If you have school-age kids in team activities, at some point you may find yourself traveling with them to an out-of-town event. Team trips like this can be a fun, bonding experience. They also can, if not well managed by those in attendance, become overwhelming and chaotic. And if the event is held somewhere new to your family, it can also be a chance to get out and explore a new place.
Recently our daughter’s robotics team of six students ages 10-12 (coached by my husband) qualified for a world championship tournament in Detroit, about a 700-mile road trip (one way) for us. The tournament was an unexpected surprise in our schedule, but we were not going to miss out on such a fantastic opportunity. So we rescheduled our international trip we were planning, and we headed out for Detroit instead.
The team, along with all their families, made their way to Detroit via individual travel plans and converged in time for the tournament activities. The event itself was four solid days of competing, meeting other teams from around the world, and learning about new innovations in robotics.
These are some learnings we had from our recent team trip, both about how to balance group activities with individual family activities during your stay, as well as how to find ways to a explore a new place when the focus of your visit is on a tournament or event.
Too Much Togetherness? Balancing Team Time with Down Time
Tournaments and events like this are pretty intense experiences, whether more locally focused or, like our event, an international event. There is a lot of time spent with the team and their families, and there are moments of stress, anxiety, and pure joy. Our family tends toward the introverted side of the equation. We love socializing with the families on our team, but it does exhaust us at times. Spending time at the tournament with the team and families was definitely a challenge to our energy levels.
Here are some tips we tried that helped us to balance our desire to be with the group with our need to “decompress” and have some down time.
Schedule a limited number of all-group gatherings outside of the event
For our time in Detroit we scheduled one group dinner. That way we had one nice time to socialize and connect, but we didn’t feel like we had seen too much of our fellow team families. It felt like a good amount of time together outside of the tournament activities.
Make your own family decisions on participation in gatherings outside of the event
Due to a number of factors, our team’s families did not end up staying at the same lodging. Had we done so, I would imagine there would have been opportunity to gather poolside or elsewhere at the hotel after the day’s events. If that is how your family rolls, partake as much as you want! I have a feeling that, if our family had been in that situation, there would have been an evening or two where we might have opted out of socializing just to rest and decompress from the events.
Ultimately, I think our group struck a nice balance of togetherness and family time. No one (that I know of) had conflicts or got on each other’s nerves too much. And everyone was willing to help the coaches in whatever way they could to ease their stress and not have them making every decision on the trip.
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Exploration Opportunities on a Team-Focused Trip
Depending on the event schedule and location (and your family’s schedule) there may or may not be time to squeak out a little time to explore the area where the event takes place, either as a group or as a family. You may or may not have much flexibility in your schedule when you are on a team-focused trip, but here are some possible ways you might be able to squeeze in some exploration.
Make stops on the way to (or before) the event
If you are driving to an event, see if there is anywhere you can stop along the way to make the drive a little more special. Our family stopped at the Mascot Hall of Fame and Indiana Dunes National Park on our trip to Detroit.
If there is not a lot of “touristy” things on your route, your stop could be a scenic overlook, a fun restaurant, an ice cream place, or even just a park or shopping area.
If you are flying into your destination, try making a little time right after your arrival to explore the area, before the tournament or event gets started.
I specifically advise stopping at fun destinations before the event, if possible. My experience is that, after the tournament or on the way home from an event, people are pretty exhausted and eager to just get back home; they usually don’t want to take time to explore. At the beginning of the trip is when the adventure is just starting, so people are more excited about making a few stops.
Work in stops during the event
Sometimes the best you can do on this front is to maybe eat dinner at a local non-chain restaurant or take a walk around town. But try, if you have time and energy to take in a bit of your new surroundings, to do so. Before you go, check out the local visitor’s bureau, Pinterest, or other sources for things to do in the area, so you know of a few options at the ready should you find yourself with a little time.
Ultimately, on our trip to Detroit we did not end up with a lot of down time to explore. We did make sure to eat at local restaurants, and we did do some walking to explore the downtown area near our hotel, as well as near the convention center and Ford Field, where the tournament activities were hosted. And we rode the People Mover a few times, so we were able to at least see parts of the downtown area that we didn’t have time to explore.
Don’t force it
Sadly, you aren’t always in control of your schedule on these trips. Or sometimes your trip is in a place that, frankly, isn’t all that exciting to explore. Don’t try to force any exploration into a trip if it is going to cause stress, anxiety, or distraction. Just do your best and, if you can’t make the trip into anything resembling a vacation, accept it and enjoy it for what it is…a chance to see your kids and their teammates shine.
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