Hawaii’s Traveling Classroom

 

Photo courtesy of emihawaii

A warm island breeze is blowing, the heady perfume of gardenias gently tickling my nose. The sounds of a ukulele fill the air as a beautiful sarong-clad woman drapes my neck with lush tropical flowers… “MOM! I HAVE TO FIND A BATHROOM!!” Wait, what? Something is interrupting my fantasy. Oh yes, now I remember. This is a family trip and the little girl doing a dance beside me is actually mine. It’s funny, I never really thought about including the kids when I imagined our first trip to Hawaii. I assumed it was too expensive and more of an adult destination. A little research and a fabulous new travel opportunity exclusively for homeschool families has proved that sometimes reality is better than fiction!

Photo courtesy of emihawaii

During the week of October 7-14, 2017 or again in October 2018, homeschool families have an incredible chance to experience the unique beauty, culture, land and history of Hawaii. The Big Island and Oahu Educational Immersion Homeschool Program offers an in-depth study of island life and tons of family fun. Imagine hiking through lush, green tropical forests with the clouds surrounding you at the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary. Once you get your head out of the clouds, train your gaze to the night skies with a narrated astronomy workshop- a “stellar” moment for star-gazing! This is just a taste of what’s in store during your week-long Hawaiian adventures.

Photo courtesy of emihawaii

As many children do, my daughter Molly went through a deeply obsessive “volcano” phase during which she wanted to learn about all things volcano. During your traveling classroom experience, an interpretive guide will join you in exploring these natural wonders, from the black sand beaches of Punalu’u to the volcanic reef below the crystal waters teeming with tropical fish. You will explore the Thurston Lava Tube, a 300 ft cavern where lava flowed thousands of years ago in the middle of a giant fern forest. You’ll even have a chance to hike the Devastation Trail, baron fields of cinder formed by the 1959 Kilauea Iki eruption. A stop at the VNP Visitors Center will include discussion about tectonic plates and the Ring of Fire, which contributed to the formation of the island chain. The Steam Vents, Jagger Museum and Halemaumau Crater round out this full day of volcanic fun.

Photo courtesy of emihawaii

If U.S. history is part of your homeschool curriculum, a visit to Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial will top your bucket list of hands-on learning experiences! We’ve all studied that fateful day in December 1941 in textbooks, but to experience the place that launched us into World War II is the ultimate history lesson. It promises to be a significant and powerful teaching tool for your entire family.

Photo courtesy of emihawaii

If world culture is your focus, look no further than the Polynesian Cultural Center, highlighting the diverse cultures of Polynesia and the Hawaiian Islands. Of course, your studies won’t be complete until you feast on local cuisine at the Ali’i Luau Grounds with traditional Hawaiian music, followed by the “HA” The Breath of Life show. Awesome!
While you are exploring the Aloha State, don’t forget that this island paradise is home to one of the most famous beaches in the world- Waikiki. You’ll have a chance to “hang loose”, try your hand at surfing, or dive into an underwater world of colorful fish, dolphins and giant sea turtles during a catamaran snorkeling adventure. Don’t forget that a stop at the Waikiki Aquarium is included, with a special workshop highlighting Hawaii’s delicate coral reef system.

Photo courtesy of emihawaii

The Big Island and Oahu Educational Immersion Homeschool Program is the perfect marriage of education and vacation. It’s a fantastic option for comprehensive study and quality family fun! While my fantasy for Hawaii was lovely, it’s even better to know that entire families can enjoy a week in paradise together, exploring all the mystery and history of this magical place! Check out all the details at Hawaii’s Traveling Classroom on the Group Travel Odyssey website!

