No matter how meticulously planned and thoroughly prepared a trip is, unexpected challenges are bound to come up while traveling, whether it be an unseasonable snowstorm, flight delay, or a sick traveler. While you might be a pro at navigating last-minute changes in personal travel, adding a group of Girl Scouts to the mix can amplify the stress or even discourage troop leaders from taking the travel leap. But I hope it doesn’t, because these unexpected challenges can turn into invaluable lessons.
That’s where I found myself this past June while accompanying 25 River Valleys Girl Scouts and volunteers on a Wildlife Adventure Trip to Belize. The girls and volunteers had been preparing for this trip for over two years, selling cookies, learning about international travel, exploring Belizean culture and history, and getting to know each other. When it was time to finally head to the airport and start the adventure, setting my alarm for 4 am was almost exciting.
Instead of waking up to the alarm, though, I woke up to a notification that our flight was delayed. No big deal, I thought, we had planned plenty of cushion time in our anticipated layover. I messaged the group to arrive at our planned meeting time despite the delay. After making sure all were accounted for, we started the check-in process, only to find out that our entire group had been delayed until that afternoon and re-booked on a connecting flight the next day. This meant the girls would miss the first day of their trip and we’d be spending an unplanned night in Texas. Obviously, this was not part of my (or anyone else’s) plan. The series of unfortunate events continued to unravel when we were shuttled to the wrong hotel and our airline voucher didn’t initially work. Was this how any of us envisioned the start of our eight days together? Definitely not. However, the group was determined to not let this rocky start ruin the trip. Through all of the waiting, sitting, and changing plans, I didn’t hear one complaint. The girls were so positive—and were putting their Girl Scout grit to good use!
If you haven’t yet found yourself in a similar situation, consider yourself lucky! And while you can never fully prepare for the unexpected (that’s why it’s…unexpected), there are a few ways you and your girls can navigate these sticky situations with aplomb. Here’s how.
Prepare Before You Leave
Preparing girls for potential changes in plans should be part of the trip preparation process. Talk about what could go wrong and what you’ll do if it does. Have a back-up plan when possible and discuss the importance of maintaining a positive attitude, even when frustrating situations arise. In our case, we reviewed the unknowns of travel (particularly international travel), the humidity, heat, and torrential rains we might encounter, and how far we’d likely be walking and hiking each day.
As the group leader, the girls will feed off of your energy. Even though you might be panicking inside (I might be speaking from experience here), keep calm and reassure your group. In our group’s case, I had girls research places to eat and things to do in Dallas once we knew we’d be stuck there for a night.
Use Challenges as a Learning Experience and Let the Girls Lead
Need to find a new gate at the airport? Walk behind the girls and have them lead the way. Original tour is canceled? Have girls research new options. Your role as a group leader is to make urgent or serious decisions while leaving the rest to the girls!
Have Faith in Girls’ Resilience
Trust that Girl Scouting has prepared your girls to be resilient. By showing girls that you know they can handle it, trusting them with appropriate decision-making and hearing them out if they have concerns, girls will step up to the challenge. Make sure to support everyone with the basics like good food, water, and rest too—we all do better when our basic needs are met!
Before I’ve scared you away from travel forever, let me tell the happy ending to our travel story. We arrived in Belize and hit the ground running. We still squeezed in all our activities and girls were able to experience zip lining, cave tubing, a jungle survival hike (which included eating live termites off of a tree), two snorkeling trips, two Mayan ruin sites, the Green Iguana Conservation Project, a local school visit (a group favorite), and more. While most of our time was spent exploring, we did have some time to relax in the colorful hammocks outside of one of our accommodations, especially the girls who voluntarily woke up early on several occasions to take in the sunrise.
Beyond seeing amazing wildlife and sites, watching the girls grow was by far the best part of the trip. Though most of them had not met until the trip planning process began, they encouraged one another. They asked thought-provoking questions, were respectful of the people they met and places we went, tried new things and continued their group motto of perseverance through some long days and So. Much. Humidity. I was so proud of the determination, curiosity, bravery, and kindness of these girls, but I wasn’t surprised by it. Their time in Girl Scouts has prepared them so well to take on challenges, be sisters to each other, and leave places better than they found them. Despite (and maybe because of) the unexpected road bumps along the way, this group is ready for their next adventure!
Interested in joining our next council-sponsored travel adventure in the summer of 2021? Check out our STEM Discovery London trip!
McKayla Murphy – McKayla is a Program Manager – GSLE at Girl Scouts River Valleys. She graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and a minor in dance. McKayla is passionate about racial equity, critical media studies, and art education. She enjoys dancing, trying new food, and seeking adventure (including winter camping and travel). Staples in McKayla’s life include dark chocolate, her hammock, and plenty of reading material.