First steps in mission trip planning
Pick a place
The first step of any mission trip experience is deciding where you're going to go. If you already know where you'll be traveling, then that's great! But what if you're not sure where God wants you to serve yet?
Often times your local church will be the best place to find a mission trip that fits your schedule, your skills, and your personality. Your local church will hopefully have a list of upcoming trips and opportunities that will make it easy for you to get involved. Since your local church is local to you, logistics—like team meetings and booking flights—as well as getting friends, family, and community involved will be much simpler, too.
If your local church doesn’t have a mission trip opportunity that fits you, then visit ShortTermMissions.com and do some searching there. With hundreds of mission trips available, you'll definitely find a trip that works for you. After you find a trip, the rest of the steps below will make more sense.
Before you hop on the plane and get comfortable in your luxurious coach seat, there are some must-do steps that you need to take care of sooner rather than later.
Update Your Passport
If you're going on an international mission trip and you don't have a passport, you're going to need one. Or if you have a passport, but it's expiring within a year, go ahead and get it renewed. Many countries require that your passport be valid for at least 6 months out (from when you travel).
Save yourself the headache and don't wait to get your passport or get it updated. Passports can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months to arrive after you submit your application. If you submit your application early, you won't have to worry if you get caught on the “couple of months” side of things. To view current passport processing time (updated daily), to submit your first passport application, or to renew your passport, click here.
Book Your Tickets
If you're traveling with a group, there's a good chance you have a trip leader or coordinator that is booking your tickets for you. If you do, then that's awesome—you don't need to worry about this step! If you are booking your own flights though, go ahead and do that now. The airline you choose isn't too important, so just pick an airline that has good departure/arrival times and fits in your price range.
Tip: If you're not airline-loyal (if racking up frequent flier miles through a specific airline isn't a big deal to you), book through a service like STA Travel or Kayak. International flights are often cheapest through these services because they can get you the best deals on connecting flights (which are common when traveling internationally). Booking sites likes these retrieve flight quotes from a bunch of different airlines and show you the best flight "combination" rates.
Schedule Your vaccinations
Learn all about vaccinations over here.
Before traveling to certain parts of the world, you'll need to get vaccinated against common or dangerous viruses in those regions. If you're traveling to a developed country, you may already have all of the vaccinations that you need. However, if you're traveling to a developing country, you'll probably need to get a few shots. You can get your vaccinations at one of two places: a public health clinic or a private health clinic.
Both public clinics and private clinics have their benefits. Public health clinics tend to offer less expensive vaccinations, but supplies (whether the vaccination you need is “in stock” or not) can be hit-and-miss. Private clinics tend to be a little more expensive than public clinics, but vaccination supplies are usually more consistent.
If a public clinic is “out of stock” on a vaccination that you need, try contacting a private clinic. To find a public clinic near you, visit this page on the CDC site and select your state. If you're looking for a private clinic, try Passport Health. Enter your zip code on their homepage to see if they have a clinic in your area. (We have used Passport Health many times and had no problems finding the vaccinations we needed.)
Tip: Plan to get your shots well in advance of your mission trip. Sometimes light sickness can occur following a series of shots, and getting your vaccinations early will help ensure that you don't begin your mission trip fighting off a cold.
Get lots of tips and ideas for raising support over here.
Raising support is everyone's favorite part of a mission trip, right? Okay, maybe that's a stretch. But it is a crucial part of planning for a mission trip. You'll need financial, relational, and spiritual support for your trip.
- Financial support gets you there (and back, hopefully).
- Relational support keeps you encouraged and energized while you're there.
- Spiritual support produces the life change that happens in both you and the people you serve.
Don't wait to start raising support. Give yourself plenty of time to get the word out about your trip and meet face-to-face with friends and family. Getting started early means that the people in your circle can be part of the whole experience with you, not just the week that you're traveling.
Tip: Try to be creative. You don't want your support letter to look like an English 101 term paper! Add color. Add pictures. Upload a YouTube video. Start a Facebook group. Make up a hashtag . . . You get the point. Engage with your friends and family and show them how excited you are to be serving!
As you prepare for your mission trip, taking care of these smaller details will help you make sure that you don't come back home with your power cut off, a science experiment growing in your trashcan, or having to re-take your statistics class.
Get ahead on classwork
If you're a student, it's a really good idea to get ahead on as much classwork as you can before you leave. Have a big research paper due while you're gone? Get it done ahead of time! Getting classwork done ahead of time—and letting your instructors know that you'll be gone—will help keep your mind free from worry while you're serving, and make your transition back to school much less stressful after your trip.
Get ahead on bills
If your rent will be due while you're away, be sure to take care of that beforehand. The same goes for other bills like electricity, your cell phone, Netflix, and so on. An orphanage in Cambodia is not the place you want to remember that your car insurance was supposed to be paid the day before. Getting ahead on bills will help you make sure that you don't have to pay late fees or pay to have your electric turned back on when you get home.
Alert your debit/credit card company
If you plan to take a debit/credit card in your on-you bag, make sure to alert your card's provider that you'll be leaving the country with it. (You can usually login to your card's online account and submit your travel plans that way.) So why not just leave your card at home? Well, you definitely don't have to take your card with you as you travel. However, if your mission trip hits any financial bumps along the way, accessing cash quickly using your debit card and an ATM can be helpful. But, it's only really helpful if your card isn't shut down due to a fraud alert for international activity.
Tip: When you call your card's provider or submit your travel plans through their website, ask them (or search) for a contact number that you can use overseas. That way, if your card is ever lost or stolen while you travel, you can call them immediately and have them freeze your account. Keep this contact number with your passport & license photocopies in your carry-on bag.
Take out the trash
The only thing that smells worse than rotting food in your trashcan when you get home at the end of the day is rotting food in your trashcan when you get home from a two-week trip.
Do the dishes
You just got home from the mission trip of a lifetime! Time to scrape scrambled eggs off of the plate you left in the sink two weeks ago. Welcome home.
Written by CJ