All the World’s A Stage-Kaleidoscope of Theatrics

KOT blog karaoke
Life is full of adventure and opportunities to shine! There are those among us who have figured out how to combine the two (brilliantly!). On a recent island cruise with my family, I thoroughly enjoyed watching my children navigate new waters and explore cultures so different than their own. However, the experience of watching them sing karaoke in a crowded theater on board the ship was even MORE amazing! There must be something liberating in breaking out of your comfort zone and stepping into the spotlight to perform for a room packed with strangers. I was stunned at the level of confidence each brought to their song renditions and shocked by their stage presence. Where did they learn to do that?!
KOT blog Shakespeare
William Shakespeare embraced the mantra “all the world’s a stage.” So true (as evidenced by my kiddos in the Caribbean)! Children have an innate love of performance- think about the number of times each day parents hear the words “watch me!” We want to encourage our children’s natural love of the performing arts and their desire to take center stage.

KOT blog REP Michael Cairns

Photo courtesy of Michael Cairns

The Kaleidoscope of Theatrics is a phenomenal opportunity for any young thespian to indulge that love of theatre. In partnership with the Orlando Repertory Theatre, Kaleidoscope of Theatrics is hosting a unique, two-day event in October designed to inspire and cultivate performance skills, including choreography, staging, lighting, sound tech, makeup and costume design. Groups are welcome, as are individual performers. Participants can gather a bunch of friends to attend or drama instructors can bring the whole theater department!

Photo courtesy of Orlando REP

 

The Kaleidoscope of Theatrics allows students to engage in nine theatre workshops and “talk back” sessions, which is a fabulous way of connecting them with theatre professionals in a laid-back atmosphere. Participants will also have a chance to take in a live performance of the Broadway hit Newsies at the REP, immediately followed by an open discussion with the actors.
Two lunches are included in the package. As an added bonus, Kaleidoscope of Theatrics attendees will be special guests at the Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Show. Students will become part of the show by helping to solve a crime while they dine.

log group Michael Cairns

Photo courtesy of Michael Cairns

The Kaleidoscope of Theatrics is a top-notch opportunity to learn about many aspects of the performing arts, both on stage and behind the scenes. The REP is a renowned venue with a world-class troupe- and they are waiting to work with YOUR aspiring entertainer! It promises to be a thrilling adventure and a singular moment to shine brightly- Shakespeare would be proud!

An Adventure in American History

Bright sunshine, warm sand and the relaxing sounds of the ocean… that’s my idea of a perfect vacation. Roadside markers, historical sites and guided tours… that’s my husband’s idea of a perfect vacation! Fortunately, our visit to Coastal Virginia met the mark for both of us (the kids had a fabulous time, too!). If you haven’t had the chance to visit this stunning and historically significant region, it’s time to plan a trip.

Courtesy of VisitNorfolk

Norfolk is a hub for all things maritime-related. One of the first shipyards in America, Norfolk is now home to the largest naval base in the world. Anyone with an interest in nautical happenings will fall in love with Norfolk! Take a tour of the Nauticus National Maritime Museum and visit the Battleship Wisconsin, one of the largest and last battleships built by the U.S. Navy. Be sure to stop at the MacArthur Memorial, final resting place of General Douglas MacArthur and home to award-winning exhibits. Finally, any trip to Norfolk must end on the water! Sail the beautiful harbor in style on an American Rover Cruise (you might even get to take a turn at the helm!).

Newport News Coastal VA blog

Courtesy of Newport News Tourism Development Office

Just a quick jaunt up the road is charming Newport News, settled in 1621. The Mariner’s Museum and Park is a must-do in this lovely piece of Virginia real estate. You’ll have the chance to experience the Monitor’s story in a way that history books can’t do justice! The Mariners’ Museum commemorates the Battle of Hampton Roads every year in early March. Step back in history to encampments and interactive activities for all ages. You might even get a handshake from President Abraham Lincoln! The Virginia War Museum sheds light on the history of the American military with unique, personal artifacts, weapons and other fascinating pieces of war memorabilia.

Lee Hall Mansion Coastal VA Blog

Courtesy of Newport News Tourism Development Office

If southern living is more your thing, you’ll definitely want to check out the Lee Hall Mansion– a picture of the antebellum south frozen in time. The Virginia Living Museum gets you up close and personal with Virginia’s natural heritage and beauty with interactive exhibits and discovery centers. There’s much to do in this little slice of heaven!

