If you know anything about Grant and me, you know that we are teachers. This is one reason that we are able to travel as much as we do. We spend most of our breaks on the road exploring various parts of the world. For Spring Break, we combined work and play, spending eight days on a school trip to Italy with EF Tours!
While it wasn’t necessarily a vacation, it was a great trip. On top of enjoying all that we could in Italy, we also were able to share our love of travel with others, further combining our passions for travel and teaching.
Our school has been working with EF Tours for a while, but this was our first time traveling with them. We’ve been on overnight/out-of-state field trips before and this was by far a MUCH better experience than we’ve had working with other “travel agents.”
If you are a teacher, student or parent, read on to find out the basics of traveling with EF Tours.
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All trips will have a group leader. This is the teacher who organizes everything for the trip. This was NOT us. We were just lucky enough to be asked to tag along as chaperones! I am, however, planning a trip for next year, so I am the group leader for that.
The group leader works with EF Tours to choose the right trip, recruit students and plan trip details. They will also hold meetings to make sure everyone is ready to travel. Group leaders are offered some compensation by EF Tours for the extra work that is involved in planning a trip.
Another perk for the group leader is the preview trip. The preview trip is how EF Tours makes sure you are prepared to lead a trip. Once you have a certain number of students enrolled, you are eligible for the free preview trip. I have not taken my preview trip yet, so I can’t discuss details, but it is something that I am looking forward to.
Part of the student/parent pricing for all EF trips will include costs for chaperones. EF Tours does domestic trips within the US as well as international trips all over the world. The ratio of students to chaperones varies based on the type of trip and your school requirements.
For this trip, we had one chaperone for every six paid travelers. Each chaperone only had to pay the trip insurance, which technically was optional. We had a few additional expenses while traveling – lunch each day, a couple of extra activities that were optional for the group and, of course, souvenirs.
Having a good ratio of chaperones to students gives parents the peace of mind that their child will be well taken care of during the trip. This is also great for recruiting as the chaperones will talk about the trip and encourage more students to sign up for future trips!
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 one contact with EF. He or she will help you determine which trip is right for you, give tips on how to recruit students and coordinate planning the details of the trip (such as flights and optional excursions).
The tour consultant becomes your best friend as you plan your trip! My experience so far with my tour consultant has been nothing but positive. He has made a point to get to know me personally, understand my travel style and remembers all the details that we discuss.
The tour consultant has answered every question I have had in a timely manner and has been friendly, but professional.
EF Tour Director
The EF tour director is basically the “general” tour guide on your trip. This person meets you at the airport on 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. Thankfully, we had a FABULOUS tour director on our trip! He really was a big factor in the success of our trip.
The tour director made a point to get to know all 35 travelers – chaperones, students and parents. He answered our questions about trip details, helped us to plan additional (optional) excursions, shared cultural information and asked about our life at home. This is what made the trip personal and not just a big group trip.
Our trip was to Venice, Florence (with a half-day side trip to Pisa) and Rome. One important thing to know about EF trips is that they always use flexible planning. This means that your travel days are flexible and the order of your trip is flexible.
We traveled Sunday to Sunday, but we did not know those exact dates when students started signing up. This allows EF Tours to get the best price possible on plane tickets. The group leader will work with the tour consultant to set the travel window. All travelers have to make sure they can be flexible, within the provided window.
We ended up flying into Milan and out of Rome. We could have done the trip in the reverse order (though I don’t think it would have been as fun). Again, those options allow EF to keep prices reasonable. They will even throw in some extras if time and finances allow… definitely a nice perk!
One of our perks was being able to stop in Verona for a couple of hours on our first day. We flew into Milan, then took a bus to our first official stop in Venice. Since our flight arrived early in the morning, we had time to stop in Verona to see the “Juliet balcony” and have lunch. This was something extra that not all groups get to do!
While our tour director gave us general information on each city and answered any questions we had along the way, we had local guides in each city filling in the details.
In Venice, we did a one-hour walking tour that provided history and information about the city and major sites. Our walking tour included St. Mark’s square, the Doge’s Palace and the Rialto bridge.
In Florence, we took another tour with a local guide through the cathedral, through town to the Ponte Vecchio bridge and past the Uffizi gallery. While we did not enter the Uffizi gallery on the tour, the guide discussed some of the sculptures outside and provided some basic information on what we would find inside.
In Pisa, we had a guided walk through Piazza Dei Miracoli (“Square of Miracles”). This is where the Cathedral, Baptistry and (leaning) Tower are located. Our guide made sure that we were inside the baptistry during the acoustic demonstration.
In Rome, we had a guide through the Colosseum and Roman Forum. She provided details on the history of these locations and the various sites within the Forum. Another guide took us through the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica.
One tour director couldn’t possibly be able to be an expert on all of these locations. By providing the local guides, EF ensures that we get as much detailed information as possible. This also allows the tour director some time off to finalize dinner plans or other details.
While Grant and I generally hate group travel, it is inevitable with a school field trip. Our tour provided a good balance of structured tours and free time. This made our experience of traveling with a group of 35 very pleasant.
The local tours visited 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 was a great opportunity for students, parents and teachers to get some time to decompress and choose what they wanted 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 and that is ok! This was more about exposing students to the amazing sites and world history than having fun for ourselves.
We were pleasantly surprised that this tour managed to offer us something new in all four cities that we had previously visited!
Traveling as a group did have a couple of advantages. As a group, we had reservations and were able to skip lines at crowded attractions, like seeing Michelangelo’s David in Florence. As a group, we were able to bring the cost of taking a gondola down to 20 Euros each.
Traveling with EF Tours
I highly recommend EF Tours to anyone interested in school-based travel. Every part of this trip was amazing! Our trip truly was a great experience for everyone involved.
As a teacher, I enjoyed the trip knowing that the details were being handled by the EF employees. Parents are assured that their children are getting a safe, fun and educational travel experience.
EF Tours provides MANY different kinds of travel experiences. Options include tours with a focus on history or STEM to language, service and leadership opportunities. Check out the EF Tours web site and I’m sure you will find something that would fit your interests and curriculum.
As I mentioned earlier, I am planning a STEM Discovery trip to Boston in February 2018. As a math teacher, I am excited to have the opportunity to do something fun and educational that relates to my field!
If you have any questions for us about travel with EF Tours please 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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We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
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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 have found some amazing prices booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
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We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
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We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you just can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viatour first.
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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.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
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.
Click here to get a AAA membership.