FAHA: Who travels free?

Team mentors have to make tough decisions all the time. Here is a very common issue faced by many teams.

This is a very simple discussion, but I think answers will vary widely.
With teams making their travel plans for the spring, we are wondering to what extent other teams subsidize airfare, bus, and hotel expenses for advisers, mentors, and chaperons. Many people put in a lot of time, so who earns a free ride?

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I’m going to toss another aspect on here. If someone does travel for free, does the money come out of team funds? Directly from a sponsor?

Great question!

Four travel funding sources: school, booster club, sponsor, families.

Our school advisor’s travel expenses to competitions are paid for by our booster club fundraising. With one exception–because I’m also a parent I like to pay my own way, however, since I stay in the advisors room that’s already covered.

One or two engineering mentors from our primary sponsor travel on company funds. This year there will only be one. The booster club will probably pickup the expenses for an engineer who left the company, but is still a fanatic and works with us.

Parents are our chaparones, several are school district employees, and they are responsible for their own travel expenses. The booster club does cover group dinners for everyone.

The booster club reduces the student travel costs as much as fundraising allows after competition fees, t-shirts, give-aways. The balance is the responsibility of the families. Students in need are covered partially or in full by the booster club as necessary.

Our local regional buses are paid for by the school district, as well as buses to the airport for any flights. A coach bus is paid for by the booster club and individual families.

Our team really lets nobody travel completely free. Every team member has to pay $200 and the mentors have to pay for their hotel and food. The rest of the cost is covered by sponsors and other money that the team has made. This has always worked for us and I think that is a pretty way to do it. I don’t think anybody should get to travel for completely free. I think that is asking too much of the people that actually do all the work.

As long as I’ve been around (I can’t say for any years earlier than my sophomore year as I wasn’t on the team) T3 has managed to make travel free for all students and mentors. The team pays for the meals, too, or at least most of them.

We have had students who really can’t afford to pay travel expenses, and these students would be excluded from competition if the team didn’t cover them.


I feel guilty taking a free hotel room, but I pay for everything else - food, travel, even parking. I can probably afford to pay for the room, but by not having to, I can relax about the costs for the rest. Being a mentor, I’m not paid for any of my time or most of the supplies I bring from home. In the big picture, I don’t mind, but if I had to pay for the hotel room too, something else my family needs would have to be deferred.


Ideally, your team’s budget should cover competition travel expenses for a core or “travelling” team. This core team might include only a handful of students and the mentors. Maybe these are the people that do “all the work”?

I don’t believe mentors should feel obligated to pay for all (maybe even any) of their travel costs. Keep in mind that in the “real world”, professionals typically don’t pay for job-related travel expenses. Transportation, lodging, meals and certain miscellaneous expenses are reimbursed according to their travel report that usually requires receipts. If you work for the US Govt., i.e. NASA, the amount of “per diem” is limited by federal (GSA) rates. A good business plan should require a team to raise funds to cover these travel expenses not just registration fees and money to buy spare parts, tools and materials. Still, a lot of mentors are willing to pay their own travel expenses and maybe even help other team members financially.

Most teams really want to to get as many members to FIRST events as possible. To make the travel affordable, teams may travel by bus, find deeply-discounted airfares, get group rates at modest hotels, etc. Parents (who are not mentors) are usually expect to cover for their own travel expenses. This is no different than for the parents who choose to travel to “away” high school sporting events. Many teams require all students to bring money for meals and incidental expenses. Mentors will generally pay for their meals as well.

How many people travel for free and how much should other people pay? That’s going to depend very much on where you’re going, as well as the size, composition and resources of the team. It’s not going to be a level playing field. The same is true for building the robots.

Team 1902 tries very hard to cover expenses. Most of our adult mentors pay for all travel. If we have money left in the budget we try to pay for some of the college students travel. We have had some individuals and Families sponsor any team member, student or adult, if they cant pay for travel. We hate to leave anyone behind.

Our travel resources: Sponsors, booster club, families

One of our short term goals after the booster club formed 5 years ago, was to be able to fund the travel for the mentors. The mentors still pay for their food & entertainment expenses. We met that goal and 2 years ago we started paying for chaperones’ hotel rooms as well. Discussions regarding travel expenses have revolved around questions such as, would our sponsors want us to use monies for travel? The answer to that is that we think our sponsors want 418 to compete as well as possible. We are frugal, look for reasonably priced hotels, and plan ahead.

It has also been a goal of ours that anyone who qualifies for travel (service hours met) and wants to travel should not stay home because of financial reasons. We offer travel ‘scholarships’ to those who need it, full or partial. The student talks with our teacher in confidence and the request is kept anonymous and submitted to the board.

In general, students pay for their travel expenses. If the booster club can, it will donate to try to help with the overall expense. An example would be to help with the bus expense for travel to Atlanta. The amount of that donation varies year to year, depending how well the fundraising has gone.

Everyone pays for their meals and entertainment. We try to plan meals ahead by looking at the area and what is available. We also plan for a movie the first night of travel which serves as our entertainment.

We generally try and set it up so there is very little payment from team members. All of our involved mentors travel for free as long as the team budget allows (and it has so far). Involved mentors can be Harris, Parents, or local community members. Chaperones & the Teacher(s) also fall into this category, although generally we try and get this money from the fundraised money if possible, not from the Harris budget.

For the students we do a requirements system. We require them to have participation amounts in the team meetings & subteams, do fundraisers, community service and demos, have build season hours and a few other things. If they meet all of these requirements, their trip is paid for by the fundraised team monies. We do require small deposits, and the deposits may increase based on how much money is raised.

This system has worked well for us for the last three years, but may be harder to do for teams that dont have the same budget size/large sponsor that we do.

1075 has always been a ‘poor’ team as far as funding, certainly not on the engineering front though…

Students have always paid somewhere on the order of ~$200 for a regional weekend.

When I graduated high school and became a mentor to the team, particularly in the 2007 and 2008 seasons, the team picked up the tab for my hotel room, but not for my food, and whatever else. I thought it was fair repayment for my time and effort (blood, sweat and tears too), and I think it was sort of massaged into the costs of everyone else (being that I’m the only non-teacher mentor, this didnt add much to anyones costs.)

Last year as a rookie team we were fortunate to pay for everything when we went to a regional and Atlanta.

This year we needed to charge $50 for each member going to St. Louis. There will be no charge for those attending Milwaukee because we commute to that one. If we make it to Atlanta there will be about $100 fee for students because of the airfare expense.

Corporate mentors have their expenses paid by their companies. School personnel are covered through the district.

Everyone pays for their own food while on the trip.