What happened to the great American road trip?

It happened just after sunrise a few weeks ago, as we navigated a narrow two-lane highway between Santa Fe and Santa Rosa, N.M., in our family sedan.

I was quietly admiring eastern New Mexico’s sandstone rock formations, their improbably flat tops towering above us, when I felt a sudden jolt, followed by a loud vibration from the right front wheel. It sounded as though an angry rattlesnake had been sucked into our engine.

I pulled our seven-year-old Honda Accord to the side of the road. Our three kids began to stir in the back seat. I glanced at my phone: no signal. I hadn’t seen another car for a while, maybe half an hour. We were miles from nowhere.

Now what?

I imagined every worst-case scenario, and believe me, I have a very good imagination. I could already see the headline: “Travel columnist and family found dehydrated but alive in New Mexico desert after two-week search.” What I didn’t think about, but probably should have, is that getting stuck in the New Mexican desert is as much a part of the travel experience as any flight delay, cruise mishap or hotel horror story — and it’s a part that journalists like me ignore far too frequently.

I mean, odds are that you’re not going to fly to your summer vacation destination. You’ll probably drive.

How many of us get there by car vs. plane? It’s difficult to draw a precise comparison because of the way the federal government measures travel. Americans drove more than 1.1 trillion miles on the nation’s roads last summer, according to the Federal Highway Administration. During the same period, they flew 157 billion miles, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In other words, for every mile we flew, we drove about seven.

Independent studies suggest that the gap may be even greater among leisure travelers. For example, during the Memorial Day holiday, 30.7 million Americans drove to their destinations, while only 2.5 million flew, according to a DK Shifflet & Associates survey conducted for AAA. For the Christmas and New Year’s holiday, 83.5 million drove; just 5.4 million got to their destinations by plane.

Ignoring road travel is a time-honored tradition among my esteemed media colleagues. We’re fascinated by things with wings; it seems to be a prerequisite to becoming a travel writer. We also assume that everyone travels just as we do, zipping between airports, dealing with the TSA and checking into hotels.

Mark Sedenquist, who runs a Web site called RoadTrip America, says that I shouldn’t feel too bad about that. Road-trippers are not only difficult to define as a demographic, but they’re also a challenge to market to. “The only common element regarding marketing-and-merchandising targeting is that most road-trippers will purchase fuel on a road trip,” he says. “Every other element — food, route, destination, gear, lodging, camping, activities, communities and communications — can be about as diverse as possible. So the travel industry tends to avoid any marketing to road-trippers. They have no idea how to do it.”

At a moment like this, I would reflexively defer to my friends at AAA. They’re all too familiar with the downgraded status of the American road trip. But there’s also this: the basics of road travel are pretty constant. And they’re mostly common sense. I asked Heather Hunter, my AAA contact, to share her organization’s road-trip advice for the summer.

“Carry an emergency kit with a flashlight, extra batteries, warning devices such as flares or reflective triangles, jumper cables, a first-aid kit and extra water,” she told me. “Don’t let the gas level get below one-quarter of a tank.”

Her list also included planning the trip carefully, securing kids in the back with approved seats and using one of AAA’s smartphone apps to help plan the journey.

That’s great advice, but it’s not exactly new. The rules of the road aren’t as volatile as the rules of air travel and, to a lesser extent, of cruises or hotel stays. Also, motorists don’t have to beware of a scam lurking around every corner; there are perils, that’s true, but it’s nothing like flying.

Consider one of my problems in the New Mexico scenario — being out in the desert with no wireless connection. “I thought we’d have that fixed by now,” says Chicke Fitzgerald, a road trip evangelist who is the chief executive of the Tampa, Fla.-based travel technology company Solutionz Holdings. She’s been watching technology evolve, often at a snail’s pace, and says that there’s room for improvement. And growth. She says that businesses are just beginning to wake up to the massive size of the driving market, and she envisions a time in the not-too-distant future when the needs of mobile travelers are met through products and services that weren’t originally designed for airline passengers, as virtually all of today’s online travel sites are.

