Riding the Roller Coaster of Trip Planning

As a graduate student at the IAA, it is essential to take a step back and have fun with your classmates every once and a while. That fun should not be prohibitively expensive. Here is how we planned a fantastic trip on a budget. 

Selecting a Destination

The first step to planning a trip is to select a destination. You can either be doing this selection as an individual or as a small group, but a group larger than a couple of people can become unwieldy. There are several important factors to consider when making this decision: 

  • Where do you want to go? 
  • When do you want to go?
  • How far are you willing to travel?
  • And how much would you like to spend? 

As you consider these questions, make a list of locations and score them for each criterion. You can decide if you want a place that matches all of your criteria to some extent, or one that meets one or two criteria really well, but may stretch another criterion. 

For example, I really wanted to go to a theme park, and Carowinds in Charlotte is not too far from Raleigh; however, it is a bit expensive. As the trip planner, you have a lot of leeway with choosing a destination that suits you, so be sure to choose a place YOU want to go. You are the cheerleader for the trip; you need to be excited about it. 

12 students in front of Carowinds sign

Spreading the Word

After you have selected a destination, it is time to spread the word. Your first instinct of how to spread the word will be by sending out a message on Slack about the trip. This is a good place to start, but there are some issues.

  • People may not check every Slack channel and may miss the message.
  • People may like the message, indicating they are interested, but not be willing to commit.
  • People may want to go, but be unwilling to commit and therefore not like a message.

Slack may be a great place to start; however, you will need to follow up in person. Speaking to people face-to-face is the best way to gauge interest and answer questions that people will have about the trip. After speaking to people and answering questions, you now need a way of keeping track of who is coming. A Google Form is a great option. They take minutes to make and are quick to fill out and allow you to get more details from the people coming to help you plan the perfect event. The Google Form will also add a level of friction that will sort out the people who are less interested, as filling out a Google Form feels like a bigger commitment than just liking a Slack message. 

Getting a Deal

When planning the trip, one of the biggest reasons people will not go is because of cost. In order to alleviate this issue, look for group rates on the destination’s website. If it is a location you may want to return to, look into season passes. Take the time to look into ways to save money. Even if you don’t mind, saving an extra $10 may be the difference for some people being able to attend the trip. Finally, if you are going to a theme park, keep in mind food is quite expensive in the park. If you want to save money, but still get a full day at the park, I would recommend eating breakfast on the way into the park and then dinner as you leave.

Coordinating Rides

Many of your classmates, especially your international classmates, will not have cars, and rides will need to be organized. You should make an extra effort to reach out to international students for any trip you are planning and ensure that you will have a way to get them there. Beyond making the trip more accessible, carpooling saves money for everyone.

The 12 students who went to Carowinds were able to fit into 2 cars. They spent a total of about $100 on gas to travel from Raleigh to Charlotte and back. Had the 12 students all traveled in pairs, the cost would have been about triple. So, how should you go about organizing carpools? When you have people fill out an interest form, be sure to have them mention if they can drive or need a ride and how many people they can bring. In addition to this, have people say when they would prefer to leave and return. The person planning the event should then coordinate rides with people who want to be on the same timetable.

For the Carowinds trip, one car left at 4 to go study for their SAS exam, whereas the other car left closer to 6. This allowed individuals in both cars to attend and return to Raleigh on their timetable. 

Planning for Next Time

Reflecting back on the trip, there were a few things that could have been done better. Several students said, “Oh, I didn’t know that people were going to Carowinds.” This indicates to me that my outreach needed to be better. People who don’t check Slack and people in the other cohort had not heard about the trip. Be sure to reach out to people you do not know, especially the other cohort.

Beyond this, the trip could be made more fun as a bonding activity with better planning of activities before and after the park. This could be as simple as breakfast and dinner spots, or could be something like adding a movie or concert after the amusement park. For longer distance trips, it often feels like you need more activities to justify the travel time.

The final thing that could be improved comes back to communication. As I was selling the trip to people, they often were unsure of what Carowinds is. If people do not know what the destination is, then they will often respond by saying they’re not going rather than asking about the destination. It is your job to communicate what the place is. Don’t assume that your audience knows anything about the destination. Tell people what the place is, what the best things to do there are, etc. People are more willing to go somewhere if they know a bit about it. 

When planning a trip, take the extra time to plan and lead the trip, and you will be rewarded with a better experience.

Columnist: Jason Blaisdell