As student ministry veterans, we’ve had some great mission trips almost ruined by a bad experience on the ride home. Everyone is exhausted, patience is at a minimum, and Dakota the Intern doesn’t have enough essential oils to mask the smell that’s coming from middle school Mikey’s feet! Whoever decided Crocs without socks were good travel options anyway?
What we learned was what students experience on the drive to and from an event might be just as significant as the event itself. Here are some lessons we’ve learned over many hours of wondering why I don’t add Febreze to my “what to bring in the van” list.
Before the Trip
When you’re caravanning with multiple vehicles, it can be challenging to stay together. Most drivers don’t realize your caravan starts with the 15-passenger rental and ends with the 1979 Ford pickup truck pulling the borrowed trailer with the flapping grey tarp. Our solution: we bought magnets that we put on the doors of every vehicle. Instead of the standard “caravan” magnet, we customize them with our logo and social media handles. Some drivers are still fart faces, but most people will go out of their way to help us stay together. You could also decorate all of your vehicles; if you do, post your hashtag on your windows to add a missional component to your travels.
Every participant gets a travel t-shirt. This little gem makes it easy to identify your group before you roll out of Buc-ee’s, plus it’s a conversation starter for your more outgoing students and adults as they interact with people while on the trip.
Every vehicle gets a travel bag with a few necessities:
- A list of who’s in the vehicle. We ask our drivers to take attendance after every stop.
- A basic first aid kit … nothing fancy, just Band-Aids and a few OTC standbys.
- A 2-mile walkie-talkie with an extra set of batteries. Borrow them if you need to, but grab your own as soon as you can.
Everyone on the trip knows we have a trip playlist that all vehicles will use for the journey. We allow trusted students to manage the list, so it’s got the right songs on it. It also eliminates the inevitable arguments that come from your deacons’ kids about what makes a song “inappropriate.”
During the Trip
Every vehicle gets “Mad Libs” and a “Would You Rather”-type book to get conversations going. We don’t require that they’re used, but it’s an excellent go-to resource to pull struggling groups away from the precipice of electronic isolation.
We plan restroom breaks every 90 minutes and announce them. Students know when we’re stopping, so they don’t ask as often. For potty stops, we ONLY use rest areas. They’re boring, so students take care of business and get back in the van. If we need a gas break, we stop AFTER a rest area break and only let one student from each vehicle exit to buy snacks. You only have to leave one student one time before the whole group learns what, “We’re leaving in 2 minutes” really means.
We have “Van Video Challenges” throughout the trip. We’ve had groups make music videos, vines, memes, and random nonsense videos. Once every group has submitted their artistic entry, someone decides who wins, and the next round begins. You can also work in some “Random Dance Moments” at every rest stop. The beauty of making and collecting videos is that you’ve got lots of killer material for your post-trip video once the trip is all done.
When all else fails, have vehicle-vs-vehicle competitions using old school travel games. The Alphabet Game (look for letters on signs and license plates), the Animal Game (exhaust all animals that start with the letter “A,” and so on. Buy a deck of trivia cards. Make up your own game. Our style is to bend the rules to reward creativity – games like these aren’t about winning or losing. Except among the drivers – it’s always about winning or losing among the drivers.
After the Trip
Most vehicles get trashed during road trips. You probably can’t prevent them from getting dirty, but you can help them get cleaned. We’ve found that asking students to keep vehicles clean is a good idea, but buying the owner of the vehicle a car wash detail for after the trip is a brilliant idea. This idea is particularly fantastic if you’re one of the vehicle owners, and you get a car detail out of the deal!
Road trips can make or break your experience. Sometimes the inevitable happens, and relational drama causes heartaches. When that happens, do your best to stay focused and keep praying. But with a little effort, we’ve found that we can set the stage for an amazing mission experience by providing plans for a well-thought-out trip that adds to the memories and puts a serious exclamation point on an amazing week.
Tim and Tasha Levert (pronounced “love air”) have been married for over 25 years. Tim has his PhD in adolescent spiritual formation, and Tasha has her PhD in marriage and family counseling. Tim is an author (The Nine Best Practices of Youth Ministry, 24/7, and The Simple Truth Bible), speaker, worship leader, and he is the High School Pastor at Hope Community Church in Raleigh (www.gethope.net). Tasha is an author (Stories of Hope for the Sleep Deprived) counselor, speaker, worship leader, and she the Executive Director at Broom Tree Counseling, where she provides face-to-face and online counseling (www.broomtreecounseling.com). They have three beautiful daughters and a grumpy schnauzer named Tabasco.