I wish I’d talked with Fitzgerald before my road trip. But there I was on my hands and knees on the already hot pavement, looking for a rattlesnake under my car. I saw nothing. I started the Honda up again. The rattle was gone.

Cautiously, I pressed down on the gas pedal. I didn’t hear anything unusual. Still, that didn’t keep me from getting the car checked by a professional at the next service station.

Turned out that a small, nonessential part had slipped off the wheelbase. It was safely removed at my dealership a short while later.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZFI6HZ7OTTUY5AXW5HH67SPIKY JohnRStrohm

    Add cellphone, extra battery, cigarette lighter power cord to that emergency kit.

    I’d add a CB radio as well, even though I didn’t have one on my last trip.

  • MarkKelling

    “Small nonessential part.”  If it’s there it is essential.  ;-)

    Glad it was nothing serious.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AVPRUYOUGFMUUKAQCXSR5CMDW4 FranklinS

    Depends on far I have to go.  Sometimes I fly, other times I drive.  Too bad you didn’t have a “both” choice, I would have selected that option.  I love to drive, that way I can actually “see” the country at ground level, not 35,000 ft above it.  If I’m in a hurry to get somewhere, or it’s too far to drive, then I opt to fly, then rent a car and drive around the area. As to the lack of cell phone coverage, any thoughts on getting a satellite phone?  

  • jimzmum

    I couldn’t answer the poll today, because it really depends upon where we are going. Often, the road trip is the vacation. A comfortable car, scenery, small surprises on the route. No particular daily destination. Sometimes we will fly to a city, rent a car, and go from there: Las Vegas is a good example. Inexpensive flights if you plan ahead, points for car rental, and easy egress from the city. Or, sometimes we will fly to a destination, say NYC, and stay for a week. However, when we do drive somewhere, we do make sure to have supplies in case of a problem, especially with a rental. 

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I (and my husband, somewhat reluctantly) belong to a national walking organization with local chapters.  We walk pre-set 5 kilometer and 10 kilometer (3.1 and 6.2 mile) routes created by these chapters in places that are often historic, architecturally interesting, or part of a vibrant local community. 

    We’re currently walking segments of the Lincoln Highway, finishing Illinois and Indiana this year and Pennsylvania next year.  We’re also collecting state capitals and the 50 states.  We regularly travel 3000 miles per year by car to get to some of these walks.  Otherwise, when my husband travels for business, I’ll accompany him and then use that location as a base to travel by rental car, train or Greyhound to get to a walk location.

    We can drive the length of Iowa in the time it takes to get to the airport, check baggage, go through security, board, fly and de-plane and pick up baggage and then a rental car at our destination and drive to the first waypoint on our journey.  When we drive, I can pack multiple pairs of shoes, all the first aid stuff I can think of for our feet and all the Diet Coke I want.  Plus all the fun gadgets we want and a Great Courses set of audio lectures.  It’s also cheaper.

    The best part?  We’re on our own schedule, not an airline’s schedule.  If we want to come back a day earlier or a day later, we can (and do).  Our itinerary is our own.  Want to stop and see the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD?  Okay.  Take a set of county roads from one stop to another to enjoy the scenery?  Okay.  Ever see horses grazing in the Pet Area of a roadside rest area?  We have (northeastern Kansas).  Ever see armed guards at a rest area?  We have (Florida Panhandle). 

    And – we’ve made the acquaintance of every Chevy dealer in northwest Nebraska, looking for a part we needed – so been there, done that, Chris.  Glad your trip worked out for you.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OEPJGQPIEB75YYDE5CJY6R3VFE Carver Clark Farrow II

    Why does the media ignore road travel? Perhaps because mile for mile it doesn’t present nearly the same challenges that other modes of travel entail.  And all writers like to talk about the bad things that happen, not the good.

