Lessons From a Chaperone on a Group Trip to Austria

Hotels with pools are a great idea for the kids to let off steam at the end of a long day of cathedrals, castles or museums. It cuts down on the amount they will be running the hallways (they will be in the hallways) or sneaking out of the hotel. Pools can be as important to the kids as the hotel bar is for adults.

Unfortunately, most European hotels don't have pools, Wirtz said, and he advises trying to find Americanized hotels.

Wirtz also checks menus before leaving home. "I try to get local food if possible, but in an American way. For instance, we'll have them served sauerbraten, but with French fries."

On our trip, we got a steady diet of chopped up meat in a cream sauce. For those expecting the delights of weinerschnitzel or other foods distinctly Austrian, they were disappointed.

Special diets can cause special problems. Make sure the people who ordered vegetarian or kosher meals get them. When the meals started arriving at our tables with a certain monotony, the vegetarian meals started to get diverted. And the vegetarians were going hungry.

The same issue was occurring for observant Jews when another round of pork in cream sauce was served. Fighting over the meals was probably the most contentious problem we faced.

Find out how ambitious the organized tours are. Our days consistently started between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. After a morning stop for a rehearsal or performance by the musicians, walking tours as long as five hours were planned. The line of kids looked like a pack of shuffling refugees that collapsed whenever the tour guide stopped to explain something. Avoid the death marches.

Chaperones Should Be Flexible, Give Them Some Freedom

Wirtz asks that his walking tours be limited to two hours.

Set room assignments before leaving. Match the kids according to interests, but we also varied the roommates at each stop in an effort to avoid cliques and help the kids broaden their friendships within the orchestra. To a remarkable degree, it worked.

Now, about that tape on the doors.

"Yeah, the tape does work, but at the same time, what it does to high school kids is it really belittles them," Wirtz said. "It makes them think, 'we are going to find a way to get away with things.'

"I try to put it back in their lap, make it not at all 'what can I get away with,' but 'what are my responsibilities,'" he said.

Wirtz does recommend the tape for junior high school students. And no matter what the age of the students, Wirtz has a bed check, hallway patrols, and stations someone in the lobby so no one slips out at night, particularly in large cities like Rome.

Be flexible and allow the kids some freedom. They want to be treated like adults. While jumping out of windows must be discouraged, it's OK to give them some leeway in exploring nearby neighborhoods, especially in the daytime. And we found that places like Heathrow and the side streets of Innsbruck were a piece of cake for them. It was the adults who panicked. Or got lost.

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