Virginia Beach Coastal VA blog

Photo courtesy of the Virginia Beach CVB

Now that we’ve (momentarily) satisfied the history-seeking wanderlust in my husband, it’s time to relax on that sun-soaked beach…. which I enjoyed for 2 glorious hours before we were off on our next adventure!

Virginia Beach is truly a magnificent place for walks on the beach, casual beach front lunches or breath-taking sunsets. Our kids love the energy and excitement of the boardwalk and I love tucking myself under the beach umbrella with a good book while the waves crash around me. However, Virginia Beach is so much more than just the beach!

Aquarium Coastal VA blog

Photo courtesy of the Virginia Beach CVB

When you are ready to shake off the sand, a trip to the Virginia Aquarium Marine Science Center is a great option for cool, indoor fun! More than 10,000 animals are featured and countless interactive exhibits are available. Follow your wildlife encounters by taking to the tree tops as you climb and zipline your way through Adventure Park. What a view!

Coastal VA blog Jamestown ships

Courtesy of Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation

Just about an hour’s drive from Virginia Beach is the ultimate destination for history buffs. As my husband certainly qualifies as a “buff,” Williamsburg and the Jamestown Settlement top the list of required stop.

Coastal VA blog Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg is the “world’s largest living history museum.” As you step onto the gravel roadways, you are stepping back in time to the 18th century. Visit the apothecary, talk to the artisans and craftsman of the era, and engage in political discussions relevant to the day as the colonists debate a war of independence. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget (especially if you manage to land in the stocks!!)

Courtesy of Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation

The historic Jamestown Settlement provides a glimpse into the lives of settlers in the first permanent English settlement in America, as well as their Native American counterparts. Almost everything is interactive, and kids (and adults) are encouraged to take part in village activities as well as climb aboard reproductions of the three ships that delivered the settlers in 1607.
Coastal VA Homeschool Odyssey Week - Coastal Virginia by Group Travel Odyssey
If you are fortunate enough to homeschool your children, check out the Coastal Virginia Homeschool Odyssey by Group Travel Odyssey. During the week of October 15-22, 2017, you can join other homeschool families for great discounts and programs as part of a travel package designed EXCLUSIVELY for homeschoolers. The beauty of this travel opportunity is in the pricing and schedule flexibility. It’s a great chance to connect with others in the homeschool community while exploring all that this destination has to offer. Our family loved our trip to Coastal Virginia- it’s exciting, educational, and yes, even relaxing for Moms (at least for an hour or two!)

Group Travel Planning – Safety When Traveling with Students


When my oldest child left for his first week of sleep-away camp, I worried. I worried that he wouldn’t eat well, that he would get a sunburn or be sick, or that he wouldn’t change his underwear (turns out that I had good reason to worry about that!) As parents, we worry incessantly when our children are out of our protective reach. As you plan your group travel, it’s a strong possibility that you will be traveling with students- many of whom will be on their own for the first time ever!

Travel Blog 5 Bus
Safety When Traveling with Students
It’s a bit daunting to realize you are now responsible for the health and well-being of a group of poor decision-makers- I mean, students- once you leave the relative safety of home or school. In an age of cell phones and instant communication, parents often know when something goes wrong before you might! A solid safety plan and open communication are the keys to a successful student trip. We can’t guarantee that nothing bad will happen as you travel… after all, Mother Nature doesn’t always care that we have plans, buses occasionally break down, students get sick, and so on. The good news is that excellent safety resources are available to help inform you as you create a safety plan for student travel.

The Student Youth Travel Association is a superb place to start. This organization is committed to providing student and youth travelers with “safe, rich and rewarding travel experiences.” A Safety Resource Guide and Safety Tips Brochure are available to download at no charge and offer some thoughtful suggestions for student group travel planners.

