Meet Educational Destinations Tour Director Teri Aitchison

Meet Educational Destinations Tour Director Teri Aitchison

Educational Destinations’ professional Tour Directors use their commitment and experience to ensure the Teacher’s and the group’s trip are successful.

Rest assured, if the unpredictable happens, your Tour Director is there, ready to tackle the unpredictable and get your trip back on track. When it comes to tour directing, Teri Aitchison is ready to treat you to an awesome trip, starting with that wonderful smile. Teri’s warm personality and impressive experience record are a plus to have with any group. It is rare to find someone who is this great at tour directing, but also so likable that groups are sad to see her go at the end of a trip. And, we actually got Teri to sit still for long enough to answer some questions. Enjoy!

How long have you been a Tour Director for Educational Destinations?
Teri: Though it is hard for me to believe, my first solo trip, way back in 2000, was to Disney World with the Waldron High School Band.

Teri Aitchison sharing a memory with Zionsville Orchestra exploring Glen Coe, Scotland.
Teri Aitchison sharing a memory with Zionsville Orchestra exploring Glen Coe, Scotland.

Do you have any background in education?
Teri: I studied piano for six years and was also a member of my high school and church choirs. While my Bachelor’s degree is in medical technology, I left the profession to raise my children. When they were all in school, I spent several years substitute teaching in elementary music along with middle and high school band and choir.

How did you get started tour directing?
Teri: My four sons were members of the New Castle band program where I also served as booster president for three terms. The New Castle Music Department uses Educational Destinations as their travel planner and on a Philadelphia/New York City trip during Thanksgiving week of 1996; I had the good fortune to cross paths with lead tour director, Jef Furr. Soon after, he contacted me about coming on board with MTC but with three of my sons still in middle and high school, the timing just wasn’t right. I am forever grateful that he kept asking as this part time job has been a dream come true for a reluctant empty-nester with a love for all things involving travel and the performing arts!

Teri Aitchison sharing a memory with Bedord Middle School Band visiting the Washington Cathedral - constructed of Bedford limestone.
Teri Aitchison sharing a memory with Bedord Middle School Band visiting the Washington Cathedral – constructed of Bedford limestone.

How many total trips have you tour directed?
Teri: In early April 2017, I’ll be boarding a motor coach bound for Atlanta for what will be my 200th trip! I’ve actually kept a record of all of the groups I’ve been privileged to travel with – reviewing it now and again always brings back great memories.

What is the hardest part of being a successful Educational Destinations Tour Director?
Teri: Having experienced the client side of the equation, I understand the high standard of excellence our clients expect – not only for a well-run trip that includes our travelers receiving everything they’ve paid for, but also that all vendors deliver that same level of customer service and attention to detail that our company provides. There is nothing more frustrating to a tour director than a vendor who does not meet our expectations. It is always my goal to use every resource at my disposal to address and correct any deficiencies as they occur.

Teri Aitchison sharing a favorite memory from Venice!
Teri Aitchison sharing a favorite memory from Venice!

What is the largest group you have tour directed for?
Teri: I’ve traveled with groups of nearly 200 to both New York City and Disney as the only TD on the trip. In each of the past five years, I’ve been asked to serve as a tour director for our ”Family and Friends” groups traveling to Southern California, in support of their band student marching in the Tournament of Roses Parade. Each of these groups had included 200 to over 400 participants. With these very large groups, MTC has a team of both staff and TDs in place to make certain we can address each client’s needs.

Is there something you wish travelers knew before the trip departs?
Teri: The travel/chaperone tips included in Educational Destinations’ itinerary booklets do an excellent job of outlining what to expect on an MTC trip. The trick is getting the travelers, especially the chaperones, to read the material! Many times, particularly with “big city” destinations involving festivals, clinics, workshops and/or parades, the schedule is set by the sponsoring entity with little room for last minute adjustments. This often makes travelers feel as though they’ve been made to “hurry up and wait.” And while we’d all love to enjoy that second or third cup of coffee at the group’s dinner venue, loading everyone onto the coaches to transfer to the theatre takes time. Traveling with large groups of students is not going to be like your family vacation, but the rewards and memories can be just as special.

Teri Aitchison at Saint Peter's Square, Rome.
Teri Aitchison at Saint Peter’s Square, Rome.

What’s your proudest moment?  Tell us about a time when you being there made a difference.
Teri: My proudest moment on any trip is watching the group’s performance. Many are the times I’ve shed tears right along with the parents and grandparents as they watch their student march in that special parade, take the field in competition, sing at Carnegie Hall or any number of special performance venues.

