Being prepared for your trip is much more than just checking items off of a packing list. In our years of experience we’ve seen some common examples of lack of preparedness and missed opportunities that we’d like for you to consider and plan for so that you’ll get the most out of your trip.
Sometimes we find out too late that a student has a relative buried in Arlington or a name on the Vietnam Wall or at Ellis Island, and there’s not enough time to look them up during touring. Making connections to home is a great way to personalize your trip, particularly to DC, and it really helps to be prepared ahead of time. Ask your family and relatives if there are veterans of WWII, Korea, or Vietnam, or veterans of the military branches Marine Corps, Navy, or Air Force, and also of Law Enforcement. There are memorials to all of these, and one of your affiliated family members may want to send something personal with you to leave at one of these memorials. Use on-line data bases to find the location of graves in Arlington, or the name of one killed in Vietnam. We will do our best to accommodate your connection to a memorial, either as a group or as an individual privately.
Check the weather of your destinations before your trip and pack appropriate clothes to deal with varying temperatures. Even if rain is not in the forecast, an umbrella or travel poncho should be brought regardless, as weather will always be changing unpredictably. Those of us who visit our destinations repeatedly appreciate the ever-changing weather as part of its inherent beauty; we hope that you’ll appreciate nature’s surprises as well, rather than being caught of guard and made uncomfortable by it.
Perhaps the area we find groups are least prepared for is the amount of walking and being on your feet most of the day. Even with our motor coaches picking up and dropping off, the realities of on-foot touring are unavoidable. We estimate an average of 8 miles a day walking, and you’ll be standing much more often than sitting. You should wear shoes for mobility and comfort rather than fashion. The best shoes are lightweight, already broken in, water-resistant, walking or running shoes. Since each group will come in with different levels of fitness, we don’t expect everyone to transform their body to be ready, but probably the bigger difference can be made by transforming the mind: we have found that if you come into a trip telling yourself the full, busy schedule is part of the experience, your body seems to be more up to the challenge. On the other hand, students in particular should be forewarned that “whining” just seems to make the body more tired.
Particularly in the hot and humid summer months, it is essential to have a water bottle on hand. Water fountains are not always easily accessible, or you wont have time for a big group of people to all line up for a drink, and vendors who sell water will charge high prices. So, it’s best to have a bottle on hand to refill as opportunities arise.
We constantly have travelers who did not allot enough battery-life, memory, or film to get all the pictures they want. Once you leave the hotel, it’s often hard to charge or buy batteries. Plan ahead with a fully-charged camera, extra batteries, and plenty of memory for 50-100 pictures a day. Also, if your camera has a night/low light setting, learn to use it ahead of time as it will help you get better photos at night (unfortunately your little flash won’t do much good on those huge buildings and memorials). Also, label your camera with name and phone number. There’s a good chance that yours looks just like someone else’s in that pile of cameras for our group photo, and that if lost, that the finder will try to find you.
For domestic trips, cash is still the most convenient form to carry, but some parents prefer to set up their child with a Debit or Gift Card, from which funds are safe if lost, but depending the card, it may not be accepted everywhere. Petty thievery is very rare in the tourist areas, but unfortunately what is all too common is mere carelessness among travelers who forget a bag, camera or wallet behind. Many times a kind person will find it and turn it in, but not always. People from sheltered or small town backgrounds should be prepared for how to react to manipulative urban pan-handling. Be street-smart, cautious, and ever-mindful of your possessions and you’ll be fine.
Keep in mind that in most government buildings and tour sites, there is security to deal with, and metal detectors are a big culprit for long lines. For smoother and faster processing, choose your garments wisely. Don’t wear thick western-style belt buckles, or belts or pants embedded with lots of metal. Keep your change in removable wallets, and not loosely in pants pockets. Never bring a travel pocketknife. Normal sized jewelry and watches are usually not a problem. Many places do not allow backpacks, so wear pants or jackets that have big enough pockets to carry a camera, wallet, snack bar, or water bottle. And be sure to bring your patience; it will help a lot!
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After years of experience in student travel, we’ve created Discovery Expeditions for all types of travelers and destinations.