I recently returned from a youth mission trip, where we scissored across the country and engaged in some life-changing opportunities to learn about our faith and share the Gospel with people in another city.
But that trip is not the point of this particular article.
Rather, this is an attempt to help you survive the rigors of a youth trip.
You see, youth trips–whether they are lock ins, retreats, mission trips or fellowship events–are unlike any other trips you may take. It’s never a vacation, despite wishfully thinking, “Oh, I’ll have time to enjoy a little personal devotion time on the beach while my youth are swimming in the ocean.”
A trip with your youth group is more like directing a herd of wandering lambs, each bellowing out silly phrases and belting out songs you’ve never heard as you try to sort through an entire mountain of medical and consent forms, making sure Susie doesn’t eat anything that she’s allergic to while Timmy is trying to scale the roof to catch an errant dodge ball that he just whacked over Sarah’s head.
See the picture?
As an oldster (also known as a “responsible adult”), working in the world of youth, I’ve discovered some helpful tips for navigating your youth trips:
#1) Bring an inflatable air mattress.
Sorry, your only hope for some semblance of comfort while on a youth trip is an inflatable air mattress to sleep on. Not a cot, not an inflatable pool raft, and not a couch cushion on the floor–an actual air mattress. Is it comparable to your cozy bed at home? Not by a long shot, so don’t get your hopes up–but it’s still better for your old bones than the harsh concrete floor.
Of course, it’ll most likely get deflated at least once on the trip by some rogue youngster intent on impressing the other zany kids in your youth group (and odds go up for this if you’re a male, unfortunately). With that in mind, make sure it has an attached electric pump.
#2) Pack extra toothpaste.
Have I ever been on a youth trip where every student brought his or her own toothpaste? Never. Throw in an extra tiny bottle of toothpaste from the drug store, and spare yourself the frustration of having the same youth ask you twice a day if he can borrow your toothpaste.
#3) Change the pass code on your phone.
Granted, not all of us have cell phones with the ability to lock the keypad. But the vast majority of youth leaders I know have smart phones, and the vast majority of youth I know have a burning desire to crack
into said smart phones. Why? I don’t know–my emails are a treasure trove of mundane happenings that wouldn’t interest your average teen.
Your best bet for ensuring that your youth don’t break into your phone and post silly pictures on your personal Facebook page or bombard your Twitter feed with atrocious grammatically-challenged phrases is to change the pass code on your phone to something unpredictable–like a random word or number combination–right before the trip.
If you really want to confuse your teens, let them “accidentally” see you plug in your pass code, and then change it to something else when they aren’t looking.
#4) Come prepared with Disney soundtracks.
This is a guaranteed icebreaker, no matter where you’re going, what you’re doing or what age the kids you’re with might be. I’ve seen many a dull trip turn into a riotous good time when Disney songs are cranked up on the radio. It’s a great equalizer, especially for kids who don’t like awkward silences.
#5) Hide your stash of chewing gum.
You don’t know anguish until you’ve watched a teenager ferret out your secret stash of spearmint gum and pass it around the van, emptying the pack in record time. Everyone enjoys gum–especially those kids who chew a piece for approximately five minutes before sticking it under a desk or chair.
Your best bet to avoid this is to bring multiple packs of gum and hide them in your personal effects. Bad breath? Why, yes, let me just go get an “extra pair of socks” and take care of this.
#6) Bring a buffet of batteries.
Inevitably, someone always is in desperate need of batteries on youth trips. Often, they’re just missing one or two batteries, too. I sometimes collect the leftover odds and ends of all sorts of batteries, throw them all in a plastic bag, and throw it into my carry-on bag when I’m on youth trips. It’s a lifesaver.
#7) Invest in a good power adapter for your vehicle.
Pony up a bit of money and buy yourself a good power adapter for your car or van. Mine plugs right into a cigarette outlet, and can charge two different types of plug-ins. Put your name on this little electronic and never let it out of your sight, because everyone will want to use it. This is one easy way to make sure your cell phone never runs out of battery, too.
#8) Carry band-aids and fruit snacks on you at all times.
These two items, band-aids and fruit snacks, are magical aids in soothing everything from blisters to paper cuts to teenage temper tantrums. On youth trips, I often run out of band-aids because they’re such a frequently used item for minor injuries or bug bites. And a quick mood boost always comes in the form of handing a pack of gummy fruit snacks to a person–regardless of their age. I’ve been known to chuck an entire box into the back seat to prevent whining, on occasion.
#9) Always have an extra sweatshirt handy.
Having an extra sweatshirt in your bag covers every unforeseeable situation you might find yourself in. For instance, consider the following instances:
One of your youth is wearing something inappropriate? “Here, have a sweatshirt.”
Someone forgot to pack a pillow? “Here, have a sweatshirt.”
You got a flat tire and need to sit down on the bare cement to fix it? “Here, have a sweatshirt.”
One of your youth is complaining about the air vents blasting right on them? “Here, have a sweatshirt.”
See the picture? Sweatshirts are like duct tape–they fix nearly everything.
#10) Point your students to Jesus.
In the chaos of wrangling teenagers on trips, you often find yourself stressed out and overwhelmed. At least, I do on a regular basis! It’s difficult to smile and display an attitude that reflects Christ when you’re dealing with the inevitable frustrating challenges of whatever you might be doing on a youth trip–whether it’s a lesson that fell flat, a needed supply that you don’t have, a student who’s misbehaving or a missing vehicle.
But our fellow leaders and youth are watching us carefully in those moments when everything is going wrong. We’re merely human beings, and our flaws are all too apparent when we’re frustrated and tired and dealing with mistakes. Sometimes, it’s in the midst of the worst circumstances that it’s the most important to point others to Christ and His changeless love and incomprehensible forgiveness.
As Psalm 136:1 reminds us, “Praise the Lord! He is good. God’s love never fails. Praise the God of all gods. God’s love never fails. Praise the Lord of lords. God’s love never fails.”
How good it is to know His love never fails–even when we forget our extra toothpaste, have all our gum seized and helplessly watch our students break into our cell phones on our youth trips!
Published September 2013