The students in your church have been looking forward to this trip for six months, and you are in charge of planning it and executing it properly. You need to make sure that the group arrives at the destination on time, stays safe, learns some things and generally has a great time. And you must do it all in a way that is cost effective. Are you up for the challenge?
Youth group trips come with high expectations and their own logistical challenges. If you’re a youth pastor, you might have a firm grasp on how to lead and inspire your kids, but little experience in coordinating travel logistics. And if you’re an experienced travel planner tasked with putting together a trip for the youth, the needs of these groups are likely to be quite different than what you’re used to.
Here are 10 tips, gathered from veteran youth pastors and travel planners, that will give you a leg up on planning and executing safe, fun and memorable youth-group trips.
1. Identify your “why.”
Though they may be aimed at the same audience, not all types of youth group trips are created equal. Youth might travel on choir performance trips, retreats, summer camps, mission trips and more, and each of these types of trips comes with its own purpose and objectives. Before you begin planning a trip, make sure you understand why this trip is taking place, what the key parameters are and what the ultimate ministry objectives should be. Then make sure everyone involved — including parents, volunteers and even students — is on board with this purpose.
2. Set participation rules.
If you have identified your “why,” you should have a clearer understanding of who should and should not come on this trip. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches by setting participation rules up front. That will probably include the ages of travelers, but it might also have to do with whether students need to be members or regular churchgoers to attend. Trips can be great opportunities to introduce newcomers to the youth group community, but some experienced youth leaders recommend having a “three-time rule” that encourages newcomers to attend three regular youth group meetings before participating in special trips.
3. Recruit great volunteers.
Student travelers require a lot more supervision and attention than adult travelers do, so having some great volunteers come along will be crucial to the success of the trip. This goes beyond finding “chaperones”; ideal volunteers are adults who enjoy spending time with teenagers, don’t mind getting dirty and make good role models for the impressionable young people with whom they will be spending time. Sometimes these volunteers will be parents, but there might be other people in your congregation who have a lot to offer as well.
4. Divide and conquer.
Running all the logistics of a trip and then socializing, supervising and teaching at the same time may be too much for even the best group leader. With the right adult volunteers in place, you can delegate responsibilities to adults who can focus on specific areas of logistics, supervision or ministry, leaving you free to do the things you do best. In addition to being responsible for the whereabouts of a handful of kids, each volunteer can head up an area, such as baggage handling, navigation or wake-up calls.
5. Create a communications plan.
When you take a youth group on the road, the kids aren’t the only people you must keep happy — you also have to think about their parents. Families back home will want periodic updates about what their children are doing during a trip, and they will also want to know that you have a quick and effective way of contacting them in case of emergencies, or vice versa. So before you go, set up a communications protocol that includes texting, phone calls, emails and social media. You might consider creating a specific Facebook group for trip parents or employing a text messaging service that will allow you to send messages to the entire group quickly and easily.