As two teachers who love to explore the world, it should be no surprise that we are big supporters of educational travel. We know how much we gain from visiting new places, immersing ourselves in a new culture and problem solving when plans fall apart. Those are experiences you just can’t have in a classroom. That’s why we are happy to work with EF Tours to give students the opportunity for travel.
We first traveled with EF in 2017 as chaperones on a week-long trip to Italy. Since then, we’ve also chaperoned a trip to Greece and I (Bonnie) led a trip to London. Currently, I am planning a trip to Japan for Spring Break 2025.
Of course, traveling with students isn’t necessarily a vacation. That said, watching students explore new places and have new experiences is just as rewarding as guiding them to master the content in your classroom. And, of course, who can complain about “working” on a gondola ride through Venice or on a beach in Greece?
There are many educational travel companies out there. Our school district has a contract with EF Tours for international travel, so we don’t have the option to use another company. That said, we’ve had very positive experiences with EF and have no hesitations about working with them and recommending them.
If you are a teacher, student or parent, read on to find out what to expect when traveling with EF Tours.
Updated September 2023
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Why Educational Travel
Some people may wonder why you should travel with a school group when you can travel on your own. The reality is that not everyone is comfortable traveling on their own. And, traveling with a group provides opportunities that you couldn’t do on your own, like finding the best local guides and having a full network of support.
In 2013, Grant and I spent a full month in Italy on our own. It really was a fantastic trip with countless amazing experiences. In 2017, we returned as chaperones for a week-long trip to Venice, Florence and Rome. Even though we had previously been to all three cities, we still saw new sites and had new experiences. We also got to help 30+ other people also enjoy these phenomenal places!
Additionally, school trips allow students to travel without their parents. Let’s consider the cost first… paying for one person to travel will certainly be less than paying for the entire family to travel. Or, it might be that parents can’t get the time off work even if they could afford to travel as an entire family. It also allows teenagers a bit of freedom and responsibility that they likely wouldn’t have when traveling with their parents.
I’ll be honest, Grant and I generally don’t love group travel. We like doing our own thing and having the freedom to change our minds. But, we’ve still had great experiences traveling with groups of 35-40 with EF Tours.
What to Expect as a Teacher
If you are a teacher, you could get involved with EF Tours either as a group leader or as a chaperone. Both group leaders and chaperones travel for free, though there are some additional expenses you’ll have to cover, including some meals, souvenirs and trip insurance (optional).
The group leader is the one teacher who is responsible for choosing the itinerary, recruiting students, selecting additional chaperones and helping everyone prepare to travel.
Before the trip, the group leader works with an EF tour consultant who will help you with every one of those steps. While traveling, you’ll have a tour director with you 24 hours a day who will handle all the details of transportation, restaurants, hotels and more. This allows the group leader to focus on the travelers while someone else focuses on the details of planning and executing the trip.
The main thing to understand is that being a group leader is fun and rewarding. But it is also a lot of work, especially while traveling. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of people that you are responsible for. Just keep in mind the opportunity and experiences you are providing for the students and it will all be worth it!
Depending on the size of the group, the group leader may receive a stipend from EF Tours for the extra work that is involved in planning a trip. You’ll also earn rewards points that can be redeemed for trip upgrades or independent travel.
What to Expect on a Training Tour
Another perk for the group leader is that you’ll get a training/preview tour before you lead your first trip. The preview tour is how EF Tours makes sure you are prepared to lead a trip. Note: you must have a certain number of students enrolled to be eligible for a training tour.
If you have never traveled with EF, the training tour is your time to find out exactly what to expect while traveling with your group. On the training tour, you’ll get to explore an international city (my training tour was in Paris, France) and receive tips and tricks for a successful trip from seasoned group leaders and other EF staff.
During this time, you basically take on the part of a student during a mini-tour. The “chaperones” will be EF staff (full-time employees and teacher consultants). Of course, you’ll also have a group leader and a local tour director. This experience really does mirror a student tour as much as possible.
You’ll attend a few training sessions in a meeting room, where EF staff share best practices and answer all the questions you didn’t know you had until that moment. Of course, you’ll also get the first-hand experience of moving through a city and dining with a large group, checking in at the hotel and all the other details that go into group travel.
