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I wrote the following:

I was surprised Mary had agreed to come to the trip.

A native English speaker told me I should write instead:

I was surprised Mary had agreed to come on the trip.

I admit it surprised me. I could have sworn it was to. Why is it on instead of to? How can I avoid making this mistake in the future?

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

The "Why" is easy: because we have held repeated elections and for several centuries on has always won.

As far as avoiding the mistake, it may help you to consider, first, that to generally indicates a trip's destination, not the trip itself; and second, that we use on in many constructions which designate presence or motion on (!) a path:

Point A lies on the curve defined by ...
On the road again ... —song by Willie Nelson
Soybean prices are on a downward trajectory.
She's on her way to the top.
The road goes ever on and on ... —song by J.R.R. Tolkien

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+1 because the critical part of the distinction is motion. We go to events with a static location -- such as dinner, a conference, a meeting (the location of which will be designated by at, for example, dinner at the hotel or a meeting at the downtown conference center ; or in: We have a meeting in (not at) the conference room if it is in our office building. Of course there will be things that don't fit like the locative usage of on such as the book is on the table. Some things you just have to memorize until you have enough examples to construct a rule. – Jan Murphy Aug 15 '14 at 19:45

Check this definition, on sense 9:

9) engaged in ⇒ "on a trip"

Here trip refers to an activity, not a location, so on is correct.
In the case of a location, you could say:

I was surprised Mary had agreed to come to the beach.

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@StoneyB Oh thanks, I think the confusion arose because I was thinking about trip as a location rather than an activity, thanks. – alexchenco Aug 15 '14 at 16:12

To is used when referring to a specific point or location. A trip is not either, rather being an activity involving places.

I go TO London. I go ON a trip TO London. I will be going TO London ON the trip.

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"To" refers to location. "On" (in this context) refers to direction.

A trip has a direction, not a location. Therefore you use "on."

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