Tuesday Talkback: How do you keep travel costs down on long Scout trips?

Tuesday-TalkbackUnless you live within a 10-hour drive from one of the BSA’s high-adventure bases, you’re in for a minimum two-day trip.

And staying overnight at a motel or state park increases everyone’s share of the travel costs.

Enter Zack, a Scout from Houston who contacted me last week. Zack’s troop must drive at least 12 hours to get to any one of what he calls the BSA’s “top-tier camps” but you and I call Philmont, the Summit, the Florida Sea Base and Northern Tier.

The concern among his troopmates, he writes, is that transportation costs threaten to be the biggest expense as his troop plans a visit to one of the BSA’s top national destinations next summer. Houston, we have a problem.

A quick aside: Scouts with similar concerns get some relief this summer when the Summit opens its new high-adventure base. The Beckley, W.Va., site was selected in part because it’s within a day’s drive for 60 percent of the U.S. population.

That doesn’t help Zack, though. He’s a 17-hour drive from the Summit. The BSA mandates that Scouts not travel more than 10 hours in one 24-hour period, regardless of the number of drivers available.

What would you suggest to Zack and his troopmates? How does your troop, team or crew reduce travel costs on multi-day trips? What works? Share your ideas in this latest edition of Tuesday Talkback.

Photo from Flickr: Some rights reserved by mischiru


  1. Troop Crash. Find a troop along the route where you want to crash at night, and see if they can open their charter building to you to sleep the night. I’m willing to bet they use it for lockins and the such already, and will probably even have supper waiting on you when you arrive and breakfast when you leave. Plus you get to meet a new troop and make new friends. My family did this a few years ago, we went from NC, to Buffalo, to Toronto, to Detroit, to Columbus, to Kentucky, and back to NC never using a motel or campsite, just crashing with people we only knew via the internet (we are all members of another organization not BSA, but the premise is the same) It was one of the best vacations our family ever had.

    • This is the best idea. Connecting with other scouts, demonstrating scout spirit, and reinvigorating trust throughout the organization. Just beautiful.

    • This would be great information to have in a collective site. You plan you trip and see if anyone on your route offers a Troop Crash.

  2. Obvious answer – Camp! When we drove from St Louis to Denver, we stopped at campgrounds and scout camps along the way. Much cheaper than hotels!

  3. On our longer treks we rely on the generosity of local churches along the route. We’ve never had trouble locating in advance a church willing to put us up for free in its fellowship hall. We try to set aside some time to do a good turn while there, or at least come bearing gifts, and always follow up with a thank you card and photo of our group in front of their facility.

  4. I agree with Avery. As a Scout, we slept in church basements so that we could get to the Boundary Waters. Worked for us.

  5. Check with the churches, especially the ones of the same faith as your chartering organization or even possibly the United Methodist Church (UMC). Our UMC hosts youth groups in the summer who are in the Kansas City area to do mission work. We even purchased cots (I think it was 48) for them to use in the basement of our new Education Building. The basement even has shower facitilies and restrooms. I don’t know about the free dinner or breakfast, but I don’t think our church charges the group as long as they clean up after themselves.

    If coming to Philmont from the North or East, an option is to stay the night before arrival at the Koshare Indian Museum in La Junta CO. Sponsored by the local Troop, I believe there is a small cost to stay there. La Junta is less than 3 hours from Philmont so the Troop can get up the next morning and arrive on time at the Scout Ranch w/o much travel.

    If during the summer, the visiting Troop may get the option to see the Koshare Indian Dancers. Twice a week (I think), the local Troop puts on a great show of Indian dancing. When my son & I went to the Philmont Training Center (PTC) we saw the show even though we stayed at a local motel instead of the Museum. We were traveling by ourselves to PTC and felt that was a more appropriate place for us to stay.

  6. The Kwahadi Museum in Amarillo also offers its space as a hostel, charging something like $5/night/person to spend the night, and that includes showers. They will also provide catering and shows on some nights.

  7. When I was a Scout we would use military bases. They were always happy to let us crash there (good recruiting for them) – sometimes on the floor in a rec room, but other times in beds in soldiers’ quarters areas not being used. We usually got a free breakfast at the dining hall the next morning.

