Extending outreach through youth group travel
Group travel experiences build faith and friendship page 8
It takes time to plan a successful trip page 14 Choosing chaperones should be done with care page 24
A joint publication of
M A G A Z I N E
Through group travel,
your youth ministry will share new experiences,
deepen your faith
and create new bonding experiences.
M A G A Z I N E
M A G A Z I N E
Church Executive and BUSRide Editorial & Advertising Offices 4742 North 24th Street, Suite 340 Phoenix, AZ 85016 P 800.541.2670 • F 602.265.4300 Publisher – Steve Kane email@example.com Art Director – Steve Gamble firstname.lastname@example.org Director of Marketing – Catherine Stewart email@example.com West – Gary O’Neal firstname.lastname@example.org West - Tony Alvarado email@example.com
successful group travel experience can make all the difference to a youth ministry. However, as with most things, advanced planning
and attention to detail are required in order to make the trip successful. As the publishers of Church Executive, Leisure Group Travel and BUSRide magazines, we have combined our expertise to bring you Youth Ministries On the Go, your guide to a rewarding youth group travel experience. Within these pages, you’ll find tips on planning, timelines, risk management, the hows, whys and wherefores of youth ministry travel, together with suggestions on how to get the most out of your efforts. Whether your purpose is recreation or inspiration, you’ll want to be sure the choices you make will be the ones that best help you achieve your goals. Plan your trip well and you’ll find that travel time is quality time spent with the youth of your church.
Leisure Group Travel Editorial & Advertising Offices 621 Plainfield Road, Suite 406 Willowbrook, IL 60527 P 630.794.0696 • F 630.794.0652 firstname.lastname@example.org Publisher – Jeffrey Gayduk email@example.com
Director of Sales – Theresa O’Rourke firstname.lastname@example.org Southeast – Cheryl Rash email@example.com Northeast – Amy Janssens firstname.lastname@example.org The publishers assume no responsibility for statements made by advertisers or contributors. Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information published, but the publishers make no warranty that listings are free of error.
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Vol. 1 / No. 1
Food and Hotels
The Importance of Travel Insurance
Develop the fine art of getting the best deal for your group.
Make sure youths have medical coverage before sending them off to travel.
There is a way to spend quality time with youth group members.
Travel Builds Faith & Friendship Group travel creates and nurtures friendships.
Working With Tour Providers
Professional tour operators provide a support network and industry expertise you do not have.
Parental Permission Slips
Etiquette and Discipline on Tour
Get permission from the parents and your attorney.
The most common practice is one chaperone for every six young adults, but this can vary.
Youth group members must be given all of the disciplinaryrelated expectations before they enroll on the trip.
Post Tour Activities Share the excitement of the trip and reinforce positive lessons learned.
It Takes Time to Plan a Successful Trip
Time is of the essence when planning a trip for your churchâ€™s youth group. OCTOBER 2011
First Decisions Chances are your ministry has set days and times for youth group gatherings. Worship services, meetings and casual get-togethers allow you the chance to connect with young adults collectively.
n today’s non-stop environment, however, with jam-packed school activities, sports schedules and family obligations, all exacerbated by ever-present technology – getting your entire group together for important spiritual bonding has become increasingly difficult. If only there were a way to spend quality, uninterrupted time with your youth group members in an inviting spiritual atmosphere – free from the daily interruptions that attempt to trivialize God’s message. There is. Immersion by Group Travel Youth ministries “On the Go” is an emerging trend in the travel industry. Trips range from one day to one week and include pilgrimages, mission trips, and social group travel trips. Whatever the purpose, the trips help youth ministries create deeper quality connections with young adults and extend God’s message outside the confines of church walls. Through group travel, your youth ministry will share new experiences, deepen your faith and create new bonding experiences.
