How to Pack for a Big Trip

Do you love planning exciting trips, but dread the process of packing your bags? One of our awesome Global Action Volunteer Team members, Karen Zeller, has graciously shared with us her tips and tricks to help you through it! With her years of experience, you are sure to learn some useful information to make that process not-so frustrating.

Packin’ On Up

Written by Troop 50368 and Karen Zeller, Global Action Volunteer Team member and Troop Leader

A trip to Our Chalet (the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts world center in Switzerland): the experience of a lifetime. Add to that a few extra days, and our troop had a true European adventure. The girls couldn’t wait. They had been preparing for this for years. The fundraising was done, the arrangements booked, the forms filled out, the money exchanged. All we had left to do? Pack.

Packing, depending on who you’re talking to, can be the least favorite part of any trip. But somehow, over the years, our girls had come to take pride in their packing. They know what was needed to succeed, and how to make that success happen.

Here are some of our troop’s tried and true tips for making packing as pleasant as possible!

Getting Started

It all starts with putting together the perfect list to match what you need with what you’re allowed to carry. To fly internationally, we were allowed a bag that totaled no more than 62 inches in total dimensions and weighed no more than 50 pounds. We were also allowed one carry-on, plus one personal item.

To make sure you bring the essentials and make the most of your space at the same time, it helps to:

  • Make a packing list together as a troop to have everyone on board from the start.
  • Discuss basic clothing needs, appropriate dress for the location and activities planned, and a maximum amount of each item needed.
  • Figure out how to get access to a washer and dryer–– you don’t want to spend all your time washing clothes, but for long trips this is a must.
  • Remember you can comfortably re-wear and layer clothes throughout the trips!
  • Keep in mind the kinds of activities planned and how this will affect your packing list. For example, we were doing everything on this trip from hiking in the alps to visiting sacred sites in Rome, so girls had to decide between weighing their bags down with boots or wearing them while traveling.

Toiletries: To Share or not to Share?

This is obviously important to discuss! In previous trips, we had opted to buy toiletries when we got to where we were going and share as a group. We didn’t think this would work as well in Europe, so if you find yourself in a similar situation, here’s what we did:

  • Each girl either brought their own toiletries or worked in a group to share.
  • We brought a couple of hairdryers to share between us.
  • We tried our best to limit extras, like makeup, etc.
  • The leaders carried first aid kits and any extras the girls might need (lots of Band-Aids).
  • Make sure to clear out any hotel rooms of their soap before you leave–– you might as well!

Compressing and Compacting

Once our list was made, it was up to the girls to make the magic happen. They used several great techniques for consolidating suitcase space:

  • A favorite for several of the girls was packing cubes, which flatten out clothes for extra room.
  • We taught the girls how to roll clothes instead of folding them, another great tip for saving space.
  • We also talked about bringing extra Ziploc® bags for dirty and wet clothes, so they don’t get mixed in with the clean ones!
  • The girls bought expandable suitcases so if they left them un-expanded on the way over, they would have room for souvenirs on the way home.

Carryons and Cautionary Tales

For the long plane ride there and back, the girls made sure they had everything they needed in as little a bag as possible. In their carry-ons, they had:

  • An extra set of clothes
  • Any needed meds and small travel size toiletries
  • Compression socks or fuzzy socks for comfort
  • eBooks and downloaded movies on their devices

The girls also made a playlist for the trip, and all brought some sort of headphones and a small speaker for their hotel rooms!

Of course, you always have to leave room for souvenirs. Like I mentioned above, expandable suitcases made it possible for the girls to pick up some awesome items from our travels. This worked like a charm for everyone–– except for me. After leaving behind a couple things I didn’t need to bring back home and buying an extra-large “personal item” for the way home, I was still worried my suitcase was too full. Turns out: it was exactly 50 pounds! The girls, of course, were all well under the required maximum.

