Autocrating Group Travel

by Chimene des CinqTours

And the traveling populace of Adiantum

NOTE: This was originally written over 22 years ago, so many specifics will be off (i.e. price of gasoline in cost calculations!), but I think the principles will still be helpful. prd 3-Aug-2004

Travel in large or small groups is a fact of Society life. Money, younger members who don't have money and/or transport, and the sometimes ridiculous distances involved in travel to events are all strong inducements to cooperation. Here follow some points that may smooth the way.

The first basic principle of group travel (and of other aspects of Society life) is: self-respecting people don't mooch. Don't take advantage of your new, enthusiastic ones -- they'll wise up in time and you may lose them entirely. If you're one of the enthusiastic new ones -- in An Tir, self-respecting people don't mooch. If you're an enthusiastic new group just building yourselves and finding out how things work -- in An Tir, self-respecting people don't mooch. Not mooching usually consists of paying (cash money) a share of the trip expenses: gas, rental of vehicle or wear-and-tear on private car, bridge tolls, parking, and any other legitimate expenses of the traveling part of the trip.

However, fear not: arrangements can and often are made on other than a cash basis; this is known as the barter system. If all your riders are non-drivers, they may pay the driver's share; time or skills may be traded for cash shares in either mundane or Society context, for example, Squire Swetsox will pay your way for a pair of pierced-work harness buckles for his armor (a deal like this might even get you to more than one event, don't underestimate the value of -your- time and skill).

The second principle is to decide early, if not first, who will be the autocrat of the expedition, and what the autocrat's limits will be. The primary options are:

  1. one person will be taking the responsibility for renting the vehicle (involving their personal car insurance) and the majority of the driving, or using their personal vehicles. In this case, you have a single autocrat and, after that person has conducted the preliminary discussions and decisions have been arrived at, his or her word will be law on all further points. This is the trade-off you make in this situation--that one person is taking all the responsibility, they are compensated by a certain amount of control, or
  2. group effort: multiple drivers, much discussion on every small thing that comes up, etc.

The pre-trip discussions remain pretty much the same, see below.

Here follows much miscellaneous information; arranged roughly by subject.

Equipment consists mainly of the vehicle. This will probably be rented. If your folks have vehicles, they may be old, delicate, too small for the number interested in making the trip, or any combination of the above. Rental agencies often operate in arcane and devious ways; though you may find one run by real people if you're lucky. Many of the more paranoid aspects of the following check sheet are based, unfortunately, on grim experience. Others appear to be plain common sense, but judged on how long they took us to think of, or figure out ...

Agency Avis Dollar
phone # 688-9053 485-8980
address Airport Rd. 211 W. 6th
(you won't have to look it up again)
Agency hours 6am-10pm 7 days 8-6 M-F, 8-5 Sat, 9-3 Sun
Name of who you're talking to, and what shift they're on Linda, 10am Mon Jerry, mngr.
(evidence for later; does this person sound like they know what they're talking about, maybe it's her first day?, maybe you want to ask for the supervisor)
Does the agency guarantee delivery of the model you've reserved? rate is guar., but not model size and manual/automatic, but not model
(This can be important! If you reserve a van on Tuesday and on Friday "Oh, we don't have any vans left. What? Oh we never guarantee delivery." ... ulcers!)
Is there parking at the agency for your car?

(or will you have to arrange to ferry your car home to park)