As you are preparing your safety plan, you may want to consider including the following suggestions…
Communication
 Think about using a communication app like Remind to reach students without using personal numbers
As You Travel
 Cover any emergency evacuation procedures if traveling by motorcoach or airplane
 Encourage a teacher or chaperone to remain close to TSA in the event that a student requires personal screening during air travel
At the Hotel
 Distribute room keys to students in a private area away from the general public
 Decide where chaperones should be stationed throughout the property as students move about
 Clearly identify the areas of the property where students are permitted as well as expectations of behavior
 Provide clear instructions for security guards or nighttime chaperones (i.e. don’t ask students to open doors, etc.)
 Determine nightly room check procedures and communicate clearly with chaperones
 Provide emergency evacuation procedures to the group and establish a safe meeting place 300 feet from the building
 Emphasize the importance of communicating any illness, dizziness or bleeding to a chaperone (look out for your roommates!)
At the Venue
 Register your group at first aid upon arrival at amusement parks or other large venues
 Be sure to have a weather emergency plan available for outdoor attractions
 Steer clear of large exiting crowds (i.e.- stay seated until the bulk of a crowd clears out and exit the venue together)
 Ensure that students and chaperones know meeting locations and times
To reiterate, these are SUGGESTIONS for establishing a student safety protocol. It would be wise to check with your district for any additional policies that may already exist.

Travel Blog 5 Clothes in laundry basket
Creating a clear safety plan and method of communication will go a long way in helping to alleviate that all-encompassing anxiety associated with student travel. Parents will breathe easier knowing there’s a strategy for dealing with the unknown and students will clearly understand the safety procedures. The only thing to left to worry about is that smelly laundry when they return!

Group Travel Planning- Tips and Tricks to Make It Easy! Finding Stuff To Do

Travel Blog 4 Itinerary
As I have previously stated, my family has a deep and abounding love for venturing into the unknown! Our 10 year old daughter begins with the globe (even though most our travel is in the continental U.S. sigh…) and works her way through maps, atlases and the weather channel to plan her wardrobe. Our son (14) begins to Google search everything within the destination and my husband appears with the dreaded ITINERARY. Yes, our family travel plan includes a detailed itinerary with highlights and schedules. There’s no fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants vacation for us!

cocoa beach
I used to resent the “I” word and long for a wildly impromptu three day weekend, until I remembered the vacations of my childhood. My parents were novice travelers (at best!), and planning our adventures ahead of time wasn’t even a consideration. As a result, you could find us driving all hours of the night in our station wagon searching for a place to sleep- usually a suspicious-looking roadside motel that my mother attacked vigorously with a can of Lysol! If we made it to our vacation spot, we wandered aimlessly, unsure of what to do once we were there! I vividly remember going to Cocoa Beach on a day that was raining and in the low 60’s because we didn’t know what else to do! I suppose these memories have made me more accepting of the “I” word, and frankly, we squeeze a lot of fun out of our excursions thanks to my husband’s planning and forethought!
Finding Stuff To Do!
Travel Blog 4 Magnifying Glass
The same fundamental principles apply to your group travel planning. It’s all in the research! When you plan on your own, you don’t have the benefit of a tour operator to do the work for you. You do, however, have access to an abundance of information at the click of a button! CVBs (convention and visitors bureaus) can be found in most destinations and are a great resource for finding group-friendly attractions, accommodations, dining and more. DMOs (destination marketing organizations) serve a similar purpose and can be very helpful when planning a visit to a location unknown to you. These organizations exist to give you a better understanding of all the destination has to offer your group.

Another exceptional resource is Group Travel Odyssey– a website designed specifically for those planning group travel directly online. Group Travel Odyssey has the best group-friendly entertainment, hotels, restaurants, transportation and shopping IN ONE PLACE! They’ve done the work for you! It’s super-simple to use:

Click on the destination you want to visit

Pack the activities, accommodations, dining options, shopping and transportation in which you are interested in your virtual suitcase

Go! Your group quote requests are now on their way!

The suppliers you want will then reply directly to you with availability and best group pricing within 48 hours- just like the pros!

 

Group Travel Odyssey is truly a unique and convenient tool for those who plan their own group travel.
GTO helps streamline and simplify the process, without a lot of “clicking around.”

There really something to be said for putting together a well-planned itinerary… Don’t you just hate it when your husband is right?