    Air travel presents, TSA, tarmac issues, food issues, space limitations, unknown expenses, baggage limitations, documentation, other passenger drama, etc.

    Cruising presents its own challenges,

    Many of the relatively few challenges presented by a road trip vacation are also presented in day to day regular driving, e.g. congestion, accidents, too many people, too little car, etc.  Accordingly, these issues are well within the experience of most drivers and the solutions readily apparent.  How many times has Chris published about needing to mediate the road portion of a road trip.  A few, But not many.

    For example, my buddy and I took a road trip for for his birthday.  120 miles.  We enjoyed it but truly, nothing noteworthy to write about.  No TSA drama, no passport or ID issues, no foreign language or currency issues, no tarmac delay issues, no norovirus, etc.

    At the end of the day, a car trip presents far fewer travel issues than any other vacation type.

  • http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/ mytimetotravel

    You left out trains. My last trip I flew to New York, but then took trains across the US, up the west coast and back across Canada. In Europe and Asia I mostly travel by train.

  • AAmerican1

    I agree with your Vegas example. We often fly to Vegas and drive to Kanab Utah. It’s a beautiful drive, there are several routes, and we spend a few days in Kanab helping out at the Best Friends animal sanctuary and visiting Bryce and Zion National Parks.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I was relieved, too. And a little mystified about the “nonessential” — but the car is still running fine.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    So do I. I’ll include trains on the next poll.

  • Daizymae

    We used to fly to many wonderful destinations, and we would still do so except for one big problem: TSA. We will not be irradiated, photographed naked, or have a petty government clerk abuse us sexually. We will not risk having my disabled husband singled out for abuse from these petty tyrants.

    Our last flight took us to Wyoming…Jackson Hole and Yellowstone Park…in August of 2010. Just before the government instituted its reign of sexual terror on innocent Americans.

    Now we drive everywhere. We’ve taken some wonderful trips to Nashville, Myrtle Beach, the Appalachians of southwest Virginia, and Charleston. We have another beach vacation to Myrtle Beach coming up, and after that, we’re off to Maine. We’ll be driving every single mile of it and we won’t have to worry about being terrorized by petty tyrants with a fake badge.

    The money that we would have spent on flights has been invested in a newer more comfortable car. We cancelled our Chase Continental credit card and got a Hilton Honors card so we use our rewards for hotel rooms instead of flights.

    Sometimes I look at a plane overhead and I feel very angry and bitter that the federal government has robbed me of the ability to get on a plane and travel to far flung destinations. But then I remember the treasures within driving distance that I ignored for so long and I’m grateful for what I have.

    We will never step foot in an airport again unless TSA is disbanded. Since so many government officials and their well-connected cohorts are raking in millions of dollars through all this so-called security, we know that will never happen. And so we will continue to do all our traveling by car. When the day comes that the government thugs are abusing us on the roadways and making us produce our papers at the checkpoints, we’ll sell our car and take up knitting.

  • TonyA_says

    Excellent post, Carver!
    IMO the only way to see a country (or a place) is by land (road).
    To me, the most fascinating part of any trip are the stops, whether by automobile, bus, train or walking. Some of the best (local nuance) foods are found near train or bus stations (not airports or cruise ports).
    I hope that you sense that I travel to eat and experience local stuff.
    Flying is just a necessary evil.

  • Jessica

    My husband and I are from different states and live roughly in the middle of our families. Two to four times a year we hop in a rental car and drive in one direction or the other to see our loved ones. We tote our 3 kids along the 10 hour drive and besides the radio and cell, all electronics are left behind.

    While I’d prefer to fly, the $1000+ price tag keeps us as road trippers. I love the aspect of being so close together with little distractions and we’ve had some of our best times just sitting and talking in the car together. It strengthens our bond as a family- through the laughs and the temper tantrums, exploding diapers, car ride dance parties and all.

  • TonyA_says

    I suppose few talk about the train because our train system sucks and is expensive. Take for example a simple route NYC to Boston (or vice versa). A lot of folks have moved to riding buses since they are much cheaper.

