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!