We may have done a good job teaching our girls how to pack over the years, but somehow, I am still learning.

What are you waiting for?

We would like to thank Karen so much for her contribution and wonderful advice (which we’ll all keep in mind next time we get ready for a trip)!

Now you have all these tips–– what are you gonna do with them? There are so many opportunities for traveling around the United States and abroad with the Girl Scouts, and it’s up to you to decide where you’re headed. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you are sure to embark on an unforgettable journey.

Are you interested in helping provide incredible travel experiences to Girl Scouts? Find out what it takes to join the Global Action Volunteer Team and what their mission is all about!

For more inspiring travel advice, check out our other guest blog posts by Global Action Volunteer Members:
Who We Are Part 1 | Who We Are Part 2 | Why You Should Try Backpacking | Daydreaming About Travel | A WAGGGS Adventure in Mexico | Guide to Safety While Traveling | Research travel as a Gen Z | Girl Scouts Will Travel

Visit our travel page for more information on where we’re headed this year and the next.

Want to take YOUR OWN ADVENTURE? Check out Girl Scouts Destinations!!!

Honoring Our Veterans

Girl Scouts have always shown their appreciation to our military and veterans who serve to protect our freedom.

In observance of Veterans Day, we are proud to debut our newest patch program, Honoring Our Veterans.

Working together with U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth—a Girl Scout alum and army veteran—we have developed the Honoring Our Veterans patch program for girls to connect with and honor our veterans.

How to earn the patch

  1. Complete at least two criteria from the list below.
  2. Share a story with us about your experience! This could be a photo, video, or a written account. Stories should be shared on our website.
  3. Bring your story submission confirmation email to one of our six shop locations to pick up your free patch! Find a shop location near you.

Complete a Service Project Benefiting Veterans

Below are some service project ideas. You may complete two service projects to earn the patch. 

  • Send cards of appreciation
  • Volunteer at a Veteran Home or program
  • Coordinate and lead an activity with a veterans
  • Work with a local Veteran Home or senior center to coordinate a monthly visit to bring hygiene supplies, clothes and other needed items. 
  • Participate in an Honor Flight (Learn more https://www.honorflight.org/tour-schedule/)
  • Volunteer with a therapy dog organization that provides therapy dogs for Veterans (such as Hero Dogs, Dog T.A.G.S.)

Visit with a Veteran: This could be someone you know, or by visiting a Veteran Home.

Tell a Veteran’s Story: Interview a veteran and tell their story through writing, video, or another way.

All of the stories submitted through the story submission form will be collected and shared with Senator Duckworth.

Download the Patch Program guidelines [PDF] »

Share your story to earn the free patch »

Get excited for Holiday Activities!

Brace yourselves! The holidays are coming, and what better way to celebrate than with the Girl Scouts sisterhood? This holiday season, Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana (GCNWI) has some dazzling activities lined up for everyone to enjoy!

Whether you’ve been longing to see a production of a well-loved story like The Nutcracker, or itching to construct some gingerbread architecture, GCNWI has got you covered. Read on to learn about the festivities!

A Girl Scouts Christmas Carol!

Girl Scouts of all ages are invited to this year’s Drury Lane Theatre production of A Christmas Carol on December 7! The heartwarming story, based on the novel by Charles Dickens, shares the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old man who is offered one last chance on Christmas Eve to discover the true meaning of Christmas.

There’s a chance to grab tickets to the show, and an extra-special opportunity to join us for a delicious breakfast buffet after the show! Register here for the show and here for the buffet by November 14th to snag a spot!

Ballet Bonanza

This year, there are three super exciting opportunities for Girl Scouts of all ages and their families to see one of the most beloved dance productions of all time: Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Ballet!

Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker

Join us at the Rosemont Theatre on Sunday, December 8 for an afternoon of Holiday magic with the Moscow Ballet’s production of the Great Russian Nutcracker! This world-renowned Russian tour group includes over 40 classically trained dancers and the show features over 200 dazzling costumes, stunning sets, towering puppets, and soaring birds!

