Super Activity Planning
The overseas Venturing super activity can be one of the greatest experiences that a young adult can have. Crew 7, Old Baldy Council, California, has been fortunate enough to attend four super activities in other countries. Each trip included at least two weeks of touring and each ended by attending a major Venture activity. Over the course of these super activities, I have learned a great deal of information and I would like to share it with you.
I have also put together a PowerPoint slide show that you may find helpful - SuperActivity.PPS
Clearly defining the goals, objectives and expectations of the trip is probably the most critical part of the preparation. Let me give you some ideas on issues that good planning can help you with:
- Discuss and agree upon preferences for accommodations, food buying, transportation, events, sightseeing, etc. The price of what you choose will affect the cost of the trip. I like to keep the cost down so I am willing to minimize the cost by camping and cooking instead of hotels and eating out. But for some, several weeks of camping and cooking does not define a fun trip. So, it is important to integrate expectations with cost before you leave.
- Establish rules they should be well-defined and understood. For example: when is the uniform required; what is the expected behavior; are there curfews that you need to establish in order to respect the sleep needed by drivers and others; how to use the buddy system; what to do if someone gets lost; etc.
- Discuss what to do to arbitrate disagreements. Discuss how to minimize the likelihood of disagreements. And, how to diffuse stress.
- Assign duty rosters and ensure that everyone understands and agrees with them. This includes cooking, cleanup, and any other areas where specific duties and responsibilities need to be established.
- Learn as much about the details of your trip as possible. This will help to minimize surprises and stress. Some of the important topics that should be reviewed are:
- Group Equipment
- Personal Clothing
- Compatibility of Electrical Appliances
Working with a reputable travel agent is probably the easiest way to make arrangements. However, if your have the time, some knowledge and perseverance, you can get better deals. Generally, groups of ten or more will get a group discount on most airlines with or without an travel agent. If you choose to make the reservations, you can ask for an additional discount, the amount equal to the commission paid to travel agents. Work both sides to find out what works better for your crew.
The best resourse for locating international events is to visit the World Organization of the Scout Movement International Events.
With today's internet, making contact with others that can provide you a place to stay is relatively easy. This is one task that I, as the advisor, have taken on for each of our super-activities. A Venturer could handle this but it takes a great deal of coordination and perseverance.
The first thing I do is to search for units or scouters in the area where we plan to stay. I let them know about our trip and that we would love to meet their Venturers. I ask if they can help us with a place or places to stay and that we would like to have some kind of get together with them. I mention that if this is not feasible for them, I would appreciate their forwarding my email to others who might be able to help us. My preference is always home stays. They are the most fun and, of course, this usually reduces the cost of food and shelter for us. If home stays are not possible, staying in a scout hut works well. A scout hut may or may not have beds, a kitchen or showers, but they usually provide a certain degree of security or protection. If staying in a scout hut fails, I will look to see if a scout camp is available in the area. My last resort is a youth hostel; usually good for beds, a kitchen and showers, but poor for security of your personal belongings. I have had great success having home stays in English-speaking countries such as New Zealand, Canada and Australia, but poor success in Europe. It often takes many months to coordinate where to stay, so start planning early.
Other means of asking for help are through websites such as:
Where to stay in Europe
All adults need to be trained and have a good understanding of the program and that they are dealing with young adults. Too often, I notice that adults seem to forget that the super-activity is not for them but for the Venturers. It is not a vacation for adults. The adults are there for support and guidance. My preference would be to have only two well-trained, experienced leaders.
Know the weather conditions of the places you want to visit. Ask people who live or have visited there or who know someone who does. Of course, the internet is a great place to find out weather information. In some cases, you will not need a sleeping bag. For example, in Brazil, all I needed was a thermal blanket to cover me. But, no matter what the climate, be prepared for rain.
- Group Equipment
Try to rent or borrow as much as you can upon arrival. Lugging equipment around from plane to train and other places can be very difficult. Take my word for it, I have done it.