airport pay parking yes on street
Does the agency want to see all the drivers' licenses? yes insurance only covers one driver
What are the weekend-rate hours? 6pm Thurs-noon Mon "anytime" Friday-3 pm Mon
Gas mileage (very general) very specific, 40 mpg & down)
(you will have to push to get even estimates. If you can get any information, check it later against your trip records. There's one agency here that always overestimates.)
Zone charge no no
(especially with used-car rental, there may be a rate change if you go out-of-state; or you may not be able to go out-of-state)
Mileage fee no no
(This is where you get those neat rental rates: $2 a day and 50¢ a mile. Occasionally one of these, for a particular trip, may really work out, but not usually for the distances we travel. The partials sometimes work, too (this is usually, first 50 miles each day free, x per mile thereafter))
Which credit cards do they accept? Master, Visa, AmEx, Carte Bl. AmEx, Master, Visa, Carte B., Diners
(don't accept "majors", make them give you the names)
Do they want a deposit? If you're using a credit card? no no
If you're paying cash? yes-total rental plus 20% yes, renter must be employed, local $40/day-$80/3 days
(rental agencies are leery of cash -- they see the use of cash as the mark of the vagrant or shifty. Why aren't you using your good old American debt machine (credit card) like a normal person, they wonder. They will want a credit check that may take several days and involve a trip to their office to fill out their form. So start your phone calling on Tuesday, not Thursday.)
Additional insurance rates $5/day collision $2/day personal carries state minimum, no additional available
(Important!!! The rental companies' insurance, and yours, may have a $500 deductible -- the extra coverage, for the money, could be invaluable.
Weekend rates 14.95 for "economy"
compact 18.88/day 17.95/day
medium 23.95 19.95 for comp. sta. wag.
large 25.95
station wagon 0 21.95
van 0 $19+.19/mile, when available

If you have a dragon healer among the passengers, you may want to try a used-car rental. This will definitely be cheaper, but it has its drawbacks. The major rental people can usually be counted on for a reasonable amount of upkeep on their cars -- we once had a used rental whose front wheels tried to fall off for 400 miles (the previous renter had had a flat and the agency had fixed the flat but hadn't checked to see that the changed tire was properly put on; it threw both sides off), then a flat, and that was only half the trip. Being 300 miles from home, and 200 miles from your friends, at 1 am Sunday night, in a car you can't trust, is a needlessly nasty way to travel. If you do want to try a used rental you may notice that there's a pattern of high deposit ($100), low rent ($9-11/day) for used rentals; low deposit ($20), higher rent ($18-19/day) for newer agency models.

When you pick up your rental, new or used, before you leave the agency, find all the buttons and controls and make sure everything's working. The new Japanese cars seem to be putting all sorts of functions together on the turn-signal stick, for example. If you are using someone's personal car, ask if the owner wants a "wear-and-tear" contribution. You (the group) will be putting miles on his car, on his tires, on the engine oil; perhaps a good minimum would be the cost of an oil change. (I don't have a lot to say about this because it comes up so seldom here, but think about it if it appears to be a valid consideration in your situation.)

Towing. One of the people in our usual travel group always brings an extra $50 in case we should need a tow (none of us are Triple A -- that's an option for towing); its what she wants to contribute to the "security cushion" for the trip because she's not mechanical and couldn't help heal the dragon herself. It's really nice if someone in the group already knows how to change a tire on the car you've rented. That's something to put on the buttons-and-controls check mentioned above -- find the spare and all the tools, figure out how to release them from their storage and how to use them, before you leave the lot.

Breakdowns, of course, often seem to happen at dusk or after dark. What I'm about to say may sound so obvious as to be insulting, but never underestimate anyone's capacity for foolish action in unusual circumstances. You, driver, might not think your riders would need to be told, but keep an eye on them: if you're stopped on the highway or on the shoulder, keep your riders in the car or in the ditch -- off the road in the dark. You may have teenagers who haven't traveled much before and have little of the road sense that experience brings. You may have people waking up after you have stopped, getting out while still half asleep to see what's going on, etc. (This hasn't happened here, but I'm sensitized to the possibility because we recently had an incident with one of the fraternitys on the local campus, a hazing, involving pledges in the dark, near the road, two of them were seriously injured by passing traffic when they got on the road.) Like I said, never underestimate anyone's capacity for foolish action in unusual circumstances.

Maps. Unless it's someplace you've been eighty million times, and even then, bring your road maps along. Invest in city maps of the large metropolitan areas you'll be exploring, usually in the dark, in the wee small hours of the morning. (Rentals don't come with road maps, or even operator's manuals--a major reason for buttons-and-controls-in-the-lot, see above.)

Take your maps and decide, long before you leave, which route you're going to take, and what, if any, side trips you're going to make.