All Girl Scouts will receive a Moscow Ballet patch for their attendance. And, as a bonus, if more than 25 people from the council attend the performance, there will be an extra-special Meet and Greet with a ballerina from the show!

Register here by November 21 to get your tickets!

Chicago Ballet’s Nutcracker

On December 13, Girl Scouts of all ages are invited to the historic Athenaeum Theatre in Lakeview for a special performance of the Nutcracker! This gorgeous adaptation of the season’s classic takes the audience on an unforgettable journey to the Kingdom of Snow and the Land of the Sweets. Ring in the season with beautiful music, choreography, and your Girl Scout sisters!

Tickets will be at will call on the day of the performance. Register by November 21st!

The Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker

The Joffrey Ballet is Chicago’s premiere, world-class ballet and dance organization–– and Girl Scouts of all ages are invited on December 14 to see why. Watch as the magic of the holiday season takes hold when the Great Impresario sets off a whirlwind journey of romance and adventure in the Joffrey Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker at Auditorium Theatre!

Ticket purchase includes a fun patch for each Girl Scout! Registration closes on November 14, so get your tickets early!

Gingerbread Architecture

Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors are invited to the Joliet Gathering Place on December 15 and the Vernon Hills Gathering Place on December 20 to enjoy some holiday STEM fun! Get together and learn about scale, proportion, area, and perimeter, all while building a delicious celebratory gingerbread house!

Fun patch will be earned for participating! Register by December 7 for the Joliet event, and December 13 for Vernon Hills!

Jingle All The Way!

The end of the year is approaching fast–– so spend the rest of this year with your loved ones and Girl Scout family! From all of us here at GCNWI, we hope your holiday season is filled with celebration and excitement for the next decade. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Curious about any other events going on this year and the next? Check out our programs website to get the full scoop.

GirlSpace Girl Scout Days!

While the Chicago Teacher’s Strike was underway, our GirlSpace program made sure that more than 70 girls from Chicago’s West and South neighborhoods still had a safe, structured and supportive learning environment during the school closures. For the 11 day duration of the strike, Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana (GCNWI) staff members provided these girls a host of informative workshops, fun activities, and much more!

With financial literacy and STEAM activities, healthy living lessons, movie-days, and field trips, the girls dove all into the fun and educational programs Girl Scouts GCNWI had to offer. Thanks to the dedicated GCNWI staff, the girls left every day with several fun patches and smiles on their faces!

Chillin’ Out In Chicago

Kicking off the first two days, the girls had the very special opportunity to participate in the Toyota Financial Services Badge Workshop, a financial literacy crash course where girls are given the chance to be product designers, pitch their products, and learned about the needs and wants of consumers. They finished their day off with delicious smores over a campfire!

The girls continued their fun with an Artbots and Coding workshop, and engaged in robotic fun, building “artbots” and learning some coding basics by building their own online game!

The next day was all about STEM–– and roller-skating. The girls visited the Martin Luther King Roller Skating Rink and built paper cars out of scrap paper and roller skate wheels, and then tested the velocity of their paper cars! The rest of the afternoon was spent putting their roller skating skills to the test on the rink.

On Oct. 23, the girls relaxed and watched the Lion King and played games. The next day, the girls got moving with some yoga and meditation, dancing, and karaoke. The “Healthy Living” afternoon was spent celebrating Juliette Gordon Low (J-Lo), making J-Lo pumpkins, fruit parfaits, and “All About Me” books.

Pumpkins and Pajamas

Halloween was approaching fast–– so what better way to celebrate than by visiting a pumpkin patch? The girls spent a beautiful fall day together at Johansen’s Farm petting animals, riding the hayride, playing mini-golf, jumping on bouncy houses, and of course, leaving with their very own pumpkin!

