How to take students to a national journalism convention and not go crazy

One of the biggest national scholastic journalism conventions is just a few short weeks away, so today I’m bringing you some hot tips from an adviser who has #beenthere. Traveling with a big group (or even a small group) can be a little stressful, but it doesn’t have to be!

First, prep is the most important thing you can do to ensure a successful and drama-free trip. Prep yourself, prep the kids, prep the parents, prep your admin, prep the chaperones, prep your spouse.

Prepare for the trip

Start early. Work out a budget to present to the kids (if it’s an open invitation.) These trips can get expensive, so it’s best to offer the opportunity as early as possible.

Budget Considerations

In your budget, be sure to consider travel baggage fees, to and from the airport, travel to hotel, travel to the convention hotel (if you’re not staying there), meals (with considerations for travel days and any kids with dietary restrictions or medications), group activities (explore discounts). If you’re going to a city with public transportation that’s usually much easier, but consider the logistics of purchasing travel cards. Keep in mind public transit may be a new concept to some kids and you’ll have to walk them through scanning their card, going through the turnstile, getting on and off a train/subway, etc.

STORY TIME: We were in NYC for the CSPA convention one year and I had collected money ahead of time for the metro cards. Well come to find out, of course right before we need them – the metro system restricts debit cards from purchasing more than 2 cards each DAY. It was not only embarrassing to ask the kids to buy their own cards after they already paid for them, but it was a logistical MESS having to reimburse each one from the district after we got back. Plus, some kids had a set amount of money they brought and that cut into it. Ugh – never again!

Same goes for meals – some restaurants require groups to pay on one check, or ahead of time. Sometimes they will even make a set menu for kids to pick from and you can pay the whole thing ahead of time. Otherwise, just let each kid pay on their own. Include a note about tipping ettiquette in their infomation packet – don’t assume they already know how to do that.

Look into any porter fees the hotel or transportation service may have. Also consider gratuity – it takes a lot of work to handle luggage for a big group and the porters deserve the tip. That doesn’t have to fall on you personally if you think about it ahead of time. Or – better yet – include it as a teachable moment and instruct kids to bring dollar bills to personally hand it to them themselves. I bet the porter won’t be expecting that and it will make their day! Plus, it teaches kids proper travel ettiquette.

Group dynamic matters!

Consider adding a tshirt for the trip. This is adorable – yes – but it also helps you keep the group together in the airport. I recommend the most obnoxious neon colors. 😉

Get organized

Make a binder to hold all confirmations, tickets, permission slips, emergency contact info, activities, medication forms, etc. Keep this binder with you at all times during the trip in case of emergency.

Love on the kids and practice gratitude.

I got this tip from Samantha Berry (Bridgeland HS | Cypress, TX). She creates little gift bags for each kid with travel snacks and activities – but she also includes a thank you note for the kids to give to their favorite session instructor. Isn’t that just the sweetest?!?! I LOVE.

Prepare the kids

Sit down with the group of kids traveling and s.p.el.l. out the expectations, rules, restrictions, and everything you can possibly think of.

Considerations to go over with kids

[wpfd_single_file id=”462″ catid=”35″ name=”Rules for Travel”]

These seem like common sense to adults… but many of these items come from experiences. I start by saying that all of these things boil down to having respect for yourself and others. And just generally not being crazy.

Be sure to know if any of your kids haven’t ever traveled before – especially if they’ve never been on a plane. TSA security can be a little intimidating if it’s your first time!

FUN IDEA: Bring that kid a make-your-own pin that says “First Time Flying!” – it makes it fun! Make pins for each kid too, with fun comments like “Most Likely to Forget Their Carry-On” – “Most Likely to Listen to Spotify the Entire Plane Ride” – “Designated Group Count Leader” etc. – make it match their personalities!