Here are a few points to encourage you to create a youth travel ministry: • B uild a stronger bond between active members who may not interact on a regular basis • Bring together your youth group, away from the confines of the church pews, worship times or interests, to join together on a motorcoach, train or ship • Support missions or missionary families and organizations by traveling to their part of the country and doing projects that will encourage the missionaries, help others and give you a great feeling of fulfillment • Volunteer hands-on projects could be as simple as pulling weeds in gardens to building schools, health clinics or churches • Planning and facilitating retreats for missionaries would include child care, teaching, fun and relaxing activities. Allow them to take a break and refresh their body and soul
Raise Funds Travel is a great tool in bringing together people who have been local supporters or introducing possible new contributors to your needs. Fundraising can benefit local membership needs, international causes and humanitarian requests in ways an individual could not impact alone. Another way to give supporters the opportunity to catch the vision is having the youth minister or senior pastor or priest lead the tour. This allows people more one-onone time where the future of the church or organization can be shared and travelers become an important part of that vision with their donations. There is a proven increase in giving after trips such as this. Explore New Frontiers There are exciting destinations waiting to be explored – some right in your backyard. Use this guide to help frame the development of new group tour programs for your youth ministries and explore new destinations – together.
When it comes to building an effective youth ministry, few activities are more powerful than a successful group travel experience. The rewards of a well planned and executed outing benefit the church as well as everyone involved.
T r a v e l Builds Faith
Maximize the mileage from your youth ministry Traveling in a group creates and nurtures friendships. A trip done well helps youth, who often have issues, grow stronger in their faith. In some cases, the experience may have the power to change lives.
he excitement begins well before the bus departs. Anticipation builds in the weeks before the trip as the planning progresses and preparations are made. Pre-trip activities, fundraising events and recruitment of adult leaders make it apparent to all that the journey is just as much a part of the experience as the destination. To maximize the potential benefits of the trip, the savvy youth minister will take advantage of the time the group spends together. Trip members will bond as they work together, and the community will be built. In the end, the shared experience of the travelers will be enhanced. The destination possibilities for a youth group are many. There are outdoor adventures that include skiing or rafting, cultural and educational destinations like museums and galleries, religious-themed venues and destinations, and short-term mission programs. As different as all these places might be, all have the potential to aid in spiritual growth and personal development. Consider these ways to help the members of the group get the most out of the journey: •H ave them keep a daily journal to remind them about what they have experienced. •P ick a unique place each day — a riverbank, a park, for example — for a moment of prayer. • L earn about local cultures and take time to meet sister churches through shared social gatherings. Putting together a group trip takes time and careful attention to detail. But the youth minister who creates a safe, spiritually and physically rewarding travel event for his charges will be rewarded tenfold by the joy they experience.
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WorKiNG WiTH Having a tour company plan your trip brings peace of mind. A professional tour operator provides a support network and industry expertise you do not have. Some companies specialize in educational travel; a few arrange religious group trips only. They plan every detail, from transportation and meals to hotel rooming lists and late-night pizza parties.
ou will want to weigh the benefits of contracting your trip with a tour operator versus handling all arrangements on your own. While tour operators have a mark-up to their services which can raise the trip price â€“ if they run a volume of tours to a particular destination they can command preferential rates with hotels, attractions and restaurants. This mitigates any additional cost for their services. Add to that the burden they lift by handling most details of planning and operations, the cost is often justified. 12
Finding a Good Tour Operator It’s simple to search tour operators on Google, but just because they are on the first page doesn’t mean they’re solid. Here are four factors to consider before you sign the contract: 1) What travel associations do they belong to? The most popular are NTA (National Tour Association) and ABA (American Bus Association). A tour operator need not belong to all, but should belong to at least one, as the associations screen incoming members for potential problems and monitor consumer complaints. 2) D o you prefer to deal locally or through an 800 number? Generally speaking, large national tour operators offer better pricing because they buy in volume, but hometown operators provide the peace of mind of dealing local.
Tour Providers 3) G et references. Have they worked with religious youth groups like yours? Ask to speak with other pastors to obtain their perspective on the company. 4) H ave they run this particular tour before? If you’re the guinea pig, expect problems to arise. Specific Requests After contracting with a tour provider, religious group leaders should let the provider know their most important considerations regarding the tour. Examples include: • Location of hotels (within or outside of cities or urban areas) • Meal upgrades (may increase the per-person price of the tour) • Arranging events such as cultural exchanges, religious services, private concerts or farewell dinners Paperwork and Parent Information The most important aspect of working effectively with tour providers is regular communication, either by telephone or through e-mail. Some tour providers offer excellent websites that allow participants to enroll and make payments online, get answers to basic questions and receive helpful downloads such as city guides.
