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Ohio State University Extension


Traveling with 4-H Teens

4-H Youth Development
Hannah Epley, Extension Specialist, State 4-H Office
Cassie Anderson, Extension Educator, Hancock County
Kathy Bruynis, Extension Educator, Highland County
Christy Clary, Extension Educator, Brown County
Ashlee Dietz, Extension Educator, Trumbull County

Traveling with young people can be a very rewarding experience. In order to be successful, chaperones must be prepared and understand proper policies and procedures. Additionally, chaperones must avoid generalizing to teen characteristics, understand the developmental needs of participants and think about how to create a youth-adult partnership throughout the experience (Curtis, 2015). These needs include being an individual, thinking and speaking one’s own thoughts, growing and developing abilities to one’s fullest potential, having a voice to air grievances, and being able to make mistakes without unreasonable consequences.Group of teens in DC with Capital building in the background

When traveling with teens, it is a partnership with all individuals. Partnering with teens is important for the development of the youth and adults (Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development, National Network for Youth, & Youth Leadership Institute, 2003). From an adult perspective it is important to treat youth as individuals, as each participant brings different skills and experiences to the group. It is also important to take time to explain, answer questions, and allow time for processing. Actively thinking about how adults should work with the teens is key. From the teen perspective, it is important they are encouraged to demonstrate their capabilities and have a discussion early on about the importance of accepting feedback from teens and adults. This is a great opportunity to learn from each other and practice effective communication (Casey, 2012).

This guide may be used by Extension professionals or volunteers. Volunteers who are traveling with teens must be approved through the university process and should be in contact with their Extension professional during the entire planning process, asking questions and verifying they are using the correct and most up-to-date forms. They should ask the Extension professional the extent they want to be included in trip communication, and share any documents, guidelines, etc., that are given to the participants with them, so they are aware of what the expectations are for participants. Extension professionals are there to support the volunteers to make this a smooth process.

This fact sheet was developed as a guide to assist adults chaperoning a trip or event with youth participants, which may or may not be overnight. This is not a comprehensive list, nor must it be followed exactly. It is simply meant as a starting point with items to consider while traveling with a teen group. Chaperones are encouraged to delve into each topic more to attain additional information. The guide is broken down into sections for ease of use before, during, and after the trip.

Prior to the Trip

1. Develop a communication plan

It is important to determine what will work best for communicating with participants prior to departure and while on the trip. Chaperones should check with participants to see what their preference is, and that the communication vehicle meets university standards. A plan for how to communicate with parents and guardians while on the trip is also important. 

  • Email, text, phone, etc., with participants prior to departure to ensure everyone has the necessary contact information.

2. Logistical items

  • Determine trip cost (for the participant, sponsorships, overall amount, etc.).
  • Set a budget. Determine funding. Funding could come from each participant, fundraisers, grants, sponsorships, etc.
  • If flying, book transportation to and from the airport. Ensure university protocols are being followed.
  • Book lodging information (call to reconfirm the lodging shortly before arrival)
    • When determining lodging options, consider meal options, walking distance to events, internet access, amenities, etc.
  • Make rooming arrangements by gender for participants:
    • Options:
      1. Youth can be in a room by themselves and chaperones in another room. Ask for rooms to be near one another.
      2. If an adult is in the room with participants, ensure the rule of three is being followed (minimum of one adult and two participants or two adults and one participant).
    • Consider if individuals have pre-existing friendships and/or romantic interests; try to encourage new friendships.
    • Check with the hotel to see if rooms have connecting doors prior to making assignments so that mixed genders do not have connecting doors between rooms.

3. Forms for participants

Most of these forms will need to be collected from participants prior to departure to ensure accommodations and needs are met. However, some (press release, excuse form) will need to be sent to them prior to the trip so they can provide necessary documentation to school/work/media outlets. If you are unsure where to locate a specific form, please consult with the state 4-H office.