  • Daizymae

    That part about being on your own schedule is really great. We’ve changed our plans during road trips too.

    On a three week trip to Alaska, we suddenly wanted to come home a day earlier, but the cost to change flights was astronomical. On our last two road trips to Nashville and Charleston, our fun meter ran down two days earlier, so we just came home.

    And we did all that with no TSA to harass us.

  • http://www.juicebox2go.com/ JuiceBox2Go.com

    We just got back from a Road Trip/Train Trip yesterday. (We drove almost 400 miles to take a train another 300 miles). Not the longest road trip we’ve taken, but a nice little drive.

    Driving gets a bad rap. When you drive you don’t have to go through security or check bags. You just throw them in the car and go. When you want to stop and stretch your legs or grab a bite to eat you just do it. Yes, flying is nice. It’s great to get where you’re going fast, but every once in a while it’s nice to feel like you’re in charge of your own vacation. :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/linda.renk Linda Renk

    We drive almost all the time.  It is more enjoyable and like others, I do not want any part of the TSA.  The cost gas wise is usually the same as one air ticket but if we are both traveling it is cheaper to drive.  I enjoy your hotel, rental car and other road articles, but there are several things that would make for good columns on road travel I would think.  One would be the closing of most of the rest areas.  What do you do with a car load of kids who need to make a pit stop if the sign reads, “rest area close, next rest area 60 miles?”  I feel like the fast food is forcing us to buy from them to be able to use their rest rooms. And like many have said, I can pack what I want without TSA opening my presents, or telling me how much shampoo I can bring.  We would both enjoy more articles about road or train travel and hearing more about what your family must have encountered on your recent trips.

  • cowboyinbrla

    One reason driving’s ignored: today’s shorter vacations (thanks to a work all the time culture) work against spending a couple of days on the road each direction (or more). My sisters with kids typically take a week from work at one time, with the surrounding weekends, at the most, and they usually want to be home for at least one day of rest before returning to work on Monday. How far can you go in that amount of time and still see much of anything? (A side issue for them, of course, is that their imagination is limited, so they want to spend every vacation at the beach. The same beach they’ve been to for ten or twelve years, but not, mind you, to the same beach house where they might have memories; just “to the beach”.)

    When my mother was a young girl, in 1940, my grandmother decided to take her and her sister on vacation (my grandfather was working, and chose not to go). The three of them drove out west from Louisiana, out to California, through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana – most of the western states. No particular plan, just some maps, a rough course to follow, and money (in those days before credit cards and travelers checks). Six or seven years later, they went on a second trip, this time with my grandfather, to the eastern part of the country (up to Chicago, into Michigan, up to Canada, down into New York, New England, down the mid-Atlantic and then back home. By the time she was 13, my mother had been to something like 41 of the then-48 states, by car, with pictures, postcards, and souvenirs to remember it all by. It was wonderful, I’m sure, but who can do that kind of thing nowadays?

  • judyserienagy

    We prefer exploring Europe on vacation and decided that we’d do that until we’re too old to drive safely in a foreign country, then start seeing America.

  • bodega3

    Being in travel I have access to many great vacation options, but give me a US driving trip any day.  We have 7 states left to see.  We own a vehicle that has a power plug in the storage area.  We can pull off anywhere, pull out our travel coffee maker, brew a couple of cups, sit in our camp chairs and enjoy a spectacular view before heading onward.  Taking a side road is a thrill (part of getting older is enjoying the little things more!).  We have a travel BBQ and one of the best meals ever on the road was when we cooked dinner in the hotel parking lot in Sundance, WY while enjoying the sunset.  Last year was a two week driving trip to the Tetons, Northern Rockies, Sawtooths and Sierras.  A couple of years before we drove to the Black Hills, SD but not before a stop at Medicine Bow, WY where the Cow Chip Throwing championships are held.  Couldn’t miss a stop there!  Willie Nelson is always the first CD we put on as we head off….On The Road Again. 

