• 52°

New, traditional travel tools bring answer for class trip

The long arm of the World Wide Web reached out and snagged me this week. A friend of a friend tracked me down using articles posted on www.IrontonTribune.com and my Facebook site.

A colleague of his and a past student of mine had said that when he was a student at OUS and participated in our educational journeys that I had worked miracles.

His email asked if I could be of assistance in planning an educational getaway for his school to Washington D.C. It explained that he’s a teacher in a large Ohio school district and that his students were “poorer than dirt.” But they were great kids and deserved a chance to experience our nation’s capitol. He had checked with some local travel companies but their quotes were way over his budget.

The message continued saying that he wasn’t comfortable researching, assembling, then conducting the travel experience. Staying within his comfort zone of teaching and managing his students and chaperones was what interested him. He needed someone else to design, develop, then manage the trip. Of course he wanted a pricing miracle too.

We exchanged a few emails but this form of communication just wasn’t cutting it so I went a little lower tech. I picked up the phone and called him. After a series of questions and answers we were on the same page. It’s time to get started on the research and design phase.

I like to identify the most crucial and/or most expensive components and start from there. Generally these items are your transportation or lodging costs.

If you need to travel by bus and you can’t get a bus, then there is no need to go any farther. Believe me there are times when you can’t get a bus. Like this past weekend- Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, spring school trips and so forth book up the inventory and they book it up early.

Fortunately my group leader’s school board was donating a bus and driver. The “golden goose” school bus is not my preferred mode of travel but in this instance the transportation costs could be spent on another educational or trip activity. We’re talking amount a sizeable chunk of cash here and these savings should be able to keep the individual costs down.

My first call was to my favorite downtown D.C. budget hotel. I like this property because it is within walking distance of the National Mall, Ford’s Theater, the Smithsonian Museums and other D.C. highlights. This time it priced out at $180 a night based on four dents sharing a room. Factor in room taxes and breakfast and I was looking at a rate of about $55 per head per night.

Not bad when compared to other downtown D.C. hotels but I thought that I could do a little better across the Potomac River over in old Virginia. Our plans included utilizing the Metro to travel around D.C. so this was a fixed cost regardless of where we stayed.

The variable here was our hotel rate. Now I needed to locate a Virginia hotel that is very near a Metro stop, offers a great rate and preferably provides a free continental breakfast. Easy task you’d think. Google it and you’ll have a lengthy list to select from.

Wrong! This search on the information superhighway that has changed the travel business models and supposedly was the harbinger of death for travel agents failed me big time.

I consider myself somewhat Net savvy and able to conduct fairly specific and concise Web searches but I just struck out.

I thought that I had used very specific search terms in an infinite amount of combinations like Washington D.C. hotel, Virginia hotels, Arlington, Va., hotels, Metro, public transportation, etc.

The major search engines and my favorite travel agent-only sites did not give me this option by transportation type other than airport shuttle.

When surfing failed, I regrouped and went a little old school. I let my fingers do the dialing. Using a printed hotel guide and a Metro map I pieced together a list of properties that I thought might work.

After about eight calls I had located a property that was a good fit — good location, perfect amenities and a value price wise. And it was located next to the Crystal City Mall — a perfect spot for just about any group.

Changing the hotel location saved my students about $40 apiece. Instead of lowering their overall price I applied these savings towards their meal costs.

Their teacher wanted a fairly inclusive package and that’s what I’m building so this $40 covered dining at the Hard Rock Café and ESPN Zone. Okay, these are marginally educational venues but you have to let kids be kids and enjoy the moment sometimes. Beside OU offers a class in the history of rock music so I’m doing some subtle recruiting.

Everything else fell into place so the trip is back in the hands of the teacher.

He now has the difficult task raising funds for their D.C. trip. But I’m confident that they’ll get it done.

It’s another “Save the Date” message from the Blooming Travel Professor: On Saturday the Ironton in Bloom organization will hold a fundraising plant sale at the new Farmers Market.

The sale starts at 10 am and the market is located in Ironton at South Second and Vernon streets.

Proceeds from the sale will be plowed back into the pots and flowers that brighten up the city.

As always I appreciate your comments and/or questions. Do you have questions on destinations, products or a travel related problem email me at thetravelprofessor@gmail.com or call 740-550-9540.