Travelling after summer camp to plan or not to plan
By Cicely Norman
You’re getting ready for summer camp – sorting your visa, flights, internal travel to camp, and trying to cram three months’ worth of kit into one backpack (yes, I am on the side of the backpackers vs the suitcasers). But there’s one thing which you might be unsure whether or not to put on your pre-departure to-do list: planning post-camp travel.
Deciding whether or not to plan this travel before you start camp can be a big, and sometimes stressful, decision. I was unsure if I was doing the right thing by leaving it all for when I got to camp, and hopefully my experiences will help you think through what works best for you.
Firstly, a little bit of context
Your J1 visa (the visa you need to go to summer camp in America) gives you a month both before and after camp to travel in the USA – an opportunity that lots of international counsellors take up each year. Most people choose to travel more post- than pre-camp, given school/work commitments in May and June. If you can get out to the States early, though – go for it! It can really help to have a few days to acclimatise to the timezone before being thrown into the world of camp.
You’re also unlikely to get much time to yourself during camp – so a couple of days of solo travel can be a nice thing to make the most of! But back to the main question: how much should you plan your post-camp travel before you get on that flight to America?
Planning your travel before you go
There are, of course, good reasons for planning your travels while you’re still at home: you’ll have some certainty and peace of mind around what you’re doing, a more exact idea of how much money you’ll be spending, and a firm end date and location to book your flights around. Also, by booking in advance, you can get better availability on internal flights, transport, accommodation and trips.
If you’re travelling with a group, it can also be tricky at camp to find time to sit down together to sort plans – it can be easier to fit in while you’re potentially less busy at home.
If all of this appeals, then you might find you enjoy planning your travel beforehand most.
Planning your travel at camp
For me, though, I am so pleased I came to camp with no plans set in stone and an open mind about my itinerary. At camp I met great people and we all wanted to travel together – having flexibility gave me the opportunity to make arrangements with them, and keep the camp adventure going through my final month in America.
I ended up with a route that included places I’d been desperate to go to beforehand, and also new places I only discovered through the friendships I made along the way – recommendations from fellow-counsellors and visits to them in their hometowns.
I would have missed out on these places, and the people I so gratefully spent the experiences with, if I’d come to America with plans already fixed.
In my experience – and talking to friends at other camps – there’s no shortage of likeminded counsellors wanting to go and travel, so I wouldn’t worry that you’ll be the only one eager to plan something. Also don’t panic if things don’t materialise immediately – two months is a long time and you’ll find your people.
On a practical note, it's also important to remember that you can decide what level of spontaneity and planning you want for your travels, even while leaving it all to do at camp. Some groups truly embraced the last-minuteness, and booked their accommodation and transport mere hours before arriving into places. Other people came to camp with set flights home or places they definitely wanted to be in on certain days, and built tours around those fixed points.
For my group – although we all had busy camp schedules, we still did manage to have the vast majority of our month-long trip booked before we left camp. This was a balance that suited me – I could enjoy the freedom at camp to organise an adventure with my new friends, but then didn’t have to bother with many logistical questions once we were on the road.
So that’s my experience and point of view – but overall, my main message is there really is no right answer.
- If you want to plan everything in advance, commit to that and design yourself your perfect, super-personalised and organised bucket list itinerary! - If you want to leave things until camp, do that with confidence, too – whether that’s planning early or late in the season, with a group or as an epic solo adventure.
- This is your summer to enjoy as you want – follow your gut and do what’s right for you. Planning can be a bit hectic – and will feel a bit stressful or time-consuming at times no matter which route you take – but equally, no matter which you choose, it’ll all come together and most certainly be worth it in the end.
- Your all-American summer adventure isn’t over when camp ends – it’s only just beginning!