Return to Travel Guidelines

Updated: February 24, 2021

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to evolve, we understand this is a time of uncertainty when it comes to travel. Enriching and transformative educational travel experiences are at the core of who we are at Smithsonian Student Travel, and so is our commitment to the health and safety of our students, leaders, and partners around the world during these unprecedented times.

We have developed health and safety protocols that make traveling with us in the era of COVID-19 possible, while ensuring our trips are meaningful and full of experiential learning opportunities. Our health and safety protocols take into account the latest recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, international and local health agencies, trusted local contacts on the ground, and other travel industry guidance. We also closely monitor the U.S. Department of State travel advisories, the guidance of government officials around the world, and major media outlets so that we can quickly and effectively respond to potential travel restrictions or policy changes in the destinations we visit.

For summer 2021, we are optimistic about the ability to offer our high school programs and we are confident that the summer will be full of learning, adventure, and fun. Students need this more than ever and we invite you to find the perfect program for you!

Last summer our collaborators at Putney Student Travel were able to offer two campus-based programs in Vermont for both high school and middle school students. Hundreds of students joined those programs and we are pleased to report that the robust health and safety protocols, including pre-program quarantines and COVID-19 testing, ensured that the programs were successful and had zero cases of COVID-19.  

We will continue to be flexible and ask for flexibility from our students and families as we respond with caution and prudence to the shifting health landscape in the U.S. and in our program destinations abroad.

With an industry-leading refund policy (see below), we encourage you to start planning your 2021 adventure today.


Q: What health and safety guidelines have you put in place?

A: We have developed health and safety guidelines informed by the latest recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, international and destination health authorities, trusted local contacts, and other travel industry guidance. We also closely monitor the U.S. Department of State travel advisories, the guidance of government officials around the world, and major media outlets so that we can quickly and effectively respond to potential travel restrictions or policy changes in the destinations we visit. Our approach is particular to each destination, meeting or exceeding the minimum requirements of each country or locality.

Students should anticipate the following health and safety measures when traveling with Smithsonian Student Travel. Prior to departure, we will share the most current COVID-19 considerations, information, and expectations with students and families.

  • Completing a 7-day at-home, self-quarantine and submitting to us the results of a negative COVID-19 PCR test prior to the start of the program.
  • COVID-19 testing during the first week at the program destination and for international programs an additional test prior to returning home.
  • Daily temperature checks and wellness checks.
  • Strict adherence to handwashing and personal hygiene.
  • Wearing face masks in public, when in close proximity to others who are not part of our group, and anytime as required by local guidelines, destination partners, or Smithsonian Student Travel.
  • Physical distancing to the greatest extent possible when in public and when around others who are not part of our group.
  • Adapting our approach to programming, such as shifting activities and meals outdoors when feasible.

Q: Could my program get canceled?

A: Yes, it could. If we cancel a program and you choose not to switch to another 2021 program, we will refund 100% of your tuition payment and application fee. That said, we are optimistic about the ability to travel in summer 2021.

Q: What is your refund policy?

A: The $700 payment ($200 application fee and $500 tuition deposit) and any final payments made prior to April 15, 2021 are 100% refundable for any reason until April 15, 2021. If after April 15 your program operates, but you decide you aren’t comfortable traveling on the program, we will work with you to find a space on another program you’re excited about. If you choose not to switch to another 2021 program and decide not to travel, your payment is non-refundable.

Q: What if my program is forced to end early while in the field?

A: If for health or safety reasons we decide it’s best to end a program early, we will refund prorated room and board expenses.

Q: Can I purchase travel insurance?

A: Yes. We highly recommend purchasing Trip Cancellation insurance. We will share information about a policy (including a Cancel For Any Reason option) at additional cost once students are accepted.

Q: Will the group operate as a single “pod” or “unit”?

A: Our pre-trip quarantine and COVID-19 testing requirements, along with our comprehensive health and safety measures described here, ensure with the greatest possible certainty that we are beginning the program with a healthy group and allow us to travel as a single pod on the program. While in private settings or isolated outdoors, students can interact with each other without masks or being physically distanced. However, when in public and when interacting with others outside of their pod, participants will abide by all Smithsonian Student Travel health and safety measures, including physical distancing and masking. The majority of Smithsonian Student Travel programs are small group experiences of 14-18 individuals who will operate as a single pod.

Q: What happens if a student shows symptoms of COVID-19 while on a program?  

A: As we prepare for summer 2021, Smithsonian Student Travel has considered availability of COVID-19 tests at each destination and identified the closest testing facility for each stop on each program itinerary. If a student presents symptoms consistent with COVID-19 while on the program their leader will help them isolate from other members of the group and a COVID-19 test will be scheduled as soon as possible. A group leader will remain nearby and check in regularly, ensuring the student rests, has access to meals, and stays hydrated while awaiting the test results. Symptoms will be monitored each morning, afternoon, and evening. The student will remain in isolation until a negative test result is returned or until advised they can leave isolation by local health authorities. 

Q: What happens if a student tests positive for COVID-19 while on the program? 

A: If a student were to test positive for COVID-19, parents of all participants would be immediately notified and students would be moved into single accommodations while testing is arranged for the entire group. The specific response would be highly dependent on the situation, with consideration to be given to the destination, timing of the incident, and local and national health protocols.

Q: In what ways might my program itinerary be modified due to COVID-19 precautions? 

A: As we look toward summer 2021, we are evaluating our accommodations, transportation providers, and programmed activities to ensure that protocols regarding masking, physical distancing, and cleaning meet our standards. If necessary, small modifications to planned activities may be made to ensure that health and safety protocols will be met. Smithsonian Student Travel will arrange for all in-country tests to be conducted to meet local and border requirements.  Destination requirements regarding arrival or in-country testing may continue to evolve between now and program departure. If necessary, an itinerary might be slightly modified to accommodate access to a COVID-19 testing facility for a scheduled test. Families will be notified of any such anticipated modifications as early as possible. Presently the CDC requires all travelers returning to the U.S. to have completed a COVID-19 test within three days of their return flight departure to the U.S. Some itineraries may require slight modifications if this requirement is still in place this summer.

Feel free to give us a call—we are happy to answer your questions!

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