For us Girl Scouts of Northern California, one of our most anticipated events of the year is Golden Gate Bridging (also known as GGB), where we celebrate our girls bridging from Juniors to Cadettes with an actual bridge crossing and party!

Each year, over 6,000 Girl Scouts and adult volunteers converge on San Francisco to trek across the Golden Gate Bridge and participate in festivities on Crissy Field as they celebrate their transition to the “older girl” side of Girl Scouting. As you might imagine, GGB is a prime opportunity to mingle with sister Girl Scouts from California and beyond. In fact, the event attracts a larger audience each and every year, with troops traveling from all over the United States, and even internationally, to bridge with us. And what’s a Girl Scout gathering without SWAPS?! They’re the perfect memento to collect and look back on later in your Girl Scout career and exchanging SWAPS is a great way to break the ice as you meet new friends from near and far.

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What are SWAPS?

SWAPS (which stands for “Special Whatchamacallits Affectionately Pinned Somewhere”) are small handmade tokens of friendship that Girl Scouts exchange when they meet girls from other troops at events, camp, or other gatherings. Design and materials vary widely, but there are a few things all SWAPS should have in common: they should be small, hand-crafted using inexpensive materials (like recycled bottle caps, cotton balls, foam sheets, pony beads), attachable (usually with a safety pin), and have your troop number written on them so that recipients will be able to recall who they received the gift from.

Did you know? According to GSUSA, SWAPS made their first appearance at national Girl Scout Senior Roundups in the 1950s or 1960s and quickly became a Girl Scout tradition.

Never made SWAPS before? Read through the short guide below from GSUSA to help your girls in making special whatchamacallits to affectionately pin on their friends, new and old. Are you and your troop SWAPS making pros? Click here to skip the basics and jump down to Golden Gate Bridging SWAPS suggestions and tips!

SWAPS Basics (from GSUSA)

SWAPS should:

  • Tell something about the givers or their group. (Girls may include their address or email information so others can write to them.)
  • Represent the givers’ country, community, or local Girl Scout council.

Tips for SWAPS Givers

Girls should:

  • Think about the kind of SWAPS they would like to receive from someone else.
  • Try not to spend a lot of money. Consider making something from donated or recycled material.
  • Be creative, and take time to make hand-crafted SWAPS. (Include directions for making them if it is a craft project that can be replicated.)
  • Try to have one for each event participant and staff member.
  • Plan ahead so there’s time to make them.
  • Make SWAPS that can be worn, used, or displayed.
  • Ask their group or service unit for help, if needed, in putting SWAPS together.
  • Make them portable. Remember, they must be carried or shipped ahead to the event, where other girls will be carrying them away.

What to Do with SWAPS

Girls can:

  • Include them with thank-you letters to sponsors and those who helped with a travel event.
  • Keep them in a scrapbook, memory box, or shadow box.
  • Use them to make a quilt or other textile project.
  • Put pins and patches on a hat or jacket.
  • Start a council best-of-SWAPS collection.

SWAPS Safety and Etiquette

Girls should:

  • Never refuse to swap with another person.
  • Swap face-to-face, especially if exchanging addresses or email information.
  • Avoid using glass or sharp objects in SWAPS.
  • Follow all Safety Activity Checkpoints guidelines.
  • Avoid using food products, unless they are individually wrapped.

Golden Gate Bridging SWAPS Ideas

Girl Scouts go a little wild when it comes making and giving SWAPS at Golden Gate Bridging! Check out this volunteer showing off all the SWAPS she collected at Golden Gate Bridging 2011:

One of my personal favorite SWAPS displays was actually on the windshield of one of the park’s security trucks—it quickly filled with SWAPS as Girl Scouts passed by after crossing the Bridge!

When making SWAPS for Golden Gate Bridging, you can choose a theme unique to your troop, a Girl Scout related theme, or something related to GGB. This once-in-a-lifetime event is a chance to make them extra special. Below are some ideas and photos to inspire you, and be sure to check out the resources linked at the end of this post!

Idea bank:

  • Camp/outdoors – flowers, tent, cabins, camp shirt, arrow quiver, fire, s’mores, miniature beach
  • California/San Francisco pride – Golden Gate Bridge, state shape, California poppy, license plate, redwood trees, fog in a jar, fortune cookie
  • Girl Scouts – badges, vests, sashes, hand shaped in the Girl Scout sign, Girl Scout Cookies, Juliette Gordon Low quote
  • Whimsy – lollipops, fake mustaches, smiley face keychains, rainbows

How many SWAPS should we make?

Opinions vary on the quantity, but the short answer is A LOT. Thousands of girls will be roaming around, and swapping is a highlight. Make sure your Girl Scouts are armed with at least one hundred per girl, and many previous attendees caution to have more.

Some troop leaders suggest creating several different designs, so that if, while playing games and activities on Crissy Field, one of your girls meets another girl who’s already exchanged SWAPS with someone from your troop, they still have a unique design to trade. One way you can ensure variety is to have each girl make individual SWAPS, instead of troop SWAPS. That way the girls can also trade within your troop if they have any extras, and will have a memento from their bridging buddies.

We suggest each girl have two gallon sized plastic zip-closure bags: one to carry the SWAPS they made and one to carry the new ones they collect.

Ready, set, go!

Dive into these resources for more SWAPS inspiration, supplies, and how-to’s. Remember each girl needs to have a large quantity, so pick something together that you have enough time to make and get started now.

Did your troop make SWAPS for Golden Gate Bridging in past years? Are you and your troop expert SWAPS makers? Share your sage advice, design ideas, and tips in the comments!

Ash Redfield—Ash is the Digital Marketing and Social Media Coordinator for Girl Scouts of Northern California, where they’re constantly planning, creating, and managing awesome content for social media. After graduating from Mills College (a women’s college in Oakland), Ash joined the Girl Scout movement where they love being part of a team that helps girls unlock their potential and continuing that legacy of women’s leadership. They have spent much of their life exploring Northern California, especially the Bay Area, so when not behind a blue-lit screen, you’ll probably find them hiking through a local park or at a café planning their next road trip.

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