By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Ed Campos canyoneering in Costa Rica
Good news: Dreaming of a summer break after working hard all year? Whether you're planning a sabbatical or a family vacation, globe-trotting is possible on an educator's salary.
So whether you dream of zip-lining through the jungle, trekking through Europe, or lazing on a tropical island with good friends and a grownup beverage, here are ideas to get you started.
Teachers share travel tales and tips
“When teachers travel, it helps with their content areas. Being a music teacher, I like to visit places where composers lived. It gives me better insight into their creative processes that may have influenced their work,” says Joe Massaro, El Monte Union Education Association. “It’s always enriching to visit other cultures and get a world perspective when you are away from your day-to-day routine.”
The Arroyo High School band teacher says travel helps his own creative process, too. He prefers to make his own travel plans; he redeems his credit card points for flights, cashes in on “rewards” programs for hotel stays, and asks friends in the hospitality industry for the “friend and family” rates to cut costs.
Try a teacher tour
Ed Campos wants to experience everything a country has to offer — the food, the language and culture.
“I’ve always wanted to travel and see as much of the world as possible,” says Campos, Visalia Unified Teachers Association. “I don’t need to be catered to. All I need is a backpack, something to snack on, a camera, and things I’ve never seen before to stretch my vision of what the world is.”
The independent studies teacher has seen a lot of the world thanks to Global Exploration for Educators Organization (GEEO), a nonprofit that runs travel programs for educators at a discount rate (www.geeo.org).
GEEO tours for teachers — and their guests — combine sightseeing, history, culture and even a school visit with fellow educators. A tour guide fluent in English accompanies the group. Open to teachers of all nationalities (K-12, college and retired), participants may earn graduate school credit (three units through Indiana University) and professional development credit while seeing the world.
“It’s cheap, it’s subsidized and fun, and it’s also not a lecture tour,” says Jesse Weisz of GEEO. “Beforehand, each teacher submits an action plan on what they want to learn and bring back into the classroom so we can help them meet their goals.”
Campos has been on two trips — one to Costa Rica and another to Peru — and will travel to Thailand, Laos and Vietnam this summer.
“It saves me about $100 to $150 per day (flight is separate) and includes accommodations, transportation between cities, fees for visiting museums, national parks and some meals,” says Campos. “You meet amazing people who have good hearts, compassion, and care about kids. It’s easier to jell with 10 to 15 teachers. On every trip, we donate school supplies to impoverished areas, play games with the kids and teach them some English.”
His Costa Rica trip livened up volcano lessons, and a visit to Machu Picchu reshaped history curriculum and Peruvian cooking projects for students.
“I would definitely recommend one of these trips to recharge your teaching battery, get some new motivation and find inspiration,” says Campos. “It’s wonderful to bring back that enthusiasm to the classroom and refocus your students.”
Swap homes with a teacher abroad
Christine Remedios traveled abroad seven times in the last 10 years and never paid for lodging. That’s because the Thornton Junior High School French teacher swaps homes with other teachers. The switcheroo is fantastique, says the Fremont Unified District Teachers Association member, whose favorite destinations include France and Quebec.
For nominal membership fees, she can log on to websites that provide access to individuals in foreign countries willing to exchange homes. Her favorite, www.echangedemaison.com, is not just for educators but for anyone interested in a home exchange.
“You can peruse listings and see pictures of homes,” says Remedios, who lives near San Francisco. “Then you establish contact with people who want to come to the Bay Area. It works great; no money is exchanged.”
Is she worried about strangers staying in her house?
“We’ve never had a problem. Teachers tend to be responsible people. We’re also in their home. We respect each other’s property. It’s like the Golden Rule. We’ve even exchanged cars.”
Exchanges are usually for a period of three weeks. Typically, she meets the family before the exchange takes place, at her home or theirs. The departing family is often driven to the airport by the arriving family.
“That way, you know who you are dealing with,” she explains, adding that on occasion, she and her husband brought their dog to France (no quarantine required) and also did “pet sitting” at guest homes. “Teachers don’t make a lot of money, and it’s a creative way to have a good vacation. It’s a great way to travel, and you don’t feel as much a tourist when you are living in someone’s house, shopping in the local grocery store and going to the local park.”
Also worth checking is Global Home Exchange for teachers, www.4homex.com/teacher.htm, where educators can find homes to stay for free rather than staying in a single room of an expensive hotel.
Travel tips for educators
Travel agents: They sometimes charge fees, but a good one can save time and find bargains. The Internet also makes it easy to make arrangements yourself. In any case, you’ll have to do some homework.
Place: Read about it online and in guidebooks.
• Is it the right time of year? The Caribbean, for example, is cheaper in the summer, but it’s also hurricane season, so buy trip insurance.
• Is it safe? The U.S. State Department issues travel warnings on its website (travel.state.gov/travel). Many countries have areas that are safe and areas that should be avoided.
• Will there be enough to do? Google “top 10 things to do” in the location you plan on visiting and see if the attractions are worth it. Researching ahead of time lets you know if a destination is friendly, affordable, educational and fun. If possible, talk to someone who’s been where you are thinking of going. Ask if they’d recommend it and for how long. Read travel blogs and browse the Net.
Airfare: Track fares over time. If the cost drops significantly, book immediately.
• The time when you buy a ticket may affect its cost, so check at different times of day. Research shows that booking in the morning tends to be more expensive, and that people who book midweek get better deals. The best airline comparison websites are travelocity.com, hotwire.com and kayak.com, although discount airlines aren’t included. Airfarewatchdog.com can direct you to websites that offer discount tickets and include discount airlines such as Southwest or JetBlue.