    • National Guard bases still do this. It helps if you have a NG officer in the troop to make the contacts. We’ve done it.

    • We have only ever been a part of military packs, and while this used to happen on Bragg, once we locked down the post after 9-11, the facility we used to offer was behind the gate and inaccessible to large groups that don’t have lots of military ID’s in the bunch. And at the post I’m at now, that building that used to be offered to others has been demolished. Used to be a good idea but it’s getting more and more rare that the logistics work out.

  8. I forgot to add the link to the Koshare Indian Museum at http://www.kosharehistory.org/. Cost on their website is $6.50 per night per person with a minimum of $65. This includes free admission to the Museum.

    The cost for the dance show is $5 for 17 & under while it is $10 for those 18 & older.

  9. We find transportation costs (van rental, gas, tolls, etc) to be the biggest expense, second only to summer camp fees. I would appreciate suggestions for reducing that. We spend around $100 per person on transportation, because we need 1 or 2 15-passenger vans for 8 – 9 days. We typically enjoy a couple out-of-camp excursions during the week, and we prefer to visit summer camps which are at least a full days’ drive.

    • The best fundraiser our Troop does by far is grocery bagging for tips at the locla grocery store. We generally work 2-4 lanes at a time depnding on how busy it is. We have ice cream buckets labeled with where we are going and the $ goes into a general fund for the trip for avanand gas. You have to fill out Council forms for the added fundraiser but if you choose the days before Easter and Thanksgiving and Christmas people tip generously. We riased $2,000 bagging groceries in an 8,000 population community on only 4 sperate dates and Scouts worked 2 hour shifts in uniform. We worked from 11 am – 5 pm on those dates. This will reduce the trip cost for the boys for a week campout to about $30 each

      • Interesting fundraiser. The grocery stores around here still have employees that bag your groceries, except at the self checkout stands.

  10. These are great ideas if you have access to vehicles and can drive within a day or two. We are headed to Philmont next summer from Georgia. We have no choice but to fly and then to take a charter bus to Philmont. Luckily with group rates it’s not more than the cost of the trip but it certainly adds to it. We have known troops who have driven it before though. I don’t think any of our adults could afford an extra 3 days of travel on either end of the trip though.

    We are hoping to head up to the Summit the summer after next but again, our issue will be that we don’t have a bus or van so we have to either take multiple vehicles (gas $$) or rent a van ($$). Camping along the way is pretty affordable but gas definitely adds up.

    Our solution to all of it is simply to do fundraisers.

    • Hi Angel, what week are you doing in Philmont – our troop is going next summer as well – we are in South Metro and we’re finding that the travel is more than the actual experience! We have a number of families that are sending two or more on the trip. Our scoutmaster is paying for four!!

  11. Explore the possibility of train service to Philmont. The Amtrak (Southwest Chief, Chicago to Los Angeles) stops in Raton, and Philmont has bus service to the base for a nominal fee. We don’t have direct train service from Minnesota, but our troop drove to Kansas City and picked up the train there late afternoon, overnight on the train and into Raton in the morning. We made contact with a local troop who let us park vehicles at their sponsor church in KC so we didn’t have to pay for two weeks of parking fees, and somebody kept an eye on them for us. Takes an extra day or two, but we saved quite a bit of money over airfare to Denver and a tour bus company.

    • It certainly depends on where you live! I just looked at the cost on Amtrak: from Atlanta, we’d have to take 3 trains over 2 days and it costs $100 more than flying! Crazy!

      • Yes, it definitely does depend on location, Angel! The drive to KC from Minneapolis is about 8 hrs after stops for meals, etc. So, have to figure an extra day each way, and that may mean lost wages for some adults that may be more than the difference in cost for flying.

      • Last time I took a troop to philmont we went Amtrak. But I went to a local tour agency. They DONATED their service in exchange for publicity. And they were able to book us at the ultimate time prior to the trip instead of the six months amtrak limited me to. Plus they got us discounted meals on the way there and back, and the conductor would come and get us before anyone else ate so we all could be together in the dining car. Wound up saving enough we got each kid two shirts free.

