One mission trip to Honduras. One high school youth conference. One middle school youth conference. One mission trip to Sunset Gap, Tennessee. Add them all together and what do you get? My summer. (Do I hear “Amen” echoing across the reaches of the blogosphere?)
After packing and re-packing—sometimes with only a week in between—I realized how grateful I am for those items I’ve discovered that make the preparation for and experience of mission trips, conferences, and camps smoother. While I desperately wish I had Oprah-esque powers to give you all my favorite things, I can only point you in their direction.
Earplugs: While sleep is in short supply on most church trips, earplugs can drown out everything from middle school giggles to your co-leader’s supersonic snoring. Most are sold in large packs that will last through multiple trips. Some even have fancy carrying cases. Get them at your local pharmacy or my happy place, Target.
Ginormous plastic bags: I’m not talking about quart or even gallon size. These are the go big or go home bags. They’re the affordable version of those fancy compression bags. I use these bags to pack all my clothes because they save space, you can organize according to item (e.g. pants, shirts, etc.), and they keep everything dry—especially on that mile long hike to your mission housing site.
GoToobs: Don’t want to take up half your bag space with toiletries that will only leak all over the place? Get GoToobs. Why GoToobs? They have a wide opening for easy refilling, they come in TSA approved sizes, they hold enough to last for a week, and (bonus!) they’re BPA free. I have taken mine all over the world and wouldn’t pack toiletries any other way.
Plastic envelopes: Ever come home from a trip only to begin the treasure hunt for receipts? If your church bookkeeper/treasurer/comptroller is anything like mine, you need hard copies of receipts for every expense. (Even the $1.25 you spent on parking for 30 minutes.) After desperately dumping out all my bags and searching through every crevice of clothing for that one, last receipt, I got something like this. Keep your receipts—and your post-trip sanity—safe and sound.
Snacks with protein: Maybe it’s because I was in my second trimester of pregnancy for all four trips this summer, but having a stash of protein-filled snacks proved to be essential. It wasn’t the first time I used peanut butter crackers, oatmeal, protein bars, almonds, etc. to help me stave off hunger pains following a breakfast of off-brand Fruit Loops on a church trip. I realized in a new way just how much better I feel physically and mentally when I have protein in my system. And I might have been better equipped to resist late night candy feasts brought to you by adolescent metabolism…or I might have eaten Skittles and Snickers with the best of ‘em.
Chacos: My resistance to getting these shoes was strong at first (not exactly fashion forward, kind of pricey, a little too “Presbyterian trendy”). But after using them the past two summers, I’m a believer. My Chacos have seen me through a rain-soaked five mile hike down a mountain in Honduras, helped me keep up with middle schoolers from morning until well past lights out, and kept me going during scavenger hunts in 90 degree heat.
Pack towels: There’s nothing better than getting home, opening your bag, and nearly passing out from the smell of a wet, borderline-moldy towel. One of the best pieces of advice a fellow youth leader ever passed on to me was, “invest in a pack towel.” They’re lightweight, quick drying, and I’ve had the same ones for almost 15 years. If you don’t get anything else on this list, get a pack towel.
The season of church trips is nearly over. I hope what I’ve shared helps you prepare for Summer 2016—which you should already be planning.
What are the essentials in your church trip bag? Help me make my bag better in 2016!