Take a hike
Where to go
Nothing beats personal knowledge of a destination for ensuring a successful trip. You know the environment you are heading into and are better placed to assess the risks. Alternatively, consider any school or community links such as a town twinning or sponsored overseas projects which the group could visit. If neither of these is appropriate, it's time to do your own research. What do colleagues recommend? Which destinations have been tried and tested by other schools? Call established tour operators with specific expertise in organising school trips who could suggest options which meet your requirements. Check the climate for your destination; some have only a short trekking period which coincides with school holidays.
What do you want to achieve?
A common factor among successful overseas school trips is having a clear objective. This can be as simple as successfully and safely climbing a peak, to a more specific discipline-orientated objective; be it environmental, cultural or language focused. You may like your group to "give something back" to the community they are visiting, so your tour operator should be able to arrange a school visit or community project.
Once set, communicate your objective to all involved.
Timing the trip Organising an expedition is complicated and time-consuming. Allow 12-18 months, more if fund-raising or sponsorship is required. The timing will be dictated by a number of factors, but fitting in with the school calendar is key. Nepal, Bhutan and parts of the Indian Himalaya, for example, are not suitable for summer holiday treks, while Peru, Bolivia, Ladakh and Tibet are perfect. Duration will depend on the trek or tour selected as trekking or climbing at higher altitudes means a longer trip to ensure acclimatisation. Avoid long expeditions with younger groups. Once you have set the date, draw up a timeline counting down to departure.
Who is the expedition for?
Consider age suitability and group dynamics: should the expedition be for a single year group or offered to a range of years? Would it be useful to set selective criteria for participation such as undertaking a weekend hike? Is the expedition suited to a particular group, such as Duke of Edinburgh award students? What are your minimum and maximum group sizes based on teacher:student ratios and how will you manage over or under-subscription? Ensure that you have the support of your head and other crucial members of staff, particularly if the expedition will partially fall in term time.
Health and safety All off-site activities carry some risk. However, for an overseas expedition, this is proportionally higher as you have less knowledge and control of the environment it will take place in. Your objective is to reduce risk to an acceptable level as set by your school, local education authority or governing body. Risk assessments must be ongoing and consider a wide range of hazards. Your tour operator should provide their own trip risk assessment based on in-field experience. There is currently no UK law governing the organisation of youth expeditions overseas. However, a reputable operator will adhere to the Government guidelines laid down in Health Safety of Pupils on Educational Visits (HASPEV) and its 2002 supplements. Check the Foreign Office travel advice at www.fco.gov.uk, which contains useful up-to-date destination information. Follow your school regulations and liaise with your tour operator to establish comprehensive emergency procedures. Most schools have a blanket insurance policy to cover off-site activities. It is important to check that your policy will cover you for the activities you have planned. For example, many include trekking but only to a specified maximum altitude. Read the small print - and if in doubt, check with your insurer.
Planning and organisation If you have the experience, contacts and qualifications, plus plenty of time, organise the expedition yourself, although it is generally easier to work with an experienced operator. A good operator will produce much of the literature, assist with risk assessments, estimate costs for extras such as equipment, visas, and personal spending so these can be budgeted for, hire out any specialist equipment and be on-hand to advise you throughout.
www.himalayankingdoms.com; Jude Limburn Turner, tel: 0845 330 8579; email: email@example.com. Himalayan Kingdoms has been organising treks and tours for 19 years and offers a range of tailored expeditions for schools and youth groups
In the last issue of Going Places, we quoted the price for the Himalayan Kingdoms 19-day trek to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan as pound;1,650, excluding flights. This should have read pound;1,650, including flights from Air Astana (www.air-astana.com)