On the Road Again: WorldStrides' Approach to Traveling Today
Have you ever wondered what goes on behind-the-scenes to deliver a one-of-a-kind educational trip for students and teachers across the country? Read on to learn how we prepared for our first trip since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
In early October, Program Leader Sonny G. and a group of 14 adults set out to explore the natural wonders of America’s National Parks—but preparation for the trip began long before our travelers arrived out west. We sat down with Terri Morgoglione, Chief Experience, Health & Safety Officer at WorldStrides, to learn about the extra precautions taken for our first group of travelers in the new COVID-19 world.
“Being active in nature can be a great way to stay mentally and physically fit, especially during such trying times, and the itinerary for this program included bucket list destinations filled with natural beauty. However excited we were for the program to run, we knew that we would have to be meticulous in our planning and execution to mitigate the risks against contracting COVID-19. Thus, we got to work putting into action the policies and protocols that our Back to Travel Task Force developed over the seven months leading up to the program,” Terri said.
To start, Terri and the rest of WorldStrides’ Back to Travel Task Force monitored COVID-19 case levels and local restrictions in the destinations our travelers were coming from, as well as the locations they’d be visiting on the itinerary. Working closely with our partners at The George Washington Department of Emergency Medicine, the team examined the program itinerary, National Parks guidelines, and our emergency plans, including identifying local testing capabilities if a participant were to exhibit symptoms.
Next, the Task Force met with our Operations Team to vet each vendor that would support the program, confirming that the bus company, hotels, and restaurants had protocols in place to reduce risks during the pandemic. This meant identifying the risk touch points associated with each activity on the itinerary, from eating breakfast to returning to the hotel at night, and determining the steps necessary to mitigate against those risks.
The group’s Tour Director, Simone K., received comprehensive training on our COVID-19 protocols, including symptom monitoring and enforcing COVID-19 specific rules, and each participant was required to attend a customized Pre-Departure Safety Briefing, delivered virtually by WorldStrides’ Health and Safety team. Upon arrival, travelers received personal protective equipment, including enough disposable masks and hand sanitizer to get them through the entire program.
“Having been the first group to travel since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we felt very safe during our touring experience. WorldStrides established strict protocols to abide by, and our group faithfully followed them. Our travels were not affected by these rules and our magnificent trip through the National Parks reflected that,” said Sonny G., the group’s Program Leader. Though he’s been traveling exclusively with WorldStrides since 2003, Sonny took extra precautions to make sure this particular trip ran smoothly. “The preparation for this trip was much more time consuming and required more attention to detail than most previous ones due to the pandemic,” he said. “I constantly reviewed Utah and Arizona’s COVID-19 rates, studied CDC suggestions, communicated with WorldStrides’ Health and Safety team, and kept in weekly contact with my group. While I was confident we could safely travel to the National Parks, we took nothing for granted. Proper preparation was an absolute necessity and the positive results of our trip proved correctly.”
Though Sonny’s trip was originally postponed due to travel restrictions, he was more than happy to reschedule so his travelers would have the opportunity to see the great American West with WorldStrides. “[They’ve] always been efficient, accommodating, and effective in both the preparation and the execution of my trips. I am very comfortable with them and see no reason to use any other company,” he said.
While on tour, Sonny and his Tour Director, Simone, provided daily health and safety briefings, working together to keep their group of travelers informed and up-to-date. “We used two vans instead of one single bus. We wore face masks constantly, kept a social distance, sanitized, and avoided most indoor activities. Despite these regulations, the group absolutely loved the trip and was more than willing to follow WorldStrides’ guidelines in order to have a safe and successful tour of six National Parks,” said Sonny.
“This trip really helped with my COVID cabin fever,” one traveler said. “I felt safe with the way everything was handled on the trip, and we had a wonderful time. The experience opened my eyes to the beauty of the United States, and I’ve really enjoyed everything we’ve done,” he added. As the tour wrapped up and participants packed their bags, they were advised on best practices to follow when returning home, including monitoring for symptoms and avoiding vulnerable members of their home community.
“I think traveling, even while the world is changing, is something each person has to decide for themselves,” Sonny reflected. “Personally, I am confident in my quest to travel as I am both careful and use some common sense of where I am going. This world, both national and international, is a fascinating place and I want to experience it all. Travel has reinforced in me both diversity and inclusion, and I intend to continue doing so but with much more preparation and forethought than before.” And with four trips lined up for 2021—and two more scheduled for 2022—we can’t wait to explore the world with Sonny again!
Although travel may not look the same as it did a year ago, with careful planning and a commitment from every traveler to strictly adhere to best practices for preventing the spread of COVID-19, it is still possible to cross some experiences off your bucket list!