As well-traveled Americans and international visitors look for their next adventures, travel advisors are pointing them to the allures of the open road. Fueled by an increase in high-end lodging options in the American West, more luxury travelers will shift gears and opt for driving rather than flying.
While packing the bags, rounding up the kids, and cramming into the station wagon for a road trip has been a thing of American lore for generations, it’s not a vacation choice normally associated with sophisticated, well-heeled travelers.
A growing number of travel agencies are seeking to change this by putting together versions of classic domestic road trips designed for globetrotters accustomed to upscale amenities and customized experiences.
Among these travelers are Linda and Gary Vanderhaagen, Michigan natives who have spent the last four years visiting such bucket-list destinations as South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile.
Last summer while shooting the breeze about where to travel next, Linda Vanderhaagen realized that she had never seen the giant redwoods of the coastal American West.
“I’ve done a lot of trip planning and we have been in California many times over our lives, but I just got kind of overwhelmed with the thought of trying to go the distance from San Diego all the way up to northern California,” she said. “I was just like, Oh my God that is just going to take me so much planning.”
Vanderhaagen turned to All Roads North, a travel company that focuses solely on luxury American road trips, to plan their 30-day journey. Sam Highley, who founded the company in 2014, said one of the most common things he hears from clients considering driving around the country is that this type of trip had long been an afterthought.
“It’s such a big country. I think that’s pretty common. We will have clients who are really well-traveled, even within the U.S.,” he said. “They may live in Texas and have a home in Vail but have never been up to Montana or Wyoming.”
Highley himself didn’t have the most sparkling view of the various states when he moved to Boston 10 years ago from Argentina. The U.S. wouldn’t have been in his top 10 places to visit at the time, he said, but the more he traveled within the states, the more he was amazed.
“I came to the conclusion that I must not be the only person who discounted the U.S.,” Highley said. “I just thought there was a better way of doing it or a different way of doing it. The best way to see the U.S. is to take a road trip. Not only has it got this incredible heritage and history, but journey is also a part of American psyche and the romance behind them. I think it’s still the best way to see the country.”
At first Highley envisioned that the majority of his customer base would be international, but now he finds his clients are increasingly Americans seeking to discover their own country. This shift is continuing to grow year-over-year, according to Highley.
“We are seeing a real demand among well-traveled, wealthy U.S. clients that have traveled all around the world,” he said. “They realize they haven’t really seen America. They haven’t done the quintessential American road trip.”
Growth in Luxury Accommodations
Putting together luxury road trips across the western U.S. had been difficult up until about 10 years ago because of a lack of four- and five-star accommodations in some of the more remote parts of the country, said Kevin Jackson, founder of EXP Journeys, a travel planning company that focuses on custom adventures, including many across the American West.
“Part of the reason why it wasn’t as commonplace as it is now is that it’s only been the last 10 years where the U.S. market has come around to this luxury travel space,” Jackson said.
Jackson cited the openings of hotels such as Blackberry Farm in Tennesee, The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana, Amangiri in Utah, Post Ranch Inn in California and Brush Creek Ranch in Wyoming as examples of luxury properties that have opened up the market.
Trips with EXP Journeys range from $15,000 to $30,000 per week and are completely customized.
One of the major offerings is that the company organizes unique experiences for each client that otherwise would be hard to come by such as dinner with one of the last Navajo code talkers, personal dinosaur digs, and a trip to the rodeo with actual cowboys.
Both EXP Journeys and All Roads North have put together private camping options for guests who wish to stay near the national parks while also enjoying high-end features such as a personal cook, camp team, and bathrooms.
“The number one thing I hear is ‘I’ve traveled all over the world and I’ve never seen my own backyard,'” Jackson said. “Every single time.”
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Photo Credit: A cattle drive at Bitterroot Ranch in Wyoming. Travel advisors say road trips are a great way to see the U.S. West. Richard Fox