        And the printer screwed up, we got the order twice, and were told to just keep them. Sold them for $10 each to parents, etc. in the end, it was cheaper than any other travel arrangement.

        Whether you can do now what we did in 1994 I don’t know…

    • My dad took a scout troop to Philmont in the early 60’s, train the whole way (he is a complete train buff) and had a much better time than they would have if they had just flown. But it definitely depends on where you live. Check the schedules, you never know, but it might work.

    • If you are talking about National Guard armories, there may be some issues. We were not allowed to have even our Soldiers sleep in the drill hall unless there was a “Fire Guard” posted at all times thru the night. I don’t think it would be different for the National Guard, but I could be wrong.

    • This rule has been in place for a long time and is written in GTSS.. Commercial drivers have the same limit, but they have the flexibility to rotate drivers as long as they’ve had the required down time. I think with BSA, they assume (correctly in my experience) no adult is going to get any down time on a trip!

  12. To find United Methodist churches along your route, use the Find A Church locator at http://www.umc.org. (It’s in the top navigation bar.) When you choose a church from the results list, you can find the address, phone number, website URL, etc.

    To narrow down your search, click the About Us link and check the average worship attendance. Why? In general, the larger the number, the more likely you are to find larger facilities, showers, and maintenance staff who will be on duty when you arrive.

  13. I wish we had a 12 hour drive to a BSA high adventure base. From I where I live, its 23 hours to Philmont, 25 hours to Northern Tier and 49 hours to Seabase. It is not unusual that travel costs end up being about 50% of our total trip costs to these destinations.

    • You’re right Dave, it’s the distance to the BSA High Adventure bases that kill us. It’s either a multiple days drive or go by air to all but maybe Philmont. From California the travel expense is always enormous, even with the fundraising that the units do, there is still a huge cost per boy(parents). Example was Jamboree, our council sent 3 troops. The cost varied per troop, depending on their agenda. One troop was costing each scout $6300 and the cheapest of the three was costing around $3100 per. So you units on the east coast have a savings. As a boy, I attended the Jamboree in Idaho. When I came back into scouting, I found out they no longer have Jamborees out in the Western Region

      • I would love it if they held a national jamboree on the western half of the USA like they did in the past. It is a shame they feel they have to build a permanent facility. Our troop goes to the provincial jamboree in British Columbia. It is small compared to a national jamboree, but it is a ton of fun. Canadian volunteers put together a great event every four years very much in the scouting spirit. Lots of fun and friendship.

  14. For our troop’s upcoming seabase trip, we weighed the options, and it ended up being better to fly to Seabase instead of driving + a night’s stay or a 36 hour train ride. The price was slightly higher per scout, but only a small fraction of the cost. Importantly, it allowed volunteers to take 2 fewer days off from work each – Our Volunteers time is a limited resource, just as money is, and we should be thrifty with it also.

  15. Our troop has never been to Philmont, in part because of the travel time/expense from the San Francisco area (listed as a 19-hour drive). We couldn’t even consider driving to any of the other adventure bases because none of the adult leaders could afford the extra week of time off.

    I do like the idea of contacting other Councils or the UMC, as many Methodist churches also sponsor Scout units. (The UMC in my home town of Rosemead, CA sponsored one for more than 50 years.)

    Any ideas on how to get really really good rates on air travel?

  16. Museum’s will often let you camp on their grounds (or in a building) and often will put on a small program for a minimal fee. I also think that contacting some scouts along the way will open up resources you might not think of otherwise.

  17. Depending on where you are heading, there may be free camping with a short walk in some areas – for example the Appalachian Trail runs through VA/WV/TN – there might be a way to cross part of that on route to the Summit. Much of it allows camping along the trail and often there is a camping area or shelter where you could set tents up nearby within 1/2-1 mi of a road crossing.

    There are probably other camping options you can check as well, and this would be another place trying to find a local Troop would help – for example we have a local nature area that is usually only open to the public for day use, but our Troop has worked there several times, including clearing an area for them several years ago.
    We have camped there several times, and they have mentioned that other groups are able to use it for camping as well.

