Planning a Trip
A core component of RoboJackets is travel to events and competitions. This article is targeted at Project Managers to assist them in understanding the steps and policies around planning a trip.
- 1 Before you Book
- 2 Making Reservations
- 3 International Travel
Before you Book
Budgeting for Travel
All trips, including an accurate account of all expected expenses, shall be included on the project budget in each annual proposal. This budget might include, but is not necessarily limited to, line items for the following expenses:
- Competition Registration
- Primary Transportation (E.g. A flight or long drive)
- Secondary Transportation (E.g. Rental car or train after a flight)
- Baggage Fees for bags containing RoboJackets property (If flying)
- Customs / Duty Fees (E.g. An ATA Carnet)
- Trip contribution from members (represent as a negative amount)
You should not budget for any of the following:
- Meals or Snacks
- Baggage fees for personal luggage (Unless personal luggage allowances were displaced by RoboJackets bags)
- Anything else listed under the prohibited allocations
As early as feasible, PMs should solicit interest in attending competition from members. The form should contain critical information on the trip (including dates) and at least the following questions:
- Are you interested in attending competition?
- Yes, Maybe, no
- Are you available to attend competition?
- Definitely, Probably, Probably not, No
It is frequently wise to ask additional questions to help select attendees. Examples of additional questions include:
- What subteam are you on?
- How many years have you been in RoboJackets?
- How long have you been at GT?
- How many times have you been to competition before?
Picking Who Will Attend
The final decision as to who will attend a competition is left to the Project Manager. The final number attending competition should be based on the expected attendance from the proposal, adjusted in response to any significant changes in prices.
When selecting a group, it is important to bring as diverse a group as possible. Ideally, it will include members from all disciplines (Software, Electrical, Mechanical) and it will include members from all age groups, including 1st year members. Competition is regularly cited by older members as the moment when RoboJackets became their passion, so it can be a good way to prepare new members. Finally, all team members must be eligible per the RoboJackets Travel policy
Additionally, priority should be given to current and future team leadership (if known).
Once the list is chosen, personally invite each member. Avoid sending out a list or reading names at a meeting. Be prepared to contact alternates as necessary.
At this point, collect all necessary information from the travelers. Depending on the nature of the trip, the information may vary. Additionally, depending on your mode of transportation or competition registration system, it may not be possible to change the travelers after the date of commitment. Provide information on the cost of a given trip prior to this point in the process.
- How do I know if we should fly or drive?
- First, you can look to previous year for precedent. Second, consider if the cargo can all be carried on an airplane (Consider size and chemical composition). Finally, if Flying and Driving Remain an option, drive for trips under 650 miles and fly for trips over 650 miles. This is a loose guideline, and depending on flight and fuel costs, you can decide to justify either decision.
- When do we book a rental car vs using a personal vehicle?
- For out of state trips, it is preferable to use rental cars to reduce risk or burden on an individual member. For in-state trips, generally advisable to use personal vehicles to reduce the workload of leadership.
The School of Mechanical Engineering maintains a fleet of vehicles available for checkout by RoboJackets members who have completed the online safe driving course.
The primary vehicle RoboJackets uses is the SCC F350 in order to tow the trailer. See reserving the F350 for instructions on how to reserve it. Reservations should be made as soon as competition dates are known.
Additionally, the School of Mechanical Engineering has an F150 and two minivans available for checkout. These vehicles are not permitted to leave Georgia, but exceptions have been made under extenuating circumstances. Contact the RoboJackets secretary at least 2 months in advance for assistance booking these vehicles.
Rental cars are typically used when traveling long distance out of state where you are not flying, or after reaching your destination during a long flight if the destination does not have suitable public transit. To use a rental car during a competition trip, the following steps must be taken:
- Determine the exact dates and times you will be needing the rental car and how many cars you will need. Remember to account for when you need to pick up the cars, often the day before the trip, and when you need to return them, often the day after. For trips involving more than 7 people, more than one rental car will be needed as the most common available van size is 7 total people. Some vans have seating for 8, but it depends on the rental car agency.