It really is an amazing opportunity that allows you to preview what your trip will look like. Along the way, you’ll likely make a few new friends among the other group leaders, too!
For international trips, the EF standard is one free chaperone for every six paying travelers. This ratio is adjustable but, honestly, I think it is just about perfect. It’s a small enough ratio that parents can enjoy the peace of mind that their child will not be “lost” in a big group while traveling.
The group leader will set the expectations for chaperones while traveling. Generally, it will include keeping up with at least 6 travelers when moving through the airport, walking through the city or anytime you need to make sure everyone is with you.
When traveling, the group leader will take on the lead on all group decisions but chaperones are frequently included in those discussions since you are a team. While the group leader is ultimately responsible for the trip, it really does take the entire chaperone team working together to pull off a successful trip.
Other Support from EF
While the group leader and chaperones are ultimately responsible for the students, EF provides a large network of support in terms of planning.
EF Tour Consultant
Once a teacher decides to take a trip with EF Tours, they will work with an EF Tour Consultant to plan the trip. The tour consultant will be your main contact person with EF as you begin planning your trip. He or she will help you determine which trip is right for you, give tips on how to recruit students and help you plan all the details as you prepare to depart.
I’ve had a few different tour consultants over the years. They have all been knowledgeable, organized, friendly and professional. Truly, if they don’t know the answer, they’ll get in touch with the right person and find the answer for you.
Recently, EF has introduced a new position, called the Experience Specialist. This person will be taking over the pre-departure aspects of the trip. I’m excited to see how this change will go and I think it’s a great move.
EF Tour Director
The EF tour director is basically the “general” tour guide on your trip. This person meets you at the airport upon arrival at your destination and stays with you until you return to the airport for departure. The tour director will ride the bus with you, stay at the same hotel, provide information on your destination and handle all the details while you are traveling.
The tour director also arranges local guides in each city, dinner reservations and makes sure that all travelers (students and chaperones) have a good experience. Seriously, the tour director is your go-to person for everything, from finding a good lunch spot to helping you get a cake for a birthday or just finding a store so you can get more toothpaste.
The tour director generally will make a point to get to know all travelers – chaperones, students and parents. They will answer questions about trip details, help plan additional (optional) excursions, share cultural information and ask about your life at home. This is what makes the trip personal and not just a big group trip.
In addition to your tour director, you’ll often have a local guide in various cities or at a specific site.
On our Italy trip, we had different local guides in Venice, Florence, Pisa, Rome and at the Vatican. Quite simply, one tour director couldn’t possibly be an expert on all of these locations.
By providing local guides, EF ensures that travelers get as much detailed information as possible. This also allows the tour director some time off to finalize dinner plans or other details.
What to Expect as a Student or Parent
As a student (or parent) traveling with EF Tours, your main point of contact is the group leader. This teacher will provide all of the information regarding the itinerary, what’s included and the cost of the trip. Closer to departure, they will help you plan what to pack and what to expect on tour.
Of course, EF has a large network of support and you can also reach out to traveler services if there are questions that your group leader can’t answer.
While traveling, the group leader will help to coordinate with the tour director regarding any food allergies, medical conditions, or other considerations for travelers. Many group leaders will also have a way to share photos and provide travel updates for parents. This allows parents to stay “in the know” about how the trip is going, even if the student doesn’t have an international phone plan.
When planning an EF trip, it is important for teachers and parents to understand their flexible travel window. Basically, the group leader provides a “requested” departure day along with a window of “acceptable” departure days.
Many of our school trips are over Spring Break. We’ll often request to leave on the Saturday at the beginning of the break. But, our windows generally allow we could leave two days before or after that.
This allows EF flexibility when booking flights and specific tours. That, in turn, allows them to keep costs down.
For our Venice, Florence, Rome trip, we actually ended up flying into Milan and out of Rome. Thankfully, that allowed us an extra stop in Verona for lunch, which was not part of our official itinerary. Having the flexibility to do that really was a nice treat!