• If there’s a booking fee on the comparison website, go directly to the airline website. Speaking of comparison websites, check out the “last-minute specials.” You may find a cheap flight to Ireland, or an all-inclusive vacation — including airfare — to Jamaica.
Hotel: Guidebooks (Lonely Planet, Fodor’s) list hotels by price range and offer descriptions of various places.
• Purchase the books cheap secondhand on amazon.com. Internet tourism websites are less objective but also have hotel information. If a place looks good, check it out on tripadvisor.com.
• Remember, even the best places will have some negative tourist reviews, so consider what the majority say to get an accurate picture. Check out the location on Google Maps Street View to see if the area is near places you want to visit. And don’t be afraid to bargain with hotels via e-mail; some overseas hotel operators are willing to drop the price upon request or will refer you to cheaper properties they also manage.
• If you are renting more than one room, ask for a group rate. If there’s a language problem, translate English into the native tongue via a free online service such as babelfish.com for e-mail communications. Also, if you are brave and in the mood for “hotel roulette,” try setting your own price at priceline.com or hotels.com.
• You can pick out the neighborhood, price and the overall rating of the hotel without knowing the actual name of the establishment until your bid has been accepted. Although a bit risky, waiting until the last minute can net tremendous discounts.
Condo, apartment or house rental — Check out vrbo.com or airbnb.com or flipkey.com to stay in a home or condo anywhere in the world.
• Prices are usually reasonable because property owners are not paying a middleman. And if you want money to help subsidize your travels, rent your own home out to tourists on Airbnb while you’re gone.
Package deals: Most of the websites listed offer package deals including airfare, hotel and car all for one price, but your hotel selections are restricted and sometimes higher end, which can result in a higher overall cost.
• Our favorite: skyauction.com auctions everything from hotel stays to Broadway shows to vacation packages. There is a minimum bid, and you can go from there.
Cruises: If you feel like being pampered, it’s time to set sail.
• Cruise lines may be eager to fill empty cabins at the last minute at bargain rates. Check out cruisedeals.com or lastminutecruises.com.
• About port excursions: Taxis will often take you to the same place at a much cheaper rate than booking an outing through the cruise ship, if you don’t mind being adventurous.
All inclusive: Resorts around the world offer great bargains that include lodging and all you want to eat and drink. First, make sure there are no hidden fees!
Other transportation: It’s best to figure out in advance if you need to rent a car, or whether to rely on buses or taxis.
• If car rental seems expensive and public transportation (trains and buses) is spotty, shuttle vans may provide a reasonable alternative for tourists traveling from one part of a country to another. Shuttles can be booked in advance and are cheaper than taxis, and the bigger the group, the more affordable (which is definitely the case in Costa Rica). Or check out cheap interconnecting flights.
Attractions, tours: Booking an excursion online in advance may net you a cheaper price, because hotels often up the ante for their share of the profit.
• Check your guidebook for reputable tour guides, prices for different tour operators, whether lunch is included, etc. If there are more than two people, request a group rate.
Trip insurance: When planning a trip that includes airfare, hotels and other nonrefundable expenses, a little insurance goes a long way.
• American Express Card holders are eligible for cheap travel insurance, in case something goes wrong. Airlines also provide insurance.
Vaccinations, medications: Going to the tropics? Those pesky mosquitoes can be carriers of diseases ranging from malaria to yellow fever to dengue fever.
• Check with your guidebook, doctor or local travel clinic to make sure you are vaccinated against diseases that may be present in the area you are visiting.
• Ask your doctor or travel clinic nurse for antibiotics in case of emergency. Most will say yes. Better to have and not need than to need and not have.
Save on car rentals: Renting a car, SUV, or minivan in the United States? Take advantage of the savings on car rentals from Enterprise, Hertz or Alamo, thanks to CTA Member Benefits. The CTA Rental Car Program provides you vehicle rentals at reduced or low flat rates, regardless of location. While it doesn’t include other potential rental-related charges, like optional insurance, the flat rate is competitive in many locations. It’s fast and easy to make arrangements. Go to CTAMemberBenefits.org for details.
More ways to save money or travel free
NEA discounts: NEA members have access to many travel discounts. Visit NEA Member Benefits at www.neamb.com and find travel and restaurant deals in the Click & Save section. Learn how to receive a 20 percent discount on stays at Red Roof Inn nationwide. Find promotion codes that provide discounts on Hertz, Alamo and Enterprise car rentals.
Lead an education tour: Teachers who lead an education tour can travel free and even earn continuing education units. Some tour companies hand out free trips and cash bonuses to teachers willing to share their expertise. For example, EF Educational Tours allows a teacher to gather six individuals — including family and friends — who want to take a tour, and the teacher travels for free. Visit www.eftours.com.
The ISE Card: The International Student Exchange cards offer great discounts to teachers, too. Benefits include up to $2,000 travel and medical insurance, 24-hour travel and medical assistance, airline bankruptcy protection, a global phone card, and discounts including the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Eurostar Train between London and Paris, and much more. Visit www.isecard.com.
The International Teacher Identity Card: Just $25 gives teachers access to discounts around the world including airfares, sightseeing, food and museums. Visit www.statravel.com/teacher-discount-card.htm.
Travel grants: Visit www.edutopia.org/teacher-travel-grants to learn about grants available via the Earthwatch Institute, Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad Program, and numerous other agencies that offer opportunities for teachers seeking educational travel experiences.
Home hosting: Visit sites such as Teachers Travel Web, www.teacherstravelweb.com, which, for a nominal yearly fee, connects teachers willing to host educators in their home for free. Another website, Educators Travel Network, www.educatorstravel.com, allows subscribers to stay in the home of a teacher for an extremely low rate of $40 per night as a guest, or occupy the entire home when the owner is absent for $50.