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Frequently Asked Questions


Click on any of the below questions and the answer will be displayed. Please feel free to contact us anytime with additional questions.

General FAQs

How is the Smithsonian Institution involved with these student travel programs?

For 170 years, the Smithsonian Institution has inspired generations through its steadfast dedication to the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” In a globalized world, it is more important than ever to promote the Smithsonian values of Discovery, Creativity, Excellence, Diversity, Integrity, and Service. This is why the Smithsonian, in collaboration with Walking Tree Travel, a premier service-focused student travel provider, is pleased to offer a collection of dynamic programs for high school students – Smithsonian Student Adventures. Smithsonian Student Adventures programs are operated by Walking Tree Travel under license from the Smithsonian Institution.

Will participating on a program improve my foreign language skills?

When surveyed after their students’ time abroad, over 90% of our alumni families say that our programs have improved the students’ confidence in their foreign language and inspired them to continue their language studies.

Why should high school students travel abroad?

Traveling abroad offers a unique opportunity for high school students to become global citizens as they experience and learn about life in different parts of the world. Our students report that traveling with us expanded their understanding of the world, helped them better understand and appreciate life in America, increased their self-confidence, bolstered their sense of independence, helped them make new friends, and proved to them that they can make a positive difference in the world.

Are all of the host countries safe places to travel?

Safety is our number one priority at Smithsonian Student Adventures. We design all of our itineraries evaluating safety concerns above all else, and have done our best to anticipate and prepare all of our staff for any eventuality by planning each phase of the program with the utmost care and diligence. Smithsonian Student Adventures does not travel to any countries with a State Department Travel Warning.

What immunizations are required for Smithsonian Student Adventures?

As immunization information continuously changes, we highly recommend our families contact the CDC or your local travel clinic to make sure your student has the recommended immunizations or medication for travel in your destination.

What happens if a participant gets sick?

All of our leaders are trained in CPR and First Aid and are equipped with a fully-stocked medical kit while traveling, which allows them to handle minor ailments like headaches, blisters, sunburns, or upset stomachs. If the issue is more severe, Smithsonian Student Adventures staff will contact families directly, whenever possible, before going to the nearest and best medical facility. At all times during a program, Smithsonian Student Adventures leaders have with them the phone numbers of the nearest medical facility, and ready means by which to contact emergency medical services if need be.

What if a participant has very specific dietary or medical needs?

We understand that some students have special needs related to health, diet, or other concerns. We are committed to doing all we can to accommodate the special needs of participants, and it is of utmost importance we know as much about the issue as possible before the program’s departure. Please be sure to list any and all medical issues on the student’s medical information form when applying to a program.

What type of correspondence can the participant and their family expect?

Once the enrollment process is complete and the applicant is accepted, we will be in frequent contact with each participant to ensure that they and their family are well prepared for the program. Each program will have its own web page that will contain packing lists, a roster of participants, group flight information, homestay village information, leader biographies, links to each program’s Facebook group, vaccination advice and much, much more. Once the program begins, our team will be in contact with families through email and blog updates. During a program, there is constant 2-way communication between participants, Program Leaders, Country Directors, and our Colorado-based headquarters.

Do participants need travel insurance with Smithsonian Student Adventures?

Our experience has taught us that travel can be unpredictable. As such, we provide all of our participants with basic secondary travel insurance through Travel Guard, which provides partial coverage for emergency medical evacuation, medical expenses if you get sick or injured, lost luggage/delays, travel delays, and lost travel document replacement. We strongly recommend that our participants purchase a separate travel insurance policy that provides additional financial coverage in the event of trip cancellation or other unforeseen mishaps.

When does Smithsonian Student Adventures assign participants to their host family?

Participants are assigned to their host families after the program begins but before arrival in the host village. This gives leaders a chance to become familiar with the personalities and specific interests of each participant so that we can place him or her in the best possible homestay environment. The common denominator among all our families are that they are kind, hospitable, and excited to receive our students. Students will always be paired with another student in a homestay. They will have daily meetings with the program leader (without their homestay family present) to ensure they feel safe and comfortable. Both students and homestay families will agree in writing to set expectations and standards of behavior.

How does Smithsonian Student Adventures select homestay families?

More than anything, we select families based on their sincere desire to host our students. In many cases, students will be staying with families that have already hosted travelers and have proven to be wonderful hosts. Our in-country staff spend significant time with all host families prior to the group’s arrival. They ensure that each family will provide a welcoming and comfortable environment and that they understand our expectations for safety and behavior.