FINAL INSTALLMENT IN THE SERIES- SAFETY WHEN TRAVELING WITH STUDENTS

Group Travel Planning – Set Your Travel Timeline

Travel Blog 3 Family photo
I have the good fortune to be married to a man who LOVES to travel. He has given me two children who LOVE to travel. It seems we are in a perpetual state of planning travel! We learned long ago that the key to a successful trip is planning on a timeline. The same applies to planning your group travel. The fundamental success of your adventure lies in laying it out ahead of time (kind of like packing your suitcase!)

Travel Blog 3 suitcase
Planning Your Travel Timeline
If you are a seasoned group tour planner or striking out on your own for the first time, you’ll have lots of questions to answer, lots of details to check off your list, and lots of deadlines to meet. Below are some GENERAL guidelines to follow as you prepare for your departure date. Depending on the unique needs of your group, not all of these checkpoints will apply. For example, some music or band festivals must be booked more than two years in advance or certain museums require reservations more than a year out. Again, think in terms of benchmarks, not specifics!

Travel Blog Timeline checklist

18 Months Prior to Departure

  • Create your attendance list.
  • Determine the approximate length and dates of the trip
  • Begin researching your chosen destination to find out what attractions, museums, theme parks, outdoor adventures, water parks, etc. you would like to attend and the costs associated with each.
  • Begin researching transportation, hotels, vacation homes, dining and shopping (if applicable) and the costs associated with each.
  • If this is a school trip, request approval from your administration

10 to 12 Months Prior to Departure

  • Set firm dates.
  • If you plan to fly, final pricing may not be available until 10 months prior to departure. Also, arrange transportation to and from the airport once you have secured your flights.
  • Motorcoach/minibus companies also work 10 months in advance. If traveling by motorcoach or minibus, you should begin requesting pricing (called quotes) and book your transportation company.
  • Begin searching for hotel/vacation homes and request prices. Once you find a price you like, book it!
  • If you decide to include meals in your trip, you’ll want to remember to choose a group-friendly restaurant or dinner show. Ask for their best group pricing and then book it before the space is gone.
  • If shopping is on your itinerary, this is a good time to request a meet and greet with the shopping center or store and secure discounts for your group.
  • If you are traveling with students, determine who will help chaperone the trip. Parents, teachers, sponsors, etc. need time to plan as well!
  • Finalize your itinerary.
  • Project the estimated/approximate cost per person.
  • Begin promoting your trip (including the cost per person) via email, flyers, posters, website, social media, newsletters, etc.
  • Set up a deposit and payment schedule for each member in your group as they sign up.
  • If participating in a music/dance/theatre festival, fill out all paperwork and submit.
  • If you will offer travel protection (it’s strongly encouraged), now is the time to research, fill out paperwork and submit.

Travel Blog 3 Calendar Circled
6 to 9 Months Prior to Departure

  • Continue spreading the word about your trip via newsletters, social media, emails, meetings, etc., keeping interest alive with those who have signed up and possibly attracting a few more to participants.
  • If you are a school group, scouting troop, youth group etc., now is the time to fundraise.
  • If your trip is educational, research and create the curriculum to support your goals.
  • Distribute a copy of the itinerary to all members of your group. (meetings, association, youth group, scouting, religious, reunion, etc.)
  • Participants should be signed up and deposits paid.
  • Confirm all reservations including hotel/vacation homes, transportation, attractions, dining, shopping and travel insurance.

4 Months Prior to Departure

  • Continue promoting the trip and contact anyone who has shown an interest but still has not committed.
  • Continue fundraising, if needed.
  • Collect payments per your payment schedule.

3 Months Prior to Departure

  • Final payments should be paid.
  • Finalize lists of all participants and choose roommates for hotels (if applicable), seating arrangements on the motorcoach (if applicable), and/or seating arrangements on your flight if flying.
  • Purchase all theme park, attraction, water park and dinner show tickets and begin making final payments to your chosen hotel/vacation homes, restaurants, transportation companies, etc.

