Traveling with Middle School Students: What to Consider

One of the questions that we often get from teachers is: do you work with middle schools?  The answer: yes! 

We love working with middle school students and embrace the special challenges and opportunities that traveling with this age group provides. An experiential learning program can have especially profound effects on younger, pre-teen students.  As any middle school teacher knows, middle school encompasses years of exponential growth on all levels.  Taking students outside the classroom and providing them with opportunities to expand their comfort zone, build confidence, and broaden perspectives at a young age can help them enter high school with a stronger personal and educational foundation.  It can also spark life-long interests- from language study, to service work, to conservation and ecology. 

            When planning a travel program for middle school, it’s important to take several factors into account- just as you would when planning a classroom curriculum.  One of these is your destination.  For most middle school students, the ideal destination is a “stepping stone” to our wide world.  Typically, a destination should be accessible- a less than 8 hour plane ride/travel time is ideal.  This may be the first time on a plane for some students, and will likely be the first time away from family for most.  Choosing a (relatively) close destination, and minimizing the inevitable challenges of airports, suitcases, and flight changes, can help students and families focus more on the experience and less on the apprehension of travel.  While we believe that the expedition experience is about more than just the destination, some of our favorite picks for Middle School trips are Costa Rica, Belize, Southern Appalachia, and Taos, New Mexico. On how to travel with us, go here. 

Each of these places are accessible, unique, exciting, and offer a wealth of program options- from physical challenges like whitewater rafting on the Rio Grande- to social and cultural engagement opportunities like clog dancing with Appalachian musicians. Trip length is also worth considering- we find that 8-10 days is a great time frame for middle school travel: long enough to soak in the experience and allow time and space for a variety of activities, but not too long to struggle with fears of being away from home (which once on expedition, have usually have disappeared by day 3, thanks to our Expedition Mentality and intentional approach to group cohesion!).   It is very important to balance the itinerary- no matter what your destination or your trip focus, middle school students need a carefully considered mix of physical activity combined with slower paced cultural or language focused experiences. 

Finding this balance can ensure that students are engaged, having fun, and learning while meeting new challenges and trying new things.  As teachers know, the way in which you share information with middle school students is critical.  We train our guides on age-appropriate, dynamic teaching, with a focus on student lead learning.  Our middle school guides share information in short segments, and connect everything back through the Story Approach- our narrative style that links the wealth of information and experiences gained on a trip back to a central theme.   We also pair our guides with middle school groups based on their personalities- we understand that younger students need socio-emotional support, and nurturing, patient educators that also know when the time is right to get a little bit silly : ).   Just as being a Middle School teacher can be challenging, surprising, and deeply rewarding, (check out here for more on what you can gain by traveling with students) so too can taking younger students out into the world. 

When carefully planned, a Middle School travel experience can leave an enduring educational impact on young people who are our future leaders.

How to travel with us: 6 easy steps

            We know that planning a student trip can be a daunting prospect. That’s why we want to make it as easy as possible for you. Here is an infographic with the step by step process – including a timeline – on how to plan a student trip with us. We hope you find it useful. 



                                            Read More: 

                                                               Traveling with students: What you can gain

                                                               A South Spanish dish perfect for winter 


                               If you want to take a look at our sample itineraries click here

                                  or if you want to know more about our teacher owners click here   

                                                                    See you soon! 






Cuban Guava Cookies: Your new treat for Santa


Here is a Cuban cookie recipe for a new treat to leave Santa this Christmas! We hope you enjoy them, because we can’t stop eating them!


– 150 g butter or margarine, room temperature
– 130 g (1 ¼ cup) powdered sugar, sifted
– 3 egg yolks
– 1 teaspoon vanilla 
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 250 g (approx. 2 ¼ cup) all-purpose flour.  
– Guava jelly

1-In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the sugar and butter until smooth and fluffy. You can also do this by hand. Powdered sugar is really easy to combine with butter at room temperature.