  • JenniferFinger

    I like driving myself and once did a combined flying-road trip.  I flew from NYC to southern California, drove up the PCH to San Francisco, spent about a week there, then flew to Colorado and back to NYC.

    Usually a good trip for me will have both flying and driving.

  • http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/ mytimetotravel

    Actually I don’t find it expensive, if you ride in coach. (The “roomettes” on my recent trip were great, but definitely expensive.) It may depend on the route, I mostly use Amtrak for NC to DC.

  • Nigel Appleby

    Seems like I’m with the majority, fly long distance,  drive for trips closer to home. IMO the only benefit of flying is speed/time over long distances or over water. And this is someone who used to navigate RAF aircraft for a living but I enjoyed driving even then, and still do. I don’t enjoy being crammed into an airline seat – 6’2″ with long legs, so comfort economy (by whatever name) with the extra legroom is great.

  • http://ladylighttravel.com/ LadyLightTravel

    I have to agree with this.  When an auo maker is manufacturing products in the millions, they are not going to create something that is “non-essential”.  That would be wasted profit for them.  The part may not be needed under normal conditions, but I would get it checked once you get back home.  It may extend the life of some other part.

  • http://ladylighttravel.com/ LadyLightTravel

    This is a great point that many people don’t think of.  If you own a 10-15 year old car, it may actually be less expensive to just rent a new vehicle.  After all, new, tires, new hoses, can add up.  I own a pickup, but if I’m dring a long way I’l rent an economy car.  The rental quickly pays for itself in gas savings.

  • Miami510

    I’ve been a member of AAA for years and use their
    hotel/motel guide on my trips up and down the East coast.  Something that disturbs me (and I wonder if many of you have had a similar experience) is a ploy about discounts.

    We usually look for a town about an hour from when we
    want to stop driving, select a motel (with an AAA rating)  and call asking for a reservation for two persons, non-smoking, ground floor.  If
    the rate is agreeable, we ask if they will hold the reservation for an hour.  When we arrive, I show them my AAA card and invariably they say the rate they quoted on the phone took the AAA discount
    into consideration. 

    On the occasions when I’ve questioned how that could be since I didn’t say anything on the phone about a discount card, they insist they factored the discount in the quoted rate.  I have a number of discount possibilities; various organizations to which I belong, and when I offer those, they reply that only one discount can apply to each stay, and the rate quoted on the phone is the only rate.

  • http://mytimetotravel.wordpress.com/ mytimetotravel

     The trick to getting cheap(er) fares on Amtrak is to book well ahead. Especially well ahead for sleepers. the price goes up as they sell seats. I booked in Mid-Dec and I could only get the cheapest sleepers on the California Zephyr on two dates between the middle of April and the middle May.

  • Carchar

    Maybe it’s like the appendix, tonsils, spleen or gallbladder. You can do without them, but you’re better off with them.

  • Jennifer Black

     Living in the upper northwest corner of the US (Seattle WA), the only places I can get to faster by driving instead of flying are Portland Oregon and Vancouver BC.  We make those road trips once or twice a year along with lots of other “nearby” destinations.

    Our “big” summer trip this year is the Oregon coast, so it will be a driving vacation for us.

    But to see any other part of the country it’s easier for us to fly.  So we fly into a destination, rent a car and start our road trip from there.  We’ve done Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks from Vegas, Cape Cod, Mystic Conneticut and eastern Maryland from Boston and family destinations in Ohio and Indiana from Columbus and Cleveland.

    The expense of the flights to where we want to go are part of the cost of living for us to live in the great Northwest.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    You’ve got mountains, we’ve got greater accessibility to Iowa.  :)  We’ve been to all the places you mentioned, but *you* haven’t mentioned Iowa.  Or, for that matter, Nebraska.  Hmmm.  We’re not just flyover states, you know.  We can be a drive-through state!