Another way that EF keeps prices down is by consolidating smaller groups together. Basically, the ideal group size is about 30-40 people, though this number varies by tour. This allows them to get group pricing and provide unique experiences.
If your group is smaller, you might be “paired up” with another group once you arrive at your destination. You would then become one large group for your tour. Thus far, I have not had to travel with a consolidated group, so I can’t provide any personal feedback on the experience.
Peace of Mind Program
Another perk of traveling with EF Tours is the Peace of Mind Program. This allows the group the flexibility to make changes due to unforeseen circumstances such as terrorism, pandemics or other world events.
Our Greece trip was originally scheduled for the Summer of 2020. As you might guess, that got canceled. We tried again for the Summer of 2021, which again was canceled. Thankfully, we finally were able to travel in 2022. Still, we had to make a change to our itinerary just a month or two before departure.
The original itinerary included a cruise through the islands. With uncertainly still lingering around COVID protocols, we opted to adjust and spend four days on Crete, Greece’s largest island rather do than a four-day cruise.
Obviously, we were bummed to miss out on a cruise through the Greek Isles. But, we absolutely LOVED Crete and it was a lot less stressful logistically.
We appreciated that EF was able to make those changes fairly close to departure to ensure an enjoyable trip for everyone! The group leader will work with the tour consultant to make adjustments, if necessary, in these circumstances.
What to Expect From Group Travel
While Grant and I generally dislike group travel, it is inevitable with a school field trip. The nice thing about EF Tours is that each itinerary generally provides a good balance of structured tours and free time. This has made our three experiences of traveling with a group of 35-40 very pleasant.
On each trip, the official itinerary included stops at most of the major sites in each city. Additionally, we had free time at lunch daily to choose a restaurant, visit additional sites, shop or wander the streets. This is a great opportunity for students, parents and teachers to decompress and choose what they want to do – something that is often missing with group travel.
Of course, when traveling with students, we are not going to see or do everything we would when traveling by ourselves but that is okay. School travel is about exposing students to the sites and cultures, and then watching them flourish as they expand their worldview.
What to Expect During Free Time
Every itinerary is a little different when it comes to how much free time travelers will have. You’ll almost always have an hour or two at lunch. Sometimes you’ll have most of an afternoon. This is the time for travelers to choose what they want to do, within the parameters set by the group leader.
On my London trip, students had roughly 5-6 hours of free time one day. By that point, we had already used public transportation several times and explored a large part of the city. So, I gave our students a lot of flexibility. Some went to tour sites not included on our itinerary, like the HMS Belfast. Others went shopping and some even went roller skating!
It also allows the chaperones some time to enjoy a quiet moment and do whatever they want! On our Greece trip, the women used some free time to visit the fish spa. In London, the chaperones spent our last night enjoying a quiet stroll through Kensington Gardens.
EF Trip Itineraries
EF Tours provides MANY different kinds of itineraries and travel experiences. You’ll find trips to Europe, Asia, Africa, Central America and the South Pacific. Many trips are about a week (7-8 days) but others are closer to two weeks or even longer.
They also have a wide variety of tours with a specific focus such as STEM, language and culture, service and leadership.
In fact, my London 2023 and Japan 2025 trips are both STEM trips. While in London, we saw all the major sites, including a theater performance, but also had workshops on forensics and computers. In Japan, we’ll visit several museums dedicated to science and robotics, along with Akihabara Electric Town, which is now known for anime and cosplay, a major draw for teenagers.
Check out the EF Tours website and I’m sure you will find something that would fit your interests and curriculum.
Final Thoughts on Traveling with EF Tours
We highly recommend EF Tours to anyone interested in school-based travel. After three different trips and a training tour, I can honestly say that EF Tours provides a great experience for teachers, students and parents.
As a teacher, I can enjoy the trip knowing that the details are being handled by EF. Parents are assured that their children are getting a safe, fun and educational travel experience.
If you are interested in becoming a group leader, you can use this referral link to learn more about travel with EF Tours. Of course, we also hope that you’ll reach out to us for more information. You contact us via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or whatever method you prefer! We will gladly provide more information about our experience and answer any questions you may have.
We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
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We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
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If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
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As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
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We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
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We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
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