Road Trips rule!

First of all, yeah….so MUCH has happened in the past 4 months that I have not blogged about, and I’ve been hearing about it from friends all over. I owe some posts on the following topics, and they are coming:

  • My new housing situation (Yay!)
  • The Happiness that replaces Culture Shock
  • Road trip to Bobo and Banfora (waterfalls, forests and great music)
  • Road trip to Nazinga (elephants and deer and 4WD roads)
  • The challenges and rewards of life as a Tech Director in a West African country with minimal connectivity and dusty devices
  • Al Quaeda attack in Ouagadougou; which is worse…the terrorists or the mythology about terror attacks?
  • Culturally fantastic Mask Festival in Dédougou

It’s just so strange how, every day, you feel like nothing really worthwhile is happening, but then after a week you realize that you missed a post on a Prime event. Then it happens again, and again, and pretty quickly you have a list like that one above, with some world-class events worth reflecting on.

So yeah, it’s coming. Promise.

MEANWHILE, here’s a reflective post on something I know a lot about that is timely and pertinent.

I’m headed off to South Africa with three colleagues for Spring Break in a month. Very psyched….going to take advantage of the insanely cheap exchange rates, get a SUV, do a big drive around and visit some places that I have been to in the past, see some new places, but best of all we’re going to be somewhere that has moisture and green, and I get to travel with friends.

Over the years I have done a LOT of road trips (and river trips) with friends, and nothing can undermine the good vibe worse than money issues. People like to pretend they wont happen, and in the good spirits of planning, it’s easy to be panglossian about it but I have seen the spirit of community fall apart so many times when people felt things were going  awry with the costs. So I want to put out there the way I have learned to deal with trip finances so that overanalytical people like me, and go-with-the-flow people like most of my friends, all enjoy the smooth sailing.

Its an ugly job, but someone has to do it.

To share the workload of bookings and opportune pre-trip purchases, often different people lay out funds, credit card or cash. So someone gets appointed as the bookkeeper to keep track of all that. Receipts are not necessary, but of course honesty is. I just keep notes on a paper or spreadsheet, and before the trip departs everyone pays each other a bit to level those expenses off. It might be good to ask people to clarify any pretrip expenses with each other, also, to avoid having to spilt the costs of some inane purchase.

It’s pretty easy to level up: if Abe, Ben, Cal and Dee spend 100, 200, 250 and 450 each, that makes 1000 total spent. Each person should have paid 250, so Abe gives Dee 150, Ben gives Dee 50 and Cal is all set.

Once pre-trip expenses are squared up, that gets put away and is done, never to be resurrected again. This is important, because I have seen people get tired and punchy and angry after too many late nights and greasy food and tension, and arguments start invoking “well, I paid for the car and the registration for the hotel last month, so you have to go find an ATM and pay for the gas today…”. Best to avoid all that and close the books on ancient debts once they are settled.

Then, when the trip gets underway, everyone puts a set amount in a pouch for trip costs. Something substantial, that guarantees there is leftover money at the end. For a week-long road trip like the one we’re going on, it will probably be about $500 each, or more. This money pays for all group incidental expenses: gas, tolls, entry fees, hotels or camps that are equally shared, etc. Not food, as people eat different amounts, unless its agreed upon. Then at the end of the trip, the leftover is evenly distributed to everyone. This is far better than asking people to ‘throw another hundred in the pot’ several times on the drive, or having that old “I bought the last tankful, and you and him split the tankful before that, but mine was $23 more than yours, so you need to give me…” etc.

Tickets and repairs is a tricky one, but can be the most inflammatory one. Nothing can fragment a trip faster than one person getting a speeding or parking ticket, laying out $350, and then getting isolated by everyone else on the trip who refuse to contribute. Or having the car get damaged and suddenly everyone is a stranger to the driver.

So the policy I often put out there is this:

  • Everybody shares speeding and parking tickets. This shared liability gives everyone shared responsibilities: passengers can tell the driver to slow down, or veto a choice of parking spot, etc, since they will split the ticket. This also goes for auto damages that were not the driver’s fault (getting sideswiped, or having someone hit your car in the parking lot, a rock hitting the windshield, or a blowout).
  • The driver pays for damages caused by driver neglect. This means hitting a road barrier, or backing into a tree or something. Their bad, their pay.

I’ve been painfully bitten by the lack of these driver rules before. In fact, in one day in England, I got seriously spanked and all my passengers walked away free. I rented the car for the day, so I was the driver. On the way back from the coast, with three friends in the car, we spotted a festival in a small town, so we drove over. Parking was pretty scarce and time was limited, and everyone was like “just park anywhere!” so I parked in a no-parking zone. When we came back, I had a $100 parking ticket, and everyone just laughed and said “have fun with that!” Of course, I was pretty frustrated, but they were just laughing at me so it wasn’t going anywhere.

Then on the way back, as we approached an overpass with a camera, some guy in a Porsche blew past me in the slow lane doing maybe 75 kph over the speeding limit. I mean, he BLEW past me…and of course the camera flashed. My thought was that the still image was going to show MY car in the fast lane, and they might end up ticketing ME instead. Well, a few months later, a fee for $450 showed up on my credit card. I called the car agency, and yeah….they got a speeding ticket and their fine print said they just pass the fee along to the renter. So I ended up eating $550 in fines in that one day for things that were not my fault, and there was no way the other folks on the trip were going to pitch in. I rented it, I drove it, I pay for it.

Conversely, on my road trip to Sweden a few summers ago with my buddy Kevin, we agreed on these guidelines. And yes, we got a speeding ticket and a flat tire. The speeding ticket we shared because we don’t even know who got it (it was a credit card charge from the rental company) and I paid for the flat tire because I caused it by hitting an obstacle. And there is no ill-will about any of it; I even endure his jibes about it because we agreed beforehand to the rules.

Anyway, I would suggest that anyone who does frequent road trips think about these Road Trip rules to keep the friction down and avoid any unforeseen surprises. Or if you have better suggestions, pass them along.

More from Burkina and about the road trip soon.

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3 responses to “Road Trips rule!

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