Frequently Asked Questions
Smithsonian Student Travel | Frequently Asked Questions
Who is the provider for Smithsonian Student Travel programs?
The Smithsonian Institution has collaborated with Putney Student Travel to create Smithsonian Student Travel. Since 1951 Putney has provided middle and high school students exceptional opportunities to travel, learn, and have fun. Putney’s philosophy of travel is based on safety, cultural immersion, hands-on experience, and positive group dynamics. All Smithsonian Student Travel programs build on that philosophy by providing unique access to experts, museums, and research facilities that only the Smithsonian is able to offer.
Who is eligible to apply?
Students completing 8th through 12th grades are eligible to participate in Smithsonian Student Travel’s programs. Students must be at least 13 years old at the time of trip departure.
How do I apply?
We have a rolling admissions process, but encourage applicants to apply early so they have the best chance of securing a space on their first choice program.
Step 1: Start Your Application
Step 2: Hold Your Space
To hold your space in a program, you must complete the Online Application Form, submit a signed Agreement Form, and provide a $700 payment (which comprises a $200 non-refundable Application Fee and a $500 Tuition Deposit). The $500 Tuition Deposit is applied toward your tuition.
(Note that after March 15, we must receive full payment within five days of your initial $700 payment to hold a space in the program.)
Step 3: Complete Your Application
Before we can make a final admissions decision, you must submit your Personal Statement and two Teacher Reference Forms. These documents are available as part of your Online Application.
Following completion of your application, our Admissions Team will review your application and notify you of the decision by email within a few days.
Who is accepted?
Applications are carefully reviewed by our Admissions Committee and students are selected on the basis of their maturity, enthusiasm, motivation, and willingness to live and participate constructively in a supportive community environment.
Smithsonian Student Travel and Putney Student Travel staff, leaders, and experts work with our students and families to foster a safe and supportive experience for all students regardless of their race, national origin, religion, sex, gender, or sexual orientation.
Once I’m accepted, what happens next?
Throughout the winter and spring, we will make available informational materials specific to your trip as well as forms for you to complete before the summer. You will have access to these materials through the portal of your Digital Locker, with independent logins for students and parents. Information found here will range from clothing and equipment lists and travel information to bios of leaders and experts and more.
Program tuition covers all day-to-day expenses, including three meals each day, lodging, entertainment, excursions, theater and concert tickets appropriate to the itinerary, entry fees, bike and boat rentals, equipment rental, taxes, and tips. All transportation during the program is covered by the tuition, including trains and buses. Tuition does not include laundry, communication home, health care, gifts, other personal expenses, or transportation to and from the program destination. (See “Travel Logistics” below to learn how we organize travel to and from your program.)
What additional fees might I encounter?
Travel Coordination Fee: A minimum fee of $150 is assessed when students require special travel arrangements as outlined below.
Arrival to or Departure from the U.S. Gateway Airport: If your arrival to or departure from the U.S. Gateway Airport falls outside of the designated window(s) we have indicated on the Travel Information document for your program AND you miss the group flight and/or your connection because of this, you will be charged a minimum of $150 to cover the cost of our staffing and logistical support.
Arrival to or Departure from the Program Destination: If your arrival to or departure from the program destination falls outside of the designated window(s) requiring special coordination from our staff, you will be charged a minimum of $150.
Do I purchase insurance?
Participants must have their own health insurance and verify that it covers travel to their destinations. We highly recommend purchasing Trip Cancellation insurance; we will offer a policy at additional cost once students are accepted.
How is transportation organized?
Airfare is not included in tuition. For programs outside of the contiguous United States (including Alaska and Hawai’i), families will be directed to book their own seats on a roundtrip group flight itinerary designated by Smithsonian Student Travel to fly with a group leader and other students from a U.S. Gateway Airport to the program destination. For domestic programs within the contiguous United States, leaders meet students arriving by plane or car at the program destination. Leaders will see all students off from the departure city at the end of the program.
Once a student has been accepted on a Smithsonian Student Travel program we will provide detailed information about program-specific travel day logistics.
What documents do I need to travel?
To travel internationally, you must have a passport that is valid for at least six months after your program return date. In addition, you may need a visa depending on your nationality and the country or countries you are visiting. For countries requiring a visa from U.S. travelers, we will provide you with information necessary to help you apply for and obtain a visa upon acceptance of your application. Non-U.S. citizens must check local visa requirements, including requirements for countries passed through in transit. For U.S.-based programs, we recommend bringing a school I.D., driver’s license, or other form of identification.
What are the accommodations?
Accommodations vary depending on destination and may include college dorm rooms, small hotels or lodges, comfortable camping, or local hostels. Most accommodations are shared with one to three other students, with private or shared baths. Group leaders reside with students throughout the program. Refer to the “Accommodations” section on each program page for specifics.
What does a typical day look like?
While each day on the program is different, we generally start with a brief introduction to a topic or focus. Then, we head into the field to explore our destination and program theme(s) and participate in cultural and outdoor activities specific to the place and area of focus. We might have lunch in smaller groups led by leaders. We have dinner together as a group, and together participate in evening activities such as learning a local dance, attending a sporting event or musical performance, or strolling through town together as a group. Each day is capped with a group meeting to discuss the day and upcoming schedule.
Health & Safety
What vaccinations do I need?
Once accepted, students will gain access to a travel health document with resources on general wellness for travelers, health considerations, and vaccinations pertaining to their destination. All students, program leaders, and experts are required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
How are prescription medications administered?
Any prescription medications for severe allergies, such as an epinephrine auto-injector, will remain with the student during the program. Any prescription medications for asthma, such as a fast-acting rescue inhaler, will also remain with the student. Leaders will collect and dispense any psychotropic medication during the program and will work with the student to establish a routine that is comfortable and unobtrusive.