  • bodega3

    We drove through Nebraska last Oct.  And I liked it! 

  • bodega3

    We have driven the whole Oregon coast and IMHO, Oregon has some of the best beaches in the USA.

  • TravelingSalesman

    For more than 50 years, I have wondered why people spend so much money and energy flying to places far away where they:
    A. don’t speak or understand my language
    B. charge exorbitant prices “because they can”
    C. don’t really want me there until I take out my wallet
    D. will steal from me and it’s OK because I’m JUST a tourist.
     . . . when there are more wonderful things to see and do within easy driving distance than I will ever be able to do in one lifetime.

    STAY HOME, DRIVE to great places nearby, and enjoy the America all around you.

  • $16635417

    Doing that this weekend. $100 (w/tax) to get a new model car for a 600 mile RT journey. No worries, other than remembering to photograph the car in the lot at pickup.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    Agree!  Train travel is always my first choice.  If I drive, then I have to spend the time driving.  On the train, all that time is mine to sleep, work, chat, read, and enjoy.  All of my best getting-there experiences have been on trains. 

    Still, if it’s within a 1000 miles. I’ll drive if there’s no train, because I’ll go to extremes to avoid the molesters, thieves, bullies, and traitors of the TSA.

  • Lindabator

    Because the world is a great big place with a LOT to offer – and I’ve been travelling it for many years, WITHOUT bringing my pre-conceived prejudice – and SURPRISE! Have a wonderful time, and NONE of the problems above. 

  • streamerstoo

    We travel a great deal, with our Airstream. Nothing like wandering through the back roads of America enjoying the scenery, stopping and having lunch in the rig, taking a short nap, no rush. No hurry to get through lines, TSA, customs or catch a flight. No problems w hotels or rental cars. Just enjoying our wonderful country. Yes,we have taken lots of flights in the past, left haggard at the end of the “vacation” . that is not fun. 

  • streamerstoo

    So does South Carolina

  • http://upgrd.com/roadmoretraveled MeanMeosh

    I greatly prefer to drive.  Heck, even when I need to see a client in St. Louis, I would just as soon make the drive from Dallas than fly.  The problem, as another poster noted, are busier schedules these days, plus the dreaded expectation on the part of clients and bosses that you be “available” at all times, even when you’re on vacation.  That makes a half or whole day drive unfeasible at times, especially if it’s a busy time of year at work (I’d have a hard time justifying being out of the office for an extra 2 days to drive, at least during busy season).

    That being said, my dad was a road trip junkie when I was growing up, and the driving gene rubbed off on me.  Since I started working, I try to do at least one decent sized (one week or more by my own definition) road trip a year.  My personal record so far was a 19-day, 21-state, 8,100 mile haul in 2005 that took me from Dallas, north to Mount Rushmore, west to Mount Rainier, south along the Pacific Coast to San Francisco, east to Utah, then finally east and southeast again to Dallas.  The best part for me about traveling by road is the ability to see things that truly define “Americana”; you just can’t enjoy the homemade cream soda at the pharmacy in Ennis, Montana, or the “U-Pick” orange grove on Highway 27 outside Orlando, when you fly.  Well, I guess you could do that last one if you flew to Orlando and rented a car, but then how would you get all those oranges home :)

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    With the exception of “A” (and I assure you, there are parts of the US where I have a tough time figuring out what they’re saying), all of your problems can be experienced in any part of America.  Didn’t Chris just have an article about a “tourist trap” in Maine, where he was complaining about the same things you brought up?

    How about taking a cheerful disposition with you and enjoying where you are, wherever “where” is?  But I do have to agree with “enjoy the America all around you”.  And Canada – great people, great country – and driveable, too!

  • TravelingSalesman

    I lived my life in Northern California.  there are places and things to see and do in Northern California that I haven’t had time to do in only 66 years.  I love the Pacific NorthWest and include Montana & British Columbia in that geography.  There is no way anyone could do it all unless they’re born wealthy, so why take my mind, body, and cash anywhere else?