Trip book. A year ago we started something that has already proved itself invaluable. As you make the trips, for each of your regular long-distance routes, make a page (we now have Adiantum-to-Lions Gate, for van and for sedan, Adiantum-to-Purgatorio for station wagon, etc.) showing what kind of vehicle, rental rates. As you go, keep your gas cost and mileage records. You can put down point-to-point or total mileages and times; you will have all the information, on one page, that you'll need for figuring true shares, and share refunds. For example, the Adiantum-to-Lions Gate, 5-person-Dodge page tells me that the trip one-way took 9 hours, total (round-trip) mileage was 950 miles, the average gas mileage was 13.8 mpg, that we got gas in Chehalis and Vancouver (only one gas stop), what the rental, insurance and total deposit was, what our initial share contribution was, what the true share worked out to and what the refund was. Now, next time we make that trip all that information is already there, the constants (950 miles, 9 hours) and a basis for comparison of variables (rental on a different size vehicles, gasoline prices).

You'll want to eventually collect the information for each trip in several different vehicles (van, compact).

Time. Part of your planning is estimating how long the trip will take. Here are some basic "fast and dirty" numbers:

freeway travel -- 50 mph (this assumes some vague adherence to 55 mph speed limit; that is, at 55-65, you'll cover 50 miles in an hour)

non-freeway highway -- 45 mph

20 min. every 4 hours for gas stop

20 min. every 3 hours for restroom stop

1 1/2 hour for a restaurant meal stop

1/2 hour per location when dropping off and picking up your riders from their billets at a non-camping event

1/2 hour per location when picking up and packing, and delivering home and unpacking on the home end of any trip

1 hour between stated time of departure (from home, and from site both) and "on the road" -- this last is a sort of unavoidable fudge-factor; sometimes it's not so bad, sometimes it's worse.

As with the money, if you plan for the worst possible time factor, it may not be that bad and if it is, you'll have fewer ulcers 'cause you're somewhat prepared for it. Where people and time come together, things get really interesting. Know your party. This information is usually the eventual result of painful experience. Know who is chronically late, who is chronically punctual. (The lates may be fairly mellow, the punctual probably not.) How much ulceration are they going to be to each other, and therefore to the group as a whole. Can you compensate by tailoring departure times: If you want to be on the road by 5, tell the punctuals 5.30, the lates 3.30 and cross your fingers -- you may make it to "on the road" by 6. Are you going to have to be a hardnose? If you have a particularly recalcitrant late, someone who's always 5-6 hours late, this may become your only protection. Simply decide, and tell that person clearly (make sure you do this) that from now on you're only going to wait 1/2 hour, and then you're going to leave. Then do it. If you have clearly warned them, they won't have any excuse, and this tactic, harsh though it may seem, may eventually cure them. One lives in hope; or at least removes a source of grief from the rest of the operation.

Get all your scheduling details worked out well beforehand and make sure everybody really knows what's going on. What order are you going to be picking people up in? This can depend both on their schedules (high school's out before most people get off work, for example) and on packing details -- if the long tent has to go on last, for example, you pick up the baron last. Does one of your main drivers like to sit and talk to the locals till three hours after everyone else has left the site, then drive all night, 'cause he likes to drive, and night driving doesn't bother him, and he doesn't have to be at his job til Wednesday afternoon? Find out, before you leave, if this pattern will mess up all the other passengers or if they can or will adjust. (Just because his lady can sleep in the car and make it through work Monday, doesn't mean the other folks who have to be at work, or school, Monday can operate that way. But you have to decide these things before you leave -- it won't work to start yelling at him on Sunday afternoon, he won't understand, and he'll be right.)

Teenagers. A large proportion of our current traveling group, and probably of yours, are teenagers. These people are mostly, by definition, under age; this adds at least a quanta to the driver/autocrat's responsibility. It is also possible that they haven't traveled much, if at all, before. They may never have been more than 50 miles from home before. Getting them educated to the responsibilities of civilized travel is something the whole group should be putting energy into. One major aspect of this is getting the idea across that you can't ask at the last minute and expect room to be made. A sign-up sheet in a central location so that people can express interest in particular trips, well in advance, is invaluable. So is the practice of closing that sheet at least 4 days in advance of the trip -- if you aren't on it by then, or haven't talked to the autocrat, with a real good excuse for why you won't know til Thursday night, you're o ut of luck. Another aspect is that people who deliberately won't learn to drive, for whatever reason, no matter how well they pay their cash money shares, are eventually going to edge into the mooch column because they're not doing their share of the driving. Another aspect of civilized travel behavior that is especially relevant to teenagers, but it applies to all riders, is the realization that, especially when you're short of drivers, you're probably going to have tired, cranky drivers on the return trip. People who worked all week, drove one way, had a hard weekend, and now have to drive back and go to work, often don't appreciate having young people who are still full of piss and vinegar ('cause they played all weekend) bouncing off the walls (thus speaks a grumpy old lady). Riders, observe your driver, think about what I just said, and try to find something quiet to do with all that adrenaline. Another point that seems to take a while to get across to the younger riders, who haven't had much experience handling money and/or traveling, is that what you pay your share with is cash money. This comes up more often on smaller trips, it seems, but in any case, no gas station is going to take anybody's check, and the last thing you need before getting on the road is a last second trip to the driver's bank to convert those pieces of paper into a usable form.