How does Smithsonian Student Adventures decide on service projects?

Smithsonian Student Adventures’ in-country staff meet with village committees to decide on a project that is both needed and viable. These projects take many different forms but are always a collaborative effort, with both sides contributing resources to the common goal. More specifics for your program’s project will become available as the departure date draws near.

What are some examples of past services projects?

We work hard to ensure the projects we participate in will have a real, positive impact on our host communities. Past projects have included construction of classrooms, reforestation campaigns, malaria prevention efforts, building ramps for handicapped students, building community kitchens and libraries, laying a two-mile long sidewalk along a dangerous road to protect local students, erecting a playground, digging a sophisticated village drainage system, creating green spaces, and teaching English in orphanages, monasteries, private lessons and classrooms.

What is the average family like?

We try to work with families who have children so that our participants can have host “brothers” and “sisters.” However, not all host families have children. We also use the utmost discretion when assigning students. For example, if a family has a 15-year-old son, we are likely to put a male student with the family. We are consistently moved by the generosity, hospitality, and dedication of our host families. They truly care for our participants as if they were their own children.

What is the typical profile of a Smithsonian Student Adventure leader?

Smithsonian Student Adventure leaders are a select group of dynamic young adults. All leaders have shown excellence in leadership positions, have extensive travel experience, are fluent in the necessary foreign language, and are enthusiastic about our philosophy of travel. In addition, all leaders are CPR and First Aid certified and have been thoroughly trained by Smithsonian Student Adventures for this important position. All open enrollment programs have at least one female and one male leader.

What if a participant has no prior international travel experience or language exposure?

We are delighted to welcome students who have limited travel experience and strongly encourage that they apply. Even participants who have previously traveled internationally will see and experience things for the first time due to Smithsonian Student Adventures’ unique itineraries.

What travel documentation is required?

A valid and current passport is required for all travelers. The passport must be valid for six months beyond the time of travel and must be in reasonable condition. Senegal requires a Visa from all US citizens. China requires a Visa from all US citizens. Participants are responsible for obtaining this visa ahead of time. Once accepted, Smithsonian Student Adventures will send you information on when, where, and how to apply for the visa. For US Citizens, Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico do not require an additional visa.

Open Enrollment Specific

What is the ratio of students to leaders for Smithsonian Student Adventures?

In order to ensure the safest, most memorable programs possible, Smithsonian Student Adventures will maintain a ratio of at least two leaders (one male and one female) per group of 15 students.

How Quickly Do We Need to Apply?

There is no deadline for Open Enrollment applications, although most programs reach capacity by April 1st. Participants and their families are encouraged to apply as soon as possible to ensure space in the desired program. When contacted, Smithsonian Student Adventures is able to give up-to-date information on the program space available.

Can a group of friends go on the same program?

Friends are more than welcome to participate in the same program. However, it is important for them to understand that it is our expectation that all participants make a concerted effort to spend time with all travelers to ensure there is no exclusion within the group.

Custom Specific

Do group sponsors travel for free?

Typically, for every eight paying participants, one group sponsor or chaperone travels for free. Smithsonian Student Adventures requires that at least one group sponsor travels with each group. The inclusion of additional chaperones is left to the discretion of each group.

Is there a maximum or minimum number of travelers necessary for a custom group travel program?

While there are no official maximums or minimums, we typically seek at least six travelers and rarely exceed more than 25 on each program.

Do I have to include homestays and community service?

Smithsonian Student Adventures encourages all groups to spend time in one of our many great host communities living with local families and doing community service but understands it is not always possible or of interest and thus is not something we require.

How do I recruit travelers?

Once your itinerary is developed, Smithsonian Student Adventures will provide you with customized catalogs, posters, and promotional DVDs to help recruit. Further, we will assist you with strategic planning and a Director will be readily accessible to you, other chaperones, students, parents, and your administration throughout the planning and recruitment process to offer guidance and help whenever desired.

Who handles paperwork?

Smithsonian Student Adventures is happy to deal directly with all participants regarding the collection of paperwork. Better still, all applications and necessary release forms are found in digital form online, and will be accessible to students, parents, and teachers through your customized program webpage.

Is a Smithsonian Student Adventures staff member with us while we travel?

There will be at least one Smithsonian Student Adventures staff member with your group the entire time your group is in a given country. We want all travelers, including group coordinators, to enjoy the program as much as possible so our staff member will coordinate all logistics, meals, transport, activities, etc. and help with the management of the group as much as is desired.

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