Monday, August 16, 2010

Travel Nutrition: Remember to Hydrate!

(This post is part of a series on travel nutrition by April Davis, RD, CD, CES. That's her above, practicing what she preaches!)

Positive Food Experiences with People to People

I recently had the opportunity to travel overseas with a People to People Student Delegation. I went to Italy and the French Riviera with delegation MH 0622110 out of Philadelphia. During my observation, we traveled to Rome, Assisi, Florence, Pisa, Montecatini, and Cinque Terra, Italy; Monaco; and Cannes and Nice, France.

Yes - it was amazing! But most importantly, during this experience, I was able to observe nutrition practices, meals served, and overall acceptance by students. It's important to consider these factors in conjunction with students' daily schedule and emotional and physical states during their time away from home.

(Above, a photo of one of our breakfast buffets at a hotel in Italy. We had ample fluid choices including water, milk, juice, hot chocolate, coffee and tea.)

During my ten-day observation, I assessed adherence to meal plans, portions, presentation, palatability, and quality of foods served, as well as student satisfaction with the food. I witnessed numerous positive experiences and reactions while observing the delegation, including: adequate portion sizes, friendly and efficient restaurant service, agreeable palatability, and several unique food presentations.

It's Not Just the Food that Makes for a Positive Experience. It's the Water, too!

Something that was regularly stressed by the Delegation Manager and Leaders - but often disregarded by Student Ambassadors - was ensuring sufficient fluid intake. Given the active daily schedule, warm climate, possible sleep deprivation, and fluid losses that occur during airline travel, an increased intake of liquids - namely water - is required of Student Ambassadors.

(A scenic photo of the water in Cannes, France - although it's not the type of water I'd recommend drinking!)

As mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, preventing dehydration during travel is the most vital factor in maintaining energy levels, overcoming jet lag, and staying healthy. Not only does dehydration have a negative impact on controlling body temperature, but it also affects heart function and transport of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. Poor fluid intake leads to fatigue and a delayed immune response, which greatly increases the chance of becoming ill while traveling.

Soda and other sugary, caffeinated beverages do not help with hydration. In fact, beverages that contain high amounts of sugar can contribute to dehydration and/or intestinal discomfort, dampening physical stamina and emotional health.

Your child can always use a loving reminder to drink lots of water while traveling. Most importantly, help him/her start hydrating at home, before boarding an airplane.

(Photo Credit: ToddMorris via Flickr)

During my time with Student Ambassadors, our Leaders reminded us to bring along our water bottles every morning. Even so, many Student Ambassadors were not proactive in filling their bottles when given the opportunity. On top of that, I saw most Student Ambassadors consuming soda at lunch and dinner. Overall, however, I witnessed a greater adherence to ample water intake toward the end of my observation period, leaving me to believe the Student Ambassadors were catching on!

For more tips on how to encourage Student Ambassadors to stay hydrated during travel, see my previous posts:

You can also visit the following links for further information on hydration for parents and teens:
- April Davis, RD, CD, CES

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What does our Health and Safety Team Do?

That is an interesting question and one that I receive more often then not. I think the fact that People to People Ambassador Programs is the only educational student travel organization to employ a full-time senior director of safety and health is at the root of the issue.

Does safety matter to other student travel organizations? Obviously the answer is yes. What I have found is that many of these organizations place the health and safety responsibilities with the operations director who clearly has many additional duties.

Here at People to People Ambassador Program, Our CEO and President both had the foresight to envision a department that focuses solely on developing and implementing policies and procedures designed to ensure every student and leader is safe while traveling with our organization. We do also have the Senior Director of Ground Operations but have split out the responsibilities related to the safety of the students into a separate department. I am blessed with the privilege of leading this fantastic group of overachieving individuals.

Let me give you a little closer glimpse of a couple people who are on my team (above, in action at an on-call meeting) and their responsibilities to help to better understand what we do and how we do it.

First off I would like to start with Wendy Armes (above). Wendy is currently the Supervisor of the Medical team and has three travel seasons under her belt. Wendy’s team is responsible for collecting a health form for every student prior to travel. We have learned over the years that the best way to prevent an unforeseen problem is to make sure everyone who needs to know of a medical condition knows it in advance of travel.

Once the health form is received, Wendy’s team then determines for which students we need additional information on to assure their safety. We currently screen for over 300 medical conditions like visual or hearing impairment, mobility limitation, diabetes, and life threatening allergies (just to name a few). This process is called a medical hold in which case we work with the family and parents to make sure we have a solid understanding of any limitations a student may have. Once we have this additional information, we can then start working on a reasonable accommodation to make sure that student has the same great experience any other student would expect to have.