It is important to keep up to date with all paperwork requested by the tour provider by the given deadlines. These include: • • • • • •
Any liability contracts or agreements to act as a group leader Gathering of traveler information Creation of an emergency calling tree Reminding participants and parents of payment schedules Providing information on trip insurance Enrolling participants on optional tour excursions
Feedback Group leaders will not be able to contact tour provider consultants while on tour unless there is a case of an on-tour emergency. Thus, feedback is very important: • • • • •
Complete all feedback, evaluation forms thoroughly Make comments when necessary Call the provider upon returning and summarize the experience Detail what was really effective Detail anything that was disappointing
Working with professional tour providers will enable you to diffuse potential problems, clarify questions and ensure a highly successful experience for all participants.
It takes time– LITERALLY to plan a successful trip. Time is of the essence when planning a trip
for your church’s youth
group. That means giving yourself plenty of time to address the myriad of details involved in a successful excursion.
This may seem like a long way from “go time,” but here is where the big stuff gets decided. Where are we going and why? Who should be involved in these decisions? What kinds of costs will be involved? The church must approve the venture, so it must endorse the purpose of the trip along with considering things like cost and its impact on liability exposure. Will the trip include religious elements, academic elements or performances by your group? The members of youth group participating, their parents, the group leaders and church staff all need to be on board with the idea, and they will need some general details to consider. The destination is critical, of course, so a preliminary investigation of available dates and costs must be gathered. In some instances, it may be wise for a church representative to pay a visit to the destination as part of the due diligence process. Many destinations will extend extra hospitality to a potential customer bringing a group to their facility.
12 MONTHS PRIOR
9 MONTHS PRIOR A budget will be needed. Food, lodging and transportation are the obvious line items, but don’t ignore other costs you can anticipate. And where will the money come from? If a fundraising effort is necessary, sufficient time will have to be allocated for that to succeed. Communication is extremely important during the entire planning process, so keep your group informed periodically of developments. This will not only build excitement, but also encourage your group members to ask questions as you plan. You may learn, for example, that you’ll need special accommodations for things like dietary needs or wheelchair access.
6 MONTHS PRIOR Final dates, costs and itinerary should be established. Earlier research will have revealed when rooms needed to be reserved, when the motorcoach has to be secured and when all the desired activities will be available. Review and implement fundraising procedures, if any, and determine a method for returning unused funds. Establish a procedure for collecting payments from participants with an initial deposit paid upfront and final payment 30 to 45 days before departure. Prepare and circulate announcements and information sheets about the trip and begin sign-up process for youth participants. Marketing channels include: • Snail mail • Email • Brochures • Posters • Church bulletin • Church website • Social networks Recruit volunteers and chaperones as needed. Determine if chaperones will be church representatives, teachers, parents or both.
3 MONTHS PRIOR Continue promoting the trip in newsletters, social networks and youth group meetings, keeping interest alive in those who have signed up and possibly getting a few more to sign up. Contact those who have shown interest but still have not committed. Prepare contingency plans in case of emergency. You can’t anticipate every problem, but it will be time well spent to consider a variety of problematic scenarios and how you might best react to them.
1 MONTH PRIOR Sign-up process is complete and final payments are due from your travelers and with many of your vendors. Schedule a meeting to confirm trip details, go over packing lists and gather emergency contact information. Circulate specific information participants will need to know, like appropriate clothing or equipment required. Provide copies of the complete itinerary to all participants. Collect permission slips and money from participants and follow deposit procedures established earlier. Confirm participation of all volunteers and chaperones.
1 WEEK PRIOR Confirm all trip arrangements with vendors. Meet with volunteers and chaperones to discuss responsibilities and expectations. Communicate with youth travelers to review rules and policies, drop off and pick up information, and any last minute instructions needed.
DAY OF TRIP Have a great time!
1 WEEK AFTER Prepare a final trip report for your church administration and conduct any follow-up activities with your youth group.