Tents Good tents that protect against the rain and wind are essential. If your unit is going to a major event overseas, check to see if you can rent tents unless you plan on tent camping throughout the trip. The staff at camps often know of units in the area that would be more than glad to let you use their tents for a relatively small fee. This helps those units raise money for their equipment, and it helps you acquire tents appropriate for the climate without having to carry them throughout the rest of the trip. If you are traveling before or after the activity, scout camps can be great places to stay. Often they have indoor facilities for about $5 extra per night per person in addition to approximately $3 camp fee per night per person. It is worth it to guarantee that you will be dry and likely have a kitchen.
Cooking equipment Again, borrow if you can. The greatest problem that I have had to deal with is cooking stoves. Either liquid fuel is not readily available or their fuel containers do not attach to ours. If you only need stoves at the activity you are attending, check before you go and see if you can share with others camping with you. If you absolutely need stoves, do your research before you go to make sure that what you have in mind works.
Rainfly On every major trip I have taken it has rained. And, all my trips have been made during the summer! (So we are a bit spoiled in California because we have little or no rain during the summer.) At each place you plan to camp, find out what options you have for rain protection. Or get clever and have plans to put up a light weight rainfly for rain or even too much sun.
U.S. Flag Every event that we have been to, we have needed to have a U.S. flag. For Venturing, other flags are not generally needed. This is because, usually at national venturer-type events, the Venturers are regrouped into crews with the same interest. For example: hiking, biking, wind surfing, etc.
- Personal Clothing
During each of our trips, we have worn our class A uniform when we arrive at our destination and when interfac with the public for sightseeing-type activities. Many times, because we were in uniform, we would get better rates for everything from entrance fees to cashing travelers checks. Traveling in the van, we would usually hang our dress shirts in the back. For the most part, class A or class B uniforms would be worn most of the time. Personally, I did not need anything but my uniform but usually the Venturers would find a few times to wear their non-uniform clothing. In general, enough clothing for 5 to 7 days works well. The important thing is to make time for washing clothes. Washing is an easy thing to overlook when planning your trip.
Below are a few items that I would recommend looking at a bit more carefully.
Boots If you are going hiking, bring good boots that protect your ankles and keep you dry under most conditions. At some camps, they will not let you go on any hike without proper hiking boots. Often, hiking trails in other countries are not as well maintained as we are used to. If you are going hiking, the better prepared you are with proper boots and socks, the better time you will have.
Pants Because Venturing can define its own uniform, I highly recommend that for your uniform pants you buy quick-drying nylon pants with zip-off legs. They are versatile, comfortable and will allow each individual to deal with changing temperatures as needed.
Jackets In many places you will not need a jacket. But, if you are traveling to a cooler climate, for example New Zealand, jacket-shirts or windbreakers are very useful. I recommend buying the same type for everyone. It makes it easier for you as a leader to find the Venturers in a crowd if you pick a color that stands out. We usually choose wine-colored jackets.
A tour permit is a given. You are required to have one. When requesting a national tour permit, which is also used for international activities, ask for a letter of introduction. The letter or tour permit can be useful when trying to make contact with international scout commissioners. There are times when they will not help you unless they have some document from BSA that says you are a member of BSA and are approved to go on the super activity. Most the time you are not asked for anything, but being prepared goes without saying.
Everyone should have a Class 3 medical and any appropriate shots. Get the scout medical insurance for everyone. It is a very small cost. This is supposed to cover any extra medical expenses you have over what your personal insurance will provide. Oh yes, contact your personal insurance company and check to find out how to provide them with appropriate information in case of an emergency on the super activity.
Consent to Treat
Have a consent to treat form signed by both parents for every Venturer. Even though the Venturers over 18 do not need one, it is far better to be safe than sorry.
You will never want to be stopped because someone somewhere accuses you of transporting youth outside of the country. It is just another one of those never used protection forms that can be worth a million dollars when you need it.
Passport & Visas
Give yourself enough time to get what will be required. Waiting until the end will cost you more because of extra fees for rush mail.
If you are just traveling with your crew, a van of some type is probably the best way to travel. In Europe, we stayed in scout camps which were, in some cases, located very far from public transportation. With a van, you have your luggage with you at all time, making it very easy to get around. During our trip to Europe, we traveled around for 17 days before our scouting activity. 17 days was the minimum number of days for the lease of a large Renault van. The lease provided us with full insurance, zero dollar deductible, and much better options than a rental. For a long trip, I recommend Renault. The seats individually recline and are comfortable.
