The Return of the True Road Trip
The Return of the True Road Trip

COVID-19 has renewed our interest in nomadic adventures this summer, and brands should adapt.

Life’s a journey, not a destination.

Well, the truth is that it’s both. It’s a journey peppered with destinations to compel the next move forward. This used to be what road tripping was. You piled your belongings in the car, blew the popsicle stand, and drove out to “see the world.” The idea was to stop when you saw something good, then move on to the next thing. Be nomadic. Leave the roots behind you. Wander free. Find adventure along the way, not just at Point B.

But for years, we have moved away from this travel model. Sure, there have always been people posting their hikes and climbing tours and campgrounds on hazy, filtered Instagram posts, but it’s generally a niche, not a norm. Air travel is faster, more convenient, somewhat reasonably priced, and we’re usually going somewhere to be there. If you’re going to Disneyland and you have one week off work, you don’t really care about the cute café in Memphis that’s on the way. You fly. You spend more time in Disneyland. Because that is the trip.

But at the writing of this article, Disneyland is still closed. A lot of places are closed. That cute café in Memphis is about 50/50. Hotels are hit-and-miss on cleaning practices, flights seem dangerous to most people who aren’t traveling “essentially,” and thus everything that “travel” used to mean is different.

But not so for old-school road tripping. Now is a great time to rent or buy an RV and tour your region. No hotels, no crowds, no exposure. Or pile the family in the ‘wagon, strap some tents on top and go camp, maybe in a few places with some stops along the way to take a grainy pic with a plaster shark in Nowhere, Texas.



This has already been trending to some extent as RV sales continue to skyrocket, but some travelers might need some extra incentive. Here are a few strategic ideas for brands and businesses to help make the journey fun:

  • Welcome the newbies. As noted above, road tripping, especially with RVs or camping, has increasingly been a niche interest until now. Many travelers might be intimidated by the learning curve – you want to rent an RV, but what features do you need? And once you have it, how to figure out where to go? What are the rules? How do you get everything hooked up? Are there places that are less safe? What kind of facilities should you look for?

The sheer number of Google searches and the need to sift through information without having a point of reference to filter through it are enough to make prospective travelers feel overwhelmed. This is a good time to direct attention to travel blogs, biographies and reviews that might make travelers feel more comfortable, but it is also an opportunity for brands to create resources and materials aimed specifically toward people who have no experience with this kind of trip.

  • Embrace being the big fish in the small pond. Six months ago, the World’s Largest Outdoor Sea Creature Sculpture Garden might not have competed with the Six Flags as a thing to do, but with many attractions on the outs and the journeys to them being long and more dangerous than usual during the pandemic, taking a picture with a crazy big octopus sounds like a good way to break up the monotony of #covidtimes.

The audience for these smaller attractions will generally be somewhat local, and the advertising for them should embrace that. Travelers want something that can be done in a short journey, no crowds, open air, minimum contact, fun for kids, and even better if it’s on the way to good hiking or campgrounds. Remind audiences that there might never be a better time to go. Because there probably won’t be.

  • Network, network, network. Regardless of how small the pond is, a good road trip won’t just be the Outdoor Sea Creature Sculpture Garden unless it’s a day trip. A solid road trip will have a few mini destinations in it to break up the ride. Brands and businesses can encourage travelers by partnering with each other to form a “route.”

Think Route 66, or more recently, Adventure Road in Oklahoma. Or cruises. People want to ride for a little while, but between license plate games, they want to get out and see something new. And not just your something. They are more likely to see your something if there is another something down the road, and vice versa.

  • Double down on the distractions. Part of road tripping, the true road tripping where you are not just saving on a flight to get somewhere, is about bonding along the way. There are well established road trip games (license plate game, alphabet game, etc.), but we haven’t explored those ideas much since the advent of handheld video games. Moreover, it just feels wrong to be out in the woods next to a tent playing Super Mario Odyssey to pass the time.

This is a good time to create or discover social games to play on the road or with others. You could come up with good reading recommendations for a lone camping trip or cooking ideas for couples to dream up along the way. Rental car companies can install entertainment packages in some of their vehicles so kids can watch movies together instead of playing on tablets. The idea is to create interesting ways to pass the time that don’t remove travelers from the experience.

  • Resources, references, reinforcements. As unromantic as it might seem, travel brands cannot forget the reason people are changing the way they travel: they want to feel safe during the pandemic. This means publishing information about mask wearing practices, cleaning practices, crowd control, etc. But it also means thinking outside the box to ensure an even greater comfort level.

Some companies, for example, are offering special COVID-19 insurance for travelers. Roadside assistance might also be very attractive, as would maps of exceptionally clean bathrooms along a given “route.” Also relating to the learning curve mentioned above – assuring travelers that hooking up an RV won’t expose them is a pertinent fact this summer – is any information that will help travelers know the road trip is a safe idea.

  • Amp the romance. So much in the world is serious, heavy and dire these days. People looking to embark on a road trip are trying to escape it. National parks are beautiful. If you have never jumped off a cliff into a swimming hole, what are you waiting for? Sit on the beach and read for an entire day. These are the activities that remind us of what is right in the world.

Road trips fit this tone. They can be about exploring new frontiers, finding adventures, enjoying your company, staring up at the stars, wandering free. Pick your favorite chain store wall art phrase – it definitely can apply to road trips. Brands should remind travelers, heavy handedly, how wonderful just “getting away” can be.

While so many sectors of the travel industry are suffering, this is one way that people can continue to enjoy vacation time with minimal contact. Brands can encourage travelers who might not otherwise move at all along this route. Moreover, reviving and enhancing the road trip now could be something we keep moving forward in the post-COVID “new normal,” especially if new audiences have the chance to fall in love with it.

Or it could just be a wonderful way to pass the time during a dark time.

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