This is not particularly relevant to the travel aspect, but this is the logical place to take care of it -- before you leave is the time to make sure your teenagers have their waivers with them, and signed by the appropriate parent/guardian.

Borders. If you're going to be crossing the US/Canada border, make sure any foreign students in your party have the proper papers for getting back to the home side of the border (a multiple entry visa for returns to the US). Another point for border crossing -- make sure you find out all about bringing liquor back before you try it. [2007 -- this is all MUCH more complicated, post 9/11 & Patriot Act. People may have to have passports! We haven't group-traveled out of the country to an event since all this new stuff came up, so you're on your own!]

Medical. Anyone in the party who gets car-sick? It's their responsibility to have their own Dramamine or whatever. Anyone in the party with a medical condition that could create an emergency-type problem? If Marya Ivanovna is subject to anaphylactic shock, it's her responsibility to make sure that her friend Caitlin knows how to work the bee-sting kit, in case Marya should bee stung. In other words, for anything predictable, you provide your own equipment and a friend who will take the responsibility and knows how to medic it. As driver/autocrat, this is another thing where you may save yourself a lot of stress if you make a -notable- point of this.

Food. You will always be driving through at least two meal times, possibly more on really long trips. Are you (group) going to be packing lunches to eat in the car (individually or potluck; if potluck, coordinate it a little)? Are you going to stop for hamburgers (fast food) or junk-food-while-you-gas-up? Are you going to want to stop for 1-2 hours for a restaurant meal, because "that's part of what makes a trip"? Discuss and decide beforehand; then make sure everybody gets the same information. (An autocrat spends as much time on the phone as driving.)

Space. This is a people-equipment interface. You have to figure in a reasonable amount of baggage space per person when you're deciding what size vehicle to rent. Know your party. Know who will be going to a 3-day camping event with a bookbag full of sandwiches and their cloak, and who will be going to a 6-hour demo with half their worldly possessions in tow, and all of it fragile. Find out in advance what special-treatment items are anticipated: musical instruments, a case of scrolls being couriered, subtleties and other crushable foods, delicate costumes, etc. Also remember that people may be coming home with more (certainly other) than they went with.

Is a car-top carrier available from the rental people; if so, will this have an appreciable effect on your gas mileage? If Suzy's mother has a rack you can use, make sure it'll fit the rental before you count on it.

Rest stops. Rule of thumb: on I-5 there are rest areas every 30-35 miles in Oregon, every 45 miles in Washington, 60+ miles in California. Just as the sensible person always takes their own t.p. to an event, always have a roll accessible in the car -- you never know what condition those rest areas are going to be in.

Drivers. How many in the party can drive? How many will drive? How many will want to drive? Are any of these people who you (autocrat) won't want to let drive? (He/she/it thinks they're Mario Andretti; has 27 moving violations; a general space case; likes to drive while lit.) At the moment, Adiantum is doing pretty well: two happy competents, two competents (one a little rusty cause she drives so rarely), one reluctant competent, no hazards. The problem is getting enough of them together on long trips so that no one is unduly overloaded. (A reluctant is someone who can drive but doesn't like to; that's me.)

House Rules for the Vehicle: No drinking. No smoking herbs. (Probably no smoking anything. A car is a confined space. Unless everyone smokes, it will probably be agreed that the nicotine fiends will have to make do with rest stops.)

Money. Money. Money. Now comes the really fun part. If you are not an arithmetically inclined person, find someone who is to help with this, though it can be kept quite simple (if I can keep it straight ...).