The girls continued their outdoor-focused activities the next day when WTTW 11’s Nature Cat came to visit! They spent the entire day concentrating on nature-themed activities and hanging out with Nature Cat’s bunny friend, Daisy.

The last two Girl Scout days were all about expressing creativity–– through art or silly pajamas! The girls participated in the Art of Animation workshop, where they learned all about what animators do and some tricks of the trade. They worked on a paper flipbook and then took their art to the iPad to bring their creations to life!

For Halloween and the last day of the program, Girl Scouts GCNWI threw a Pajama Party for the staff and girls! Everyone dressed up in their best PJ’s and started the day watching movies and playing musical chairs. In the afternoon, the girl’s talents were celebrated with a talent show! Before the girls left, they decorated cookies and dunked them in some delicious hot chocolate.

GirlSpace is the Place!

Education doesn’t only happen in the classroom–– Girl Scouts know this for sure. Thanks to our dedicated GCNWI staff, these girls were able to learn, grow, enjoy and explore all sorts of subjects while the strike carried on.

GirlSpace is a year-round school integrated and staff facilitated Girl Scout program that provides girls from varied communities with a safe, structured and supportive learning environment that empowers them with skills that are essential for success in school and in life, such as critical thinking, problem-solving and leadership skills. The program serves nearly 3000 girls from the South and West sides of Chicago, Proviso Township, Joliet and northwest Indiana.

Learn more and support our GirlSpace program today!

Day of the Dead: Altars and Celebration at Vernon Hills!

IMG_5034-1.jpg
Written by Susana Cardenas-Soto, with Marketing at GCNWI

On Saturday, November 2, Girl Scouts of all ages joined together at the Vernon Hills Gathering Place to celebrate an age-old tradition dating back to the reign of the Aztecs: Día de Los Muertos, or, in English, the Day of the Dead.

The Day of the Dead certainly sounds grim, but in reality, this multi-day Mexican holiday is meant to be a joyous remembrance of our lost loved ones. It is believed that during these first days of November, their spirits return to the world of the living for a visit. The holiday, then, is much like a “welcome home” party for our ancestors. It is a colorful and spirited celebration of life, not the mourning of loss.

Día de Los Muertos is a holiday near and dear to my own heart, especially as a first-generation Mexican-American. I have always felt that The Day of the Dead is an alternative to grief, a hopeful method of remembrance, a time to meant celebrate the lives of people who have passed on, whether they were a dear family member or a beloved celebrity. It was a very special experience to see so many local Girl Scouts take part in a cultural celebration dedicated to honoring their ancestors.

¡Bienvenidos a la Fiesta!

IMG_8800.JPG

Girls gathered up early in the afternoon at the Vernon Hills Gathering Place to start building their shoebox ofrendas, or altars, to honor the memory of someone who passed away. These altars are traditionally laden with marigold flowers, religious candles, incense, photos of the person, favorite foods and books, and other special objects, all meant to comfort the soul and help them on their spiritual journey.

These girls came prepared with a lot to display: large boxes to build multi-level altars, colorful streamers, old family photos, candles, delicious snacks, and other bright decorations. All of these items were lovingly collected to honor the people of their choice, whether they were a favorite author or a great-great-grandpa. Together with friends, family, and troop leaders, these girls built their ofrendas with care.

IMG_0123.JPG
Renata and her troop’s ofrenda. 

I talked to some Girl Scouts around the room and found they had quite a large knowledge of the significance of the holiday. Renata, a Junior Girl Scout who self-identified as Azteca, told me about the indigenous Aztec roots of the holiday and the long history of honoring the dead. Her troop built a particularly impressive and brightly colored multi-level ofrenda honoring their great-grandparents and several inventors they admire (like the inventor of the brownie, Fannie Farmer). Their altar was not just built to celebrate the tradition of Día de Los Muertos, but the traditions within each of their individual families and as a Girl Scout troop.