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  • general things they should already know
    • absolutely no alcohol
    • absolutely no drugs
    • I always emphasized that I will NOT HESITATE to pop them back on a plane with a chaperone at the slightest hint of misbehavior. They need to go into this trip with a commitment to have a good attitude, not create or participate in drama, be flexible and have fun.
  • airport and airplane ettiquette
    • do not run around and be annoying
    • use headphones
    • talk at a normal human level
    • watch language – be aware of surroundings, littles may be around you
    • carry-on requirements (size varies by airline, what can be inside, liquids, how many they can carry)
    • checked baggage requirements
    • metal detectors – check if you have any kids with medical devices, remind about jewelry/clothing with metal
    • let them know they will likely have to remove their shoes – wear socks if that will gross you out
    • keep shoes on when on the plane, don’t be gross
    • info about the bathroom (and a reminder to go before boarding!)
    • keeping seatbelt on
    • listen to attendant’s instructions before takeoff
    • bring chewing gum to help with pressure
  • hotel ettiquette + rules
    • elevator games are a BIG FAT NO – the hotels have a large amount of people during conventions and other people are staying there too.
    • be friendly and polite to all staff and visitors – including those sharing the elevator with you, housekeepers, front desk, etc.
    • lobby ettiquette – same as airport, be quiet and respectful
    • no boys in girls room and vice versa – at all, no exceptions
    • do not enter the room of someone from other school
    • do not trash the hotel room – keep your stuff in one place. practice what it will be like to live in a dorm room in college
    • place dirty towels on the bathroom floor to be replaced
    • make sure all the trash actually makes it into the trashcan
    • keep the room locked – use BOTH locks
    • never open the door for someone you don’t know
    • do not bring/leave valuables in the hotel room
    • in case of fire/fire alarm – go straight to the stairs and get outside. do not find/contact teacher first. we’ll find each other outside. (This has happened to me 3 times on trips with students!!! WHY, I DO NOT KNOW)
    • remind them they will be charged for any damage made to the hotel
  • curfews
    • have one, be strict about it
    • if they need to leave the room for ANY reason after this time (ice, vending, left something in another room), they need to contact you first for permission
  • group chat expectations
    • notifications must be on the entire trip
    • they are responsible for all messages sent there and need to check it often
    • engage with the group, ask questions, and have fun – but keep the conversation on topic and relevant
  • clothing – they are representing their program, school, city, and state and this is a good time to practice dressing for the part. Sessions are not overly formal, but pajamas are not OK.
    • dress for comfort but don’t look like a hoochie or homeless
    • bring one nice outfit for awards ceremony if applicable
    • bring layers – convention spaces are usually cold
    • watch the weather before and bring appropriate clothing
    • bring walking shoes for sightseeing
    • consider if they need a hat/sunscreen/swim attire/etc
  • sessions
    • Emphasize attendance and planning ahead to be on time. Conventions are BIG spaces with lots of sessions and it will be hard to track where each kid is. CSPA actually has a check in process and it emails you each day for everyone’s session, which is GREAT – but JEA does not have that yet (as far as I know.)
    • Mention any underwriting or scholarships kids received to get to go on this trip, and how they should make that money worth the investment in their education
    • Instruct them to split up across different topics and take notes to bring back to the staff. Some advisers make the kids who went on the trip prepare short presentations for the staff to share what they learned. I think this is a great idea!
    • keep phone on silent/vibrate – do not play on your phone while the presenter is talking

Prep the parents

Host a meeting with the parents of all attendees about a week before the trip. Require attendance, so you can ensure they have heard all the above information.

In addition to what you told the kids, with parents emphasize travel and lodging arrangements so they feel secure. Makes sure they have addresses and phone numbers for all locations. I always gave them my direct cell number, but you can get a free Google Voice number if you’d prefer.

Student medication

Ask parents about all medication procedures, as most districts require the teacher to administer all medication. Be sure you know your district’s rules before the trip – as some forms may be required.

I was required to collect all medication (even Advil/Tylenol) and each kid had to have their own bottle in it’s original container. Yes, that means you may be carrying A LOT of bottles. It’s so fun….. 😀

If some kids are allowed to carry their own medication (such as an EpiPen), ensure you know who has what.


Discuss expectations with the parents. Allow them to bring debit cards, but encourage them to bring cash just in case.

Go through the itinerary and discuss the costs involved with each line item. Let them know what was paid ahead of time and what they will need to pay during the trip.

Mention souvenirs and any general shopping opportunities they may have.

Prep your administration

If you have a member of the administration going with you, make sure they have copies of all the above considerations as early as possible. Invite them to the parent meeting, so they can connect – this will also help the parents feel at ease.

Give them a head’s up about any concerns you have with any particular kiddos in terms of behavior, medication, dietary restrictions, or any other needs.

If you do not have admin with you, make sure to remind them before you leave so they are aware to be available if there are any issues that arise.

Prep the chaperones

Parents are usually happily willing to come along as chaperones as needed. Find out what your district requires for number of kids per chaperone. If budget allows, try to cover the chaperone’s trip as much as possible, as a thank you for their work during the trip.

Make copies of all essential documents for each chaperone and instruct them to keep it with them at all times. Also make sure they know which kids have any special circumstances.

If you have an especially large group of kids, split them under the supervision of a chaperone.

Prep your spouse

My husband was able to schedule a trip that coincided with ours for most conventions, so it was fun to have him along. He takes his silliness very seriously, and the kids loved him. He’s a teacher too, so he totally understood my role during the trip.

If your spouse doesn’t come along, just make sure they realize you are working the entire time and not to worry if you aren’t super responsive during the day, or crash-into-the-pillow tired at night. I just feel this is respectful so the expectations are realistic. You know me, always looking out for ya!

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