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If you are organizing the tour yourself, you will need to learn the fine art of negotiating to get the best deal for your group. Negotiating directly with the hotel can be complex, so it’s important to do your homework. Since negotiating is not part of our culture, it rarely comes easy. But hotel sales departments negotiate everyday, and if you don’t ask the right questions, you may end up paying more than you should. Show them you’ve done your research and let them know you are shopping around. Because you are representing a group, you will need to speak with the hotel sales department, not the reservations department. Be ready to provide the approximate number of sleeping rooms needed, the types of rooms (two double beds to accommodate four tour members) needed and the dates you want. Book early to ensure your chosen dates. Besides sleeping rooms, you may need a meeting/party room, meals or a welcome reception. You may get a better room rate if the hotel knows your group will be using other services. But do not select a hotel just because it offers the lowest price. In the negotiating process, here are some things to ask: • Are there special rates or perks available for youth groups? • Are there dates and times when rates are lowest? Downtown hotels that cater to corporate business may offer good weekend rates, for example. If you’re flexible, you can save up to 50 percent off peak-period prices. • Is a free room provided for every so many reservations? Does the tour leader or bus driver get a free room? • Does the room rate include all taxes, tips and fees? • What kind of deposit is required and when is it due? When is final payment due? • How long will the block of rooms be held? • What is the last date to cancel without losing money? • What is the hotel’s attraction clause on unused rooms?
Also have a wish list of extra benefits you would like provided for your group. Just by asking you may be able to get some things free or at reduced rates. Among complimentary amenities you can enquire about: • Airport or mall transportation • Audio-visual equipment • Hospitality suite or meeting room • Recreational activities You should receive a written contract at the end of the negotiations. Once signed, the contract becomes legally binding on both parties. Get everything in writing—from the total price and number of rooms to the smallest promised service. Food, Entertainment and Shopping Scheduling lunches, dinners, shopping and evening entertainment is as essential as picking hotels. Tour members look forward to meals and down time that allow breaks from sightseeing and other pre-assigned activities. Over pizza and pasta they can unwind and recharge. At a theater or sporting event they’ll appreciate being part of the audience. And every itinerary has to allow time to pick up mementos of their big adventure. MEALTIME OPTIONS When arranging meals at restaurants and hotels, to keep costs in line and facilitate a quick turn around with your group, the menu selection is often predetermined. Be prepared to accommodate vegetarians and those who require special diets for health or religious reasons. Buffets usually satisfy those with dietary restrictions and picky eaters and can be economical as well. In some cases, youth group members may receive meal vouchers to be used for food of their choice in a certain restaurant or group of restaurants. For meals on their own, make sure to advise how much to budget for during pre-departure meetings. Factors to consider when choosing restaurants: • Price. Does it fit into your budget? • Ambience. Is the restaurant a good choice for a loud group of young adults? • Location. Is it convenient to tourist sights or the hotel? • Capacity for a large group. Can all members be seated at one time and in the same section of the restaurant? • Availability and affordability of local specialties that students should try as part of the cultural experience • Chain restaurants offer predictability, but one-of-a-kind places offer more local flavor
ENTERTAINMENT Spice up your itinerary with shows, spectator sports and special events. It makes sense to choose something typical to the area. Keep college and minor league games in mind—they’re more affordable. Theater/concerts • Plays and musicals • Ballet, contemporary dance • Symphonies, classical music • Christian music concerts Spectator sports • Baseball • Football • Soccer • Lacrosse • Hockey • Basketball • Auto racing Events • Festivals • Rodeos • County/state fairs • Circuses SHOPPING Itineraries must give groups a chance to buy souvenirs. Group members can shop in familiar mall surroundings or explore retail areas with stores they wouldn’t see at home. To work in a shopping experience, consider: • An enclosed mall, especially tempting in extremely cold or hot weather. Food courts are a plus • City neighborhoods with a collection of funky stores concentrated on two or three blocks, with hip fashions and other merchandise of interest to young shoppers • Charming small towns where gift shops occupy historic buildings in a Main Street setting, many offering local foods and other specialties of the area • Fairs and festivals with local craft and other vendors
The Importance of Travel Insurance C
hildren and their parents often believe that youth means there won’t be problems that require insurance. Even if there is a problem, the youth traveler will probably be covered by the insurance of a family member. This thought process generally, but not always, relates to medical problems – and many people think medical problems occur only as one ages, not with young adults.
