Student travel safety checklist

Advance preparation is key to having a safe student trip

08/09/2011
Education Travel
Matt Poe

Today, many new educators and even some experienced ones are having second thoughts taking students on trips due to the potential safety and security risks associated with group travel. As the leader of a student group, safety and security is an overwhelming consideration throughout the planning stages, as well as on the trip. Advance preparation can help prevent any unpleasant experiences and ensure a smooth and productive trip for everyone involved.

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Here are some areas of safety for which student group leaders can plan ahead.

Choose the right travel planner

One of the most important aspects of planning a student trip is the reliability of the group travel planner. The following list can help qualify the best travel planner for a student program.

  • Discuss the destination and educational objectives of the program with the travel planner to determine their experience and familiarity with the destination. A professional travel planner will have group histories and previous itineraries to support their programs.
  • Determine how long the company has been in business (under its current name) and how long it has been conducting student trips. It is recommended that the company be in business under current ownership for a minimum of three years and has not filed bankruptcy in the past five years. A background check will also show if the principals have been convicted of any offense involving fraud, deception, and breach of trust, child abuse or any other felony.


  • Find out if the company has general, as well as professional (errors and omissions) liability insurance and a risk management plan. The recognized standard is a minimum of $1 million dollars or more. Educators are often not aware or prepared for the financial risks associated with group travel should a natural disaster occur, i.e. the tornadoes in Joplin or hurricanes like Katrina. An experienced travel planner will be prepared for these risks and offer an alternative plan to facilitate safe travel for the student group. Liability insurance is the number one reason many educators and administrators seek the services of a group travel planner for student programs.
  • The educator should also ask what financial safeguards are in place to protect customers. A consumer protection plan will demonstrate the travel planner’s commitment to protecting their clients’ deposits and fees.
  • It is also a good idea to ask for a reference from a recent student group leader in your area who may have traveled with the company. Educators should ask for a minimum of three references including other educators, parents, and suppliers in selecting the right travel planner for a group.
  • Research the company to see if they belong to an association or organization that has a code of ethics, safety standards and industry approved business practices similar to those of the Student and Youth Travel Association (SYTA).

Set the ground rules

While teachers often set behavioral ground rules with students before going on a trip, setting expectations for safe behavior is vital. Some proven safety ground rules include:

  • Set rules to ensure that young people remain seated. Most accidents occur when passengers are standing in the aisles.
  • Pay attention to the pre-flight safety demonstration and make sure that students know where the nearest exit is.
  • Advise participants to keep doors locked and chained and never open their hotel room to a stranger.
  • Make sure each person knows how to contact the front desk and the group leader’s room.
  • Make sure each participant has the name, address, and phone number of the hotel at all times, as well as the tour company’s twenty-four-hour hotline.
  • Advise the group to keep a small amount of money in their pockets to pay for small purchases so they do not have to open their wallets in a busy place.
  • Institute a buddy system rule and make sure no one strays from the group. Also, adult chaperones should have an assigned list of students by name and cell phone number.

General safety tips

Other safety tips that should be shared with students and parents include:

  • Advise the participants to limit the amount of cash they bring. Give students and parents a guide of how much money they will need, or, advise them to bring a credit card or ATM card if there will be an opportunity to use it.
  • Gather health care information from each family (parents should have signed forms and had permissions notarized for travel), and if students are traveling abroad, make sure the plan offers coverage. A professional tour operator can advise travel planners on purchasing travel insurance, which will often cover extras such as theft during the trip.
  • Pack a simple first aid kit containing bandages, antibiotic cream, pain relievers, etc.
  • Find out in advance which participants are taking medication. Advise travelers to keep any prescription medications in its original container, and bring a photo copy of all current prescriptions so they can more easily be replaced if lost. It is also a good idea to have a list of students with allergies, the medications needed, and who has the authority to dispense the medicine.
  • Have the participants make copies of airline tickets, passports, and visas when applicable. It is a good idea for travel planners to collect and hold on to these copies.
  • Work with a travel planner that uses nighttime security.

Safety is a team effort. SYTA members are committed to providing student and youth travelers with a safe and secure travel experience. When it comes to travel safety, knowledge is power and communication is key.

SYTA is the association that represents the interests of student and youth travel. The association works to set standards and to help students, parents, and educators experience the social and educational value of travel. SYTA requires its members to meet financial integrity criteria and adhere to a stringent Code of Ethics, ensuring financial stability. Furthermore STYA works with other associations and government agencies to ensure safety standards and best practices for students and youth traveling worldwide.

Additional resources for researching group travel planners and transportation companies are the Better Business Bureau and the State Attorney General’s Office/Office of Consumer Protection. If an educator is working directly with a motorcoach company, the Department of US Transportation has information at www. Buses.org/safety.

For federal guidelines on travel, it is recommended that educators visit the US State Department, US Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board for up to the minute information.

Matt Poe is Editor in Chief of Teach & Travel Magazine, the official publication of SYTA. For more information, please visit www.syta.org.
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