Before the Trip
Relax the weekend before the trip if possible and bring the most patient version of yourself on the trip. A couple hundred excited teenagers around the clock requires more patience than usual. Also, working so closely with coworkers who may have differing thoughts/opinions about how to handle in-the-moment situations may be challenging.
Pack carefully. Here are a few things you definitely need:
- Healthy snacks – You will be sick of rest stop food, pizza, etc, and you will actually crave a healthy snack.
- Portable phone charger – You are away from the hotel for long hours and you want your phone to be working should you need it in an emergency.
- Something warm to wear on the bus – You are at the mercy of the hot blooded bus drivers. If you are always cold, bring a hoodie sweatshirt or two.
- Plastic rain poncho – they are small and so much more portable than an umbrella.
Let your family know that while you will be available by cell phone, that you will be busy. You will be acting as a parent like figure for many children during the week and making numerous small decisions. The last thing you need is your spouse calling you to ask if you have any butter left or your mom asking you about a birthday party next weekend.
During the Trip
Don’t expend so much energy taking care of the kids that you forget to take care of yourself. You must eat, drink, sleep, and apply sunscreen too. On every trip, we often see at least 1-2 teachers become ill due to exhaustion. If you get woken up on the first night, make sure that someone else is on call the next night. Take 5 minutes and put on sunscreen even if that means kids have to wait for a moment. Run back up to the room to get the medication you always take. Just like in parenthood, you have to put on your oxygen mask first.
Check your assigned students rooms every morning. Chaperones always remember to check that their students are safely in their rooms before “lights out”, but they often forget to make sure that their students wake up on time. Even though they will have access to cell phones, alarm clocks, and wake up calls, many teens will sleep through these. You do not want your group of students to skip breakfast before a long day or be the reason that 100 other kids are waiting on a bus to leave. Additionally, you want to make sure that your students leave the room in an appropriate condition for the cleaning staff. Although they do not need to make their beds, they should make sure that all used towels are placed on the bathroom floor and that all food is picked up/placed in one section of the room.
A strong tour operator will ensure that you have night security guards to monitor hallways and keep all students safely in their rooms. Security guards should be provided for a minimum of 8 hours so that chaperones have an appropriate amount of time to shower and sleep. Provide the security guards with a chair in the hallway from the “office” section of your hotel room. It’s a thoughtful gesture and helps build a nice rapport with your security team.
Find the time and energy to really take in at least one activity/museum per day. At some stops, you will be helping students find an appropriate meal or dealing with roommate spats. At other stops, you will be tired and just need to take a quick break on a bench. Try to find at least one point in the day where you can really be present and appreciate what you are seeing. Maybe it’s your first time going to the National Museum of African American History and Culture or maybe you’re a baseball fiend and enjoy watching the Nationals play a game. You will have the opportunity to see some amazing things on this trip. Find one activity a day that’s up your alley and embrace it. You’ve earned it.