Listed below are a few examples of claims paid during the past two years to youth who were lucky enough to have purchased travel insurance: Tonsillitis Grandfather passed away Broken left hand Mental health (hospitalized) Mononucleosis Severe separation anxiety (hospitalized) Dislocated knee Fall - minor brain injury, severe mouth trauma
$5,300 11,600 6,100 6,800 8,200 5,900 7,300 5,500
Organizers of student & youth travel can provide examples where tour members experienced a problem, but had not purchased travel insurance. They thought they were covered under the insurance plan of a family member. Only after realizing the need for insurance did the student and his family find there was no coverage because the child was not living at home, was traveling out of the geographic range covered by the family insurance plan or for another reason spelled out in the family policy. It is most important to not assume there is medical coverage for the traveling participant. Reputable travel insurance policies cover medical care while travelling and should purchased as a component of any extended motorcoach trip.
Trip Cancellation Benefit Even if there is medical insurance coverage, there are other problems that result in financial cost to the youth traveler and his family. After the trip has been paid in full, the child may have to cancel for a reason that is not covered by medical insurance but is covered by something called the Travel Insurance Trip Cancellation benefit. Without travel insurance, the child could lose part or all of the amount paid for the trip. If the child has started the trip and then must cancel, he loses whatever has been invested in the balance of the trip and must pay to return home – generally a lot of money because the travel arrangements are made at the last minute. An example of this type of trip interruption is the $11,600 payment listed above where the grandfather passed away and the child had to immediately return home. There are low cost insurance policies available for student and youth groups with easy online enrollment and low cost premiums that are simply added to the cost of the trip, like an included meal meal. Protect your student traveler’s investment by offering group travel insurance.
Parental Permission Slips Get permission from parentsâ€Ś and your attorney Parental permission slips are often used by churches organizing youth activities, but they are frequently accompanied by the mistaken assumption that that piece of paper relieves the church of all liability in the case of any harm to the child.
Some churches require no such permission slips. Others may attempt to address a host of contingencies, such as: • Permission to transport the child • Releasing the church from responsibility for its volunteers • Granting the right to church staff and volunteers to make medical decisions in emergency situations • Requiring the child to follow rules and regulations regarding conduct and discipline during the trip or activity. However succinct or extensive a permission slip may be, it may not be worth the paper it is written on unless the church has done its homework and had it reviewed by an attorney qualified in that state. In some cases a release may even have to be approved by a court. And it is not a good idea to simply copy a parental permission from another church. Your risk is unique to your church and should be treated as such. Even with your attorney’s approval, the release or waiver you obtain is not a guarantee your church will be exempt from liability. Despite the limitations of parental permission slips, they are still a good idea. They may provide some protection to the church, but perhaps just as importantly, when the form itself is being designed, the analysis of the risk the church is assuming could bring to light some beneficial changes to plans or procedures. Will there be sufficient adult supervision? Are there activities planned that increase the risk of injury? Are the parents thoroughly informed about the details of the trip? It’s worth investing a little time to create a the parental permission program that best suits your church’s needs. It will make your trip safer and that much more enjoyable.
CHOOSING CHAPERONES Regardless of group size, obtaining an appropriate number of chaperones will ensure a successful tour experience for everyone.
The most common practice is 1 chaperone for every 6 young adults, but this can vary based on the complexity and duration of the tour. While chaperoning a youth tour may sound attractive, chaperones need to understand going in that this is not a free vacation. Recruiting Chaperones All chaperones should have some experience with youth either as teachers, counselors, school administrators or some other educational, professional venue. Initial recruiting should include the following: • Experience in working with adolescents • Willingness to help plan and facilitate • Ability to attend all pre-tour meetings • Assist with documentation • Prepared to spend money on items not covered in the free spot such as lunches or beverages • Following all tour guidelines in respect to expectations such as an alcohol policy avoiding Certain Groups as Chaperones • Family members of the group leader • Parents of youth participants without specific experience chaperoning/leading youth groups • Spouses of qualified chaperones • Young adults whose sibling is a trip participant On Tour Responsibilities Any adults involved in leading or chaperoning a youth tour must be prepared to be on call at any hour. If there are a number of chaperones, it is helpful to divide responsibilities and give each chaperone at least one night off during the tour. On tour responsibilities will include: • Responsibility for small groups throughout the tour • Assisting with disciplinary issues • Helping to facilitate curfews and room-checks at night • Staying behind if a child is too ill to participate in the activities on any particular day • Accompanying a child home if severe illness or disciplinary problems warrant such last resort actions • Making sure all group members wake up at the proper time and are prepared for the day’s activities • Monitoring youth group members during “free time” • Willingness to accompany group on a free day excursions • Taking over the group if the group leader cannot complete the tour Skilled chaperones help make a youth tour successful. They ensure the reputation of the group while assisting the group leader in daily operations.