2. Add vanilla, salt and egg yolks (you can slightly beat the yolks before adding them) and continue to mix for a couple of minutes.

3. Gradually pour in the flour and mix on low speed. Do not overmix.

4. You will know that the dough is ready when the mixture no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. You may need a little bit more flour to get to this point.  

5. Pre-heat the oven at 350 F/180 C. Take small portions of the dough and gently roll each portion between your hands into a perfectly round ball. Apply some pressure on the top to create a hole that you will later fill with the guava jelly.

6. Place the cookies on a cookie sheet (it’s not necessary to grease it) and allow sufficient space between cookies.

7. Bake for 15-20 min or until they get slightly golden around the edges. Let them cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes and then move the cookies to a rack to allow them to cool completely. Enjoy!

Monkfish with green clam sauce: Winter South Spanish dish

Here is a way you can expand your comfort zone this holiday season!

Try your hand at this typical winter dish hailing from Southern Spain. Here is what you need:


  • 5 lb. of fresh monkfish
  • 14 ounces of onions
  • 1/2 lb. of clams
  • 5oz of white wine
  • 5oz of fish stock or fumet
  • 5 ounces of wheat flour
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • a bunch of fresh parsley
  • virgin olive oil
  • salt and cayenne pepper

Serves: 4

Difficulty: easy

Ready in: 1h 10m

Preparation time: 30 min

Cook time: 40 min

  1. Start by washing the fish and at the same time leave the clams in salted water for 30 min.
  2. Wash the parsley and place with the garlic cloves in a blender, and blend.
  3. Finely chop the onions and in a large pan, pour some olive oil. When hot, add the onions, and fry at medium heat, adding the mixture of the parsley and garlic, add the cayenne pepper. Fry until the onions are nicely colored and add the flour stirring quickly for a minute or two.
  4. Pour the white wine and let it sit for a few minutes, then add the fumet. Simmer for 10 min and add the fish and clams, finally cook for 10 more minutes or until the fish turns pale white. Add salt to taste.

Traveling with students: what you can gain

Getting students out of the classroom and into the field, when done right, can leave an enduring educational impact. This is why global programs exist! And while the intrepid teachers who travel with school programs are rightly focused on the student outcome, there are many ways that engaging experiential learning travel can have positive and profound effects on teachers as well. When a teacher is supported, prepared, and engaged during student trips, she can reap rich rewards as well, and can even see the impact translate back into her classroom on campus.

Taos, New Mexico, is one of our handpicked destinations that embodies our approach to experiential learning. We have core tenants that typically influence why we go to a place- the first is the people who live there. We do not go anywhere that we have not cultivated a rich network of local visionary collaborators. Meeting and engaging with local people is one of the keys that make the difference between a tourist visit to a truly meaningful experience. We also choose places with unique environments and habitats that offer diversity of life, rich culture, and opportunities for what we call “intellectual adrenaline”- the chance to challenge yourself and engage with your physical surroundings.

So what then, can a teacher reap from a student trip to Taos?

Expand your comfort zone! One of the most unexpected, and often underappreciated parts of a teacher’s participation in an experiential learning program is expanding her own comfort zone. Our itineraries are carefully designed with an array of activities intended to engage and promote growth for students. While this is expected to happen for student travelers, it creates a wonderful dynamic when it happens with teachers as well! Whether it is a stretch for a teacher to complete the 4 mile hike to the stunning Williams Lake at 11,000 ft in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, or if a teacher is pushing his boundaries by biting into a local green hatch chile, there will almost always be an opportunity for teachers to expand their comfort zone on these experiences. When teachers can share with the group that they, too, are being challenged a unique opportunity arises. On an experiential learning trip, students and teachers are on a different footing than in the classroom. When students can actually support and help teachers through a challenge, it contributes to the personal connections forged on the trip, and will definitely translate to better communication back on campus!