Travel Blog timeline important
1 Month Prior to Departure

  • Schedule a final meeting to confirm the details of your trip including packing lists, travel tips and any last-minute information.
  • Gather emergency contact, medical and allergy information from each traveler.
  • Be sure you have all completed permission forms, travel insurance forms, etc.

While this timeline may seem a bit cumbersome, it’s a great tool for organizing your thoughts and details of the trip. Just as we always manage to get our bags packed and out the door on time, a little pre-planning will help guide you smoothly to your departure date as well!

Next in the Series – Finding Stuff To Do!

Group Travel Planning: Choosing Your Destination

You’re on a roll now! You have a solid purpose for traveling with your group and know exactly when you want to go; now you need to pinpoint WHERE you want to go!

choose destination image

Choose Your Destination
It’s easy to fall into the routine of “going where you know” when traveling. It’s comfortable, familiar and, well, routine. The point of traveling, however, is to break out of your comfort zone and experience something new, unique and exciting! Inhabit a different culture, make new friends, sample regional cuisine or take in the sights of an exotic location. So where do you start when searching for a new destination for your group?

Simple! Your purpose for traveling will help you choose the perfect destination for your group. Consider the following examples…

MA, Boston, welcome1

If you are a history teacher planning your own student trip, there’s no better living history lesson than a trip to Boston, a stunning city in which the past co-exists beautifully with the present. In addition to the already well-known Freedom Trail tour, where you are escorted by 18th –century costumed actor-historian guides to some of the most famous historic sites of Boston, you can also take advantage of specialty tours; The Pirates & Patriots Tour, The African-American Patriots Tour, The Revolutionary Women Tour and the new after dark Lantern Tour, to name a few.


Philadelphia has so much to see and do, you may need to stay an extra day! Take a self-guided stroll through the home of the iconic symbol of American independence (the Liberty Bell) followed by a guided tour of Independence Hall. Visit the National Constitution Center or Congress Hall and stand where the foundations of America began. Tour Franklin Court (the site of Benjamin Franklin’s home) or the Franklin Institute for a glimpse of scientific genius. Don’t forget to pick a favorite cheesesteak- Geno’s or Pat’s!

New York City, NY, Manhattan Concert Productions

As a music director, your plans may include a dazzling, once-in-a-lifetime performance at the iconic Carnegie Hall in New York City. Manhattan Concert Productions is unparalleled in providing first rate performance opportunities in New York City. The quality and diversity of MCP is second to none and a great option for bands, orchestras and choral groups.

NYC, NY, Behind the Magic

If you want to take in the fabulous Aladdin or Lion King Disney shows on Broadway, you can jump on a behind the scenes tour with your group as part of the Behind the Magic Theatre Tour.


OrlandoFest allows your students to showcase their talents in a high-energy environment. Ensembles may choose either a non-competitive or competitive music festival performance or a customized workshop. All options are open to bands, orchestras, choirs, dance groups and more and are coupled with the fun and excitement of an admission into Universal Orlando Resort.™


Maybe you are spearheading a trip with your church group (like my less than successful trek to Cape May!) or planning a family reunion. A great destination like Branson or Pigeon Forge could be a perfect fit. Both are in stunningly beautiful locations and offer family friendly activities and wholesome fun.
Fritz’s Adventure is a new and dynamic family attraction in Branson that brings the excitement and challenges of outdoor adventure into a multi-dimensional indoor environment. The Track Family Fun Parks allows you to enjoy classic go-karts for all ages, laser tag, bumper boats/cars, kids’ rides, the high-speed sprint track, the 100-foot-tall skycoaster, mini golf, batting cages, arcades, and more at 4 Branson locations.

Titanic Museum - Branson
Visit the world’s largest Titanic Museum attraction for an interactive visit aboard the ill-fated voyage or a group dining experience like no other in the “Secret Dining Room.”

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies was voted America’s #1 Aquarium by TripAdvisor and Top Destination to see penguins by USA Today Travel!
There’s so much to see and do in both destinations- the possibilities for your church or family group travel planning are endless!


