Article & Photos Copyright 2011 Ron Watters
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In its purist form, a Common Adventure trip is a couple of friends getting together and going on a trip. It might be two or three friends going climbing or hiking together. Or it might be a couple of families combining to go rafting together. Someone comes up with the idea, but there’s really no designated leader. No one is charging money or acting as a “guide.” It’s just a fun trip among friends. If you like spending time in the outdoors, you probably do these sorts of trips all the time. It’s just that you’ve have never given them a name.
A Common Adventure trip is two or more individuals working cooperatively for common goals and sharing trip expenses and responsibilities as equitably as possible.
Essential Parts of Common Adventure Trip
- Common Adventure trips are not guided trips. No one person plans, organizes and runs the trip. Rather it’s a group process. While one or more leaders may exist within the group, decisions are made democratically. (See, below, for more information on leadership.)
- Every member of a Common Adventure group has responsibilities and contributes to the trip, whether by helping with trip planning, buying food, loading vehicles or cleaning up after it’s over. Since the trip is not guided, everyone needs to roll up their sleeves, pitch in and help to the get the trip off the ground.
- There are no guide fees. No group money goes to pay any one person in the group, nor does any money go to any outside individual or sponsoring institution or club. The cost of the trip (gas, food, rental of equipment) is shared.
- Common adventure groups strive for fairness, free and open discussion, and an equitable sharing of responsibilities.
A Sample Common Adventure Process from Start to Finish
- Posting of Trip. The person that develops a trip idea will either place a notice on the club’s calendar or newsletter–or it may be posted informally on a bulletin board or the club or program’s Internet site.
- Trip Initiator. The person who posts the event is known in common adventure vernacular as the “trip initiator.” The trip initiator is not necessarily the trip leader, but often is. Since leadership on a common adventure trip can be fluid, involving participation from all members of the group, the trip initiator role begins as a facilitator, getting the trip off the ground. Even though trip initiator is initially getting things organized, they still contribute their share of the trip expenses, the same as other group members.
- Costs. Often people want to know in advance what kind of costs are associated with the trip. On Common Adventure trips all expenses are shared, and you never really know the exact cost of a trip until it’s over. It will depend on how many people go on the trip. If only two people show up, gas expenses will cost twice as much as four people showing up and going in one vehicle. The trip initiator can give an approximate idea of costs, but he or she will want to be careful to qualify it. Instead of saying the trip will cost $30, it’s more accurate to say: “We will be sharing expenses, and it’s estimated that the shared costs of gas, food and rental will be approximately $30.”
- Sign-ups. Once the trip is posted, people who are interested in the trip can sign-up.
- Pre-trip Meeting. The next step in the process is the pre-trip meeting. The pre-trip meeting is a key part of organizing a Common Adventure trip. Up to this point, the trip has been the trip initiator’s idea. At the pre-trip meeting, it becomes a cooperative group project. Everyone who is interested in the activity gathers together and all aspects of the trip are discussed. (For more information on what to cover at pre-trip meetings, see Short Guide to Pre-trip Meetings).
- Decision Making at the Pre-trip Meeting. Since the trip is now in the group’s hands, decisions about the trip are made as a group. The group may decide to make some changes in the trip: where they go and what they plan to do. It’s the group that decides the exact time and place from which to leave. The group may make other decisions, such as whether individuals should bring their own food or whether food will be bought as a group, or what vehicles and how many are needed for the trip, etc.
- Pre-trip Meeting: Liability. We live in a litigious society. Anybody can be sued. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a Common Adventure trip or a guided trip. A pre-trip meeting, however, can help lessen liability, but even more important, it can help make a trip much safer. The meeting gives everyone a chance to find out exactly what the trip is all about. Some individuals may decide that after learning the details, the trip is not what they want to do and they can drop out. For those who decide to go on the trip, the meeting gives them a chance to be properly prepared and to learn what clothing and equipment they need. This is also the best time to have people sign a liability and assumption of risk form. If for some reason a law suit results, a signed liability form does help.
