The Secret Sauce For A Mission Trip Playlist

The night before we returned home from our most recent mission trip, I lay awake assembling a playlist for the next day’s six hour van ride.

Here’s what I ended up with.

It was a rousing success. For over three hours, students sang along, remarking how much they liked the playlist. A sixth grader asked how he could get it. Answer: come on the next mission trip.

I am glad to share with you the secret sauce.

Everything is upbeat. Nothing is offensive or embarrassing. Most of the songs are decades old.

The selections fall roughly into three categories:

  1. Songs I like and think are fun for road trips but that are not widely known by middle schoolers (“101,” “You Don’t Treat Me No Good No More,” “Dreams”)
  2. Songs the group had learned in the van the previous four days (“Don’t Shuffle Me Back,” “Odds Are”)
  3. Songs I had caught people singing to themselves at some point on the trip (“Take On Me,” “You’ll Be Back,” “Elvira”)

That last one was key. I explicitly asked students for their favorite songs, and most couldn’t tell me. But when songs came on that I knew they knew because I had overheard them singing it, though they didn’t know I had heard them singing it, their faces lit up. It was super fun.

It’s a little frivolous, sure, but sing along music substantially enhances a long van ride with middle schoolers, both for them and for me.


The album Ladies And Gentlemen: Barenaked Ladies And The Persuasions served me very well on this trip. It was my default any time we were in the van. By the fourth day, kids were clamoring for “Don’t Shuffle Me Back” in particular when we went anywhere.

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