There are so many options when choosing a destination for your group travel! If you need a little help connecting the needs of YOUR group (homeschool, sports, drama, STEAM, etc.) to the right spot, check out Group Travel Odyssey to browse dynamic places and attractions guaranteed to help break you out of your travel comfort zone! GTO helps streamline and simplify the process of group travel planning directly online. If you need more than just a little help, GTO can connect you with a full-service group travel planner as well.

Next in the Series- Set Your Travel Timeline

Group Travel Planning: Identify the Purpose, When to Travel and Planning Resource

When I was 13, our church youth group decided to take a trip to Cape May, NJ. We thought it would be a great bonding experience and great fun, since most of us hadn’t yet traveled beyond the borders of our small town. This was, of course, long before the days of the internet and access to abundant information on group travel planning.

We piled into cars marked with “Cape May or Bust,” loaded down with sleeping bags, pillows, LOTS of beach gear, and even a TV (yep- someone thought that was a good idea!). What we didn’t have was enough deodorant for our teenage passengers or a clear idea of our travel plan. As a result, we slept on the floor a local church, showered with a hose in the back yard of said church, and returned home feeling less like we bonded and more like survivors of a catastrophic event!

Fortunately, today’s travelers have it a bit easier. A quick search online can help identify resources and help you plan for a fabulous group travel experience for all ages! As a fellow travel enthusiast, I’m going share some of the best tips for planning group travel directly online in this series.

Travel Blog 1 Goal
Purpose of Your Trip
There’s a reason for every adventure! While it may seem obvious, it’s very helpful to identify your group’s purpose for traveling. Perhaps you are the leader of your youth group looking to create a bonding experience (good luck!) or a classroom teacher hoping to connect your curriculum to real world experiences. Maybe you are a coach taking the team to a tournament in an unfamiliar state or a music director aspiring to showcase your group’s talents at a new and exciting venue. Think about the purpose of your trip and what you want your group to take away from the experience- it will really help clarify your planning!

When to Travel
The best time to travel depends on a number of factors – weather, school schedules, vacation time, tournaments, etc. Consider the following…

Spring: The weather in March through May is warmer in the southern states than the northern. If you travel during this period, reserve flights and hotels far in advance to avoid disappointment during this busy group travel period. Remember, most school trips take place in March, April and May due to spring break, grad nights, and more.

Summer: Summer offers the most flexibility, but keep in mind that if your trip includes youth, many students may have summer jobs, travel with their families, participate in sports or go to camp. If you are a religious, reunion or sports group, a summer trip is probably one of the best times for you to travel.

Fall: This is prime time for corporate meetings, religious retreats, scouting trips and more. Airfares are traditionally less expensive in the fall which can benefit your budget.

Winter: This is a marvelous time to travel since you probably won’t encounter the congestion of a summer trip. Many groups travel to warmer climates to escape the cold while others embrace it through winter activities like ski excursions. Remember though, if you are flying, airfares are higher and winter weather could force flight delays. You may also have trouble recruiting because the winter holidays are times for family gatherings.

Travel Blog 1 Confusion

Choose Your Planning Resource
Once you have identified your purpose and timeframe for traveling, you’ll be ready to tackle the rest of the trip details. Planning your own group travel can be overwhelming if you’ve never done it before or if you are using the wrong resources. However, sites like Group Travel Odyssey can help simplify the process with tons of great resources available at the click of a button (a little different than planning our ill-fated Cape May trip!). Once you have identified your purpose and timeframe for traveling, you’ll be ready to tackle the rest of the trip details.

Next in the Series- Choose Your Destination

Have A Blast in Branson

Last summer, our family was planning a series of quick jaunts. We wanted to jump in the car and spend a few days somewhere we’d never been! As we tossed around ideas, my husband suggested Branson, Missouri. I snickered a little, remembering the Branson trips Great Uncle Frank and Aunt Ruth had taken to hear their favorite crooners. I pointed out that while I was sure it was a lovely place, it probably wouldn’t be much fun for the kids.

It’s tough admitting to not only being wrong, but off the charts wrong! This beautiful town in the heart of the Ozarks was one of our favorite vacation spots EVER! There was so much to do- we could have stayed much longer! Not only was it super kid-friendly but wholesome fun for the entire family. The people of Branson were gracious and welcoming, the scenery spectacular and the adventures endless!

