Make sure your child is comfortable sleeping away from home. Ideally, your child will have stayed away from home for multiple nights before attending the Washington, D.C. trip. Children who have stayed overnight at summer camp, grandparents houses, of a friend’s home are often less anxious about the trip and have developed coping mechanisms for dealing with homesickness. You definitely want to make sure your child has slept away from home without you for more than one night before sending them out of the state for multiple nights.
Have your child practice ordering their own food in a busy food court/cafeteria setting. Make sure your child is comfortable ordering food without your help as they will need to do this throughout their trip unless you arrange for an increased level of chaperone support prior to departure. Your child should understand how to order off the menu with the amount of money allotted (typically a $10 – $15 stipend is provided per meal).
Take a bus ride with your child that is over an hour long and sit in the middle to the back of the bus. Does your child become motion sick? If so, talk to your doctor about trying an over the counter motion sickness medication, like Dramamine. If your child is prone to motion sickness, you should also inform the nurse attending the trip and encourage your child to sit towards the front of the bus.
Help your child pack their luggage and encourage your child to pack at least a couple healthy snacks, a refillable water bottle, and some sunscreen. Most teenagers will insist on packing their own clothes, and will not forget what they consider essential, such as a cell phone charger. However, you should double check their packing to make sure they have included essential items, like toothpaste, and that they haven’t packed anything they shouldn’t be bringing with them. See the Top 5 Things Not to Pack for Student Travel.
Talk to your child about hotel etiquette. Students often forget that housekeepers should not be wading through their clothes in order to make the beds and clean the room. Reminding kids that towels belong in a pile on the floor and their clothes should be in one central area with no food on the floor is a great starting point. Chaperones will typically reinforce this throughout the trip as well.
Place an envelope with $10 – $20 in your child’s suitcase for the bus ride home. Most thoughtful tour operators will provide a stipend on the ride home for children to purchase food. Sometimes this stipend isn’t enough for big appetites or high prices. Other times, the bus ride home takes much longer than anticipated and another food stop is added in. Providing this extra money in a separate envelope reduces the chance that your child will spend it elsewhere before the ride home.
Help your child identify at least 1 chaperone on the trip that they would feel comfortable approaching if confronted with a challenging situation. Teenagers are known for risk taking behavior and this trip provides an enhanced sense of freedom. It is important to talk to your child not only about how he/she should conduct himself/herself on the trip, but also to identify a responsible adult on the trip that they can talk to if they make a poor decision or if they observe unacceptable or dangerous behavior from a peer.