A-broadening their geographical horizons!

2016-04-27 16:17

Subject Genius, Matt Childs, A-broadening their geographical horizons


As geography teachers, we love to travel! It’s a fact. So much so that I regularly get comments such as ‘oh, you are in to do some teaching this week then?!’ – I love trips! Getting out there to see the awe-inspiring physical and human features of our world that we teach about every day in all their glory – it’s just inspirational! And it’s this inspiration we want to pass onto our students. To allow them to live like a local and immerse themselves in the culture, maximising the time they have to explore and really take away the most that they can from the experience. In some destinations we want them to appreciate how lucky they are to have what they do, and in others see that there is a whole ‘other’ world outside of the community in which they live. It gives them a taste for travel when they are older and raises their aspirations to work hard and get a good job to be able to do so.

Why then, when we are such seasoned travellers, do we allow ourselves and our students to be confined by the restrictions of school travel companies in terms of costing and itinerary? Especially in the current economic climate where parents want, need, and deserve value for money. Most parents are more than happy to save up their hard earned cash to send their child on a ‘once in a lifetime trip’, for their child to have an experience that they may never have been able to have themselves. These trips are not cheap, especially when you have more than one child at the school and will have to pay multiple times! In this article I would like to share with you some examples of highly successful international trips which have all been self-directed – cutting out the middleman to save time and money, and ensuring a value for money action packed itinerary.


Two of the locations I would like to share with you are New York and Morocco. Both of these are locations that I had visited previously and knew that they would be ideal destinations for school trips. The hustle and bustle of the Big Apple with all of the bright lights of Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park and the Empire State Building is an urban environment at its best! In contrast: Morocco – riding camels into the sunset in the Sahara, climbing Mt Toubkal at 4167m high, visiting the medina at Marrakech with the winding maze of shops and souks, and the amazing traditional street cuisine!

Firstly, whether I have had experience in a location before or not, I always contact school travel companies for a quote to see exactly what they can offer for a particular price. Sometimes you may be pleasantly surprised and they offer a very reasonable price that would be silly to turn down. This could be due to a cheap deal on the accommodation or airline that they are using. You can even be cheeky and try and push the price down – don’t be afraid to try and get the best deal for your students! If you want another staff place included, just ask for one! However, 9 times out of 10 I find that the itinerary is not exactly what I want, or is just over budget – even with ‘tailor-made companies’ who ultimately charge more for this special service as opposed to those who just sell a standard tour which doesn’t change – boxed up and ready for purchase.

I will always take the best quotation and challenge myself to beat it. I know I always can! I start by finding the flights – you can always find accommodation but don’t leave your flights to chance. A nice hotel is no good if you can’t get there! The best place to start is somewhere like SkyScanner where you can compare flights. Once you have found the best one for you, don’t stop there. Contact the airline directly and ask for a group discount – I have not found one yet who will not oblige, especially for school trips. Next is the accommodation. Again, start at a comparison website such as Booking.com. Once you have found the one for you, don’t book it. Yes, you heard me right. Contact the hotel directly for a better group rate. Hotels are charged 20% commission when they sell rooms through Booking.com, and most are more than happy to pass that saving on to you as a group discount to guarantee the booking. Transfers are easy enough to organise, either via public transport or usually your accommodation can organise these for you. If not, do some research online and find a local company.

Now it is up to you to decide what you want to do in your destination. I have included my self-directed itineraries below for both New York and Morocco for you to see just how much we managed to fit in, for example by walking around Manhattan and using the subway as opposed to being stuck on a coach travelling around the congested streets from place to place. All tickets for activities and visits can be booked online, again with many offering great discounts for groups (including free tickets for teachers) and open tickets for you to use any time during your visit.



New York


Day 1

  • Depart school for LHR airport
  • Depart LHR for JFK airport
  • Arrival at JFK airport
  • Transfer to hotel in Manhattan via AirTrain/Subway
  • Check into hotel
  • Late afternoon/evening visits to:
    • Broadway District
    • Times Square
    • Empire State Building
    • Madison Square Gardens
  • Depart school for LGW airport
  • Depart LWG for RAK airport
  • Arrival at RAK airport
  • Transfer from RAK to Imlil
  • Overnight stay at Imlil Lodge (operated by local trekking company: Toubkal Guide)


Day 2

  • Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island
  • Wall Street/Financial District
  • Ground Zero Memorial
  • Chinatown
  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • American Diner experience

We begin our trek. Heading along the Mizane Valley, we first pass the village of Aremd and then onto the shrine of Sidi Chamarouch. We then continue east and by crossing the flood plains our route takes us along mule tracks and up into the high rocky cliffs above the valley. Crossing the river we eventually come to the pastoral shrine of Sidi Chamarouch, which attracts tourists and pilgrims. From here the trail continues to climb steadily, snaking and zigzagging its way up to the snowline and the Toukbal Refuge (3206m), our stop for the night. (Local trekking company: Toubkal Guide)

Day 3

  • Top of the Rock ‘Sun Tour’
  • Grand Central Station
  • The Plaza Hotel
  • 5th Avenue
  • Central Park
  • Top of the Rock ‘Stars Tour’

Early in the morning we make our attempt on the summit of Jebel Toukbal, the highest peak in Northern Africa (4167m). Our route takes us up the south cirque, crossing the stream above the refuge. The walking is relatively straightforward, but the scree and the altitude will make the going quite difficult in parts. The views along the way make the journey more than worthwhile. When you reach the summit you will see that the vistas across the surrounding landscape are quite breathtaking. From here there are unrestricted views in every direction, from the Marrakesh Plain to the High Atlas in the north and as far south as the Anti-Atlas and the Sahara. We will retrace our steps when we return down the mountain and head back towards Imlil. Overnight stay at Imlil Lodge. (Local trekking company: Toubkal Guide)

