Highway 89 on the way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Peter Olsen/Getty

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The open road has always served as a sort of grand mystery, an untamed beast waiting to be conquered. That mystique, to my surprise (and the dissatisfaction of airlines), experienced a renaissance of sorts over the past year, as adventurers fueled by a pandemic-changed world looked toward the road to satisfy a surging wanderlust.

When the world came to a halt last March, the travel industry transformed overnight, and with it, that old blast from the past returned to the fore. Similarly, the workspace transitioned to a predominantly remote environment, making working on the road more accessible than ever.

Acknowledging this shift, Sunset asked our readers how, when travel restrictions loosen, they will tailor their future travel plans.

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More than 70 percent responded that they were most likely to road trip, while nearly 45 percent said they will travel commercially. Seemingly for the first time since air travel became a commonality instead of a luxury, travelers are opting out of flying high in favor of hitting the road.

Airstream, for example, the company that has produced the longest line of award-winning recreational vehicles, saw a 49 percent spike in retail deliveries in May 2020. Vice President of Sales Justin Humphreys credits the surge to a social distancing-inspired desire to “avoid planes, hotels, public restrooms, and restaurants.”

And though recent events have enhanced preferences for the open road, an innate longing for this method of travel was stirring well before pandemic-related closures. In 2015, for example, approximately 22 percent of American vacations were spent on the road, according to data provided in MMGY Globals’s 2017-18 Portrait of American Travelers. Just one year later, that number climbed to 39 percent as the country celebrated a recovering economy.

Now, it’s only a matter of time before history repeats itself. So anticipated is the post-pandemic travel boom that many have joked 2021 will act as a second coming of the Roaring Twenties, with flappers and outlandish parties replaced by conversion vans and a newfound love for adventure.

Van riding through the Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park off Highway 89

Courtesy of the NPS

Benefits of the Road Less Traveled

Air travel’s benefits of expedience and convenience, for some, outweigh perceived downfalls of bumps in the road, time, and isolation. Others, however, view those factors—the time it takes, the isolation, the bumps in the roads—as benefits.

Every moment on the road, for better or worse, provides an experience.

It affords flexibility not found waiting in hour-long TSA lines or navigating hysteria-filled terminals. There is more independence. You’re not tied down to anyone’s schedule but your own. And if traveling with a group, the price cuts are substantial. Why go after the classic window seat snapshot when your own dashboard could be surrounded by stunning panoramas? Then there’s the story factor. What’s better than a tale of a memorable trip and the blunders that accompanied it?

Still, road trips certainly command their share of planning, time, and commitment (not so different from a relationship).

Molly Steele, a travel analog reportage photographer based out of Los Angeles, discussed the relationship factor that can come into play on the road.

“When traveling with friends, partners, or family, what you learn is where people are nurturing and looking out for one another [and] where they lack in some areas,” she said. Through all the troubles you experience on the road, she added, it’s great to have someone familiar to help you persevere, which, in turn, can create an even stronger bond.

“When you’re outside the comfort of your own home, a lot of comforts are disrupted,” Steele continued. “It is a space you need to be adaptable to as an individual, friend, or partner.”

The Family Carpenter

Thomas J. Story

From ghost towns to hidden gems and secret swimming pools, venturing off the beaten path touches on our primal, human need to explore, a quest for unimaginable fantasies once thought to exist only in movies.

(A personal favorite? Joe’s UFO Jerky, hidden on Interstate 70 about an hour outside Utah’s Arches National Park.)

With the accessibility of airlines, it’s never been easier to turn a cold shoulder to the open road, but we are proud to be getting back to our roots—one of our American pastimes—with the people we love, a movement earned and curated by ourselves rather than through travel consultants.

So, as summer kicks off and the world returns to a new normal, let the scenery unfold and breathe slowly. We’d like you to join us.