Route 66

Return of the road trip

Did you know that road trips are back in fashion? Turns out we can only watch so many fiascos  or suffer through so many baggage fees (paying for a carry-on? Really? ) before many of us decide it’s time to pack up the SUV and hit the road. The particulars of the recent uptick in road trips can be a boon to the hostel industry. In particular, isolated, off-the-beaten-track hostels should take notice of the recent road trip trend.


How many people are hitting the road?

Out of all American travelers, 46% are taking road trips. In 2016, 39% of all our vacations were road trips. This is up 17% from the previous year and road trips show every indication of increasing their share of our vacation time. Even more impressive is the increased spending on road trips. US spending on road trips exploded from $66.6 billion in 2015 to $113.7 billion in 2016.

Hostels can cash in on road trippers

Millennials are the core demographic for hostels and a third of their vacations are now road trips. The number one reason they choose a road trip is to lower their vacation costs. This is no surprise. America is a car country. Compare that to Europe where they have half as many cars, because who needs one when you’ve got 20 euro Ryanair flights, and the best public transportation in the world? 76% of road trips are with the traveler’s own vehicle, and when Americans have time off, that’s the easiest and cheapest way to explore.

Hostels should be an easy sell to these domestic millennial travelers and we should be doing all we can to persuade them to shun the $90 a night dingy motel and come to join us for a barbecue and a $30 bunk. Besides being more fun, sharing helps travelers stay on the road longer. The US Travel Association found trips with sharing economy accommodations lasted 7.4 nights in comparison to 3.7 for hotels, motels, or B&Bs. Besides tripping longer, road trippers are coming back more. MMY Global found that 55% of millennial and Gen X’ers without children, aka “Freewheelers,” say they will return to a destination previously visited this year. After all, you only need to climb the Statue of Liberty once, but do the Rocky Mountains ever get old?

Why road trips help the little guys

The road trip fad helps the hostels that are otherwise the most disconnected because you travel differently during a road trip. 54% of the road trippers that Ford surveyed said they prefer to take the scenic route. If your location rating is one of the weaknesses for your Hostelworld rating, know that trippers don’t care that you’re off the beaten path. Road trips are also beneficial to hidden gems because a whopping 32% of road trippers choose their accommodation on the fly, which means they have the flexibility to book in only once they’ve found a backcountry hostel.

A bi-partisan vacation trend

The time feels right for more American road trips, and more American road trips supported by hostels. Now is the time for Americans in our densely populated coastal regions to jump in the car and go experience the Midwest; to understand how we wound up in the Trump Era. 75% of road trippers say experiencing different cultures is a motivation for travelling, compared to 69% of non road trippers. The communal hostel experience is all about that exposure to different cultures.

The takeaway (the driveaway?)

The road trip trend is a valuable tailwind for the US hostel industry. It’s a great opportunity to widen our appeal to domestic US travelers, particularly budget-conscious millennials. Like hosteling, road tripping is a way of traveling that promotes cultural exchange.  Because of the spontaneous, wandering nature of road tripping, smalltown hostels are especially primed to benefit.

About the Author Byron Bunda

Byron has worked with hostels big and small, city and rural. His first job was as a receptionist in San Francisco and his favorite was leading the events for a 500-bed hostel in Sydney. Today he's a Market Manager at Cloudbeds. Besides all things hostel related, he enjoys motorcycle riding, especially because it's the perfect way to get from hostel to hostel!