-Connect to your own community. Our expeditions focus on making connections- in Taos, we have the opportunity to visit the Picuris Pueblo, where we are graciously hosted by tribal members who share their history, culture, and stories with us. Often, a person has to step outside of his own daily life to have a clearer idea of what is possible back at home. Making community connections on expedition can help a teacher to turn the lens back to his home community, and challenge himself and students to further engage- whether through service work or just seeking connections and sharing stories in a more open and intentional way.

-Expedition mentality for your classroom: Opportunity or obstacle!
Upcoming rapid on the Rio Grande river as you are white water rafting? Learning about how to build an off-the-grid house in a desert with temperatures ranging from 90 degrees to 10 degrees? These “extreme” situations highlight the best of Expedition Mentality- our approach to meeting challenges head-on and growing in a safe, supportive way. Having conquered such tasks, or learned strategies for meeting challenges, can help teachers take this mentality back to the classroom- because 10 months of class time is most definitely an expedition! Learn how to bring your students together as a group to work through challenges, to support each other, and to grow and learn more than they may have ever thought possible.

No matter who you travel with, or what your destination, thoughtful teachers can bring back many positive gains from a student travel experience that benefit not only the students they take on expedition, but also their other pupils and campus community as well.

Managing Technology while Traveling

           How to manage technology and connectivity while traveling is one of the most important, and constantly shifting, aspects of a student travel experience.  When improperly managed or planned for, technology use – cell phones, internet, and social media, can actually ruin an otherwise great experiential learning expedition. When carefully planned out and communicated, technology use can be an asset to the trip.  We have seen many approaches- from unlimited tech use allowed during trips, to no phones and no connectivity allowed.  While we understand that the best approach for each school varies, we have gathered our “best practices” and recommendations to share with you.  Our guides use Expedition Mentality- our nuanced strategy for maximizing the group experience- to work with your technology plan to ensure your students are getting the most out of their travel, whatever connectivity level is best for you.

            Unlimited use: This is typically our students’ and families “default” way of using technology every day- connected at all times to parents and friends.  However, the downsides of unlimited tech use while on an experiential learning trip are many. Constantly connecting to peers back at home lessens students’ engagement on their trip.  Even if they are enjoying their travel experience, they still often experience “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) when seeing/engaging with things that are happening back at home. At least some level of homesickness is a natural and healthy part of an experience away from home, and overcoming this is and bonding with the group you are with- even if you weren’t best friends to begin with- is a critical part of growth during travel.   Cards and sing alongs on bus rides, games after dinner- with cell phones on hand, these unscripted group bonding moments are much less frequent. When constantly connected with friends and family back home, students don’t have as much chance to move beyond the “missing home” to fully be present, engage and embrace the journey. Worse still, constant communication with home can often create unnecessary complications – in a moment of tiredness or missing home, a dramatic text from a traveling child can often send parents into a spiral of worry for their student, who is actually well cared for and simply experiencing the positive challenges of travel! Staying up late online, roaming charges, intra-group gossip- unlimited technology use is almost never the best choice for a student travel experience. 

            No Tech: Collecting phones upon boarding the plane, and returning once the trip is over.  In terms of engaging with the travel experience, bonding with the group, and allowing room for growth, we have seen this strategy reap the richest rewards.  Again, however, it is important to be realistic and consider what will work best with your students.  Phones are what most students will use as cameras – some groups address this by giving phone to a few students per day to be used as camera only, with photos shared at the end. With no tech allowed, it is important to clearly address communication protocol and safety concerns (What if there is an emergency? How can my child call home if he needs to?), as well as the very real emotional and psychological preparation for adolescents to disconnect for perhaps the first time in their lives. If students and parents can be well prepared and understand the benefits of fully disconnecting, it will almost undoubtedly benefit the experience. In our experience, almost all students who are “forced” to disconnect during travel ultimately end up being grateful for the choice- not only because they were able to engage more in the experience, but also for the myriad other benefits of stepping back from the social pressures of tech for today’s students.