If you have traveled far, particularly where it involves long flights and time/day changes, take your first day as a rest day. My crew and I have made the mistake of trying to be tourists on the first day. By the end of the day, we were so tired that we did not really enjoy what we saw. And then it took days to catch back up on our sleep. A word to the wise.
From experience, I highly recommend not traveling more than 6 hours a day; 4 hours is better. The drivers get too tired if they have to travel for long periods of time. And, it is no fun to be in a van all day long. Generally, I would recommend leaving at a time in the morning so that you arrive at your destination between 1 and 2 PM. Arriving around that time makes it more comfortable for your hosts because they are less likely to feel obligated to offer you lunch. Of course, make sure you eat lunch on the way.
Rest stops are very important for several reasons:
- Gives the driver the opportunity to get coffee!
- Gives everyone an opportunity to freshen up.
- Lets the young adults get more food, which they always seem to want.
Stops will definitely add time to your trip, but a happy group makes the trip more enjoyable and reduces stress. Remember, halt before you get too hungry, too angry, too lonely or too tired.
Maps and Travel Guides
Having maps for travel between cities and detailed maps for within cities is very helpful. I have certainly been able to get around in a new city by acquiring a local map when I arrive. However, I have also entered the city from the wrong side relative to where I was planning to stay because I did not have a map. Driving through large cities instead of around them to get to the where you plan to stay can be a real nightmare. There are some cities like Rome which have one-way roads always heading the wrong way!
Travel guides are great reading material as you travel. It seems that no matter how well you plan, you will want to review or discover points of interest along the way. Have several different types of guides. You will be glad you did.
Other Planned Time
During all trips, you will need to allow time for:
- Shopping this includes food, personal items, and other group needs.
- Washing clothes.
As the Advisor, I have always paid for the expenses and had the Venturer Treasurer track the expenses. (I get reimbursed at the end.) Travelers checks were good in the past, but today, charging on a credit card works out well. One thing to check is whether your credit card charges a fee for each transaction or not. My personal VISA does, my American Express does not. Get a card for the trip that does not. You will also need cash for food at grocery stores and other inexpensive items. ATM's are usually available and a good source for cash. Always take the maximum cash each time from an ATM that is available to you because there is usually a fixed cost for the transaction.
When converting U.S. currency or travelers checks to another currency, shop around. Train stations and airports often charge a fee for the exchange. Ask local residents because they will know where you can get your best exchange.
The treasurer of the unit should record all expenses. Before you leave on the trip, total the amount collected, subtract expenses that have already occurred - transportation, camp fee, etc. - and keep a running balance of money available to spend. This will allow you keep everyone informed during the trip of how you are doing from a budgeting point of view. It is better to return money at the end of the trip instead of having to ask for more.
Before you leave, it is a good idea to have an estimate of the costs of all your entertainment; prices of events, food, bus tours, tolls and everything you can determine. It goes without saying that this needs to be a part of the planning of the trip so that you will be far more likely to stay within budget.
Plan the trip, as much as possible, so that most expenses are covered within the overall cost. As mentioned above, this should include prices of events, food, bus tours, tolls, etc. Gifts for family and friends, personal activities, and extra food are personal expenses that the Venturers will have. Generally, between $100 and $300 is workable for most.
For every place that you stay that involves the hospitality of other Venturers, plan to have a gift to give. A simple item such as a patch, a book illustrating your state, a calendar with scenes of your home area, something from Disneyland, something that identifies where you are from, etc. works well. Never leave on a trip without a gift for each home stay or scout hut stay.
- Compatibility of Electrical Appliances
In the United States, most appliances, such as hair dryers and shavers, work off 120 volts. In many other countries, the voltage is 240 and the outlets are also different. So, make sure your appliance has a switch that allows you to operate under both voltages. If you do not know the type of outlet, buy a package having a number of different types of conversions for plug-ins and take it with you.
Some additional information on this subject can be found on a site entitled Suggestions for Traveling Overseas with Boy Scouts and Venturers.