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Everybody in Canada is attracted to the old countries. The wide range of amazing places to visit and discover in Europe are almost too numerous to count. And since our national sport is played by almost one-half of the active population, it’s pretty obvious that most people will someday be attracted to play on a foreign ice while visiting all the historical places around.
But sometimes, people get overexcited about their upcoming trip and too often they plan the tour without thinking about all the issues that can arise before, during and after the tour. There is a different kind of trips that goes with different kind of teams (oldtimers, girls, minor, etc…). A sports tour is more complicated than a regular trip and there is no simple way to take care of every detail. That is why the next 7 tips should be considered as the basic advice to follow when planning this kind of tour and it doesn’t matter if you are a player, a coach or a manager; everybody should follow a guideline because group travel is not the same as going on a vacation alone.
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1- The decision, the team, and the commitment:
Of course, once the decision is made to go on a hockey tour, the first thing to do before moving forward is to have a team ready to work and follow you to make it happen. If your group is not involved in every aspect of the preparations, you won’t be able to make them participate in all the upcoming activities.
It’s important for every single member of the group (player, parents, and coaches) to realize that they all have some part to do and that it’s not possible to complete the project without their help. Once you are sure of their commitment, make sure that YOU are ready for the biggest task which is to make the moves since someone has to do it in the end.
2- The agency
A lot of people think they are smart enough to plan the tour by themselves and of course, it’s possible to do it. With the power of the internet and all the resources online, someone with a lot of free time and determination will be able to “patch” a decent schedule. But the fact is there are so many unknown aspects and so many things to think about, that most of the time, the trip will end up a disappointing experience.
People have to understand that there is just too many things to settle for a single person with no experience or contact on-site. The most difficult part being to plan the games or tournament with all the aspects surrounding it: transport, lodging, insurance, local guide, language barrier, quality, distances, visits, support, etc…
There is a lot of companies that organize sports tours and some of them are good of course. The problem is most of them are only travel agency putting a mask on and claiming to be specialists when somebody tells them about including sports. The truth is you need an agency that ONLY Does HOCKEY TOURS. Why? Simply because every member of the company is specialized and passionate about the same thing as you and also because they most probably have a lot of experience in both of the designed field of competence (Hockey and Europe).
To really know what can happen during a stay in a particular country, you need someone who has been there and know about all the aspects of the place. This same person probably lived the same kind of experience like the one you want to accomplish so he knows exactly what you need to do to make sure the trip is a good as it can be.
There are some good companies around but they are pretty expensive since they have so many staff members to include on their payroll.
3. The budget, the destination, and the length
Probably the toughest part of the procedure. Following your agency expertise, your team needs to agree on a destination, a length and of course a realistic budget. The most frequent major mistake from travelers is planning to see too much! “Yeah and why not?” you say. “Europe is small so we can get everywhere in no time.” While that is true, the cold hard fact is that you will have a painful trip if you decide to move around too much.
Traveling by bus (even superior coaches) more than 2 hours per day can get very annoying for everybody and the mood can drop quickly. The other thing to think about is the kind of road ahead. Even on the highway, the buses are often limited to 90km/h and since you most probably have some mountain roads to pass along the way, you will then be moving at an average of 40-50km/h. So a 100km itinerary that seems to be pretty short on a map can end up taking 2 hours in reality.
That is why you need to choose 2 or 3 “headquarters” to split your trip in a convenient way. You’ll be sure to avoid missing some great stuff while enjoying a short ride and keep the spirit up. For example, a 10-days trip can be split among 2-3 major centers that are separated by 200-300 km. This way you won’t be sleeping in 6 different hotels which would involve a lot of packing and unpacking, and you will also have only 2 or 3 “transport” days that won’t waste an entire 24h on moving around.
The length is also crucial for this kind of trips. Do not forget that you must count 2 full days for the round-trip by air. With the time changes and the duration of the flights, a 10-days trip is in a fact an 8-days on-site tour. That is why a single-week journey is not advised since you will be running around without seeing much and come back more tired than before the departure. Depending on your budget, keep the tour between 10 and 15 days.
The other conflict that can arise is the allowed budget. Keep in mind that with all the fees involved, it is NOT realistic to think of going on a hockey tour for 900$ or even 1900$ (except for small trips). The airfares alone range between 1000$ and 2000$ depending on your destination. That is a big chunk of money. The budget will also depend on the country and the choice of accommodations which can greatly affect the experience.
Just remember that not all countries play hockey year-long and also that you won’t be staying too much at the hotels, so do not target 5-stars or even 4-stars resorts. Anyway, most 3-stars hotels in Europe are excellent and affordable. Of course, it’s cheaper to stay a bit out of a city’s “hot spot” and it doesn’t matter much since the bus and subway systems are much more developed and affordable than here.
Most of the time, your team will have to think about fundraising for at least half of the total price. While not a favorite part of the preparation, it’s still a necessary one since nobody wants to cut on the quality of a once-in-a-lifetime tour. That is why you have to find original and fun ways to make everybody participate.
