Bus.com’s online booking tool makes chartering a bus a simple process, but travelling with students is still no easy task. It’s complex, but it’s not insurmountable. You can do it! And we’re here to help. The most important thing to remember is that each state or province has different requirements. What might be expected in Miami could be totally different in Toronto. Before you start gathering documentation, speak with your school board to learn more about your regional necessities.
Choosing a bus
The school bus might be the first bus you consider when looking at bus charter types, but they aren’t perfectly suited to every trip. School buses are best for short field trips. Many bus operators will even let you sit three kids to a seat if they are under the age of 10. Verify with your booking specialist if you’d like to sit three to a seat. If you’re taking a class of kids from the suburbs to a museum downtown, rent a school bus. If you’re chartering a bus for an overnight adventure like a college tour, you’ll need something a little more comfortable. For those long trips, you’ll want to rent a coach bus.
Note: Don’t forget to account for chaperones when you calculate your passenger list.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, each state, province, school board, school, or organization will have its own expectations for the kinds of consent and waiver forms required for transporting students. This all gets a lot more complicated when you’re crossing borders. Make sure that you reach out to your organizing body to learn about your region’s specific rules. And remember! Even babies require passports!
Besides the types of documentation you’ll need, there are other things to consider when you’re compiling your papers for departure. Firstly, you’ll have to select an organized member of your leadership team to collect the documentation and make copies for the chaperones on every bus. You’ll also want to make sure that important medical information is shared with those that need to know, keeping privacy in mind. Finally, don’t forget to get liability insurance. Check with your school board to find out what their insurance policy covers.
When you rent a charter bus, be it a school bus or a coach bus, you’re going to save money on transportation. That said, we understand it is still a lot of money to gather up front. Bus.com offers a Book Now, Pay Later policy, so you can book a bus at an early bird price and wait to pay until 21 days before departure. Since we recommend booking charter buses at least six months in advance, you’ll have lots of time to organize payment from your participants. Set a deadline and communicate it with all your passengers’ parents.
Note: An adult has to accept Bus.com’s Terms and Conditions and use his or her credit card to process the charter bus payment.
When it comes to booking accommodations, the same considerations apply as they do for chartering a bus. Similar to our policy regarding who can pay for a bus rentals, most hotels and hostels require an adult make the reservation and pay for it. Many ask that a certain amount of chaperones be present. Some don’t allow unaccompanied minors at all. For all trips with minors, make sure you call your hotel or hostel to ask about their policies regarding minors. You don’t want to show up for your reservation and be turned away.
We can’t talk about charter buses for minors without talking about school buses. One of the most common questions people have is “are they safe?” That’s understandable given the school bus’s lack of seat belts. But this lack is not an act of negligence. It’s a safety feature. In the event of an accident when minors on the bus, it is too difficult for the chaperone to undo 40 seat belts. To account for the lack of belts, school buses are designed to keep kids safe in the event of an emergency. Learn more about school bus safety in our blog post, “Why Don’t School Buses Require Seat Belts?” If you feel like you absolutely must have seat belts, ask your booking specialist. They can set you up with a coach bus that is equipped with belts.
Communicating with your leadership staff and bus operators is key to pulling off any trip, but it’s especially important when you are travelling with minors. Use a group chat to keep chaperones connected throughout the entire trip. You should share attendance records, emergency notifications, and itinerary changes. You should also keep important documents in a shared digital folder. Keep it private, only allowing access to those who need it, because you’ll want to keep passengers’ important medical information accessible to the responsible adults.
As you devise your communications strategy for your trip, don’t forget to include parents. It takes a lot of trust for a parent to let their kids go out on the open road. Assuage their fears by keeping them in the loop. Parents should know where their children will be and what time they will be there. They should also have the chaperone’s contact information.
How to be the best chaperone
Being a good chaperone is more than sitting on a school bus surrounded by kids. It’s an active position. You need to be paying attention at all times, especially if you’re travelling with young kids who have a tendency to wander off. That’s why it’s important to collaborate with you fellow chaperones. If your field trip is longer than 6 hours or if you’re travelling overnight, work in shifts so everyone is alert. Alert doesn’t mean being a drill sergeant. It means being energetic, maintaining positivity, and promoting a fun and friendly atmosphere. You’ll also want to position yourself as a good listener, especially if you’re travelling with teens. Be someone that everyone on the bus can come to if there’s a problem no matter how embarrassing it may be. Lastly, don’t involve yourself in every moment and every experience. Teens want to feel independent and if you’re hovering they’ll resent you. Be present but don’t be a helicopter.
Keeping kids happy
“Are we there yet?” It’s a familiar refrain when you’re on the road. While you can’t eliminate the question, you can extend the period of time between hearing it. Plan games, keep food on hand, and schedule your pit stops.
Prepare several games and sing-a-longs for the road. Don’t play them as soon as you get on the bus. It’s best to save them for after the initial excitement of boarding wanes. For ideas on games to play, check out our “Group Games to Play on Long Bus Rides” post.
Even if you’ve requested parents send their kids with food, it’s important to have snacks on hand. Parents are busy and can forget to pack snacks. Kids will take any opportunity to lose their lunch boxes. A million things can happen so it’s important to make sure you have healthy snacks and water at the ready.
“I have to go peeeeeee!”
If you’ve rented a coach bus, you’ll have an on-board restroom. But if you’ve rented a minibus, mini coach bus, or school bus, you’ll need to schedule extra pit stops. Open a map and plot out which service stations you’ll visit along the way.
If you’re traveling in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or anywhere else in California, you need to be aware of SPAB certification. SPAB stands for Student Passenger Activity Bus. It’s a special certification that all drivers transporting minors require if they are driving in California. Make sure your booking specialist knows you’re transporting students in Cali so they can ensure a SPAB certified driver is hired.