Next I would like to introduce you to Bethany Cress (pictured above). Bethany spends her entire year developing procedures and processes to reduce the chance of any incident happening on a program. She develops and delivers the training to every single associate who answers a phone during the on-call season. By providing this extensive level of training the associates dealing directly with the leaders and parents are better positioned to respond quickly and consistently to all incidents. These incidents can range from the milder request to have a student call home to the more severe situation that calls for medical attention. (As mentioned in my last post, our current travel season is yielding more mild incidents, which is a good thing.)

During the summer travel season Bethany personally leads the on-call briefing every morning and every evening. Her obsession is to make sure that every single incident is followed up with timely and professionally to everyone’s satisfaction.

After the season comes to a close, Bethany then re-reviews every incident and looks for gaps in what transpired. Basically asking the question, "What did we want to happen?" "What did happen?" And was there a gap between those two results? If the answer is yes, she then goes to work to craft a better process and procedure to be implemented the following season to reduce the chance of that situation happening again. This new procedure then goes into the Leader Travel Handbook revisions and into the training curriculum for the next season and the whole process starts all over again.

This is just a small glimpse into some of what my team does here at People to People Ambassador Programs and only two of the many associates that have a singular focus. That focus is simply making sure every delegate and leader is safe on our programs. Maybe in future blogs I can expand on some of my other team members but for now, I am very proud to have these two outstanding women on my team and working to support every student.

So, what does the Senior Director of Health & Safety do? This brief article recently appeared in our 2010-2011 Ambassador Magazine and dives deeper into my role at People to People Ambassador Programs. I hope you find the information informative.

Until next time - I’m wishing you safe and happy travels.

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health and Safety

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

So Far, so Good on Another Great Travel Season!

First off, my apologies for this recent downtime on the blog. We are in full swing here! With roughly a month to go, I’m happy to report that the 2010 summer travel season has been a success so far (knock on wood).

(Sidenote: Growing up I played a lot of baseball and as ball players, we had a tendency to be a little superstitious. Some players need to wear the same socks; some have to take exactly the same number of swings prior to stepping into the batter’s box; and for others you might have to say the same prayer prior to taking the field. For me, knocking on wood when things were going well was a good way to make sure nothing changed.)

This year we have been knocking on a lot of wood and are happy to report incidents are up by 15.8%. That’s right I am happy to say reported incidents are up. Why you might ask? Well here’s my logic.

We have spent this past year providing extra direction and training for leaders and implementing procedures to better protect our students while on one of our life changing travel experiences. One key step in accomplishing that goal is to report every single incident, no matter how small, to the program office. That way we can help guide the leader to the proper conclusion of that incident. This also helps us ensure greater consistency in how issues are handled from one delegation to another.(Photo from Wonderful Graffiti decal.)

Just How Small?
As a quick reminder, every time a parent calls the office during the travel season with a request like “I haven’t heard from my son in a week, could you tell him to call his mom?” we open an incident report. ("Incident" sounds strong in this case. If you have a suggestion for a new term, please let me know by posting a comment on this blog.)

By opening an incident report, we put a detailed description of the request in our software system and then send an email out to all associates on the On-Call distribution list. This list includes virtually every one of our more that 224 associates, including all vice presidents,
the president and the CEO of the organization.

That means when a mom calls in with such a r
equest, everyone in our organization knows of that specific request and who is responsible for following up.

All this within minutes of receiving the call from mom.

(Above, my photo of Associate Whitney Jones, hard at work fielding calls.)

Resolving Incidents
We track the time an incident is opened and when it is closed. The incident can only be closed when every action item has been confirmed to have taken place.

For example, in the above scenario, the leader must confirm with our office that the call to mom was placed by her son and when. We can also confirm this directly with the mom. Once confirmed and we know everyone is satisfied with the resolution, we close the incident.

Quicker Turnaround
So far for 2010, the time it takes for us to properly resolve any incident has dropped more than 20% from .8 days to .64 days. Considering most of our delegations are spread around the world in opposite time zones, that’s a great accomplishment.

Having people in our program office 24 hours a day, seven days a week to take that call and to make the follow-up calls to the leaders and students is what makes it all possible. (Like Associate Sara Rees, in the photo above!)

Fortunately for all of us, this year hasn't yielded many extreme incidents (knock on wood). On the other hand, as of July 18th, we have had 365 parents call to ask if we could have their child call home. Parents, please, try to be forgiving. It isn’t that they don’t miss home at times (we had 105 homesick calls) it is really more about the student meeting some great new friends on the program and seeing some really amazing sites. They're on the go all day long and by the time the leader stops by for the bed check at night, they are just plain tuckered out.

But if you’re worried, give us a call and we will open an incident. Rest assured my staff will be making sure your child calls home as quickly as possible.

Until next time - I’m wishing you safe and happy travels,
Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health and Safety