            Smart Tech: We have seen regulated technology use to be the most realistic strategy for many schools. In this instance, expectations are clearly outlined for both students and parents well before the trip.  A good sample strategy: students (often just a few, as above) may be allowed to use phones -as cameras only- during activities. Phones are collected at meals. An hour or so- not too long-  of “free phone time” is allowed each day, usually before dinner, to connect back home.  Phones are collected before dinner and handed back the next morning after breakfast for use as cameras during the day.  If the trip has a blog or integrates curricular use of technology, there are clear times and places to do so. In our experience, this balance works well- students are able to check in with friends and family daily, share pictures, and have clear outlines for connectivity, but are largely disconnected and able to be more present in their travel experience.

            We take an intentional approach to everything we do on an experiential learning adventure- from the local visionaries we partner with, to the extensive training we provide to our guides, to how we customize each program and itinerary to meet our client’s educational goals.  No matter who you travel with, we strongly encourage you to do the same with your approach to technology, so you can get the most out of your time out of the classroom and in the field!

Mike in Cleveland

Dear Educator,

I’ll be nearby next week, from Wednesday (9/19) through Friday (9/21), visiting neighboring schools, meeting with educators, sharing our story, and exchanging ideas on a robust student travel experience. If interested, I’d be happy to do the same at your school. Simply respond with a day and time that works for you.

Chill Expedition isn’t a vacation. It’s a journey to discover cultures, customs, people and foods, and the biodiversity and ecosystems of our shared world. Our guides don’t just point and talk, they’re educators. Our students aren’t tourists, they’re explorers. It’s your classroom, your goals, your visions, your time frames, your budget, and your needs. A Chill Expedition belongs to you, and we’ll help you design a customized program that makes the most of every moment, every experience, and every footprint.

Costa Rica
Galapagos Islands
Greece (Crete)
New Mexico (Taos)
North Carolina (Southern Appalachia)
Arizona/California (Sonoran Desert)
Spain (Andalucia)

For something powerful, for something transformative, for something that makes a mark, respond to this e-mail or give me a call.

Mike Budd

Martina Bustos, Costa Rica. Stanwich School, April 2018.

Buckingham Friends School in Ecuador


There is an easy way to tell if your group had a great trip, it’s at the end when you all have the same exact feeling that you wished it wasn’t over.  Our ten-day immersion adventure in Ecuador was filled with unique opportunities to meet local people and explore deep into the wooded and natural wonders of the highland cloud forest; among our favorite opportunity was staying in our tree house accommodation at Bella Vista surrounding by lush forests and colorful birds, spending nights sitting quietly awaiting a sighting of the usually elusive mammal, the Olingo, who has only recently been added to the list of newly discovered species found in Ecuador.


Our knowledgeable guide Filipi and wonderful driver, Mauricio, created an ethos of safety that assured us that we were in good hands. Filipi’s knowledge of plants, birds, and animals, and his passion for his country made every day feel like a gift we were unveiling. His incredible ability to connect with our students made learning fun and exciting, and our long hikes seem over too quickly.  Most of our students even got up voluntarily for optional sunrise walks to see special birds and other early risers. Meeting locals was easy as Filipi facilitated lots of opportunities to engage with the people we met along the way. Along with the wonderful program Chill created, we had lots of unscheduled opportunities for personal connections too. We played handmade wooden board games in a park with local children, experimented with Columbian instruments shared by local vendors, and played in two hard-fought games of pick-up soccer, one which included member of the our service project community, our guide and driver, and some British kids who happen be walking by and were also doing a project in the area. 

Our nightly circle talks reminded the students that they were not only experiencing this trip as an individual but as part of a group; each responsible to be their best self along with caring for one another’s positive experience. Whoever held the Chill bandana each day, must at night select another student who they thought deserved to wear it the following day for showing some personal growth, an extra effort, or any special reason the really stuck out to them. Their choices were thoughtful and in earnest and unrelated to friendships. Each person took this responsibility very seriously and looked for moments in the day where someone in the group had stepped up.