  • MarkKelling

    I’ve driven to many places within the US were every one of your points was true there because they were tourist destinations (some of the regional accents in the US are still strong and very hard to understand).  I have also flown to many places I could not drive and none of your points were true there because I was able to stay away from the touristy places (and nearly everyone in the world apparently speaks English and many of them do so better than many native US citizens).

    I do agree that there are so many places nearby where I live that I will never be able to see them all.  But why not travel and see the places that you can while you can even if it is not the nearby places? 

  • MarkKelling

    I was not born wealthy nor am I trying to do it all.  I just enjoy visiting places that I have never been before and have, so far, only had good experiences in all the places I have visited outside the US.  

  • Just One Boomer (Suzanne)

    We didn’t take our now twenty-something children on long road trips.  With busy careers, we wanted to spend time with our boys at somewhere, rather than getting somewhere.  However, I have fond memories of some loooong road trips with my family when I was a child.  The 1963 trip to Mexico in the 1957 Chevy, for example, was epic.   

  • bodega3

    I haven’t been to coastal SC, so I will have to check it out as it is on my list. 

  • bodega3

    Ah but the road trip getting there is part of the adventure….except for the fighting in the back seat, the whining, the spilled food, the car sickness :-)

  • http://solutionz.com/ chickefitz

    While I applaud what Mark has accomplished with Road Trip America (and his staying power!), I don’t agree about there not being constants in marketing to the drive market. 

    Last year I got a group of prominent travel industry and technology companies together in something we called Project 85 and we did a syndicated study and held a Think Tank in Las Vegas in conjunction with an industry conference.  AOL/Mapquest put together a wonderful summary of that study.  It can be found on http://www.project85thinktank.com (lime green in right column of home page).

    There are many constants when you look at the 1 billion trips taken annually in the US that involve at least one overnight, one of which is that 69% of them are traveling for “life”, not pure vacation or business.  The latter two trip catalysts represent just 8% and 23% respectively of overnight trips.  It is those life catalysts that are consistent and that fuel the decision to drive. 

    Life travelers get an invitation to attend an event, they have a passion (or are supporting their kids’ passions such as sports or music competitions), they are caring for someone or they have some level of obligation (attending aunt Mary’s 80th birthday party).  And most of the time these take them to the 89,900 cities, towns and villages that are not easily reached by air.

    While my last venture into the road trip space did not have enough capital to get much beyond launch (although we did win the startup of the year award at PhoCusWright 2007, just weeks after launching on Travelocity), my new venture is addressing life travel and streamlining the planning process for invitation, passion, care and obligation as trip catalysts. 

    Stay tuned!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/2NZAJ6KPWUWJV23TTE3TNBMJZI Trudi

    I agree with the other who couldn’t answer this poll. I live in Florida and no matter where we go it’s a road trip, so we often fly to our destination and rent a car for the road trip. Last year my sons and I rented a mini-van and drove from Tampa to the Grand Canyon with the single rule of no Interstate highways. It was the most impressive and exciting vacation we’ve ever done. Next time, though, we will fly to some mid-spot and rent a car and pursue our journey from there. Traveling by car on the state and county highways is by far my preferred vacation, though.

  • jim6555

    Unless there are time constraints, I’ll almost almost drive if my destination is less than 400 miles from my home. Anything greater than that, I’ll fly or perhaps take Amtrak if their limited network will take me to my destination. 

    Chris, I agree with others posting here that the question is too simplistic and more answer options should be available. Despite that, you’re still my favorite consumer advocate. :)

  • cjr001

    When it comes down to it, even if I wanted to drive everywhere we go on vacation (and I don’t really like to drive; my wife doesn’t drive at all), we simply do not get the vacation time to do so. And I’m betting that this is the case for a vast number of Americans.

    As I’ve also said, I’d love to take trains more, but they can be unreliable and take just as long as driving somewhere.

