Your summer mission trip is on the launching pad—the countdown is on.
Maybe you just completed your last leg on the fund-raising marathon (who knew teenagers could sell that many over-priced balls of cookie dough?). Your spreadsheet mapping the intricate details of the trip is filling up. Well done.
So… what are you missing?
It’s not an issue if you’re going to miss something—it’s simply a matter of what and when you’ll miss it. Likely, whatever it is, the source of your oversight will be tied to one of your inherent blind spots. But if you can find and embrace your blindspots, you might be able to avoid a costly or disruptive mistake. So I’ve created two mission-trip prep lists, based on two primary personality types, that will help you spot and prepare for the details you’re likely to forget.
The Short Blind-Spot List for Detail-Minded People
- Space: Who is sitting next to who in the van or bus? Does it matter? How much elbow room is there? Do most of your teenagers use deodorant? Questions like these target how the trip “feels” versus how it’s “planned.” For example, perhaps it’s more cost-efficient to stuff your vehicle with luggage than renting a trailer, but what negative relational dynamics are you forcing upon your teenagers? Put yourself into the mind of an excited/nervous/self-conscious teenager who’s about to be sandwiched into close-quarters with people they’re trying to impress or avoid.
- Analog Connections: Are you letting kids bring their phones on the trip or require that they leave them at home? Why? Either way can be a win, but remember that in this era a phone is like an extra appendage to teenagers. If you want them focusing in and building relationships versus texting and browsing, give them some games to play on the road, described in a small handbook they can take with them. We find that paper versions of Battleship are perfect for long road trips, along with instructions for other “classic” road games (License Plate Game, Alphabet Game, and so on). Another win is Kurt Johnston’s inventive and playful conversation-starter book This Book Gets Around.
- Bathroom Breaks: The bigger your group, the more bathroom stops you’ll need to take. However long your GPS tells you your travel will require, you’ll need to factor in bathroom-break options every 90-120 minutes. I know, I know—“they can hold it.” Actually, sometimes they can’t. We’ve underestimated this on trips, elongated our travel beyond expectations, and missed out on key experiences.
- Prayer: Remember when you sent out support letters and told people “please pray for us if you can’t support us financially.” Yeah, so… communicate with these people about how they can be praying for you! A social media group or app can be a great friend to parents and supporters wanting to hear how things are going.
The Short Blind-Spot List for Relationally-Minded People
- Get Three Consultants: What didn’t you pack? What unexpected expenses will you have? What are “musts” you need to bring with you “in case of emergencies?” Track down an administrative thinker or detailed planner in your church who is willing to make sure you’re not overlooking something. Yes, even overprotective parents can help you out here with their list of “97 things I already think you’re doing wrong before you even leave.” Turn them into allies, making sure they know you’re just looking for ideas that you’ll ultimately have to make the call on.
- Digital Connections: How will you update people on the progress of the trip? What will you do if you’re running late? Create a social media hub where everyone can see photos and read updates. Likewise, have one go-to person to text in situations when the details start to pile up and you need to communicate a quick message to families (“We’re running late getting back. Can you let everyone know?”).
- Turn Chaperones Into Leaders: They took off work, likely not just to babysit, but to invest. Bring them into the loop on key decisions and trust them with information you may be inclined to keep to yourself (or forget to tell them). Surprises strain relationships.
- Use an app: Putting information into an app or Web site forces you to think through things you’re more inclined to improvise. You’ll also be able to share it with others who care about the trip and your teenagers. One of my favorites is the free version of Travefy (although I hear Google Trips is solid, too)
Of course, it’s also smart to recruit a team of people who are willing to be your go-to think tank on all of this. From personal experience in working with different organizations over the years, I’m a huge fan of how Lifetree Adventures Mission Trips creates life-changing experiences from top to bottom. Whether you’re looking for a shorter experience or a longer journey, having serving specialists helps you spot-check what you’d otherwise be missing in planning a Jesus-centered transformational experience for teenagers and adults alike.
So in light of all of this, what’s on your short list?