In a program filled with immersion experiences with local weavers, musicians, and eco-tourist entrepreneurs, our students listened to, worked with, and created connections with local children, families, and tradesmen. It is hard to pick out just one experience that was better than the previous one, each opportunity created a lasting memory of unforgettable people and a beautiful country. On our last circle night, each student took home a strip of the Chill bandana, as they received their piece, they spoke about what experience meant the most to them. Each one shared their favorite part of the trip, not one student chose an experience that was thrilling, like the zip-lining through the woods, even though it was a blast, rather each one shared an experience or connection they had made with Ecuadorian culture and people young and old. I am grateful to Chill Expedition both here in the USA and in Ecuador. They put together a wonderful trip, engaging our students through diverse experience so that they could leave with a love for nature and the people of Ecuador.


Story by 

Hillary Spitzer, lead teacher at BFS

Building Happiness is Building Playgrounds

It’s a Wednesday morning in Kooper Muelle School in La Fortuna, located northwest of the Central Valley in Costa Rica. It’s a cloudy and humid day, but that doesn’t slow down the St. Anne’s School students who know that their work, dedication, and every drop of their sweat will thrill the local kids, as they build a playground!


We work closely with many schools in Costa Rica, and this year we decided to take on a new type of service learning. Building playgrounds! We designed the project based on who will be using the structure. Just like all of our approaches when visiting a community, we work based on the communities’ needs. The structures are made of wood, metal or a combination of both – and even old tires. Recycling at it’s best!

It’s already four o’ clock, the cement is dry and so are the hard-working hands that built the playground. We could feel the cold breeze coming down from the cloud forest, and with it, little droplets of rain. St. Anne’s students waste no time with Lisseth, one of our guides, by inviting the children to come to play! Seeing the local students smile, they feel they know they will be leaving La Fortuna with a rewarding experience to take home and a lasting bond with those whom they’ve helped!

All three playgrounds were a success! The first one is in the community of Martina Bustos, built by The Stanwich School (CT), the second one at the Comadre School, built by Journeys School (WY), and the last playground project is at the Kopper Muelle School, was built by St. Anne’s School of Annapolis (MD).

By Cristina Solis, Reservations & Community Service Director 

Love and Learning in Southern Appalachia

By Mike Budd

On June 26th, fifteen family members ranging from 8 years old to 80 years old descended on Burnsville, North Carolina, on the edge of the Pisgah National Forest, 35 miles northeast of Asheville. We gathered to celebrate my father-in-law’s 80th birthday, expedition style. No, not your typical birthday party, but for this active and curious group, a five day adventure unlike any other.

I could tell you about the delightful bed and breakfast we called home for a week, their fresh squeezed orange juice and warm sausage rolls, and their flower gardens bursting with color. I could tell you about Open Ridge Farm where we ate our wonderful dinners under the stars each evening and played charades around an open fire. I could tell you about tubing down the crystal clear South Toe River, and the pure and refreshing joy we felt. I could tell you about the ooohing and ahhhing as we created fire by friction in a primitive skills workshop. I could tell you about the awe-inspiring views from the top of Mount Mitchell, with raptors floating on the thermals. I could tell you about the origin of chipmunks (a confrontation between a bear and a squirrel, according to our storyteller). I could tell you about the outdoor physics playground and its mesmerizing pendulum wave demonstration with sixteen bowling balls. I could tell you about the live music and dancing at the historic Orchard at Altapass. I could tell you about horseback riding and the thrill of ziplining through the canopy.

So many stories, so many pictures, so many memories. But it’s the hand-blown glass heart that says it all. Created in a small studio tucked in the forest, this simple but beautiful symbol represents why our family chose to spend a week together exploring the Black Mountains. Love. It also represents the energy and passion of the Southern Appalachian people, the many who opened their doors and introduced us to their crafts, their lives, and their community. And finally, it represents a company that was able to build such a genuine, immersive, and well-balanced experience for a group of fifteen, 8 years old to 80 years old. Thank you family, thank you Celo Community, and thank you Chill Expeditions.