The do’s and don’ts of group travel

I learned a lot about people on my trip to Sturgis.  Traveling with a big group can present its challenges, but it can also make for a safe and enriching experience that you wouldn’t have otherwise had.  Though not typically one for etiquette guides, these are the lessons I’ve picked up during my years of travel.

Disclaimer: Sturgis was a lovely trip.  Big thank you’s go out to the fearless leaders who organized the trip, the gracious followers, and a big cheers that we all have come out of it with friendships in tact.

The lookout point for Devil’s Tower, WY. These happy, smiley faces are having a winner vacation because we all followed the do’s and don’ts of group travel

Lauren’s guide to safe and happy travels in groups:

DO pick your battles.  Traveling in large groups is a lesson in diplomacy.  DON’T be that one chick who argues about everything. But, this is your vacation too.  So if you’re not happy with a group decision to the point that it affects your good times, speak up.  Otherwise, learn to let it go.

DO pick a leader, and

DON’T be a jerk if the leader is you.  Check with the group and, if it comes down to it, take a vote, draw straws, play rock-paper-scissors.  Again, group travel is a lesson in diplomacy.  And democracy.  Just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean that it’s your job to make all the decisions.

DO have an itinerary, and

DO share it with the ENTIRE group, but

DO let people stray from it.  We’re all adults here.  Establish meeting places and times, put them on printed out itineraries, and then divide and conquer.  A group can get real hostile real fast if you spend too much time together, and many friendships have been broken up over a vacation.  That’s lame.

DON’T forget to pitch in.  Even if you’re not a leader or a naturally assertive person, don’t be afraid to put your hand in and help.  Vacation is work, especially in a big group, and no one appreciates you coasting while we’re busy taking out the trash and washing dishes.  If you can’t get anywhere verbally (e.g. “Can I help?  Anything I can do?” doesn’t always get a task assigned to you… the leader will say, “No I got it”) just dive in and do something.

DO embrace the group experience.  Be a joiner and recognize that your great lodging and awesome excursions might not have been possible without the support (financial, that is) of the group.  It’s also way safer, especially when you’re traveling in places that are out of cell phone range.

That said, DON’T forget to create your own experience.  This is your vacation too.  If there’s something you want to see or do, do it.

Starbucks Around the World: Biker Babes in Belvidere, IL

The Belvidere Oasis was the VERY last pit stop on our 1,000 mile journey from Sturis, SD back to Chicago. Having travelled the high plains in severe cross-winds the first day and persistent rain the second, these tired bikers deserved nothing better the a high-priced premium coffee, and their amazing accomplishment (and fast baristas cranking out, like, 12 caramel macchiatos) earns a BIG thumbs up.

Crazy Horses and Dead Presidents

Rolling up to the Crazy Horse Memorial, knowing nothing about what I was here to see, my group looked around at each other confused and thought, uh, hmm, what exactly are we looking at here? I mean, it’s a big rock with a hole in the middle….


WAY wrong…

As we got closer, I realized what we were looking at, and now that I’ve seen Crazy Horse I don’t think many things can parallel that experience.  After 100 years of dynamite blasts and the meticulous sculpting of a rocky face in the Black Hills, what is to become the Crazy Horse Memorial is not nearly finished, and likely won’t be within my lifetime.  The family spearheading the project is carrying on the work of Korczak Ziolkowski, an apprentice to the guy who carved Mount Rushmore.

The way I understand it, Crazy Horse was the leader of the Lakota tribe, and as people and government moved Westward, he was instrumental in trying to protect Native American land.  We all know how that turned out, but Crazy Horse is still considered one of the most iconic American Indians to ever live.

The carved outline of his face and hand pointing East toward his Land as he stoically says:

 “My land is where my dead lie buried.”

Crazy Horse statue and the unfinished rock sculpture in the distance. Photo by Kelly Soprych

With an insufficient number of laborers and the continued refusal of the Ziolkowski family to accept government funds for the project, it may very well take another 100 years for to finish the Memorial, if ever.  But to witness the process and the stick-to-it-iveness of the men and woman dedicated to this project is humbling, and grounding, and downright awesome.  That’s one big rock with a hole in the middle that I could see over and over again.

Knowing that the entire Mount Rushmore Memorial fits in Crazy Horse’s hair, I was a little less excited to see four dead presidents carved out of stone, but nonetheless the crazy ride down Iron Mountain Road through tunnels and switchbacks presented ample “wow!” moments for glimpsing Mt. Rushmore.  I wouldn’t bother to pay to get into the actual memorial… Go through Custer State Park and save your $10 bucks for Crazy Horse instead.

The weight and significance of some of the natural and man-made beauties I saw juxtaposed with the lunacy of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally made for one hell of a trip.  Traveling with a big group for the first time since, like, high school, and with such a jam-packed, diverse experience, in one week I witnessed the best and worst of America, and the best and worst in myself.

I don’t think I’d really change anything about my time in the Black Hills, other than to have a little more of it.  When in Rome you throw a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain to guarantee you’ll some day return to Rome.  Gazing up at the profile of Crazy Horse from the veranda of his museum, I threw a penny over my shoulder, hoping that the same holds true for the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Custer Things To Do on raveable

Beer, tattoos, boobs, and Jesus

photo by Kelly Soprych

That pretty much sums up Sturgis, SD and the Black Hills Motorcycle Rally. The juxtaposition of sex and Christianity is confusing. The storefront windows with naked women getting their boobs painted is even more confusing.

