The International Service Team, the over 18s who will run the Jamboree, have been given a series of options for their travel. Martin weighs in with his thoughts about the various options available
The members of our illustrious International Service Team spent this weekend at Walesby Forest for the IST1 Weekend. We were presented with a lot of information about the Jamboree, the site and the UK Contingent. All of this information, we were assured, will shortly be freely available on the IST Zone of the UK Contingent Website in due course.
So, other than acknowledging that it’s happened and that it was a rather fun weekend, I’m not going to talk too much about it.
I am going to pick up on one particular point made though. We IST have to make a decision on our travel options by 30th June, which is only a few weeks away. The travel options may seem somewhat confusing, so I’m hoping to demystify them and give some pros and cons for each of the options.
To make it clear, I have no hidden agenda, I’m not taking a commission from anyone anywhere for anything (unfortunately). For total transparency, my choice is Option D – I will explain this at the end of the post, but I want to talk about all of the options first.
The travel options are as follows:
Option A: Jamboree, Post Event, Travel
Option B: Jamboree, Travel
Option C: Jamboree
Option D: Jamboree, Post Event.
Effectively, these options require you to make two choices. You also have to make a third choice surrounding the Post Event Tours being offered by the UKC’s travel partner, Travel Places.
Choice 1: Contingent Post Event or No Contingent Post Event
Choice 2: Travel or No Travel
Choice 3: Travel Places Post Event Tour?
I’ll address each of these in turn.
Choice 1: Post Event or No Post Event
The Post event is a couple of days in Washington DC. From what I’ve gathered (so I may be wrong), Day 1 is travel to Washington DC from the Jamboree Site (5 – 6 hours through West Virginia, then Virginia (one of the routes is through the Shenandoah Valley National Park!). We’ll be staying in University Accommodation (The memories of my time in halls just made me shiver at the thought…). Day 2 is the 24 Hour Washington Challenge – I believe a lot of this is down to our own imagination and imitative. Then there’s a big party before a final night in the accommodation, the third day we fly home or are turned loose (See choice 2.)
One of the sessions at the weekend was looking at activities we can do in Washington. There is talk of a “Night at the Museum” Sleepover at the Smithsonian, getting a tour of the White House or maybe the FBI’s Hoover Building or perhaps a Great British Bake Off on the White House Lawn, or even abseiling down the Washington Monument. The sky is very much the limit, and I believe that there was a field on the EventsAir app that would let you input ideas for what you could get up to.
Here are a list of some Pros and Cons to help you make Choice 1. This is not designed to be exhaustive; it is, as most of the other posts here, just my somewhat mad ramblings. Anyway…
- Spend more time with the friends in the UK Contingent you’ve made
- More time in America
- You get to see Washington DC and the US Countryside rather than just the Jamboree site
- Take part in potentially totally unique experience
- Big party at the end of the event, finish your Jamboree in style in the Capital of the US of A.
- Extra days in country (i.e. more leave)
- Extra cost – it’s about £300 extra (based on costs between options C and D), so if you’re hoping to do the Jamboree on a budget, this might stretch it.
- You’ll be knackered after the Jamboree and still have to run about Washington DC before you get to go home
- Trump might be about
Choice 2: Travel or No Travel
On the face of it, this is a relatively simple question. Do you want someone else (who does this for a living) to book your flights and make sure everything goes to plan? Or do you want to book your own flights?
For a first time traveller, I would recommend flying with the contingent. It is a fantastic experience and it means your Jamboree starts with your fellow IST from the moment you start travelling to your local airport. You have people to be excited with, to remind you to make sure your knives are in your hold luggage etc. Travelling as a large group, in uniform, attracts attention and lets you Shout about Scouting to the general public. The downside is, you can’t hang out in the pub before your flight 😉
- Someone else has to stress about booking your flights
- Someone will be on hand to assist you at the airport(s), to show you where to go etc.