Titanic Museum - Branson

Both of our children are completely enamored with anything related to the Titanic, so a stop at the world’s largest Titanic Museum attraction was definitely on our agenda. It was like stepping back in time as we each took on the role of one of the original passengers (not even knowing if we survived until the end of the tour!). Artifacts, oral histories and an experience with the frigid waters made our visit interactive and, at times, quite poignant.

Missouri/Branson/Kayak Branson

While I tend to be more of an “indoor” girl, my family loves to explore the great outdoors. Kayak Branson fit the bill perfectly, and we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon gliding through the stunning waters of Lake Taneycomo.

Missouri/Branson/Ride The Ducks

We followed our experience on the water with a drive INTO the water as part of the Ride the Ducks Branson experience. We bumped along as we climbed to the top of the mountain quacking all the way, only to ease into the water for a completely different perspective. We were fascinated as we learned about the unique military vehicles we passed during our 70-minute ride and the kids loved helping the captain by steering the amphibious vehicle once we were cruising the lake.

MIssouri/Branson/The Track Family Fun Parks

The Track Family Fun Park was a definite highlight of our Branson excursion! Featuring three high-rise go-kart tracks (one smooth concrete and metal and two of the jaw-jarring wooden variety), we careened through the twists and turns as we raced to the top and back down. I wish I could say I won, but found my foot on the brake more than the gas and watched as my kids flew right by me! We also happened to be visiting during the inaugural spin of the Ferris Wheel– talk about a breathtaking bird’s eye view of the Live Music Capital of the World! Of course, we couldn’t leave the Track without a visit to Andy’s Frozen Custard, which serves my version of heaven in a dish!

Speaking of heavenly experiences, our show at the Sight and Sound Theater was a phenomenon not to be missed! Moses captured the audience with astonishing special effects and live animals while drawing us in to a story as old as time itself. Remarkable!

Silver Dollar City train

Regardless of where we travel, we seek out the nearest theme park to the destination. My adrenaline-loving family is always game for new coasters and rides while I am usually content riding the benches or taking in a show. Silver Dollar City managed to exceed all our expectations! This 1880’s theme park in the heartland of America was nestled in abundant shade and offered exceptional entertainment and thrilling rides. There was so much to do, we considered going a second day!

National Partner/Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede

Tagged as the “most fun place to eat” in Branson, our dinner and show at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede did not disappoint. Competition between the North and South is still alive and well in this arena and featured astonishing horse riding stunts, special effects and the tastiest of family feasts. We ate, whooped and laughed, all while cheering on our favorite riders. Loved the energy of this show!

I’ve shared some of our family’s favorite Branson highlights, but really didn’t even scratch the surface of all there is to do- Parakeet Pete’s Zipline, shopping at Branson Landing, the Branson IMAX, and a wonderful visit to Shepherd of the Hills (which I understand is now temporarily closed) rounded out our escapades in Branson. Since our visit, a new family-friendly attraction has been added that just may entice us to take another road trip. Frtiz’s Adventure opened in November of 2016 to stellar reviews. One visitor commented that it is a “fully interactive adventure where everything you see is meant to be crawled under, climbed upon or through.” Who wouldn’t want to check it out?!?
Branson is an amazing and vibrant town, still brimming with the energy of live shows and entertainment daily but with a youthful edge of activity. It is so completely  family-friendly and reasonably priced that it’s a great vacation option for anyone.

Homeschool Odyssey Branson by Group Travel Odyssey

Group Travel Odyssey has hand-selected Branson as an ideal destination for a September Homeschool Odyssey, a travel experience designed exclusively for homeschool families. GTO has captured the best of Branson in a six-day package with flexible scheduling and homeschool programming, all at a discounted rate. They’ve done the work, you just have to join the odyssey! For more information or to book now for early bird discounts, go to Branson Homeschool Odyssey. Our family just may join yours for another great week of family fun!

*Photos courtesy of the Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau

Madame Tussauds