When the coronavirus hit, Jill Sunderson and her investment banker husband Jason nixed their planned summer trip to Barcelona.

Instead, the Hinsdale, Ill.-based couple is taking their children, ages 11, 8, and 6, on a self-drive trip through South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, all planned with the help of SmartFlyer, a full-service travel company catering to high-end corporate and leisure travelers. “In the past, the U.S. was always on the back burner,” she says. “We always rationalized flying somewhere, because it would introduce the kids to a different culture.”

In the wake of the novel coronavirus, however, the great American road trip is getting an alluring makeover.

Forget the family Suburban and free, AAA-generated maps. The latest itineraries from outfitter Black Tomato, called Take the Open Road, are created in partnership with Auberge Resorts Collection and Mercedes-Benz. Travelers living within 100 miles of the car brand’s New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Atlanta flagships can request complimentary home delivery and pickup of vehicles that are pre-programmed with destination-specific playlists and stocked with picnic baskets.

Five-night trips start at nearly $5,000 per person, though such add-ons as two nights at a fully-serviced pop-up glamping site in Arches National Park in Utah can bring the price tag up to $18,875 per person.

In addition to overnights at Auberge properties, including Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colo., and Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley, Calif., the itineraries also include a private charter of an America’s Cup antique motor boat and truly away-from-the-crowds heli-hiking adventures.

For Black Tomato and many other travel outfitters, the humble road trip is emerging as a Hail Mary to make up for months of lost revenue. “Like many industries, we have to pivot and adjust to changing needs and demands,” says SmartFlyer’s Robert Merlin, who has started to swap travelers’ summer trips to Europe—like the Sundersons’—with splashy U.S. drives.

If his new product is any indication, Black Tomato co-founder Tom Marchant agrees. His company ordinarily focuses on money-is-no-object voyages to places like Rwanda and Japan. Last year, domestic U.S. trips made up only 15% of Black Tomato’s business, but the combination of scarce summer flights, wariness of taking to the skies, and extensive travel restrictions abroad are forcing change.

Marchant does, however, see a silver lining: “We often find ourselves guilty of looking past incredible experiences that lay conveniently in our backyard.”

‘King of the Road’
Depending on what travelers are prioritizing—safety, nature, comfort, hospitality—these glammed-up road trips trips can look very different. Risk-tolerant travelers craving a taste of the “old normal” are open to checking off America’s bucket-list attractions with the help of a driver, staying at remote luxury ranches along the way. Hyper-vigilant social distancers may prefer driving themselves and sleeping in a tricked-out RV.

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