The Unwritten Rules for Tour Planning
by Axel Hausen & Donna Day Everlern
Our club loves to drive on road tours and indeed we have touring instructions posted in the info new members get. Those primarily focus on how to drive a tour. Organizing a tour is fairly simple, since we all know fun driving roads and interesting destinations and will share them with fellow enthusiasts. Here (in no particular order) is a “core dump” of hard-learned tidbits that can make anybody’s tour production a bit “nicer.”
- Sports car road runs should take the back roads, the twistier the better. We like to drive our cars. Freeways should be used only to bypass urban sprawl.
- Unless it is strictly an out-and-back day tour, there should be an interesting destination and it should be well-researched: resort, dinner, wine tasting, scenic views, national park, beach, picnic, whatever.
- Use a variety of maps to lay out the event before driving it. On-line navigation like MapQuest or Google is OK, and probably necessary to get the close-up details right, but a better overall picture is obtained from browsing a paper atlas like DeLorme or Thomas Guide and it may show roads and points of interest the on-line services don’t.
- Print out a set of driving directions, then go sanity check them on a test run and edit so they reflect the “ground truth” of what people actually see when driving the course. On-line nav services tell only what is in their data base and that is not necessarily what is out there in the real world. Edit mercilessly.
- When you take a test drive, ideally bring a second couple in a second car to double check. This is easy for a local run, and for a long distance run (like to Yellowstone or Tahoe or such) you all get the pleasure of doing the event an extra time. Record the actual times and mileages at every turn point, which will aid later planning and re-work. If the two teams have a difference of opinion on what the route instructions should say, don’t argue; rewrite.
- Do the test drive on the same day(s) of the week and at the same time as your tour so you can assess traffic conditions.
- If you discover dirt roads or road construction, take your tour somewhere else.
- Some tour drivers like maps, some like driving directions, some will just follow the herd no matter what you give them, and some will be totally clueless. Over-prepare handouts and everyone will be happy.
- Online services to the contrary, cumulative mileages from the start to each turn make more sense than incremental mileages between directions. Edit.
- If you find some point of interest, check it out! You may want to add it to the actual tour. Duhhh.
- Rest stops: have the first morning stop not more than 45 minutes out of the start and the second one 60 minutes after that. Repeat the pattern after lunch. Porta-potties DO NOT COUNT for rest stops. Find real rest rooms, even if you have to detour into suburbia and go to a fast food. And use a stop that can handle all your people in short order, not a one-holer. The minimum time to allow for a rest stop is 20 minutes. Specify the rest stops in the driving directions so nobody panics when their High Coffee Warning Light comes on.
- If you have to drive through an urban area, plan any rest/fuel/food stops on the FAR SIDE of the city. Then it can also be a regrouping stop for those who get separated in traffic.
- If the tour has to go through some traffic tangles, figure out where you can have a safe and convenient regrouping stop afterwards, and include it in the driving directions so any stragglers know the main group will be waiting for them there. You can always blow right past it if everybody is caught up. Few things are worse than a tour group stopping suddenly at the roadside because the leader lost track of the caboose. Those panic stops always take place where there isn’t enough room and the cars are in danger of being hit from behind.
- If you have an organized lunch stop at a restaurant(s) it will take three times as long for the group as it did for the two test cars that pre-ran the course. Mark your in and out times during the pre-run and adjust the final route accordingly.
- Specify the name and exact street address of any stop in the route instructions (you can find it online.) Anybody who gets lost or separated can enter it into their GPS and have the machine navigate them there so they can rejoin the tour.
- If you plan to stop at some venue like a country store, talk to the proprietors on an advance run and see if your group will be welcome on tour day. They’ll appreciate the heads-up.
- Turns out of the start and from any intermediate stopping point should be to the RIGHT, so nobody has to go across traffic.
- Print driving directions on pale green paper. Much less sun glare than white paper on a top-down day. And use 12-point or bigger type, which is easier to read in a bouncing car, and also for “middle-aged” navigators with trifocals.
- Publish your web/newsletter/e-mail announcement months in advance so people can pencil-in your event on their personal calendars when planning their season. The announcement should show the time of meeting and time of departure, and location of the meeting place in great detail. That means an exact street address so people can key it into their GPS. Also simple driving directions from the nearest known freeway or main highway. Be descriptive and take pity on new or distant members who don’t know where “Country Cousin” is, or worse yet, don’t know “where West Side Auto Parts used to be.” Always include the name(s) and home/cell phone numbers (including area code) and e-mail of the tour coordinator for those who have questions.
- The starting point should have adequate parking, food and coffee nearby, good rest rooms, and gasoline available. All the tour cars should be able to get OUT easily, pretty much at once (see above about right turns,) and onto the tour route without getting stuck in a traffic jam. Pick a starting point that is outside the city in the general direction the tour will be heading anyhow, so everyone doesn't have to grind through heavy traffic as soon as the run starts.
- For an overnight or multi-day tour, try to arrive at the selected hotel(s) by 4:00 PM so there is time for people to unwind and check in before dinner.
- On the way home, which frequently happens on a Sunday afternoon, a useful trick is to end the official tour at lunch time somewhere convenient to a straight shot home on the freeway. After people eat (or not) they can drive home individually and the leader doesn't have to keep the pack together in heavy traffic. If you plan this, advise everyone in advance.
- If your tour proves popular, folks will ask you to do another one. With 21st century word processing, you can just paste together some of your best roads into a new route.