- Pre-trip Meeting: Money. If equipment has to be rented or group food purchased, the pre-trip meeting is the best time to collect money. Often times, it is not the trip initiator that collects the money. In fact, in the spirit of sharing responsibilities, it’s best that someone else in the group serves as a group treasurer. This helps underline to members of the group that the trip is a group project and not just one person (or leader) putting it all together.
- Trip Leadership. In the past, many people in outdoor education circles have thought of common adventure trips as having no leaders. It is possible to have leaderless trips in very small groups with individuals of equal ability, but when it comes to organized trips, leaders on common adventure trips are very much present. In almost all cases, it’s the person that puts the trip together (the trip initiator), and that individual will probably continue in the leadership role throughout the trip. It is the way in which leadership is structured on common adventure trips which distinguishes it from other models.
Decisions are not made autocratically by the leader but rather democratically by consensus. And leadership does not have to remain static. It can be dynamic, moving from one person to another depending on the circumstances. Members of the party that have more experience in certain areas (like an EMT) may move into a position of leadership during an emergency.
- Most often it is the trip initiator that guides the democratic process. In this process, everyone is able to express their opinions and shed light on the decision. By involving everyone, the group is able to tap all of it’s resources, making it far stronger than if one person tries to make all of the decisions.
- Trip Safety. Because everyone’s opinion is important and because everyone is working for the common good of the group, trips are safer. Among their responsibilities, members of common adventure groups keep an eye out for one other. Because of the open, democratic environment, they are less apt to hold back when they see potential problems. This participatory form of safety is highly effective, certainly more effective than if only person is in charge of keeping track of the group.
- Learning on the Trip. Common Adventure trips create an ideal environment for experiential learning. Those on the trip with more experience can share their knowledge and skills with others with less experience.
- Follow-up. The group continues to be involved with the trip even when it’s over. Equipment may need to be unloaded and that duty shouldn’t have to fall solely on the trip initiator. If a group has a pot of money which has been used to pay for gas or food, the group’s treasurer will need to sit down and figure out what’s been spent and refund any left over funds to all members.
Size of Groups
Common adventure trips are best run in small groups. It becomes much more difficult to guide democratic processes as the group size becomes larger. Six to eight is an ideal size for a group, but it can be larger. Smaller groups are highly effective. Individuals feel more a part of the group and are more likely to receive long-lasting, positive benefits and develop strong friendships from the trip. Moreover, small groups are one of the best ways of minimizing environmental impact.
With larger groups, you can use an adapted form of the Common Adventure concept. All of the basics of a Common Adventure trip are there: having a pre-trip meeting, enlisting members of the group in helping pack and clean-up, and appointing a treasurer.
But, to be honest, with large groups, it’s more efficient to employ traditional, more autocratic forms of leadership.
The spirit of sharing is a central concept to Common Adventure trips: freely sharing help and advice and, yes, even equipment. But while sharing is important on Common Adventure trips, so is the concept of equitability. In cases where one person’s vehicle carries all the group’s gear, or one person’s raft is used by the group, there’s an equitability problem. Vehicles and boats used on trips will receive wear and tear. Those individuals donating their vehicles or equipment are shouldering more than their share. Thus, the group may decide that the fair thing to do is to reduce their share of expenses to compensate for the pick-up truck or raft.
The overall goal is to come up with something which is a fair and equitable sharing of expenses. The decision, however, should be made as a group, and it’s best made before the trip takes place at the pre-trip meeting.
Note that you’ll want to be very careful if a group makes an outright payment to someone on the trip to use their personal vehicle or boat. That’s beginning to step into the territory of a guided trip. Public land agencies might construe any payment to an individual, even for the use of equipment, as improper and requiring of special permits. Generally, it’s best to reduce someone’s share of trip expenses rather than make an outright payment to them. In some cases, the group may elect to rent a raft or vehicle from a disinterested third party to avoid the problem altogether.
Children on Common Adventure Trips
Common Adventure trips are for college age individuals and older. Children need the guidance of adult leaders. Some of the concepts of Common Adventure trips can be used on trips for children: pre-trip meetings, getting input from the kids while on the trip, having the children assume responsibilities. But when it comes to the trip, it’s important to have adult supervision to keep things safe.
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