When figuring your approximate cost, use the worst possible case (highest prices) figures and try not to forget anything (we recently forgot the cost of the extra insurance and came in exactly on the share estimate money -- too close for comfort). Worst-possible based figures will give you a share that will leave you a little over, probably, and it's nice to have the security of that $10 that's left over when you get back (this is what refunds come from). In any case, the autocrat will probably want to bring an extra $25 as "security cushions" in case of minor emergency or miscalculation. Insurance and prayer are for major calamities. We find it works best to forecast shares, collect cash in advance and pay all expenses out of one envelope. Keep your records in the trip book as you go and you'll end up with your actual costs. After you're home and all expenses are really paid, you refigure to get the actual share, and make any refunds. Or the autocrat collects back the overage that he/she paid for out of his/her own pocket (that's what the $25 is for -- when you projected $125 and expenses came to $145).

Depending on the size of the group and its baggage space allowance, decide on a van, more than one car, combination of rental and private cars. Collect the information from the rental agencies and decide which combination of features and costs is most advantageous for this particular group and trip (remember, cheapest is not necessarily best). This gives you the figures for rental and insurance costs.

Figure out the round trip mileage of your trip. Use the following fast-and-dirty figures to estimate the gas mileage of the model you'll be renting, and your gasoline price-per-gallon. (Use your maps to figure out the trip miles If you don't already have a record in your trip book.) Trip miles divided by miles-per-gallon equals the number of gallons you'll need to make the trip, multiplied by the approximate cost-per-gallon, equals the cost of the gas for the trip. I'll provide an example following the fast-and-dirty figures.

Approximate miles-per-gallon, by model:
VW bug 25-30 mpg
compact, manual transmission 25 mpg
compact, automatic trans. 20 mpg
medium, manual 20 mpg
medium, autom. 16 mpg
large, manual 10-14 mpg
large, autom. 8-12 mpg
VW van/bus 15-18 mpg
other medium van 11-13 mpg
Approximate price-per-gallon: start with the prices in your town, then +10% on freeway in your state (this is freeway exit gas price) +10% in large cities, over prices in smaller towns on the west coast, +10-15% in California, over Oregon prices about equal in Washington (to Oregon prices) -5% in Canada (from WA/OR base)

Example: Lions Gate-Adiantum round trip is 950 miles. Say, 5 people to a camping event means a medium sedan, manual. That's 20 mpg. Gas is $1.40/gal unleaded in Eugene. We'll be adding 10% for freeway and large city gas. That's $1.65/gal. Trip miles (950) divided by mpq (20) equals number of gallons (47.5), multiplied by price-per-gallon ($1.65) equals gasoline cost for the trip ($78.375).

Example of the whole share estimate calculation:

Using figures from the previous example and the rental check sheet at the beginning of the article.

We'll use one of Dollar's compact station wagons, with a three-day deposit $  80.00
No additional for extra insurance  -0-
Gasoline as figured above (a compact sta. wag. will do at least as well as a sedan)  78.37
$ 158.37
divided by 5 equals 31.67 per share and you know there'll be some refund because 3 days rental is only going to be (19.95 x 3 = 59.85) means there ill be at least 20.15 coming back from the deposit.

Refunds from deposits and real gas mileages are where most of your refund moneys come from.

Occasionally you will encounter the fractional share. Fear not, this can be made simple. Say you have yourself and two riders making an Adiantum-to-Madrone round trip. That's 3 shares. And you get a phone call from Three Mountains asking about a ride for one. Your full shares are round trips, about 600 miles. The round trip from Three Mountains is about 400 miles (this is a little over but it makes a nicer number for the example). Therefore, you have 3 and 2/3 shares. lf you had two going from Three Mountains, you'd have 3 and 2/3 and 2/3, or 4 and 1/3 shares.

Now, get out the calculator.

Decide beforehand who will pay for any traffic or parking tickets that may be accumulated on the trip.

One final miscellaneous note: When travelling to non-camping housing, try hard to arrange as few different housing locations as possible, and have those as close as possible to each other, and as close as possible to the event site. (This may create an additional expense; on a recent Adiantum trip phone calls had to be made on the way, because the tickets and housing information had been eaten by various posts offal, and I had to find a place to stash 9 bodies for the night.)

© 1982 Patricia R. Dunham

Last updated 16/3/07.

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