- Look over the team roster and confirm there is at least one individual going on the trip who has a credit card and is at least 21 years of age. No one under 21 is allowed to rent a car. The individual will be reimbursed by RoboJackets for the expense, but RoboJackets does not have a credit card to use for the rental. It is preferable to have two drivers per vehicle and both must be at least 21. If there is not an individual going that is 21, then another method of transit must be selected or the team roster altered.
- Once the drivers and the number of vehicles are confirmed, the following information should be sent to the administrative assistant assigned to RoboJackets. She will make the reservation in the drivers name. This allows the rental to be associated with Georgia Tech and receive any potential discounts.
- Renter’s Name
- Phone Number
- Credit Card Type
- Credit Card Holder Age
- Email Address (to send you a confirmation)
- Type of Vehicle (Compact, Intermediate, Standard or Full-size)
- Upon confirmation of the rental, the final step is to pick up the car from the selected agency location at the date and time in the confirmation. When completing the rental agreement, you should decline the fuel prepay option and accept the collision and liability insurance coverage.
- At the end of the rental period, return it based on the instructions given by the rental car agency by the assigned date and time with a full tank of gas.
Financial Note: RoboJackets, after reimbursing the individual for the rental, will then submit reimbursement requests based on the allocated travel line items in the SGA bill/budget for the particular competition.
TODO: Will Stuckey
Upon arrival in your destination airport, there are several options for ground transportation. The specific option chosen is dependent on the location and number of travelers. Before considering the options below, please look to see if the event or hotel has any sponsored transportation options. In the past, competitions have run shuttle buses to the airport and/or to the venue or offered free/discounted fares on public transportation. Using on demand ride services (Taxi, Uber, Lyft, etc) should be avoided when practical.
Rental cars are most appropriate for trips to areas lacking public transport or on trips with a high baggage to member ratio, where carrying bags would represent a significant logistical challenge. See rental cars for more information.
Long Distance Trains
In the event that the host city does not have an airport reachable from Atlanta for a reasonable cost, it may be appropriate to take a long distance train. This is typically an option for Europe or Asia. Depending on the trip finances, it may be appropriate for either RoboJackets to buy the tickets or for each member to buy them individually. It is also worth investigating if a railpass is more cost effective than individual tickets. Railpasses are preferred as they offer great flexibility with regards to timing, so flight delays do not result in missing the train. Additionally, if vacation days are being taken at the end of the trip, team members may elect to purchase additional days on their railpass at their own expense.
If the event is in a large city, subway or bus is usually cheapest and most convenient method to get to competition. RoboJackets typically does not cover the cost for subway/bus fares. Do your diligence to identify whether it is cheaper to buy day/week passes over individual tickets. Note that sometimes free or discounted fares will be available to competitors. Check with event organizers for details.
RoboJackets uses all available resources to find the most ideal housing situation for members. In the past, teams have stayed in hotels, hostels, and AirBnBs. Hotel reservations should be made as early as feasible, which is typically as soon as it is known how many people will attend the trip.
RoboJackets typically seeks mid-grade hotels that feature breakfast. A typical room will have two queen beds and will hold four members. Additionally, consider booking suites if they allow getting a lower price/person ratio. It is not advisable to put more than 2 people per bed per room.
Examples of mid-grade hotels include, but are not limited to, La Quinta, Hampton Inn, and Holiday inn. Cost can vary widely based on location, so review financial records from previous years to estimate cost.
While the use of third party booking tools, such as Expedia and Booking.com may assist in finding properties, there are significant risks to using these services. At a minimum, they rarely guarantee room type (king vs 2 queen). Since you do not have a contract directly with the property, dispute resolution is very difficult. Therefore, using these services should be avoided when feasible.
