“Describe the planning process of an international mission trip?”

Chris Russell

Chris Cherry is an ordained minister who received his Masters of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology. He enjoys foosball and skittles, but doesn’t particularly care for static electricity. He is currently serving as Minister to Students at St Andrews Baptist Church in Columbia, SC.

International trips present lots of little challenges. In addition to all the steps required of a usual mission trip, there are lots of new things to consider, as well. I grew up traveling all over the world because my dad is the Vice President of a travel agency and our family had unique opportunities. Because of his expertise, I’ve asked my dad, Russell Cherry, to guest write for this post. He has been in the travel business for over 30 years. He also has an MDiv and PhD from Southern Seminary (back in the day) and understands the particularities required of a mission trip. What follows is a good starting point. If international mission trips are something you are seriously considering, I’d encourage you to contact him directly with questions. He’s been there done that with both international tour groups and international mission groups. Here are his thoughts to get the conversation started:

Probably the most important step in planning an international mission trip is to determine the appropriate mission or humanitarian organization with which to partner.  Your local church or denominational group may support mission efforts with local churches and people groups in areas that may be of interest to your team.  Or you may prefer to partner with a faith based non-profit group that takes on such tasks as installing water purification systems, delivering medical services, or conducting sports clinics. The important thing is that these mission or humanitarian groups have already established the relationships and infrastructure that will allow you to find an area of ministry where your group can make a genuine contribution to the work in their communities. They will also likely be aware of inexpensive housing options, potential language translators, and perhaps the best methods of local transportation.  

Once you are firmly established with your chosen mission partner, another significant decision is to find a travel agency that can assist you in making the necessary travel arrangements for your team. You may be used to fully planning your own domestic projects without such assistance, but international travel has many more variables with which you will need to contend. International travel will require passports and possibly visas, or have specific health recommendations or requirements.  Your group may require assistance in arranging some sightseeing or relaxation time while in country.  You may need your travel agent to contract with a local coach company for transportation from the airport to the housing site, and then from the housing site to the work place.

Perhaps the most common need is for assistance in booking the air travel to and from your mission location. While you may be experienced in navigating sites like Kayak, Expedia, and various airline websites, these websites only give you a partial view of what may be available for your mission team. If you have ten or more participants, you will likely qualify for a group fare which will allow you to hold space without names by submitting a deposit. With most airlines, these deposits are refundable up until about 90 days before the scheduled departure.  Most people assume that group fares are less expensive than individual fares, but this is not necessarily a correct assumption. The main advantage of group fares is actually allowing you time to develop your group while having a contracted fare in place.

What most folks don’t know is many groups may be better off using consolidator or missionary fares rather than a group fare. These fares are often less expensive than group fares and may also allow more creativity in mixing airline partners and geographic routings, as well as more favorable cancellation and baggage conditions. For groups of less than ten, these consolidator or missionary fares should be the standard options from which to choose, while groups of ten or more may still benefit from considering these types of fares.  A good travel partner that is experienced in handling mission and non-profit groups can help the team find the airline option that is in the best interest of the group.

Clearly, this is not the end of the discussion when it comes to planning and executing an international mission trip, especially one geared toward youth. While many ministers become experts at planning trips and events, it’s much more difficult when new variables in an unfamiliar field are included. Often, these details scare hopeful trip planners away. Instead, call a travel agent to walk you through. The final, and perhaps most important, thing to remember when planning an international mission trip is this: start planning early. Early. Early. Early. Passports, visas, health requirements, fundraising, scouting trips, and more all take time. Be prepared and start early.

Russell Cherry is the Vice President of Dehoney Travel in Louisville, KY. He can be reached at russell@dehoneytravel.com.