- Travelling as a group
- You can book cheaper flights individually
- Travelling as a group
- Dates are inflexible
- You can’t hang out in the inevitable Wetherspoons before your flight (Remember your Green card!)
To me, it all boils down to cost, and I think this requires some further explanation.
The price difference between Options A and D is £1195 – which one can assume entirely relates to the cost of flights from an undisclosed UK airport and one of the Jamboree entry points. Looking at Skyscanner (more on this later), I can fly to Washington DC, then onto Charlotte NC, one of the Jamboree entry points then home from Washington DC for about £650. If I didn’t fancy the five hour bus journey from North Carolina, for just shy of £700 I can fly into Charleston WV for a 45 minute bus journey to the Jamboree.
Why is there a massive price differential?
Well, when doing a Group booking, like Travel Places are (booking for 750 IST plus the CMST, then the 4000 Young People and Leaders from the Units), the airlines start rubbing their hands together and grinning manically. You will be charged as if every single person on that flight has arrived at the airport the morning of the flight and asked for a flight – to put that into perspective, the flights I’ve mentioned above, when changed to depart tomorrow, become £900 (using a very good system for finding the cheapest possible flights for just me, and off-season i.e. not in the school holidays).
This is the mainstay of the fee. We also have to bear in mind that Travel Places is a business and some of the fee goes to paying their lovely staff for doing all the work of getting flights booked and ticketing sorted etc.. It’s also worth remembering that on the day the participants fly, we’re probably taking up nearly 100% of the seats to and from the US East Coast from the UK, and we do pay for that. As I write this, we have 67 people in the independent travellers group, based on 750 IST, we still need to book around 680 bums on seats to America, which is a fair whack the available seats into airports near the Jamboree for Thursday 18th July 2019, especially given the number of other contingents potentially flying in.
That being said, I do think travelling with the contingent is a fantastic experience. One regret I have is that my Jamboree, the one where I was a participant way back in 2007 (Our youngest IST member would have been 5 when I went!!!) we didn’t fly from West Lancashire to Essex. I can imagine the bustle of getting half a dozen units on a plane and sending them off to the other side of the world. I can also imagine turning up at the airport totally bemused by all of the uniforms then settling into my first class seat (I can dream right?), preparing myself for a very important business trip to the States, to find the plane slowly filling up with hundreds of excited Participants or IST. Instead we were loaded onto a coach and raced the East Lancashire unit down the M6…
Choice 3: Travel Places Post Event Tour?
The third choice is entirely down to you and is totally independent on the Jamboree. The tours that Travel Places look phenomenal, and seem reasonably priced for everything you’re being offered. The guys from Travel Places do appear to pull out all the stops to make as great an experience as possible on their tours. Whilst I haven’t travelled with them (see below), I know many people who have and have loved what was on offer for both Japan in 2015 and Iceland in 2017. So, how to decide? I suppose it comes down to two key points
- Can I afford a tour?
- Can I get the extra time off work?
If the answer is yes, then fantastic, book away. If the answer is no, do not be disheartened but instead read on.
A lot of these posts will include mistakes I’ve made or regrets I have so that hopefully you can learn from them, just as I have!
So, this being said, another regret I have relates to Sweden. There was no optional tour packages for Sweden, the choices were Contingent Flights or No Contingent Flights. For ease, this was my first Jamboree as an adult and I didn’t have a Unit Leader to hold my hand (metaphorically, remember the Yellow Card). This involved flying from Glasgow to Copenhagen, getting bussed to the Jamboree site for two weeks then returning by the same route. Despite being in Sweden for nearly two weeks, I didn’t see much outside of the Jamboree site – mainly due to my superhuman ability to almost fall instantly to sleep on any means of transport.
As lovely as the Jamboree site was (and probably still is), it wasn’t truly Sweden. I saw the World collected in a tiny bubble, but I didn’t get to see Stockholm or travel on the public transport, or walk through a traditional market etc. So when I went on my next event, to Canada in 2013, I booked my own flights so I could explore Ottawa and see more. I enjoyed this so much I did the same for Japan and Iceland, and have started making similar plans for the USA.