  • 4-H Overnight Housing Parent/Guardian Permission Form, which provides parental permission for a youth to be housed under the housing accommodations.
  • Code of Conduct: This should outline what standards participants are held to and what they can be dismissed from. This includes how they will be transported home in the event the code of conduct is broken.
  • Permission to Participate and Informed Consent, which grants parental permission for the youth to participate in the trip.
  • Photo Release: Gather this for all individuals or make it known that photos cannot be taken of a particular person and/or posted on social media due to concerns. The Ohio 4-H Health Form has a photo release included on it, so additional photo releases are not necessary if that form is used.
  • Medical Forms: Secure medical information from participants/parents to know emergency contact, allergies, etc. There is a standardized Ohio 4-H Health Form that should be used if the conference/event does not already have a specific required form.
    • List of dietary needs/special needs or accommodations. Make sure to communicate this with individuals who might be preparing food.
    • NOTE: If it is not an overnight event, medical forms are not required. However, chaperones will want to make sure to get pertinent information on allergies, special accommodations, emergency contact, etc.
  • Travel Forms: If adults are personally transporting youth, make sure to use the current Ohio State University Extension “Waiver and Permission to Transport Child/Charge” form. 
    • Make sure to:
      • verify the driver’s insurance information.
      • attain a copy of their valid driver’s license and keep it with other trip documents as per the current records retention guidelines.
      • encourage the driver to check with their insurance company to make sure they are covered in the event of an accident or other altercation while traveling.
  • Excused Absence Letter: This might be needed if a student is missing school or work. This letter should include date of the event, what the participant will be doing, educational value of attendance, and the chaperone’s contact information if they have additional questions. 
  • Press Release: This could be used to notify local news outlets and inform the community that the participants are taking a trip.

4. Financial management

  • How are payments being handled (Does a chaperone need to have cash on hand? Was everything paid for prior to arrival? Will reimbursements be submitted later?)
  • Reimbursement opportunities: what items can be reimbursed for following the trip (such as taxi fares, meals, etc.). What does this process look like?
  • Call credit card companies ahead of time to notify “odd” expenses may be made, so the account will not be deactivated.

5. Purchase pins or other items to exchange with other states or participants, if needed.

6. Develop a participant handbook. Include items such as:

  • What the trip/conference/event is
  • Reminders of important information
  • Important dates to remember
  • Itinerary
    • Include lodging information so parents or guardians can contact participants, if necessary.
  • Travel details
    • Include baggage allowance per airline requirements or space constraints due to vehicles. Refer to, if flying.Teens dressed up outside National 4-H building in DC
  • Security and safety during event
    • Include if a form of identification is needed for a particular aspect of the event (flying, visiting federal buildings, etc.).
  • Discuss communication plan for participants and their parents/guardians
  • What items are needed to prepare prior to the trip (presentation, research, flyers, handouts, etc.)
  • What to pack
    • Make sure to include:
      • Dress code for the event and any special events (e.g., gala, business meetings, etc.).
      • Special items to trade (pin trade, t-shirts, etc.) with the entire delegation.
      • Include particular information about anything needing special attention, such as not having a pocket knife if going through national security, hair gel in carry-on bags, etc.
      • Make sure participants know they are responsible for what they bring and are responsible for hauling their own luggage. In addition, making sure it is a manageable amount.
      • Money for anticipated out-of-pocket expenses (meals, snacks, souvenirs, etc.).
      • Linens, toiletries, etc., that may not be provided by lodging area.
  • Health concerns: how medications are administered, who they will contact if they are ill.
  • Meal schedule: this will be helpful for them to know when they are “on their own” for a meal or when it is being provided for them. 
  • Chaperone contact information.