Day 4

  • Shopping day to Woodbury Premium Shopping Outlet

Today drive towards the Moroccan desert. First we cross the spectacular Tizi n’Tichka Pass of the High Atlas mountains. You will pass through many Berber villages, and once in the desert, riverside oasis and barren hillsides are clustered with Kasbahs. After lunch we drive further to Valley of the Roses, with beautiful views of the Dades valley, valley of a thousand kasbahs. Overnight stay in Dades. (Local trekking company: Toubkal Guide)

Day 5

  • Last shopping in Times Square
  • Check out of hotel
  • Transfer to JFK airport via AirTrain/Subway
  • Depart JFK for LHR airport
  • Arrival at LHR airport
  • Depart LHR airport for school
  • Arrive at school

After breakfast we drive to Todra Gorge and after a short stop there we drive on to "Auberge du Sud" at the dunes of Erg Chebbi. After arrival you will ride camels into the dunes, where you will spend the night in berber tents. After seeing a beautiful sunset you will enjoy a fantastic dinner. (Local trekking company: Toubkal Guide)

Day 6


After viewing the most beautiful sunrise and having breakfast at the camp site you will ride the camels back to the auberge. From there it will be a long day driving back to Marrakech, again via Tichka pass. (Local trekking company: Toubkal Guide).


Check into guesthouse in Marrakech medina. Evening tour of the markets and the medina. Traditional street food for dinner.

Day 7

Day tour of the markets and the medina.

Transfer from Marrakech medina to 5* all-inclusive resort with water park.

Day 8

  • Transfer from hotel resort to RAK airport
  • Arrival at RAK airport
  • Depart RAK for LWG airport
  • Arrival at LGW airport
  • Transfer from LGW to school

The last thing to consider, and the question people ask me all the time when I explain that I organise our trips myself – ‘what if it all goes wrong?’ Understandable. And this is why so many schools use travel companies. However, as teachers we are very meticulous about planning and organising – as long as you have all of your paperwork in order in terms of flights and accommodation, valid passports and visas, medical lists and consent forms signed, emergency contact information at the ready, and a contingency fund for any unforeseen costs then you will be fine. It is no different to any directed school trip in terms of logistics – but in terms of satisfaction and enjoyment it is immense! Insurance. Most schools will have insurance cover through the local education authority and if not then just take some out with companies such as Fogg or Endsleigh. Flights are ATOL protected, and booking directly with your choice of accommodation will mean that you have very little to worry about. Take the plunge, organise your first self-directed tour today - you won’t regret it!


  • Parents get real value for money for their child’s international ‘once in a lifetime’ adventure
  • Cheaper flights, accommodation and excursions with no ‘middleman’ costs
  • Students enjoy a real experience, living like a local and immersing themselves in the day to day life and culture
  • You can get more for your money so the itinerary is jam-packed with exciting activities
  • The itinerary can be changed to account for situations such as changing weather conditions, and to suit the needs and wants of the group on the day
  • It provides valuable experience for staff who wish to assist in the organising and running of the trip, who can also bring in their own experiences from personal travel


Subject Genius, Matt Childs, A-broadening their geographical horizons

Subject Genius, Matt Childs, A-broadening their geographical horizons

Subject Genius, Matt Childs, A-broadening their geographical horizons

Subject Genius, Matt Childs, A-broadening their geographical horizons



I have included some of the amazing feedback I received from our New York and Morocco adventures, to show just how worthwhile it is not only organising international trips for students but the satisfaction that comes with self-directing the adventure and knowing that you made it happen!


“We just wanted to say a very big thank you for your considerable efforts over the past week in Morocco.  [She] had a fantastic time with some great and memorable experiences - she's certainly caught the travel bug so we'll be billing you for that. We do appreciate the time spent on the planning and execution of the trip, particularly as this was your half term too. Hope you enjoyed the holiday as much as [she] did and that other pupils can benefit from this opportunity in the future”. (Y9 Morocco, May 2015).


“I couldn't possibly let this holiday pass by without letting you know just how much [he] enjoyed his Geography trip to New York. From the top of the Rockefeller to the Statue of Liberty, the shopping outlets and the moving experience at Ground Zero, he has spent the last two hours nonstop talking about his adventures. It has been a trip of a lifetime and one that I know he will hold in his memory forever. I cannot thank you and your fellow staff enough. I always say that school isn't just about the lessons that go on in the classroom it is also about the journey and growth children make along the way, relishing the experiences they have. You have excelled yourself in this regard and I am truly grateful that he had the opportunity to go”. (Y10 New York, April 2016).


“Thank you very much for organising such a fantastic trip to New York. [She] had an amazing time and will remember her adventures for a long time”. (Y10 New York, April 2016).


Next steps

All of this might seem overwhelming; especially at first. Don’t panic - you can do it! Identify where you have been already or where you want to go to try something new and take it from there. Obviously this does not exclusively apply to geographers or those organising a cultural experience. Any subject from History to Music, and Business Studies to Horticulture could run a self-directed tour!

Most importantly for me, the trips I have run have been so successful and generated much interest throughout the whole school community that a legacy of exploring international destinations – whether for geographical or purely cultural experiences – has been created. I will be moving on to my new post as Assistant Head in September, but safe in the knowledge that students at Stanley Park High will enjoy these trips for years to come!


Matt Childs is a Lead Practitioner (Options Curriculum) and Subject Leader for Geography at Stanley Park High in Carshalton, Surrey. Matt tweets @mrmattchilds