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Three Mission Trip Mistakes to Avoid
By: Chris Niemeyer

Uncertain of how to best prepare your church or ministry for an effective missions program? Have you been planning trips for years but there always seems to be issues that arise? You are not alone.

According to many studies, the majority of mission trip leaders each year are brand new. Having never planned a trip before and unsure of how to navigate the travel planning process, many feel lost.

This article highlights three common mistakes to avoid when planning mission trips and is equally helpful for all Christian travel planning.

The primary mistake mission travel leaders make is disorganization. Procrastination, lack of attention to detail, and late planning are a recipe for mission trip disasters. An orderly, prepared leader makes all the difference and usually saves his team money so they can more effectively use those resources in the country where they will serve.

Successful missions programs plan their trips at least 9 months in advance. Many clients we serve plan between 9-12 months in advance and start advertising during that time to gauge interest level. While not always feasible, planning this far in advance offers itself to great advantages when looking for airfare.

Not paying attention to key dates of fundraising progress, visa and passport requirements, airfare due dates, and name misspellings can be disastrous. A good missions travel agency will help you stay on top of the demands of the travel program you want to put in place, allowing you to focus on the heart of the ministry.

The second mistake mission travel planners make is being inflexible. From travel dates, airports, flight times and more these can each cause nightmares and thousands of dollars of difference to the rigid leader. Instead, plan ahead and talk with your missionary, agency, or destination hosts about how they can most flexibly accommodate your team's arrival and departure.

Next, set the primary dates for your team participants but announce that those dates could change a day or so. Encourage them to get that date range off of work in advance until the flight itinerary is secured.

For international trips, if you live within minutes of a regional airport, that is obviously convenient. But, are you in close proximity to a major international airport? Chances are you will need to route from your regional airport to an international airport anyway. Consider saving some money by driving the group to the major airport, as you can likely save on airfare and have your choice of more ideal flight times and airlines.

Finally, and sadly, many mission travel leaders overpay for airfare. Whether for individuals or groups, there are many great reasons to book with an agency specializing in mission travel.

Travel agencies, especially for international airfare, should have privately negotiated contracts with dozens of airlines worldwide that are below published fares. A few agencies will have specific missionary fare contracts that are even further discounted and offer great advantages like extra luggage, delayed payment, and reduced change fees.

Compared to a large online travel site's pricing, it is not uncommon to save hundreds of dollars on a single ticket for a client going to Africa. I remember recently saving a woman over $1,100 on a complex itinerary compared to what she was about to purchase on her own.

For group airfare contracts, a mission trip leader should commit to an agency specializing in groups and avoid working with the airline directly. The airline will quote higher prices to the general public, whereas a travel agency with preferred status has special pricing and negotiating powers with their airline contacts, providing your team greater savings.

There are many misperception of group airfare for short-term mission trips. There are pros and cons to why one should book it and it's usually on a case-by-case basis. The savings and benefits can be substantial, and it helps to go with experts who know how to navigate the intricacies of travel.

For example, a group may place a small deposit in advance for an estimated number of passengers. They may reduce later without penalty, and provide final passenger list and payment much later adding convenience, flexibility, and minimizing risk.

In the end, no trip leader wants to spend countless hours and energy on logistics. These mistakes can be avoided by choosing a trustworthy travel agency specializing in mission travel.

By avoiding these common pitfalls, you can remain focused on the central purpose of the mission—serving.

Chris Niemeyer is a dedicated travel professional with Mission Travel, www.missiontravel.org.

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