What if I get sick on my program?
Adjusting to the differences in food, climate, etc. can take a little time. It is important to be open and tell your leaders about any physical discomfort you may be experiencing. For any situation that we feel requires professional medical attention, leaders take students to a nearby clinic or hospital. Health decisions are made as a team based on input from the student, parents, leaders, and our home office. In the event of serious illness or injury, International SOS, a leading provider of international medical emergency services, is available to provide consultation and emergency medical evacuation services for destinations outside of the United States. All students are required to carry their own medical insurance.
What if I have specific dietary or medical needs?
We are able to accommodate many medical and dietary needs. Please contact our office to discuss your specific situation before applying.
What are your safety protocols?
Smithsonian Student Travel and Putney Student Travel take students’ safety and health very seriously. Since 1951 Putney has delivered active, educational, safe, meaningful, and fun programs. We maintain close relationships with the communities we visit and have strong networks of in-country contacts. Our leaders are well-traveled and trained in first aid and CPR. They are able to teach students how to be safe and responsible travelers. In the event of serious illness or injury, International SOS, a leading provider of international medical emergency services, is available to provide consultation and emergency medical evacuation services for destinations outside of the United States.
What are the rules?
We expect our students to maintain high standards of personal behavior. We impose very few rules other than those designed to ensure that students can live in a safe, friendly, and constructive environment. Instead, we support an open atmosphere of mutual respect, trust, and consideration. Since students are encouraged, within the context of our programs, to take leadership roles and to make some of their own discoveries, students whose parents require them to be under constant surveillance or who are likely to act irresponsibly, use drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, or behave in a disruptive manner, should not apply. Any student whose attitude or behavior is in violation of our rules or is otherwise prejudicial to the maintenance of standards or to the successful operation of our program will be dismissed from the program at our sole discretion and travel home at his or her parents’ expense.
How is Smithsonian Student Travel responding to COVID-19 considerations?
The safety and security of our students, experts, and group leaders are of the utmost importance. We continue to monitor developments regarding COVID-19, using many information sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Department of State, major media outlets, and our destination contacts. We are optimistic about the state and safety of travel for summer 2023.
We understand that traveling today requires special care in planning, flexibility, and prudence to ensure the safety of our students, leaders, destination partners, and host communities around the world.
Our partner, Putney Student Travel, has more than seven decades of experience running education travel programs for young people, and safely ran programs in 2020, 2021, and 2022. They have learned from the programming successes of the past two years and continue to adapt our robust health and safety practices to changing circumstances.
We recommend that travelers purchase travel insurance when possible and review entry restrictions for their destination countries. If you have questions or concerns about potential or upcoming travel with Smithsonian Student Travel, we encourage you to call us at 866.870.2350.
Who participates in a Smithsonian Student Travel program?
Smithsonian Student Travel programs are perfect for curious, motivated rising and current high school students seeking to explore a topic and deepen their understanding of the world around them. Whether they are a first-time or experienced traveler, they will discover new people, places, and topics in authentic interactions that go beyond ordinary trips. Smithsonian programs attract students at all levels, from all walks of life. If you’re looking to enhance your education through experience, expand your horizons, or just do something different and adventurous for part of the summer, we invite you to join us and see the world through a Smithsonian lens.
Where are most students from? What will my fellow students be like?
Students come from all over the United States and from many international countries as well. Our students are enthusiastic, engaged, and excited to learn new skills and make new friends. The dynamics of our programs and unique shared experiences help build close, lasting friendships and a strong community spirit within each group.
Do most students travel with a friend?
A positive group dynamic is an important element of our programs. The majority of students choose to travel on their own and we fully support this choice, as it can be a great opportunity for growth. Students are allowed to travel with a friend, but we expect all students to exhibit inclusive behavior and make a concerted effort to meet and spend time with fellow students. Throughout each day, students will explore in smaller groups, which allows students to get to know one another in a variety of contexts.
Each trip is led by a carefully selected team of group leaders, distinguished in fields related to the themes of our programs. Group leaders are with students for the duration of the program. They share a commitment to safety and helping students make their own discoveries. They are not only advisers, guides and mentors, but also good friends. All leaders are college graduates and are certified in C.P.R. and first aid. Click to learn more about our leaders.
Who are the experts?
Each program will be joined by a Smithsonian Student Travel Expert for around five days during the program. These individuals are vetted by Smithsonian Student Travel and are experts in fields related to the program theme. Experts live alongside the students and participate in all activities and meals.
Is it possible the trip’s expert will change?
Yes. Though not typical, personal or professional reasons may necessitate changing a scheduled expert. If this happens, an equally qualified expert will join the group.
What’s the difference between a leader and an expert?
Each program is run by at least two or more group leaders. Leaders are with the group 24/7 for the duration of the program. They add content and share knowledge of the program theme, as well as manage group dynamics, program logistics, and health and safety.
Experts join groups for a few days during each program to add content and expertise based on the theme or topic.
Our home office in Vermont can be reached 24 hours a day during the summer months and our leaders travel with local cell phones. For absolutely essential communication, families can call our emergency line and we can reach leaders in the field.
Will parents and family members receive group updates while students travel?
Our leaders and students keep a program blog where they post updates and photos of the group’s travels a few times each week. The blog information will be available in your Digital Locker before program departure.
Are students allowed to bring cell phones?
Mobile phones, smartphones, iPads, and similar electronic communication devices are allowed. However, because they can draw students’ focus outside the group and interfere with efforts to develop a sense of community, we strongly discourage their regular use. We encourage students to engage with fellow group members and leaders in an effort to be fully present in the experience and community of the program. Phone usage is at the discretion of leaders, who will set appropriate times to communicate with home.