One of these days you guys are going to get tired of me writing travel posts about the UK. But even when that day does arrive, I won’t stop! I lived and studied in Oxford for a term when I was in college, and the rest is history. I visited again with my Mom in 2016, and just last week I was lucky enough to go back for a third trip to Merry Old England. This time, however, I was in the company of 16 high school students and two amazing chaperones.
I’ll admit that I was very nervous about taking a group of students across the pond, but God was so faithful to answer all of our prayers and make our trip generally smooth. We had some bumps in the road–what traveller hasn’t experienced those?–but nothing so crazy or outrageous that we couldn’t handle it.
So I thought today I’d share some general London tips I took away from this trip, and also some things I learned about chaperoning students abroad.
London Tips and Tricks
- It was confirmed to me on this trip that the best way to see London is by splitting the city up geographically. It’s too big to be traveling from one side to the other all day long, so split it into two or three chunks. I wrote a little bit about this during my last trip. You can check out all those posts here.
- It was also confirmed to me that a real life, paper map is your best friend. The few times we tried to use Apple Maps’ walking directions, we got turned around. My favorite map is a discreet fold out map at the back of this travel guide published by AAA. It also has a tube map! I love this little book so much that when I lost my original copy, I just had to buy another one. It was also really fun to hand the map over to students and ask them to navigate us home. They did an awesome job!
- I learned that late March is a great time to visit the UK. You might have to put up with some rain and cold temperatures, but the crowds haven’t started to build up yet. Granted, I’ve only ever visited the UK in the spring and early summer, but this trip by far was the least crowded with tourists. The downside to this is that many places hadn’t started their summer, tourist hours yet. The Eye was only open until 4:00 or 5:00 each night, but if we’d visited just one week later, it would have been open until midnight. Annoyances like that are a small price to pay when you don’t have to wait in line virtually everywhere.
- I learned that the British Museum is busy on Sundays! They had cultural events going on, and the place was absolutely full of people. I don’t know if that means you should avoid it on Sundays, or just know ahead of time that you might face a larger than normal crowd.
- I learned that Big Ben is going to be hidden under scaffolding until 2021. I had no idea going in, so when I walked out of the Westminster tube station, expecting my students to be awed by the beautiful lights–all we saw was a concrete wall and scaffolding. If you’re headed to the UK in the next three years, manage your expectations, because this is what you’re likely to see:
Traveling Tips for Teachers
You might be a pro at handling international trips, but it was definitely a big step for me!
- Preparation is essential, but so is flexibility. The days when I didn’t have a set plan already in place were frustrating because I felt that we wasted time figuring out our next steps. That being said, there were busy days when I needed to back off the planned itinerary and that also worked really well. I’d say that I learned you can’t over prepare, but just be willing to compromise.
- Tour guides are great, but so is genuine experience. We didn’t have a lot of tour guides on our trip–really we only had one, Suzanne, who guided us to Stonehenge and Bath. She was full of great information, but since we had just arrived in the UK, I think we were all a little too drowsy on the bus to take in everything she had to say. Instead, we found ways to learn more at each place we went. At Westminster Abbey, for example, my group stumbled upon a volunteer who helped us understand all about heraldry in the past and today. After he’d talked about shields and crests for fifteen minutes, I was worried they’d be bored. I’ll admit I was trying to find a way to wrap up the conversation, but the students in my group started chiming in with their own questions.
- Travel groups make all the difference. A wise coworker suggested that we break our group into smaller groups that each chaperone was responsible for. This ended up being a lifesaver in many situations–from riding the Tube at rush hour, to touring crowded sites. We also split into other groups along the way based on the attractions the kids wanted to see, but it was fun to spend time with a smaller group more consistently. I enjoyed those times the most, mainly because I was able to build relationships with students I’ve never had the privilege of teaching.
- Soak up the moments. Yes, you’ll have to use your “teacher voice”, and yes, your kids might not be super interested in the Globe Theatre. And you know what? They might even throw wrenches into your plans that you’d never even thought of. But at the end of a really long trip, what I’ll treasure the most is the laughter and spontaneous moments. My favorite thing about teaching is building relationships with students that hopefully lead to learning and growth in their lives and mine.
P.S: I couldn’t go to Oxford without adding to my Rabbit Room collage, right? Our day in Oxford was picture perfect, and I can’t wait to go back someday soon. I’m convinced it’s a magical place.