As each Ambassador crossed the bridge to Lifetime Girl Scout, she shared a favorite Girl Scouting experience.
“Our troop trips.”
“Our trip to Montreal.”
“Proving I could portage a canoe.”
Repeatedly, troop travel was the experience that punctuated their memories. But, like many personal journeys, I didn’t initially know that this is where the road would lead me when we embarked on our first troop trip to Chicago in 2011.
As my troop bridged to Cadettes, I worried about how to keep the girls interested in Girl Scouts through those awkward middle school years. Another troop leader suggested, “Plan a trip they can look forward to.” With that thought in the back of my mind, I tucked away a brochure about a Girl Scout program sponsored by the HI Hostel in Chicago. They had a package deal with overnight lodging and two activities: a visit to Chinatown and a bike trip. We could easily get there via Megabus, so I wouldn’t even need to drive. The bonus was the ability to take the “red-eye” bus which saved us money by avoiding one night’s lodging. After the girls had a chance to ride the L-Train and swim in Lake Michigan (spontaneously and fully clothed), we were hooked on travel. Better yet, the girls continued to be hooked on Girl Scouts. As we explored what we learned, we decided we needed to travel again! The heights of the Willis Tower would be a launching pad for other new experiences.
These trips drew on the same principles I used as a troop leader in the girls’ early years. We decided on progressive troop trips—as we grew, our trips grew. Each trip a few days longer and each destination further from home than the last. As the trips progressed, the girls did more, and I did less. Beginning in ninth grade, we traveled to the Boundary Waters Canoe and Wilderness Area, then to the Big Apple, and culminated in an international trip to Montreal, Canada, before their graduation. The girls became skilled at packing bags that met TSA requirements, carrying these bags across long distances, and navigating new and unknown subway systems. I was so proud when I walked into the subway in Montreal and said, “Girls, get me back to our hostel.” They proudly showed me their knowledge of the transit system, and that they were better than I was at not getting us lost!
While the traveling was amazing, the planning and preparation were key parts of the trip. We had a new purpose for our cookie sales—holding more fundraisers focused on travel, annually working the county’s compost site—and we even threw a tea party! The girls got to make the decision about how hard they wanted to work, depending on where they wanted to travel, and what activities they really wanted to do once they got there.
We kept costs to a minimum by staying in hostels. We had our own “private” troop rooms for sleeping, but cooked and ate together in common areas. Only once did we make the mistake of not having a kaper chart. After that, the girls ensured that they would make the kaper chart for all future trips. As a bonus, different parents volunteered at different times to come along as chaperones. We even had a grandma join us!
Deciding where to go was a small negotiation. Yes, I did have to put boundaries on their location choices. Las Vegas is not the first choice for ninth grade girls. Each girl presented their top choice(s) for activities with each other, including the costs. They did the research and sold their idea to their Girl Scout sisters. Agreeing with what to do in each city became easier as each girl was guaranteed that their number one choice would be accommodated in the final itinerary. Each girl got what they really wanted, compromised, and afterward, were surprised that they enjoyed an activity that someone else really wanted. One girl was surprised that she liked the Museum of Metropolitan Art and discovered that she actually liked seeing Van Gogh’s The Starry Night painting. Another surprised me when she said that white water rafting was the best part of Montreal. There was no disagreement from anyone that seeing Aladdin was amazing!
Traveling together as a group of 12 was character-building. We built courage along the way as we sought new locations and activities. And now, the girls have confidence as they venture out beyond the troop.
No matter how we got to our travel destination, ultimately, troop travel is what kept us on our destination to become Lifetime Girl Scouts.
Pam Stegora Axberg – Pam currently serves on the Board of Directors for Girl Scouts River Valleys, and was a troop leader for over a decade (her girls have all bridged to Lifetime Girl Scouts!). As the senior vice president of UnitedHealthcare, she’s leading the transformation of the medical records process. Pam earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from St. Catherine University and her MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. She and her husband, Joe, and her four children reside in New Brighton, MN. In her free time, she enjoys training for sprint triathlons, spending time at the cabin with her family, and traveling.