When traveling abroad, it may be most cost effective to stay in a hostel. For larger groups (8+ people), it is usually worthwhile to email the hostel to negotiate a group rate. If at a small hostel and traveling with a larger group, you may be able to negotiate renting the entire hostel for additional privacy. Be aware that some hostels may require wiring money for a deposit. This is something we can do, but use extreme caution. Also be aware that many hostels cannot accept credit cards.
If the hostel does not feature breakfast, but does have a communal kitchen, save money by going to a grocery store and making breakfast. Typically RoboJackets will pay for the food initially and then get reimbursed from travelers upon return.
AirBnBs are rapidly becoming the easiest way to house a medium number of people on a trip and can be more comfortable than a hotel or hostel. Since AirBnB accounts must be tied to an individual person, it is not possible for RoboJackets to book an a central account. Any member attending the trip may use a personal account to make the reservation, to be paid via RoboJackets card or reimbursement. RoboJackets claims no responsibility for damage to a member's AirBnB reputation, though this has not been an issue in the past.
In the event that robots or equipment will be stored in the AirBnB that is a shared home, there should be facilities to secure RoboJackets property.
International travel adds additional steps and risks to a trip that must be addressed to ensure a safe and successful journey.
GT Travel Authority Request Form
When traveling internationally, GT requires all travelers complete a Travel Authority Request form (TAR) and complete the International Questionnaire contained within that document. The TAR form can be obtained from ME Finances or our designated administrative assistant. This form will need to be signed by each traveler, so it is important to start this process before purchasing plane tickets and the end of the school year (for summer trips).
Passports & Visas
For all international trips, each traveler is required to have a valid passport. Many countries require 6 months of validity beyond the planned return date, so be sure to check the policies of the destination countries, including those you are only transiting.
If a country requires a visa for entry, it may be necessary to present an invitation letter from competition. Contact the competition organizers if you have questions. Additionally, since GT is an international community, be sure to check the requirements for the countries of the passports held by each member. It is unlikely that all travelers will have a U.S. passport.
Due to the high value of the robots and equipment taken to competition, it may be necessary to declare their value. Check the regulations of your destination country for details. When determining the value being imported, limits are typically by person, so if the pelican cases are each below the individual limit, then declaration is not necessary.
For many countries, it is necessary to declare the goods with an ATA Carnet, also known as a "passport for goods". The ATA Carnet is a packet of documents that will be completed by customs officials whenever you enter or leave a country. This paperwork demonstrates to customs officials that you re-exported the goods that you imported and as such are not subject to import duties.
Transiting a Country
Depending on the flight itinerary, it may be necessary to transit a country. Transiting a country is defined as disembarking an aircraft, spending time in the "transit area" of the airport (The area "behind" customs) and leaving the country without clearing customs at the country you visited. For example, taking a flight from Atlanta to Tokyo via Toronto would result in transiting in Toronto. Since it is not necessary to clear customs in Toronto, it isn't necessary to complete any customs forms or pay any duties.
However, some airports, such as Mexico City, do not have a transit area and will require travelers to clear customs prior to connecting. In these instances, it is necessary to review the customs regulations of the connecting country. If travelling with an ATA Carnet, it will be necessary to request additional foils to clear customs.
When planning travel, effort should be taken to avoid connecting via airports without a transit area. Each time a traveler clears customs (and then goes through security again) provides risk that some of our items, such as Li-Po Batteries, will be confiscated.
Sometimes competitions or accommodations require RoboJackets to pay in cash of a foreign currency. In the event this is necessary, RoboJackets should use a foreign ATM to withdraw money at the best possible conversion rate. It is inadvisable to convert the money prior to departing, due to the bad exchange rates in the U.S. and the risks of carrying large quantities of cash.
In the event that RoboJackets receives cash in a foreign currency (Such as prize money), all efforts to sell the currency to RoboJackets members on the trip at market rates should be made. If RoboJackets is planning to visit that country again within ~14 months, it is acceptable to retain the foreign cash currency.