  18. My son is going to Florida Sea Base in April and can fly in to Miami or Fort Lauderdale by himself. Getting to Sea Base is another thing though. The instructions say that he can rent a car he is (15) get a taxi or limo or bus. Has anyone had any experience with Sea Base transportation?……any advice,hints,contacts gratefully accepted.

  19. Try Blue Sky Adventures or Emerald Transportation of the Florida Keys. They tend to do groups of scouts, but they may have room for an additional scout with another group. We looked at both as options for our 2012 trip, but ended up going to Seabase Bahamas instead. Kind of hard to drive there! Don’t remember costs, but some of the other keys transportation options cost almost the cost the airfare

  20. We have 80 acres within 12 miles of the I-40 and US99junction (mile marker 200).
    need to camp? We can find a good spot. Or Last frontier Council has several camps in the council. One is within 6 miles of I-40 on west side of Oklahoma City.

  21. We stopped at a scout camp on way to Boundary. a local car lot let us use a passenger van if we took picks of the boys in dealer promo shirts in front of the van.

  22. Completely ridiculous.

    I get high adventure trips and travel.

    Explain to me again why troops need to take huge trips?????

    If cost is an issue then the Adult troop leadership need to let the Youth Troop leadership either figure out how to pay for the expensive trip or find an affordable adventure closer to home.

  23. I would like to add.

    So where did the youth get the idea they need to travel huge distances to get to a Top Tier camp.

    What exactly is that any how?

    The Adult Troop leadership…..That is where they got it.

    We need to remember as Scouters that we shouldn’t let the search for Perfection kill a program idea that is good enough.

    Boy Scouting is not family scouting and I fear many of these big trips turn into family vacation.

    • Bob
      While that is certainly true, there is no place like Philmont. And I had the distinct pleasure of going to the Summit this summer and it is a one of a kind.

      On another note, I see all of the travel is driving. To keep costs down my Crew flew into Colorado (from Detroit) and rented cars for our trek in 2011. Will most likely do that again in 2015. Just throwing that out there.

    • Bob,
      My Troop has been to the 2010 Jambo and the 2013 Jambo. We are going to Sea Base in 2014, NOAC in 2015 and N. Tier Bissette Trip in 2015. 2016’s long range plan is to go to Philmont. Last year and this year we are taking Scouts with us to Honduras as part of an International Messengers of Peace Project and Mission Trip.

      They are far from family vacations if the boys and leaders are doing this right. Granted we can’t help but recognize that many of the Scout Leaders are also parents of Scouts, but we don’t take the entire family. When we do these and the PLC has the final say on it, there is training, conditioning, fundraising, planning, and execution. All of which for older Scouts keeps them interested with a goal that is out there a year in advance or more. Our retention of older boys is about 95%.

      We support local camps for the 1st year Scouts and the ones that are not old enough to go to the High Adventure Bases. We supplement the High Adventure Bases with local High Adventure 50 milers and experiences. It isn’t the search for perfection why we do this or for family vacations. Trust me… I’d like to visit the Bahamas with my wife and two other sons and I get reminded of this each year when I am leading $20,000 trips for my unit and taking my vacation from work to go Scouting and not take a family vacation.

      These programs should be available to Scouts who will earn their way there. You might be right that some of the influence comes from the Adult Leaders. Many of us are Eagle Scouts and as a youth we went to Philmont or the National Jamboree. There is nothing wrong with sharing with the Scouts these experiences, our patches, and inspiring them to earn their way to their own trip.

      How do we fund these is normally the question. Simple, we just happen to be one of the top selling popcorn troops in the USA. In fact we were #1 in 2012 at $73,000 plus. We average $65,000 a year for the last 5 years and we give almost all of it to Scouts accounts so they can attend. We work very, very, very hard to sell popcorn and do one fundraiser a year. We pause in September from normal camping, sacrificing one month of the outdoor program for hiking block after block after block vending the corn. I like to consider September a conditioning month for hiking or backpacking because when the October trip comes around we all seem to have our legs in shape. That minor sacrifice in outdoor program yields 11 months of adventure paid for, dues paid for, recharter paid for, summer camp paid for, and the mega-trip paid for. Watching young men set financial goals, work hard, and achieve them never gets tiring or old to me. Seems like this work ethic is missing in most areas of our society as of late.

