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Have you ever had a great idea you thought would rock, and it just didn’t go as well as it could have? I live in northeast Wyoming. Recently I took a group of 10 kids on a surprise destination road trip. I gave them a cost and a packing list and they got in the van. A few hours in they found out where we were going. We were going to LA.

The trip was supposed to be a year-end, blow-out, memory maker that the kids would treasure as a triumphant, crazy experience their loving youth leader was gracious enough to take them on. What happened was definitely a memory: 50% triumphant, 100% crazy, and 50% could-have-been-WAY-better.

We were supposed to leave on a Friday at 5pm (after school), and were supposed to return Monday at 5pm. The drive was supposed to take 18 hours and cost $600. We were supposed to camp in Malibu Saturday night and we were supposed to drive home Sunday night. Already you’re thinking, “Yeah, I can see why this didn’t turn out…” What happened was this:

We left at 6pm on Friday, the drive took 23 hours one way, the gas cost was $1000, I booked the campground for the wrong night, and we decided to stay in Vegas Sunday to cut our drive down. (Yes I took 10 students to the strip.)

Here’s what I learned…
1) The trip is a surprise for the students; it should not be a surprise for the leaders.
2) Plan THOROUGHLY, run all your plans by someone who has done this before, and LISTEN to what they have to say!
3) Don’t trust fuel cost estimators. Full vans towing heavy trailers tend to cut gas mileage in half.
4) Count on taking half again as long as you think you’ll need when you have a van full of kids. Think it will take 10 hours? Count on 15.
5) Make sure you book the campground/hotel for the RIGHT DATE.
6) Don’t drive overnight. Camp, crash, get a hotel, or whatever you have to do, but only spend about 8-10 hours in a van at a time.
7) Plan a shorter trip and make the drive part of the experience. When you pick a far destination you don’t have any time to make the drive an experience.
8) If you’re asking a lot from students, you need to give them a good payoff. Spend at least a few days wherever you’re going. The more exotic the destination the more time you need to spend there.
9) Ask for double the costs you think you’ll need. Or plan better than I did…
10) If you’re not a detail person, GET SOMEONE WHO IS to DOUBLE CHECK ALL of your plans/reservations etc.
11) Make sure you get a converter with at least 2-4 plugins for charging cell phones/electronics.
12) Stick to the plan. Once you get on the trip, make sure as much as possible you stick with what you originally told parents. If something HAS to change, change it, but don’t second-guess yourself or the plan.
13) IF you take an impromptu trip to Vegas, make sure you inform (maybe ask) parents first and tell them exactly where you will be staying.
14) Have students keep all their food money, or collect all their food money. Don’t do it halfsies.
15) Limit the trip to high schoolers. This was a rare good decision and helped a lot!
16) If a student has a bad attitude or causes a problem, you’re going to be tired and annoyed too. Just remember: Preserve the relationship.
17) If you go to California, you have to drive 55 mph with a trailer, which adds lots of time…and the police aren’t very sympathetic when you tell them you’re on schedule.
18) Take a lot of pictures and update often.
These are the main things I learned on this trip but there was a whole lot more that could have made this trip a better experience. I definitely will do it again but next time I’ll do it better!

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