Blog | 10 tips for international trips
Taking your section abroad can sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Explorer Scout Leader Gordon Jack, from Warrior ESU, 121st Glasgow, shares his advice for a successful trip.
Gordon recently took 37 Explorer Scouts away on a Mystery Trip: participants arrived at the airport with warm clothes and a passport, only to be whisked away somewhere totally new. At the airport, the destination was revealed as Copenhagen. The Scottish Explorers met their Danish counterparts, visited the world-famous zoo and went speedboating. Behind the scenes, there was plenty to organise.
1. Start planning early
We got the idea for the Mystery Trip in July, and started looking up flights about five months before they opened. We sent letters to parents in September for a trip in January. Parents want to see that the leaders are organised, and the earlier you get dates out, the more young people will have the chance to get involved. This is especially true if cost is a barrier for young people in the Group. Advance warning leaves you with more time to raise funds.
Top tip: put together a timeline of key dates and deadlines.
2. Bond with your team
I’d worked with all the Mystery Trip leaders individually, but never as a team. It was vital that we were confident working together. First and foremost, you’re there to make sure the Scouts have fun and are kept safe, but it’s also important for leaders enjoy the experience
Top tip: identify your teams’ leadership styles to avoid a clash.
3. Get the paperwork done
This can be quite a lengthy process, but it shouldn’t put you off. You’ll need to complete the Visits Abroad process, you can download the form and guidance online, you’ll need permission to continue planning your trip once you’ve got some initial plans in place and then approval to go at least 6 weeks before you go. Remember; Commissioner’s are there to help you out. Reach out to them for initial help, and stay in touch throughout the process. A nights away permit is required if you’re going abroad for more than one day, and you can get guidance for international activities.
4. Budget carefully and consider fundraising options
Make sure you have contingency funds: either you’ll use these in an emergency, or you’ll refund them. As we booked each seat on the flight, the price went up, making it more expensive than we expected. We successfully applied for grants from two local trusts, which meant we could cover the cost. We also did community fundraising, including bag packing.
Top tip: apply for the Headquarters International Fund.
5. Everyone needs a passport and insurance
Insurance is vital. If the airline, ferry or bus company goes bust, you won’t have a leg to stand on without it. Make sure everyone’s passport will be in date when you’re travelling, and look out for foreign passports. One of our Explorers had a non-UK passport, so we had to go through the lengthy visa process. If we hadn’t noticed this early on, we may have run into trouble.
Top tip: not all carriers accept passports with less than six months validity.
6. Involve young people in Programme planning
Giving yourself lots of time to plan means you can create a more detailed Programme. In every activity we do, we always encourage feedback. The leaders don’t just make decisions, we always ask Explorers questions like, ‘if you did it again, what would you do differently?’ You can then apply these tweaks next time around, and make the whole experience even more enjoyable.
Top tip: assess how youth-shaped your section is using The Wall of Youth Involvement.
7. Risk assess thoroughly
As Leader In Charge it’s your responsibility to assess the risk of international travel, as well as any risks related to your Programme, but you can always ask your local Commissioner for advice.
Top tip: involve your young people to help them take responsibility for their own safety.
8. Communicate well with parents
We email parents regularly and make sure we have a single point of contact. This ensures parents can quickly put a face to a name, and that all questions and clarifications are dealt with swiftly. Give parents as much information as possible right from the start.
Top Tip: download branded imagery from the Print Centre for professional-looking emails
9. Set up an In Touch system
We used our Group Scout Leader as our home contact. They stayed in the UK with copies of passports, insurance documents and forms. We always keep a backup, just in case. Asking parents to use the In Touch system rather than contacting their young people directly works, so we made sure they were well aware of the system before we left.
Top tip: print off and hand out emergency contact details to all adults and young people.
10. Share your experiences
We wanted to tell everyone about our Mystery Trip when we came home. We posted it on social media, sent a press release to the local newspaper and submitted the story to Scouting Magazine. Leaders now ask us for advice about their Programme, and young people approach us to join our Unit. We want to share best practice and assist others to have similar experiences.
Top tip: share the trip with your Commissioner within three months of your return. Make sure you also input your experience on Globetrekker so other Groups can learn from your experience.
Ensure you have suitable travel insurance as part of the planning of your visit abroad. Get in touch with Unity (Scout Insurance Services) for advice about travel insurance.