This troop’s altar (image above) was a very classic interpretation of an ofrenda and featured papel picado (intricately cut colored tissue paper) meant to attract the spirits, statues of skeletons and La Catrina to provide familiarity, and candles to light the path from the underworld for the departed to return for the get-together. They also featured a statue of La Virgen Guadalupe, signifying the Catholic aspects of the holiday.

IMG_7980.JPG

Other Junior Girl Scouts Cassandra and Tanner told me about the meaning behind some of the objects they brought for their altar, dedicated to their great-grandparents. Surrounding the pictures of their family members were some of their grandpa’s and GiGi’s favorite treats: Andes mints, Krispy Kreme Pecan pies, chocolate orange slices, and frosted cookies. Each item had an emotional significance to the girls and their mothers and connected to a special family memory, whether it was eating delicious Sunday breakfasts or fresh-baked Thanksgiving cookies.

Food is a particularly important part of an ofrenda, but not for eating. No family get-together is good without everyone’s favorite foods––by placing these objects at the altar, it signifies a welcoming feeling for the departed spirits. It is a gift from the living, a slice of home.

IMG_5051.JPG
Charlottes British orfenda.

One particularly intricate altar was dedicated to the memory of British children’s book author Enid Blyton, built by Girl Scout Junior Charlotte. The altar was a different cultural interpretation of the ofrenda and held classically British items: the Union Jack, tea, and what appears to be a plate of crumpets, as well as copies of Charlotte’s favorite Blyton books. Charlotte told me she chose Blyton because she felt connected to her, not just because she is her favorite author but because they are from the same country.

What united each altar, whether they were dedicated to family or strangers, was that they were built in order to honor and comfort the one who had passed. It was very touching to see girls building altars for grandparents and great-grandparents they had never met, solely because they knew how much their parents loved them and wanted to preserve those memories. Indeed, the building of an ofrenda is a decidedly intergenerational project, one that requires of its builders to acknowledge and honor those who came before.

IMG_2558.JPG

Calaveras y Cempasuchiles

IMG_0461.JPG

The girls also participated in some traditional Day of the Dead activities: decorating sugar skull (calaveras) cookies, fashioning paper Marigolds (Cempasuchil), and more! The room was filled with Girl Scouts and covered in papel picado, skull decorations, paper Cempasuchiles, and traditional Mexican music played from a speaker. It was exactly how a Day of The Dead party should be!

Together with their families, friends, and leaders, Girl Scouts made all sorts of crafts: paper flower headbands, homemade windsocks, and straw panflutes, to name a few. Older Girl Scouts met with an artist and were walked through the process of painting La Catrina, the skeleton of a beautiful woman and a very famous symbol for the holiday and of the Mexican Revolution.

IMG_0705.JPG

All of these fun activities have real significance in the centuries-old tradition of Día de Los Muertos. Skulls were once keepsakes for Aztec warriors to remember the dead–– now, sweet sugar skulls are decorated with tons of edible glitter, paint, and beads, and sport big smiles. Marigolds were once thought to guide the spirits back to their homes with their intense colors and pungent smells, so these flowers became integral parts of the ofrendas.

The atmosphere in the Vernon Hils Gathering Place that afternoon was exactly what you should expect for a celebration of the Day of The Dead: full of smiles, laughter, bright colors, delicious treats. Awesome memories were made, memories that are sure to live on through this generation of Girl Scouts and the next.

¡Girl Scout yo soy!

IMG_4824.JPG

This event was very special, not only because it was a bunch of fun for everyone involved, but because it was a celebration of the immense diversity of our Girl Scouts. Cultural events like these are essential for girls of all backgrounds to respect and honor diverse world traditions, learn and understand various perspectives, connect with our global community, and promote solidarity between nations.

We are so grateful to everyone who helped put on both this and the event at Joliet!

Interested in our other awesome cultural events and programs? Our programs page is a great place to start!