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, 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. It didn’t feel too early: parents want to see that the leaders are organised. The earlier you get dates out, the more young people get involved.
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 not as a team before. It was vital that we were confident to work together. First and foremost, make sure the Scouts have fun and are safe – but also ensure the 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 a Visits Abroad pack, which you get from your Assistant County Commissioner (International), Regional Commissioner (International) or Assistant Area Commissioner (International), or download. They'll be really helpful – it’s their job to help you out, so stay in touch with them 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 them 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, and 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 - when you’re booking transport for a big group and paying money upfront, 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 scoped it early on we’d 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 the Explorers questions like, ‘if you did it again, what would you do differently?’ Then you can apply it next time.
Top tip: assess how youth-shaped your section is using The Wall of Youth Involvement.
7. Risk assess thoroughly
This is protocol: it’s something that has to be done and a lot of it is common sense. As Leader In Charge it’s your responsibility to do it, but you can always ask your local Commissioner for advice. You’ll need to assess the risk of the international travel, as well as the Programme.
Top tip: involve your young people to help them take responsibility for their own safety.
8. Communicate well with parents
We email our parents regularlyand make sure we have a single point of contact, so the parents can put a face to a name, and all questions and clarifications are dealt with swiftly. While organising the trip, we gave 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.