This allows you to make your own tour, based around your own situation. If you only have the option of an extra two days and really wanted to visit New York, then do it. It’s probably a lot easier than you realise.
Why don’t I take the tours? Especially when I’m selling them so eloquently above? Well, simply, they’re not long enough. I’m currently negotiating taking a full month off of work. I’ve never been to the USA, and realistically it’s not somewhere I see myself returning to as a civilian tourist (despite repeated threats to send me to conferences out there). So I want to do as much as possible whilst I’m out there. Whilst I’ll never visit every state or see every site in the two weeks around the Jamboree, it gives me an opportunity to do the things I want to do. As I’ve said above, the Travel Places tours are fantastic, they have put a lot of time and effort into making these absolutely unforgettable experiences. They are however, not for me, because I’m awkward…
I’m a bit of an amateur historian, and the battles of the American Rebellion (or Revolution if you remember history slightly differently) are something I’d like to take in as part of my visit. I want to stand on Bunker Hill and imagine the red coated line advancing stoically up to break the rabble of Continental Militia with the iron discipline and long bayonet of the British Army. But I also want to visit New York and Chicago (because some of my favourite TV shows are based/filmed there…) I’d love to visit Gettysburg, not because of any real interest in the American Civil War, but because it’s the sort of place I find fascinating, from a sociological view or the view as an amateur singer/songwriter as much as a historical one.
I also want to visit places off the beaten track. One of my favourite memories of Japan was leaving the site for an afternoon and walking through the countryside. Me and two others got horrifically lost looking for the train station to Yamaguchi, and instead wandered in a massive circle around rural Japan. We walked through rice paddies and saw things we wouldn’t have otherwise seen. We met the locals, one of whom produced watermelon and ice cold water for us to enjoy in his garden, despite him having no English and us having no Japanese we managed to explain we were Scouts and he was ecstatic to meet us, taking a photograph with us before we continued walking to try and find our way back to the site with no map and no internet…
I chose option D because it lets me be flexible with my flights. I left booking my flights to Japan a little on the later side, and to fly out the same day as the rest of the UK IST was a ridiculous sum of money. But flying out three days before hand was much, much cheaper, and the money I saved on flights let me pay for three nights in a hostel, my rail card, admissions and food for the time I got to explore Tokyo at my pace, seeing the things that I wanted to see. I went around the Japanese equivalent to the Imperial War Museum – whilst I’m sure I could have found others in the contingent who wanted to go round it, there wasn’t time in the programme for it.
One of the comments I’d heard at the weekend was people didn’t know how to book flights. For Canada, neither did I, so I used STA travel (who I am informed give a discount to members of Girl Guiding UK). For Japan and Iceland, I used Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights and the best dates for me to fly. It is literally as easy as clicking a few buttons. I do a lot of travelling with work, and I have a system for booking my flights, hotels, hire cars etc. which I think I have down to a fine art, so it’s no real stress for me anymore, but I understand people who haven’t ever had to do this being a bit put off by the idea.
This being said, I really do recommend taking a look at these sorts of options. I’ll keep my ear to the ground and perhaps a future top tips post will be about how to book flights!
As a word of warning however, when you organise your own travel, the buck stops with you. There isn’t the safety net of other people, or a travel agent to fall back on. But for me, that’s part of the excitement. For others it’s a massive source of anxiety. One person I know who travelled to Canada independently didn’t sleep the night before their flight because they were paranoid they’d sleep in and miss their flight. As a result, their first few days at the Moot were horrific as they tried to do everything and catch up on sleep. Next time they travelled, it wasn’t independently!
For me it’s all part of the adventure, and I suppose for many of you it could form part of your Personal Development Zone. For people wanting to work on their confidence, or their administrative skills etc. making the conscious choice to arrange your own travel, and plan your own unique adventure.
I hope this has helped rather than muddied the waters.
I am always up for answering questions, whether through the self-help group or through my email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Till next time