7. Orientation with participants (online, in person, etc.). Offer this prior to trip departure at a time when all individuals can attend. Make sure to cover:

  • Introductions of who is going on the trip
  • Expectations/ground rules
    • Respect for volunteers, chaperones, each other, workshop presenters, and anyone they encounter along the trip (hotel and restaurant staff, etc.).
    • Social media expectations (when it is acceptable to post—during trip, after).
    • Make sure teens can also share their expectations.
  • Share communication plan
  • Allow an opportunity for participants to provide input on activities (such as day trip options for tours, down time, etc., restaurant choices, etc.)
  • Review Participant Handbook
    • Make sure to highlight:
      • How a parent/guardian can get in contact with the group in the event of an emergency.
      • What constitutes as an “emergency” for parent/guardian to contact.
    • Trip overview
      • Talk about the culture of the trip, who participants may encounter while on the streets, how to prepare for these potential encounters that may be expected (such as elected individuals/officials) and others that are not.
    • Travel information
      • Discuss when and where to meet for departure, return, and check-ins.  
    • Discuss or assign items that needs to be prepared prior to the trip (displays, presentation, research, flyers, handouts, etc.).
    • Reminders to bring:
      • Travel documents
      • Driver’s license (if flying, need for security items, etc.)

During the Trip

1. Head count/check-in

  • Throughout the trip, there should be some sort of check-in for head counts. It is recommended to have a physical spot to wait for individuals in the event someone does not have a cell phone (or does not have service, phone loses charge, etc.).
    • If traveling with a large group, one might consider having a point person for a smaller group to check in with, stating that their group is all accounted for.

2. Appropriate ratio of adults to youth

  • The best practice is to follow Ohio 4-H Camping guidelines:
    • 9-14 year olds: One staff member or volunteer to eight youth
    • 15-18 year olds: One staff member to 10 youth

3. Implementing the rule of three

In the event that participants are able to explore on their own, there should always be at least three individuals in a group (sometimes more, depending on trip location). This also means that chaperones should not be one-on-one with any participants. This can be (a minimum of) one adult and two participants or (a minimum of) two adults and one participant.

4. Reflecting on experience

This is an opportunity to reflect with participants. Ideas for this include journaling each evening, having a nightly conversation with daily highlights, “teachable moments” during the trip, etc. Provide the participants an opportunity to determine how they would like to reflect on their experiences.  

5. Have a “Mary Poppins” / “Hermione” / “Mom” / “Dad” bag with a variety of potentially necessary items, such as:

  • phone charger/battery pack
  • tissues 
  • first-aid kit
  • feminine hygiene products
  • hand sanitizer
  • snacks
  • deck of cards/movie/other activities for downtime
  • important forms

6. Handling medical and other forms while on the trip

These need to be kept in a secure location that is easily accessible by a chaperone, if needed.

  • Chaperones: have cheat sheet of participant information (allergies, etc.).

7. Build in time for social media/tourist needs (take photos, post online, visit landmarks, gift shops, etc.).

8. Take pictures to share with sponsors and others to highlight your trip.

9. Provide opportunities for participants to write thank-you notes to sponsors or other individuals who should be thanked for their support.

After the Trip

1. Debrief with participants/have some sort of evaluation. This can be in person, virtual, or through written communication. These items may include:

  • concerns they may have    
  • suggestions for improvement
  • what should be continued, changed, started

2. Discuss any action plans that have been resulted from the trip: how will you apply this in the community with what you have learned?

  • Encourage participants to share their experience with other teens, sponsors, club members, etc.

3. Submit any payment receipts

4. Submit grant impact reports or report to funders, if needed.

  • Send thank-you notes, as well.

Photos by Sally McClaskey.


Casey, J. (2012). Authentic Youth Engagement: Youth-Adult Partnerships. Issue Brief #3. St. Louis, MO: Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative.

Curtis, A.C. (2015). Defining adolescence. Journal of Adolescent and Family Health, 2(2). Retrieved from

Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development, National Network for Youth, and Youth Leadership Institute. (2003). Youth-Adult Partnerships: A Training Manual. Takoma Park, MD: Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development. 

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Originally posted Jul 22, 2019.