The Sturgis rally is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

It’s sort of like the Gay Pride Parade but with no parade and more bandanas. Oh, and a LOT more motorcycles. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is solid proof that the Wild West still exists. It’s a whooping good time is what it is…. a chance to completely let down all your defenses and, if you choose, get laid in almost any location or situation. And now that I’ve seen it, I can say that I have, and I probably don’t need to go back.

One of the reasons I like vintage pin-ups so much is the suggestion of sex without the reality of it. Let me be blunt: women in chaps, a beaded top, and a muffin top isn’t sexy, but Sturgis is a man’s game – that’s for sure – so what do I know…

The “welcome women riders” tent had pink studded t-shirts for sale, a bike on training wheels where “girls” can try what it feels like to ride a real motorcycle (!), and a tent selling low-calorie beer.


taking in the whole scene was WELL worth it, and all the vendors, purveyors, and even the attendees were actually really nice. I think Sturgis really wants its tough, Wild West persona, but it’s more like a bunch of dudes who love motorcycles and music, and are looking for an excuse to let their hair down with like-minded men (and a few women too).

The prices were cheaper than any other festival-type-thingey I’ve attended, the weather was fine, and if you find yourself near the Black Hills the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is a must-do for your bucket list. Just don’t forget to bring cash and your ass-less chaps and beaded top.

Starbucks Around the World: Sturgis, SD

I wasn’t AT ALL expecting to come across a Starbucks at the Black Hills Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, SD.  A five dollar latte just doesn’t really “go” with the whole – tough guys, topless women, Harley scene at the rally.  So I literally squealed when I saw this little green flag with that beautiful siren proudly flying on Main Street in Sturgis.  It wasn’t exactly a Starbucks, it was a beverage vendor who “proudly serves Starbucks coffee.” Usually I would scoff at this, but the vendors were a really nice guy from Michigan and his dad, and he gave me this vanilla frappuccino  free just because I’m from the Midwest.  So that gets you a healthy tip, and a big thumbs up from me.

Sturgis or Bust!

photo by Kelly Soprych

There’s something about road trips that makes me more more patriotic.  Especially if I don’t have to go through Indiana or Nebraska (no offense, but your states are pretty boring to drive through).  Taking a road trip on a motorcycle, however, has been downright religious.

I have the luxury of riding as a passenger, so I get all of the rewards of traveling by motorcycle with none of the responsibility, and fewer bugs in my teeth.  When asked what I was going to do for 2 days sitting on a bike, I jokingly said I’d find the meaning of life, but when we hit a thunderstorm and continued to ride through it, I got into this weird meditative place that was a combination of “don’t fall off the bike Lauren” and pure contentment.  Don’t get me wrong… raindrops going 65mph feel like little shards of glass hitting your face that is anything but pleasant. But my face, hands, wet feet and sore butt eventually settled into the rain and embraced it as part of the journey.

I wondered if the Buddha would have come up with something different had he been riding on a motorcycle through the rain instead of sitting under a tree.  Either way, the message is pretty much the same: Sit still, follow the path and eventually you’ll reach clearer skies.

I knew that riding motorcycles was cool, but getting a taste of the culture surrounding it is downright awesome – and not unlike the kinship I experience as a bike rider.  But to return to my point above there’s something distinctly American (in a good way) about traveling in a pack of strong, independent women across beautiful landscapes with the wind in our faces and the clouds so close you could reach out and grab ’em.

And don’t worry, mom, I’ve been wearing my helmet.

Preparing for Sturgis, and other great reasons to buy chaps

I’m about to embark on a trip I NEVER imagined I’d take.

That’s right.  I’m headed to Sturgis next Saturday!  Because, you know, I totally embody biker chick.

I’m so excited to visit a part of the country I’ve never seen, and on a method of travel I’ve never done.  I’ll be hitching a ride on the back of a Harley to journey the 1,000 miles from Chicago over two days.  I’m pretty sure my adductors will be ripped by the time I get back, and I’ve got my vintage helmet and goggles on the way from Amazon.

To chap, or not to chap? Lubbock, TX, 1940–photo by Hansel Mieth

What exactly does one wear in Sturgis?  I’ve been using Pinterest to gather ideas and inspiration for all things South Dakota, but perhaps what I’m most torn on is chaps.

  • Do I buy them?
  • Can I pull them off?
  • Would I regret not having them?

I can think of a lot of reasons to have chaps in my life.  Like Halloween and leather parties*.  With their anti-chafing capacity I may just start working out in them.

But seriously, what do you think?  Do I make a lukewarm attempt to fit in by buying something I’ll likely never wear again?  Sometimes when I try to fit in I actually fit in less than I would by otherwise just being myself.

The question that I’m posing to the universe is: Are chaps one of those things like fringe that simply fulfills some sort of style code or do they actually serve a purpose that I’ll find useful on this adventure?

So far my plan is to try and make it out there in jeans, and if my pants (and inner thighs, for that matter) suffer to the point that chaps make sense, I’m sure that the variety increases the further West I get.  But I could certainly be persuaded to buy them now if someone with experience said I should have them to save me 1,000 miles of discomfort.


*Disclaimer: I have not been, nor do I intend to go to a leather party.  But then, I never thought I’d be going to Sturgis either.