot camp? 

The term boot camp conjures up images of a military drill instructor whipping out-of-shape recruits into a well-oiled unit of soldiers ready for battle.  In a sense the phrase does a nice job of describing what you hope to accomplish. Hopefully after your Tour Boot Camp, your students will be ready for the potential challenges of the tour. They will understand the importance of the group dynamic and will be willing to make personal sacrifices when it is for the benefit of the group. They will know what to do in an emergency, they will know how to deal with an unfamiliar situation and they will be prepared for the unexpected. 

Most importantly, boot camp sounds kind of cool and perhaps the idea of a ‘tour boot camp’ will really pique their interest.  

Deciding the Logistics

As your tour approaches, you will always want to hold a final tour meeting with participants and parents to go over the important details of the tour. We advise holding your tour boot camp a couple of hours prior to the final parent meeting. Perhaps hold the boot camp after school from 4:30 pm-6:00 pm and the parent meeting at 6:30 pm. Holding the boot camp first will streamline the final meeting, leaving more time to discuss the logistical matters with parents.  Depending on how in depth you wish to make your tour boot camp, you may consider holding over multiple days, but we have devised it to be completed in one setting. 

The Importance of Setting the Tone 

While the tour boot camp needs to establish behavior expectations and address a number of important topics, first and foremost, never lose sight of the opportunity you have been given to literally impact the life of each and every student. These students are going to be looking to up to you and will ultimately take their cues from you. If you are excited, they will be excited. If you are disappointed, they will likely be disappointed as well. Setting a positive, enthusiastic tone is one of the most important factors of a successful tour. 

Travel is a Privilege- a Life Long Journey

For so many of your students, this may be their first “solo” travel experience. Many may never have been in a large metropolitan area on their own. One of the most important benefits of the experience is its ability to turn your students into more self-confident, mature, worldly citizens. They will undoubtedly be facing situations on the tour they have never faced before and whether or not they can process these moments into valuable lessons will in large part depend on their preparation for the tour and their readiness to handle the unexpected. 

Building Cultural Awareness Begins NOW 

So many great authors and poets have described the joys of travel. The sense of accomplishment, discovery and self-empowerment one gains when they explore the world outside their own community is priceless.  With a youth traveler, however, the challenges can be greater. Will they be intimidated by the differences they encounter or will they gain the cultural wisdom of that destination? Instill in your students the expression: The Journey, not the Destination is the Experience.”

As your students become adults and begin to explore the world on their own, they will be building their own filter of how they approach travel and how they engage in new experiences. All of these future adventures will be influenced by their first experience. So many of the lessons, attitudes and perceptions that you help set on this tour will stay with them for life. 

Thus it is vitally important, as their travel mentor, you not only prepare them for the rules of the group, but also encourage them to embrace the individual moments of the experience. Instill a sense of wonderment, adventure and intellectual curiosity.  They will feed off your enthusiasm and follow your lead. Most importantly, they will be developing a personal travel framework benefitting them the rest of their lives. 

Setting your Tour Boot Camp Agenda

All effective boot camps need an agenda. You have a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time and must deliver the information in a way that will connect with the students and stay with them throughout their tour.  We have developed a Tour Boot Camp power point presentation and Tour Boot Camp journals for your students.  Both are editable and can be easily customized to fit your exact needs. 

The power point PDF has a proposed script containing many of the topics often overlooked, but frequently important on tour. The slides are intended to become “conversation points” between you and your students. The tour boot camp should encourage interaction and allow for reflection on the numerous quotes throughout the presentation. 

The student journals are divided into a pre-tour and post-tour section. We suggest you collect the journals prior to the tour and read your student’s opinions, motivations and tour goals. Following the tour, your students can compare their actual experience to their pre-tour expectations and really process the impact of the tour.    

The Tour Boot Camp powerpoint and journal are available for download in the Resource Library located in your MyTour Portal.

Other Topics to Consider

Although broken into four parts, we attempted to create an interesting presentation that could be completed in a single meeting.  Some slides go into greater detail because we know that tour leaders frequently differ on how to best handle certain topics. The presentation is easy to edit and you may wish to address other topics in greater detail or leave them to the Final Parent Meeting.

Examples may include:

  • Airport logistics and rules
  • Room/Group assignments 
  • Counting groups/techniques 
  • Procedures for medications
  • Daily agenda/itinerary
  • Calling home while on tour
  • Rules regarding electronics
  • Special tour site rules
  • Assigned seating on bus plane 
  • Packing a meal en route
  • Rules/responsibilites for parents
  • Emergency contingencies

Don’t sweat it! Prepare, embrace and enjoy!

Most importantly make the session fun and engaging. This is a grand adventure. No tour will ever go exactly as planned and situations will inevitably arise that will come as ‘teachable moments.’ Preparing your students to meet these challenges and to be alert to the special moments on this tour will ultimately make the difference in turning this week into a truly life-changing experience for you and each of your students. Bon voyage!

About the Author:

Lance M. Harvey

Mr. Harvey is a noted expert, attorney, author and speaker with more than three decades of operations and management experience in the educational tour industry. His family’s tour company, American Student Travel, was the nation’s most-respected East Coast tour operator, ultimately co-founding WorldStrides in 1998.  

Mr. Harvey resigned his seat on the Board of Directors of WorldStrides and in 2002 joined the most veteran team of educational tour planners in history to found School Tours of America. Today he works with administrators and educators in more than forty states devising innovative, educational, liability-free travel experiences.

To read more of Mr. Harvey’s columns for youth travel leaders, visit our blog School Tour Times.

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