  24. We live in the Texas Panhandle and it is about 4 hours from Philmont. We love that but to get to the other High Adventure camps we have to travel. This past summer the troop went to Canada along the way they stayed at KOA Campgrounds and if you didn’t know this the CEO of KOA is an Eagle Scout, so scouts get a discount if they stay at these places. Our boys loved the chance to stay at the places along the way. We would love the chance to open our home or Scout Center to troops that are passing through to go to Philmont or any camp close to us.

  25. So how do we keep the cost down on our trips to places…planning, price comparison, group rates, two for ones, using hotel rewards points, frequent flyer miles, coupons, and more. Effectively being thrifty. Now we also figured out ways to cut down the expense of things like Wilderness 1st Aid Training, but starting an education center, several of us with experience and education became trainers. For Scuba training for Sea Base we cut deals with local outfitters for training since it is 16 folks doing the training. Outfitters are more than likely to budge on the price if there is a bulk rate. Many of the State or private parks will trade a camping fee for hours of service. This has saved us hundreds of dollars camping out of state. Sometimes all you have to do is search their website. Most of time just it’s picking up trash, painting a building, sweeping a trail or beach. All of which we can and normally do (minus the painting).

    We are extremely blessed that our Church lets us use 2 15 passenger vans. This has dramatically cut the gas cost down on out of state trips. But to use this benefit we make sure the oil gets changed, tires get rotated, we put a trailer hitch on the van, we clean them, gas them, and take really good care of them. We also do lots and lots of service hours at the Church who also provides us with pretty much anything we ask for within reason.

    End of the day, pick up the phone and don’t be afraid to ask for a group rate for Scouts. I love the idea above of staying with host units in other states. That would be a really cool thing. We’ve used other Council camps in route too. Every time we do we get excellent service from the Rangers who love trading patches and stories with Scouts from around the world. We also let them invite out Cub Scout groups and Troops to share a campfire with us if we are there. I’ve run across and talked with Cubs in Florida, N. Carolina, Georgia, and New Jersey. We live in SC…so we talk to them too.

    Any Crew or Troop headed to Sea Base and need a place to crash in Charleston, SC. Google Troop 9212. We would love to help you out. See ya on the trail!

  26. We try to use Amtrak whenever possible, even choose our destinations with nearby stations in mind. Philmont and Summit are served by nearby stations. We have hiked a portion of the AT using the Harper’s Ferry station, and will be travelling by train to Glacier National Park this summer. While the trip can be long and tickets can be expensive, especially if you have a transfer, it is still usually less than airfare and the rental of vehicles once you get there. The train ride itself can be a high adventure trip for the scouts. Plus the Adults don’t have to drive (!) leaving them fresher and less grouchy when you arrive.

  27. We are from Michigan and just went to Camp Buffalo Bill in Wyoming. We stated at KOAS and they charged us 5.00 a person. We brought hotdogs with us and cooked on the campfire, we also ate pb and j sandwiches. We’ve also been to West Virginia and stayed at churches on the way there and home.

  28. The idea of Troop crash is great. While returning to Houston from Colorado we were guests of Troop 1 of Wichita Falls, TX for the night. The luxury accommodations had cots, showers, and wonderful lightning storm for entertainment. Floral Heights United Methodist Church provide a wonderful Scout facility that was perfect for an overnight stop.

  29. I am loving this thread and learning a lot! We are a small troop in Bremen, GA (west of Atlanta just off I-20) and starting to look into travel out west and/or to some high adventure bases. I love the idea of troop crashing and hope to do that some when we head out west. Does anyone know of a national database of troops? Our charter organization is the UMC in Bremen and they have helped us find a church for an overnight stay during a cub trip in the past. I will be looking into that as well for our trip.

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