Friday, October 9, 2015

Your 1st Girl Scout Trip: The Planning Before the Planning

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page." - Saint Augustine

I love to travel, although I do it far less than I would like. And what I love almost as much as the actual trip is planning the trip. Researching destinations, reading reviews, plotting itineraries, budgeting - a spur-of-the-moment road trip robs me of all this joy. (I know, I'm the worst nightmare for all you spontaneous folks out there.)

Luckily, there's no such thing as a spontaneous road trip with a Girl Scout troop. And as our troop gets older, travel was one of those things I was most looking forward to sharing with the girls.

Our troop took its first extended trip about a year ago and is planning our next one for summer 2016. We're not experts or globetrotters by any means; in fact, both of our trips have been within driving distance. But I thought it could still be helpful to share the process we used and some tips we learned along the way for any troop that is planning its first trip. But because troop trip planning is not a one-meeting deal, I'm going to split this up between several posts.

While the majority of trip planning should involve the girls, this post is about what probably needs to happen before the girls start - let's call it the leader reality check. For me, these were the questions that my co-leader and I needed to chat through and get our heads straight on before we involved the girls.

1) Are the girls ready (emotionally, mentally, physically) ready to travel? And am I ready to take them?

Parents will ultimately make the call as to whether they're comfortable with their daughter traveling with the troop. But an oft-overlooked factor, is whether you, as a leader, feel comfortable that each girl is ready to travel with you. This was really a non-issue for our troop. I had a lot of worries going into our first trip - whether we'd budgeted enough, whether I'd get lost driving, whether we'd drive each other crazy - but I never for once worried that our girls wouldn't be able to handle it. This is not true for every troop, and there's no shame in admitting that you're not quite there. If in the course of a regular GS year, you and your co-leader are at odds, you're embarrassed to take your girls in public and your parents question your every move, a trip out of town is only going to amplify all of these concerns. Traveling is also part of a progression - I would never have considered taking my girls if I hadn't already done multiple day trips and camping weekend trips with them first.

2) How far am I willing to go? And for how long?

This goes along with the maturity and progression issue addressed in question one, and of course, girls can have a say in this. But if you can only take three days off of work, there is little point in allowing the girls to plan a weeklong trip. Girl-led means girls should be actively involved in the decision-making of the troop; it does not mean that troop leaders are silent onlookers who play no part in the consensus. For our troop's first trip, we, as leaders, felt comfortable with a driving distance of 5 hours or less and a stay of 3-4 nights. Our girls were good with this too, but your mileage may vary.

3) What's your troop's fundraising tolerance? And how far out are you comfortable planning/saving?

Let's face it, regardless of how many financial literacy badges you've done, most girls have little concept of money. Now of course, trip planning is a good way of bringing this lesson home to them, and in the next post, I'll show you some ideas for doing so. But assuming you've been with your troop a while, you probably still have a better gut instinct on their fundraising threshold. Even if girls are gung ho, are the parents dragging their feet? Do you have to send out a search party for cookie forms or money? Are the kids overcommitted to the extent that planning a cookie booth is nearly impossible? You as a leader have a good sense of this, and ignoring this sense is a good recipe for trouble.

In addition, saving for a trip usually doesn't happen overnight. The fundraising for our first trip was accomplished in a year. Our next trip is two years. I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable with any longer than that. While trips give girls a reason to stay in Scouts, they shouldn't be the only reason someone sticks around - and everyone (leaders, girls & parents) needs to be comfortable with the goals.

You'll notice I didn't talk much about parent finances/contributions. We did require a minimal deposit from each girl/family to ensure they had some skin in the game and to help assist with costs, but I'm not kidding when I said it was minimal. (For our first trip, it was just $50, with $25 returned as spending money if they followed through. For our next trip, it will be $50-$100.) I know there are parents who would probably just as soon cut a check for the trip as drive their daughter to a cookie booth. But I strongly believe that the budgeting/planning part of a trip is as important to the girls' learning experience as the actual travel part. so I am not quick too eager to cut it out. This is a personal decision based on our unique girls, backgrounds, troop objectives and financial realities - again, your troop may approach this very differently.

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