Helpful Things: Planning an Memorable Conference Road Trip
By Tana McKenna
So. . .you're planning to go to your first (or maybe your 20th!) Higher Things conference this summer. I don’t have to sell you on how great those four days of worship and catechesis are going to be. You know this, your youth know this, and we at HT are thrilled that you’re coming! But. . .have you given any thought to the before and after? Have you considered turning an already great experience into the trip of a lifetime? Higher Things does all the work for you during conference week, delivering a jam-packed schedule of worship, learning, and fun. This is a good gift. This is enough. But with just a bit of extra planning and imagination, you and your youth can take this trip to the next level. Not sure where to start? I’ve put together some tips and tricks to help you out!
Map It Out
First of all, map out an itinerary. I mean, LITERALLY map it out. How far are you going? How far are you willing to drive in a day? What sort of destinations and attractions are there along the way? Are you willing to alter your route a bit to take them in? Take some extra time to go off the beaten path or take in that historic point or scenic overlook you’ve driven past a million times! Where are you going to stop for gas? Potty breaks? Meals? Build in time to take breaks, get out, and stretch. While it’s tempting to just get in the car and get to your destination in the least amount of time possible, that doesn’t make for a very enjoyable trip-- either for you or for your kiddos. When you fill up with gas,, keep them in the car instead of turning them loose inside the convenience store, meandering aimlessly and filling up on junk food. Then pull off at the rest area and let them climb a hill, play a game of tag, or throw a frisbee. While it’s important to have an itinerary and a travel timeline, try to build in some fun along the way. Just make sure you’re sticking to that timeline. Otherwise you’ll spend all of your time herding the cats and you’ll be late for opening Divine Service!
Maybe your Higher Things conference destination is farther than you can drive on Tuesday morning. Consider some fun alternatives to expensive hotels! At one point, our group considered camping. While that sounds super fun, we had a group of 75 people. Not an option. But if your group is smaller and up to the challenge this could be a great choice! Imagine sitting around the campfire, eating s’mores and sharing one final pre-conference Bible study together. Be sure to build in enough time to break camp, and it might be a good idea to arrive on campus a little early so you can check in and shower before Divine Service.
Another viable option is to stay at a church along the way. This is a great way to connect with LCMS brothers and sisters, and they are usually fantastic hosts! They will likely even provide a great breakfast spread for your group, if you ask nicely. I would highly recommend getting in touch with churches along the way and seeing if that is an option. If you work it right, you can stay there on the way to the conference and on the way back. They may even let you leave all of your sleeping bags and air mattresses there so you don't have to deal with them at the conference!
Build in Fun
Next, it’s a great idea to build in fun activities along the way. The possibilities are endless, and really will depend on what area of the country you’re going through, but there are so many options. How about a waterpark, amusement park, or the zoo? Maybe you’re up for whitewater rafting or hiking. There are museums, scenic tours, or pro sports events like baseball. Some of these things are cheap or even free; some of them are more expensive. Put together a list of possibilities and involve your youth in making the plans. They might surprise you and come up with some cool ideas of their own! Keep that itinerary in mind, allowing yourselves plenty of time to enjoy the journey. It’s also a good idea to have a contingency plan. For example, what happens if it’s pouring rain and you’re supposed to be hiking? It’s better to over-plan and have options you don’t get to, than to be scrambling to put a plan B together.
My best piece of advice: Don't bother planning anything on the trip home. Everyone is tired and ready to be home, sleep in their own beds, and eat their own food. One year I remember thinking that everyone would love to stop at Mt. Rushmore and do the touristy stuff, but adults and kids alike were just done. Trust me--do the fun stuff on the way there and head straight for home on Friday.
As I wrote this article and thought about some of the trips I’ve planned over the years, it brought back so many great memories!! Was everything always flawless and perfect? Absolutely not! Did we sometimes run into unexpected trouble? Yep. (Think a massive hailstorm and broken windshields!) Did everyone always love what I had planned to do? Nope, sometimes they whined and complained! But honestly, those things that don’t go well are as much a part of the memories as the really good stuff. Take it all in. Receive it all as a gift. Thank you for being a part of the lives of these young Christians, daring them to be Lutheran. We’ll see you at conferences this summer!
Tana McKenna has been privileged to serve as the logistics assistant and retreat coordinator for Higher Things since 2018. She was introduced to HT as a parent and youth leader at the Te Deum 2015 conference in Seward, Nebraska, and has been encouraging and assisting youth, adult leaders, and pastors across the state of North Dakota (and beyond) to participate in conferences and retreats ever since. As HT’s logistics assistant, she makes the arrangements that bring the HT team together from all over the U.S. to deliver great Gospelly content to you at our summer conferences. As retreat coordinator she works behind the scenes with regional retreat hosts, making it possible for youth to be immersed in the Gospel and gain a new appreciation and understanding of their baptismal faith, all from the familiarity of their local parish.
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