Travel On A Shoestring

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Travel-hungry teachers who enjoy ample time off but are limited by modest incomes can travel free or at discounted rates if they're entrepreneurial and willing to work. By arranging travel groups, chaperoning student trips, and participating in home swaps, teachers can satisfy their wanderlust and save thousands of dollars.

Group travel. Palazzi got her free passage by booking a group of 26 fellow teachers and friends on the cruise. Most travel agents will provide a free trip to anyone who organizes an excursion with 15 or more people, according to Robert Whitley, president of the U.S. Tour Operators Association.

Palazzi, who works at Westfield (Mass.) High School, says it wasn't hard to drum up interest in the cruise. She simply shared stories about a previous voyage she had taken. That's not to say organizing the trip didn't take hard work and careful planning. Palazzi called more than 50 different travel agents to compare prices, scanned travel magazines, collected money, and took care of other arrangements.

Rather than depending on travel agents to set up package deals, teachers wishing to organize a group trip can turn to companies that specialize in group travel. For example, Voyagers International, which plans adventures to such exotic places as East Africa, Costa Rica, and Ecuador, offers most trip organizers free travel after signing up only six paying participants. Again, the group leader has to earn the trip. Typically, the leader spends a few hours every week for six to eight months recruiting and taking care of administrative details. During the journey, Voyagers provides a local guide, but the organizer acts as an escort, taking head counts, keeping track of luggage, and helping with special requests.

Organizers can also arrange for free travel directly with some carriers. For example, Amtrak gives a free "escort ticket'' to organizers who get 15 people to travel together anywhere in the United States. (Amtrak also offers group discounts.) And a teacher traveling in Europe can get a free, 15-day, unlimited-travel Eurailpass simply by recruiting 15 other people to purchase passes. Unlike the Amtrak program, the Eurail purchasers don't have to travel together.

Chaperoning. Another free-travel option available to teachers is chaperoning student field trips. "I get as excited as the kids,'' says Don Cole, superintendent of Whittier (Calif.) Christian Schools, who has taken 160 8th graders on a sweep of the East Coast, including Williamsburg and Jamestown, Va., Philadelphia and Gettysburg, Pa., and Amish country. Cole planned the trip with assistance from Educational Field Studies, which also helps educators organize trips to New York City, Hawaii, California, Canada, Mexico City, Boston, and Epcot Center in Florida. (In addition to educational trips, EFS also arranges performance tours for choral groups and bands.)

When planning a trip with EFS, teachers first decide where they want to go, and then they get school approval and inform parents about the trip. Interested parents send in an application and deposit directly to EFS, which handles all subsequent billing. During the expedition, an EFS staff member guides the group, taking care of logistics, bills, and emergencies, leaving teachers free to watch the kids.

Teachers interested in foreign travel may be able to tag along with students spending time abroad. A number of student-abroad programs need adult chaperones or guides, says Anne Shattuck of the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel.

House swaps. It's great having a nine-month work year, but few teachers can afford to take long vacations. Three teachers at a Long Island high school decided to do something to help: They created a house-swap program exclusively for teachers.

Teachers Swap publishes a directory of names, addresses, and phone numbers of teachers in the United States and abroad who are willing to swap homes during vacation periods. The 1990 directory described 275 homes in 32 American states, 26 Canadian homes, and 114 from 12 other foreign countries. Subscribers must arrange their own swaps.

These three low-cost travel options offer unique opportunities, but teachers should proceed carefully and get references from other people who have worked with the travel agent or organization under consideration, warns Ellen Bradley, manager of travel services for the National Education Association. "Teachers,'' she says, "can be vulnerable if they just go in looking for a great deal.''

Elizabeth Schulz

For information on group travel, contact the Teachers Service Association, a discount travel agency for teachers, at P.O. Box 3039, Orange, CA 92665; (800) 882-4343; in California, (800) 540-2373.

For details on international group travel, contact Voyagers International, P.O. Box 915, Department TM, Ithaca, NY 14851; (607) 257-3091.

To plan a domestic group train trip, request a free copy of Amtrak's America, a 96-page travel planner describing U.S. routes, from Amtrak Distribution Center, P.O. Box 7717, Itasca, IL 60143. To reserve tickets, call (800) USA-RAIL and ask for the group desk.

For details on Eurailpasses, call (800) 722-7151.

For information on planning field trips for students, call Educational Field Studies at (800) 648-4750 for performing arts and California trips, (800) 654-4750 for East Coast trips, or (800) 638-4750 for Florida trips.

American Student Travel also provides information on group field trips. For details, contact AST, P.O. Box 802548, Houston, TX 77280; (800) 231-1731.

The Council on Standards for International Educational Travel offers a list of 58 foreign travel and exchange programs for high school students. To get a copy, send $7.50 to CSIET, Three Loudoun St., S.E., Suite 3, Leesburg, VA 22075. Teachers will have to call the programs listed to find out if chaperones are needed.

To receive and be listed in Teachers Swap, the directory of teachers willing to swap houses, send $34 to TS, P.O. Box 4130, Rocky Point, NY 11778, or call (516) 744-6403. The listing deadline is March 1. For teachers who wish to purchase the directory without listing a home, the price is $40.

Another house-swap option is Vacation Exchange Club, which publishes 10,000 worldwide listings annually. For $50, members receive four directories and a listing. The deadline for listing in the next directory is February 30. Write to P.O. Box 820, Haleiwa, HI 96712; or call (800) 6383841.

National Education Association members may obtain a free consumer guide on travel by writing to NEA Special Services Response Center, 51 Monroe St., Suite 200, Rockville, MD 20850.

Vol. 02, Issue 05, Page 1-24

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