Travel Study, Vacation, or Both?

Whenever Rob or I have mentioned in the past few months that we got to go to Paris for free as part of a travel-study program, the reaction is nearly always a groan of grudging empathy.  And I have to admit, it is a pretty sweet deal.  But as my friends and family know, we were catching up on sleep for weeks afterward; it was a LOT of work, even with one of the best groups of college students I've ever encountered.  I can't imagine what it would be like if one or two of them had had a nasty attitude, or a fear of new experiences.  Or if they had all been middle or high schoolers.  I am even more convinced that my French teacher, who changed our lives when she took a group of 15- and 16-year-olds to France, is a living saint.

I won't bore you with the details of every single architectural monument we visited, but here are some hints for making your trip run smoothly:

Plan.  Plan.  Plan. Be ridiculously organized.  Everyone has a different system; the Appendix in Ron Clark's Excellent 11 has lots of great ideas for organizing (and finding funding for) travel study trips. Spontaneity is not fun when there are dozens of people following your every move.  One of the smartest things we did (Rob did, that wonderful man) was to order passes for transit and museums ahead of time.  We didn't have to wait in line, which made us feel rather smug when it stretched all the way out of the building and around the block.

Be flexible in case the unthinkable happens and your careful plans don't work out.  Every evening we nervously came up with a "good day / bad day" plan in case it poured rain, which had been predicted for every day of the trip; amazingly, we only had to use the "bad day" plan once.  However, we were glad to have it.

Divide and conquer. We had 18 people on the trip.  On the first day, we counted to 18 so many times we were ready to ban the number entirely, and we still managed to lose two students in a department store.  Starting on the second day, we broke up into three groups of six, since there were three trip leaders.  It was much easier counting to six, and since we all had phones, we could still communicate if we were separated.

Get to know your companions. This was a community college trip, so ages and backgrounds varied widely; for me, the charm of the group was learning something about each person we traveled with.  One had majored in French in college, but never been to France in the 40 years since her graduation; another had been raised by deaf parents and was fluent in sign language.  It makes for interesting conversations during meals or train rides, and it helps you function as more of a team if you're on friendly terms.

Don't wear new shoes.  Even if they are Danskos and your cousin has told you they're comfortable and high-quality.*  Even if they're cute and black and strappy and match all of your outfits.  Even if they were only $35 instead of four times that much.  By the second day I had so many blisters that last week, several weeks after my return, a young student exclaimed, "You have SO MANY cuts on your feet!"  Mike told me about these miracle blister pads he'd found in Italy, and after I'd had several roundabout conversations with pharmacists, I discovered the word for blister (ampoule, which actually refers to a light fixture of the same shape) and the remedy, which was a miracle indeed.  (I don't know if they sell them here.  These look close, but mine had much nicer packaging!)

So, there you go.  Oh, and don't forget to have fun.  That's the best advice I can give!

*Emily was right (as Emilys tend to be.)  The shoes are now the most comfortable ones I own.  It just took some time to break them in!