Making a difference can be something as simple as replacing a single lost ticket, all the way up to securing airport meal vouchers for an entire group, when a flight was delayed and the cost of an extra meal was not anticipated. My mantra has always been that it never hurts to ask for the moon on behalf of our travelers, when things aren’t going exactly to plan.

What is your favorite place to travel/visit with and without groups?
Teri: I would be hard-pressed to name just one favorite as I’ve loved each and every destination I’ve visited with my groups over these many years – from the east coast to the west coast, as far north as Toronto, Canada to as far south as the Bahamas along with overseas trips to Scotland and Italy – each becomes a favorite because of the people I’ve met during the journey. Sharing the excitement of a student seeing the ocean for the first time, attending their first Broadway show, their first time boarding an airplane or placing higher than the previous year at BOA Grand Nationals – the list of “firsts” is endless. While I came to MTC as a seasoned traveler, ( in fact, with the exception of Italy, there hasn’t been a destination I haven’t first visited with my own family), it’s seeing it all through the fresh eyes of a first time visitor that keeps me returning to such destinations as Disney World (my 126th visit there is Spring, 2017!).

My husband and I have our own bucket list of destinations yet to explore. Last summer included a trip to the Canadian Rockies and tentative plans for 2017 include one to Nova Scotia.

Teri Aitchison sharing a memory with Trojan Marching Band sax line at Disney's All Star Music Resort.
Teri Aitchison sharing a memory with Trojan Marching Band sax line at Disney’s All Star Music Resort.

What does it take to be a successful Educational Destinations Tour Director?
Teri: It goes without saying that being organized as well as being a self-starter are important tools for success. Pre-trip “homework” is also a must. While cell phones, along with a plethora of travel apps, have certainly simplified life on the road, these are no substitutes for being armed with a solid working knowledge of the itinerary and the various places the group will be visiting. And while MTC’s top notch Operations Department takes care of securing vendor contracts, as well as providing the TDs with location details and contacts, it is important to reconfirm all of these details in advance of the group’s arrival.

Learning to read the group is also an important part of being a successful TD. New directors or first-time travelers may need a more “hands on” approach while seasoned veterans may prefer the TD deals only with vendors.

When asked why I willingly travel thousands of miles with someone else’s teenage children, I often make the comment that I don’t travel with just any teenagers. I’ve found music students often possess a higher level of maturity than the average high school student. However, in the end, they are still kids and, as the saying goes: Kids will be kids. Keeping your sense of humor can go a long way in setting the positive tone needed following an overnight ride on a motor coach and a full day of touring yet to come before checking into the hotel.

“Teri is one of our best Tour Directors. She runs a great trip. Her favorite trips are to Walt Disney World and I call her Miss Disney! I think she has done almost 130 trips to this destination! That is a lot of Mouse!”

Jef Furr, Executive Vice President, Educational Destinations

What are the benefits of having an MTC Tour Director at your side?
Teri: From making certain the motor coaches are staged at the proper time and location for any and all activities, to facilitating a fast and organized hotel check-in, to making certain all known food allergies have been addressed at meals, along with handling a myriad of other details related to making the trip a memorable experience, your MTC TD is at your service from start to finish. After months and sometimes years, of careful planning and anticipation, a TD allows the group’s directors and staff to fully focus on the performance ahead as well as chaperone duties.

Teri Aitchison enjoying Cinderella's Castle dressed in Holiday finery.
Teri Aitchison enjoying Cinderella’s Castle dressed in Holiday finery.

Any advice to share with groups considering performance travel?
Teri: Never underestimate the value of a shared travel experience among a group of peers. I’ve been at this long enough to be traveling with the second generation of MTC clients and their level of excitement about the upcoming performance or the next stop on the tour never wavers. If I could record the nonstop chatter among the students and chaperones as we make our way back to the hotel after a full day of touring, and share it with those considering a student trip, their only decision would be when and where to travel!

Don’t you get tired of going to the same places over and over?
Teri: In a word….never! Every group is unique, every performance is unique and every trip reinforces why I love being an MTC TD. If I ever reach the point when I don’t feel that sense of adventure and excited anticipation as I begin the next trip, then I’ll know it’s time to retire.

Teri Aitchison - The keeper of the Music in the Parks awards.
Teri Aitchison – The keeper of the Music in the Parks awards.

Do you think you have what it takes to wear the cape and be an Educational Destinations Tour Director like Teri Aitchison?

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