Before Covid-19, a niche travel trend called #Overlanding has been rapidly growing in popularity, particularly amongst adventurers looking for something different, a vacation that pushed their sense of adventure. Overlanding is best described as ‘off-road campervan-ing’ where intrepid travelers can take a road trip that covered not only the blacktop, but also the ungroomed and remote tracks leading deep into the wilderness. The vehicles used are typically built for off-road driving and fitted with Roof Top Tents.
‘Overlanders’ look for remote locations and campsites, those located at the top of a mountain trail, deep in a forest or hidden in a desert. Basically, anywhere out in nature where encountering other humans is unlikely and there is no competition for optimal views and campsites from RVs or campervans.
Now we have Covid-19 and with it a destruction of the travel industry - approximately $24 billion lost and 825,000 jobs wiped out, according to Paula Froelich of the New York Post. However, once this lockdown ends, pent-up desire to travel after isolation will create a huge need to travel.
So what are the likely preferred options? “We are currently focusing on #staycations, within-country travel … domestic travel will recover from this crisis first” said Mark Wong, an executive at Small Luxury Hotels of the World in a recent CNBC interview.
“Road trips - the drive market - will be this summer’s trend. Travelers will be more comfortable hopping into their own cars or rental vehicles than commuting in mass transportation” stated Wong.
With plummeting oil prices and gas becoming cheap, he is probably right. If you’ve got kids, ditch the one large trip and schedule a series of three or four day road trips to places in your own backyard. In fact, the likelihood of pretty much anyone taking long vacations after months under lockdown, is slim.
This sentiment was echoed by Samantha Brown, the host of “Places to Live” on PBS. She predicts a huge need to travel, not just to distant places, but small trips to local and state destinations. This might be the year that San Diegans or Los Angelinos skip the flights to Cancun and instead visit #Yosemite, #Mojave or even The Grand Canyon.
1. They’ll stay in the country. International travel will fall out of favor as people stay closer to the safety of home.
2. They won’t travel far from home. “#Staycation” and road trips will be favored over flying or cruising.
3. They’ll make it quick. A softer economy will mean the traditional two-week summer vacation could turn into a long weekend.
Finding destinations without crowds and discovering new places to go, that doesn't require driving for 5 or more hours or travel on packed flights, will be the new challenge. This is where the small Overlanding industry will flourish, Providing more than just vehicles and camping equipment, Overlanding tour companies provide off-road capable vehicles like Jeeps or Land Rovers and equip them with roof top tents, allowing families to travel to remote spots in Anza Borrego, the Sierras or even The Grand Canyon - places they can comfortably explore, then sleep wherever they park.
As an added bonus in the Western US (for example), California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah all have millions of acres of open wilderness, where anyone can seek a little adventure and camp for free. The Bureau of Land Management as well as multiple State Parks have designated ‘Primitive Camping’ spots where basic items like an in-ground fire ring, or perhaps a 'luxury item' like a picnic bench have been installed.
Very few people have off-road capable vehicles sitting in their driveway, ready to go. In fact, most don’t even have a tent or sleeping bag. This is where small businesses like Funki Adventures, based in San Diego, have developed their niche. They will rent out fully equipped Jeeps, complete with roof top tents, for much cheaper than you would pay for a small to mid- size RV. You simply arrive and drive. Funki Adventures can also provide trip plans and maps, outlining how to get to hidden gems, cool scenic places guaranteed to be devoid of any RVs or throngs of tourists because you need four-wheel-drive to find them. The custom trip plans will let you know of any nearby attractions, or must-visit locations on the way to your destination. So if traffic slows you down on the road from San Diego to Las Vegas, you can simply exit onto a dirt trail and see where it takes you.
The founders of Overlanding New Zealand, Corey and Andrea, believe that domestic travel will be the vacation type of choice locally, both for the cost savings as well as the reduced risk profile. "The undoubted benefit of being able to get 'off the grid' in a hurry will mean a spike in sales of off-road and overlanding style vehicles" suggested Andrea. She added that many local businesses have built themselves on the tourist dollar, so their products and services may not be at a price point acceptable to the average New Zealander. In contrast, Overlanding through a professional company can be a relatively inexpensive few days away from daily life.
Highland Defenders, an Overland provider in Scotland, are working with other local businesses to cater for the local tourist. "With an expected drop in international trade, we are working harder than ever to promote and support our local businesses through this difficult time. We are expecting to see a more UK focused customer base for a while as folk begin to travel again, but may be limited to movement within the country." James at Highland Defenders is also working with local vendors to provide gift vouchers to any upcoming bookings in an effort to draw more tourists to frequent small businesses in Scotland.
Popular Overland provider in Northern California, Cypress Overland is run by Alexa Birukova and she firmly believes that 'Netflix fatigue' will soon affect most of us after weeks (or months) of lockdown: "Post-Covid 19 reality will most certainly encourage more city dwellers to explore nature and find its healing properties. Overlanders around the world have known for decades that its one of the best ways to experience our beautiful planet without the limitations of hotels, motels, RVs or really anything that has walls. We think long weekend getaway trips will become the new 'Netflix and Chill' where Netflix will be replaced by oceans, forests, lakes, deserts and mountains".
It will be interesting to see how this niche industry will evolve in the new normal that will emerge once this virus passes. Overlanding might just be the tonic needed to cure the post-Covid hangover.