Improving the Expeditions in 2019

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Improving the Expeditions in 2019

It’s really not possible to emphasize enough how important educational travel is to the StandWatch Academy experience.  I firmly believe that the biggest differentiator we have is the way travel has been incorporated into our course.  All of the students we surveyed in our 2018 satisfaction survey echoed this sentiment. But after listening to the people who were actually riding in the back of the cars all those miles, we need to make a couple changes to how we execute the expeditions.


We drove way too much.  Oh my gosh we drove a lot.  While this allowed students to see a huge swath of the Western United States, it ultimately turned the trips into an endurance race and detracted from the educational value.  In the future, the driving will be kept around 500 miles per trip instead of the 2500 miles we did previously.

Length of the Expeditions

The April and July expeditions were eight days long.  The California expedition was four days.  We were able to accomplish a lot and have a better experience in four days simply because we weren’t spending as much time in the cars.  From now on, the expeditions will be between four and seven days.

Hotel Stays

In two out of the three expeditions this year, we never spent the night in the same hotel, or city, twice.  This meant that everyone was living out of a suitcase for the entire trip and sometimes, the quality of the hotels was dramatically different from night to night.  This added unnecessary stress. Moving forward, we will try to find better hotels (I like Residence Inns), and stay there for as many nights as possible while still making sure we move around enough to see everything we want to see.

Number of Students

We never took 42 people on an expedition (this is a trick photo we did at nearly every stop), but it sometimes felt like it.

The number of students and chaperones on each expedition varied from a high of 21 to a low of 12. The students all agree that the smaller group was much more productive and enjoyable.  We also fit in one 15 passenger van instead of three Chevy Suburbans which made the logistics easier and our time on the road safer.  If you have ever tried to keep three vehicles together over 2500 miles, you know what I’m talking about.  We will adjust the group size, but moving forward, we’ll try to keep it around a total of twelve and a maximum of fifteen.

Gender Specific Groups

The spring and summer expeditions were coed, but the fall expedition was all-female. This wasn’t by design, it just worked out that way. I liked the dynamic we had with having all girls, and I think we will do one all male expedition as an experiment.  If we have the same experience and positive outcome as we did with the girls, we may just keep doing things that way.  Stay tuned.

Academic Work Prior to and During the Expeditions

The schedules we keep during the expeditions are grueling. It’s a fun experience but certainly not relaxing. I liken it to a Disney World vacation versus a trip to the beach.  By the time we roll into the hotels in the evenings, all of us are tired and it’s hard to focus on things like revenue models and slide presentations.  With this in mind, we will finish all business plans and Shockwave Talk scripts prior to departing on the expeditions and reserve the nightly discussions during the trips to plan reviews and discussing books from the reading list over coffee. Students will also no longer be required to post nightly updates to their websites, but instead will write a single trip report at the end of the expedition.  I think the quality of the plans and articles will improve, and a good “book club” atmosphere is better suited for the environment.

Building Around the Business Meetings

In the past, when we weren’t meeting with CEOs and doing company tours, the expeditions were built around getting to and enjoying the national parks. As we schedule more business meetings, the locations we travel to will prioritize corporate visits.  We will still do the national park hikes and such, but the parks we go to will be based on where we have to go to meet with the businesses and executives.

Miscellaneous: Gear and Packing

We now come to the little things that I’ve learned by transporting a total of nearly fifty people across the United States, and doing the things we do.  These aren’t earth-shattering changes. Just the kind of things that will make the expeditions more enjoyable.

  • Shoes – No more slick-bottomed running shoes. During hikes in Yosemite and Arches, we had a few slips when kids were wearing athletic shoes. No one was injured, but the risk is there. From now on, students need to wear either trail runners with aggressive treads or hiking shoes.
  • Headlamps – These are handy and come in useful if our schedule changes. While in Canyonlands National Park, our group ended-up rescuing an elderly couple from Belgium. This kept us out after dark.  No one was in any danger, but it would have been better if everyone had a headlamp.
  • Computers – It’s been my goal for some time to provide students with a laptop so we can do standardized multimedia production classes, podcasts, and website development using Photoshop, Adobe Audition, and WordPress themes. I’ll never require students to go out a buy a computer, but raising money to purchase new computers that can be loaned out each class is a top priority.
  • Packing & Suitcases – Prior to each expedition, we are going to emphasize the importance of sticking to the packing list. We have been fortunate in that no one has ever gone over the luggage weight limit (even on the eight-day trips), but if the goal is to start using one fifteen passenger van per trip (it is), we’ve got to get a little better at packing.  I may even try to get 15 models of the same duffle bags donated and require students to use them.  We’ll see.

The StandWatch Academy expeditions have been some of the most rewarding things I have ever undertaken in my professional career. Nearly every student has referred to them as “life changing”, or “the experience of a lifetime.”  I’ve even had chaperones say the same thing.  We have been doing a lot of things right.  Hopefully, making these improvements will produce even better experiences for everyone involved.

By |2019-01-12T18:49:24+00:00November 21st, 2018|Comments Off on Improving the Expeditions in 2019

About the Author:

Zac Northup is the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Zac served in the U.S. Army and the Army National Guard between 1992 and 2000, leaving the service as a captain. In 1996, he started his own publishing and consulting firm where he interviewed high-profile individuals including members of the joint chiefs of staff, service secretaries, elected officials, and soldiers in Bosnia, Honduras, and other locations. As a consultant, he worked for Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, 3M, and dozens of small firms that ranged from start-ups to multimillion dollar firms. He has proven experience taking a concept and growing it into a thriving business.