The easiest way is sponsorship but you have to knock at a lot of doors to find substantial money. It’s more realistic to find traditional ways which I will not start to enumerate her. Give yourself time since you need a lot of ideas to find the best activities.
5- Final preparations
An important part of the final preparations is to schedule regular meetings with everybody to make sure they do not forget anything. Unexpected things can and WILL happen during a tour and it’s better to be fully prepared for every surprise that may pop on-site. The biggest issue is probably insurances.
Actually, while it’s very important to have this detail settle in priority, it’s also fairly easy to find some good insurance around. There is a lot of options which are in most cases very affordable and complete. Since some persons are already covered by their job or own insurances, it’s better to make people have their own protections and of course bring documents onboard.
You should insist on having all kind of required and useful papers in a binder kept by the agency consultant or a trustful people if you are traveling without a guide (not recommended). These should include allergy notices, medical notices, insurance coverages, passport photocopies, detailed contact numbers for every passenger, all the contact information for the various destinations, plane tickets copies, etc…
A detailed itinerary should also be provided for every group member and all useful resources be given on it just to make sure they can get around if lost or in trouble. Of course, all those kind of details is supposed to be taken care of by the agency if you have chosen to use one. The team should have some “rules” or guideline to follow since they need to remember that they won’t be home and that they need to stay altogether most of the times. Depending on the number of travelers and parents going along the team, it should be decided before the trip who is responsible for each traveler who will be of minor age at the time of the trip. Minors who are NOT traveling with their parents need to follow some rules to avoid any problems at the customs or on-site. A visit to the website of the foreign affairs ( [http://www.voyage.gc.ca/consular_home-en.asp] ) is very informative for all the details.
Also, make sure that everybody has some local money on them at the time of departure but not too much since nobody wants to be stolen a large amount of cash if that should happen. Everybody should be aware of the current ratio of the Canadian dollar vs the Euro (or else if going to an independent currency country). Check out oanda.com to have a real-time converter.
Again, if you have a guide traveling along with the team, it should be pretty easy to go around without encountering too many problems. If some issues arise, the guide is there to take care of everything and arrange every aspect of the trip to accommodate the groups. But keep also in mind that it is IMPOSSIBLE to please everybody at the same time so the group needs to be aware that their will be some compromises to be made along the way. Most of the time, those will be minor details but there is also some rare times when the team will have to make a tough decision. Fortunately, the chances are that the guide will find the best solution using his own experience.
A typical day on a tour usually follows the same path: Visits or guided tour in the morning, free-time and suggested visits in the afternoon, the game in the evening and free time in the evening. On travel day between two locations, the guide will probably have scheduled stops along the way to include interesting visits while splitting the road time. Again, you should not spend too much time on the road.
Visits that were included on the itinerary should always be covered by the agency as well as all the meals that we’re supposed to be included. The breakfast being the most important meal of the day, the hotel choice should be largely based on the quality of food provided. A breakfast buffet is always a winner since you can find things for all tastes. For the others meal, your guide will probably have scheduled some typical food for one of them and leave the other one to you. This way you can experience the diversity of culinary culture and also eat what you prefer to be fully refreshed each day.
Security should be a very important part of the planning and like I told earlier, nobody should have too many cash on them. Also, make sure that the money is well hidden and not easily spottable on you. This applies especially to handbags since they are pretty easy to steal and some thieves in Europe are specialized in that kind of business, just like anywhere actually. In fact, you should not bring conventional wallet or handbags and use some safe devices like hidden pockets and belts.
Another important detail for security is to be aware of the basic local laws and traditions. Some countries will not accept things that seem pretty okay here. Always make sure there are some adults with kids and do not trust your child to act like an adult by himself, he is NOT. That is why the parents should acts as respectfully of the locals as they want them to be with their kids. This will in no mean ruins the trip since there is plenty of ways to enjoy the tour without messing around.
It would be advised to design one traveler to take as many pictures and videos as possible since it will be appreciated and useful if somebody loses his equipment. Most people will also want to make a souvenir cd or DVD when returning home.
Finally, ALWAYS listen to your guide and/or local guides that will join you during the tour. They will not say something if that is not useful so pay close attention to what they say and do not hesitate to ask questions.
7- The aftermath
You will probably have a lot of memories to bring back home and will become nostalgic of the time when you were in the old countries. So it would be a great idea to throw in a celebration some weeks after with all the group where you can exchange thoughts and pictures about the trip. A report meeting should also be done to conclude with the finance and things to correct if you plan on having another trip.
To conclude, every hockey player from 7 to 77 years has thought of doing a memorable experience by playing hockey in Europe. Even if it can seem fairly easy to organize, the truth is that it’s much more complicated than planned if you do not deal with some true specialists. Take your time to choose the destinations and all the options your group needs before moving forward. Every detail should be prepared and everybody should be ready to deal with all the unexpected issues.