&Discipline on O
n tour discipline begins with the first trip meeting. Youth group members must be given all of the disciplinary-related expectations before they enroll on the trip. Additionally, anyone interested in enrolling who have a clear history of disciplinary problems should not be allowed to enroll. Some group leaders interview prospective tour participants in a meeting with their parents in order to detail expectations.
General tour expectations should include:
Enforcing discipline on Tour
• • • • • •
Sending a child home for a disciplinary infraction is usually frowned upon by tour providers anxious to avoid legal difficulties with parents and guardians. This threat should never be used unless it can be enforced. Such last resort actions must be pre-arranged with parents and guardians and put into writing.
Following all group leader, tour director and chaperone instructions Being on time for every event Abiding by set nightly curfews Never leaving the group without obtaining permission Maintaining rules set by hotels and coach providers Treating all persons on the tour with respect, especially in situations with consolidated groups • If the trip is church or school-sponsored, following all published behavior expectations most Common disciplinary Violations • • • • • •
Going off alone during free time Leaving the hotel after curfew or bed checks Disrupting others on the coach with loud talking Arriving late at established meeting spots Drinking alcoholic beverages Visiting out-of-bounds places such as “red light” districts
Much can be said about adolescent alcohol policies and it is frequently a subject of discussion at conferences. Regardless of what the policy might be, group leaders and chaperones need to be aware that alcohol is readily available in bars and hotels.
Effective Forms of Enforcement • Cleaning the interior of the coach at the end of a travel day • Being confined to the hotel between dinner and curfew • Loss of free time privileges • Spending any free time in the company of a chaperone • Helping to load baggage onto the coach For more serious infractions, parents can be called or emailed to elicit their support in talking to the child. You should never ban anyone from an excursion on the tour itinerary or any optional activities that have been paid for. This can result in unnecessary liabilities with parents.
When your youth group’s trip is over and everyone has arrived home safe and sound, don’t just let all the good stuff you have experienced drift away into memory. There is plenty you can do to share the excitement of the trip and reinforce all the positive lessons learned, while keeping the spirit alive. How about a welcome home party? Have the parents on hand to meet the buses on their return and share the enthusiasm and camaraderie of the group. Or if the time of arrival is inconvenient, plan the event for later—but don’t wait too long. Sponsors and supporters of the trip would no doubt appreciate a report on how things went. This is another great opportunity for teamwork. Create a photo slideshow, a bulletin board display or perhaps even a video of some of the highlights of the adventure. The church’s website or Facebook page are also great options for spreading the word and building excitement for future trips. As the organizer of the trip, the youth minister will need to gather feedback to assess the value received for the time and money spent. What went right – and what might you do differently next time? A short survey prepared for the participants will go a long way in evaluating whether the trip achieved its goals, and where the group might want to travel next. What about the hotels? The restaurants? The motorcoach company? The destination itself? Did they live up to expectations? Record this information for future use. It may help the next time a group from your church decides to take a trip. Finally, on a more individual level, it may be worthwhile to review some of the moments shared. How did the group grow together through the experiences they shared? What did they discover? What was the high point of the trip? Even if they were not always positive, it’s important to share so corrections can be made for future trips. Was there a conflict between youths? If so, how was the matter resolved, and how did those involved feel about it afterwards? It’s important to remember that extended time together — not just brief encounters — breaks down barriers and encourages growth both personal and spiritual.
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