    It seems the ‘best’ of both worlds is to fly somewhere, then drive around, cutting out the vast majority of the travel time by at least getting to your starting point as quickly as possible.

    In the end, the ‘great American road trip’ has been dead for awhile now.

  • Ronay

    I travel both ways for vacations, flying and driving. By far, driving vacations beat out flying, a hundred-fold. Even on most destinations reached by plane, I spend much my ground time exploring many more places than just a single city or destination. I’ve driven in Italy, England, France, Africa and Canada. I’ve seen almost every state in the USA, and have had memorable experiences I could never have enjoyed any other way. You just need to use a little common sense for any successful journey!

    Long live travel by car!

  • Ronay

    I travel both ways for vacations, flying and driving. By far, driving vacations beat out flying, a hundred-fold. Even on most destinations reached by plane, I spend much my ground time exploring many more places than just a single city or destination. I’ve driven in Italy, England, France, Africa and Canada. I’ve seen almost every state in the USA, and have had memorable experiences I could never have enjoyed any other way. You just need to use a little common sense for any successful journey!

    Long live travel by car!

  • http://www.talestoldfromtheroad.com/ Dick Jordan

    Thanks for this interesting piece which inspired me to write
    “Stuck on The Great American Summer Road Trip.”

  • Texan78730

    Even though your signal strength meter on the cell phone may read zero, and you cannot get a voice connection, it is often possible to get a text message out. A text is sent as a instantaneous ‘bleep’ and often will go through when voice will not.

  • Texan78730

    Well, I must respectfully disagree.  I am extremely well traveled having been to something like 89 countries (a number of them several times over).  As much as I love this country, it is very much the same save for the landscape.  I have had the most wonderful times overseas. Language was rarely a problem. People (save for the Parisians) were friendly, and I always felt welcome. 

    I find it appalling that you set yourself up as the quintessential  Ugly American. People do not have to “speak my language”. You are in a FOREIGN country.  They do not charge exorbitant prices “because they can”. I find the prices in New York to be exorbitant but in no way feel they are out to get me.

    I feel a foreign country should consider themselves fortunate that you do not cross their threshold with that sort of attitude.

  • TravelingSalesman

     It’s true, I don’t know other languages except Spanish and Japanese and the common courtesies in Korean, Swedish, and Italian.  I am also well traveled, but I stay near home and my business and get to know my neighbors.  The reason I’m NOT the ugly American is that I stay here.

    I guess the greatest source of my prejudice for local travel is that I’d pass some great stuff right here, in a dash to the airport. 

    Who among you has seen all the wonders of your own state and all of the adjacent states?  I am now 66 and I have just touched on mine and I am an avid traveler, even making it my life’s work to travel as part of my business. I ran my businesses, sold a couple, raised two successful kids, while traveling the West.

    My next trip is in two weeks to a part of the desert I’ve missed in Northern Nevada, followed by a few spots on the coast of Northern California.  I’d bet few folks know the language spoken only in one California town.  I hope to learn some Boontling.  I’d bet few know where the Swedish or Norwegian towns are in California, or the center of the Assyrian population.

  • Texan78730

    I have lived in Northern California as well and loved it.  But I have also climbed the Great Pyramid at Giza, been to the Himalayas, camped out with head hunters in Borneo, seen Ayres Rock, done 28 Inland Passage cruises, wandered all over Paris, driven through England, Scotland, and Ireland, transited the Panama Canal three times, sailed from Rio around the tip of South America through the Chilean fjords and back twice, been to the Galapagos Islands as well as East Africa, spent three weeks on the QE2 on part of its World Cruise, ridden the TGV at 186mph through Europe and under the English Channel, flown the Atlantic 35 times and the Pacific 10.  I could go on for an hour!    And I never saw a McDonalds or a Home Depot or a tacky strip mall. I was never treated rudely except by a French woman in Bora Bora. I never had any trouble speaking English save in parts of South America.   The United States is a gorgeous country, but so are a hell of a lot of other places.