Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car.
— E.B. White, One Man's Meat
A Road Trip Plot is a work about characters taking a trip to go from point A to point Z. Along the way, they stop by points B, C, D, et all while things happen to them at each point. Oftentimes a comedy, but occasionally a drama. The things that happen often teach the characters things they didn't know about themselves. Unsurprisingly, this type of plot opens itself wide to Cliche Storms
, but creators conscious of what kind of story they are telling can defy these and create very original and poignant tales.
An important distinction needs to be made between a Road Trip Plot and a Walking the Earth
story. If the heroes encounter an adventure at every stop and end up staying at each location for a while to solve some major problem or deal with a big event, it's Walking the Earth
, especially if each location can be considered an Adventure Town
. If, on the other hand, each location is merely a brief stop along the way, and the story is more about the journey than the specific locations, then it's a Road Trip Plot.
Not all Road Trip Plots involve use of a vehicle, but it's often what one associates with the genre: a family or group of friends traveling in a car—or a van, or on horseback, maybe even on a boat—from one place to another, with stuff happening at each location.
Films with a Road Trip Plot are called "road movies" and are a distinct cinematic genre. Because of the vastness of the continental United States, and its wide road network and car culture, many Road Trip Plots take place there.
Live action television programs (As well as other episodic works) often have Road Trip Episodes in which the characters take a trip. Due to the episodic nature of TV—Status Quo Is God
—these episodes are typically one-off affairs made to give the characters something new to do. Road trip episodes can be broken down into several types. Type 1 is The Family Car, the most common, in which the characters pile in a car and go someplace. In subtype 1a the characters complete the trip and come back, with the return journey possibly omitted (Boring Return Journey
), while in subtype 1b the trip is never completed for some reason. Type 2 is Public Transportation, in which the characters themselves aren't in control of the vehicle, and may include a bus, a plane, or even a spaceship. Type 3, the Alternate Transport, is rarer, and involves characters who are always
traveling taking some different mode of transport. Imagine the characters from a show in the Star Trek
universe leaving their starship and taking a bus.
Compare Blake Snyder's description of this plot
, under the title Golden Fleece
. Also compare The Quest
, along with Booker's version
of the archetypes behind it.
Contrast with Going to See the Elephant
, where the destination starts the plot. See also Buses Are for Freaks
, a trope that may overlap with this if the characters are taking the bus somewhere. See also Wanderlust Song
, the Music
equivalent of this trope.
- Asterix and the Banquet is about Astérix and Obelix on a "Tour de Gaule", collecting speciality food from various cities throughout France in a bid for freedom from the Romans, who are enclosing their village from the rest of the world with a stockade.
- The "Hard-Travelling Heroes" arc in Green Lantern/Green Arrow, where Hal and Ollie travel across the US so Hal can reconnect with ordinary humans and the problems they face.
- Likewise with the "Superman: Grounded" arc of Superman.
Film - Animated
- Calvin and Hobbes: The Series has a Type 1a in "The Insane Road Trip".
- The WWE fanfic Grapefruits series of stories are crack-fics that combine 1a and 2. They deal with teams of superstars traveling to far-off locations in order to procure alcohol and porn magazines for Vince McMahon, and the wild and crazy adventures they have along the way.
Film - Live-Action
- Disney's Bolt has the title character trying to travel back from New York City to Los Angeles, with a notable stop in Vegas.
- Finding Nemo is a story about a fish swimming in the ocean, so there aren't any roads. But otherwise it fits this trope exactly, as Marlin travels across the ocean to find Nemo, meeting many colorful sea creatures along the way.
- A Goofy Movie is about Goofy (yes, the Disney character) taking his son Max on a father-son trip, while Max attempts to take a trip to a concert he wishes to attend. After Goofy discovers what he's been up to, they end up doing both.
- Badlands is a super-dark take on this trope, as young lovers Kit and Holly go on a cross-country murder spree after he kills her father.
- Barefoot has the protagonists driving from New Orleans to Los Angeles.
- Dogma is about a trip/chase from Illinois to New Jersey. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is about their shenanigans on the way from New Jersey to Los Angeles.
- Dumb and Dumber, Harry and Lloyd travel from Rhode Island to Colorado on a dog shaped van.
- Easy Rider centers around the main characters' road trip to New Orleans. It isn't a comedy.
- The Trope Maker, as far as the "road movie" sub-genre is concerned, is It Happened One Night. Claudette Colbert is a spoiled heiress who wants to escape her father's detectives and make her way from Florida to New York to get married. Clark Gable is the newspaper reporter who aids her in exchange for the scoop on her story. Naturally, romance ensues.
- Knockin' on Heaven's Door: Two terminally ill guys with just a couple of days left to live get to know each other and refuse to just sit in a hospital and await their fate. They steal a car and go on a last road trip to see the ocean for the first and last time in their lives. The thing is, the car was used by gangsters to deliver a substantial amount of money to a kingpin.
- Little Miss Sunshine is about a family who travels across state lines and has various misadventures along the way, while trying to get to a beauty pageant in time for their daughter to participate.
- The Muppet Movie, in which Kermit sets off from the swamplands of the American South on his way to Hollywood to become rich and famous, picking up all of his Muppet friends along the way.
- My Favorite Blonde features a sexy British spy and the bumbling American comedian she gets entangled with (Madeleine Carroll and Bob Hope) traveling from New York to Los Angeles by train, bus, stolen plane, and stolen car, chased by Nazis the whole way.
- National Lampoons Vacation, in which Chevy Chase takes his family on a disastrous road trip from Chicago to Southern California to visit Wally World, a Captain Ersatz of Disneyland. The sequel, National Lampoon's European Vacation, is basically the same plot, but with the Griswolds in Europe instead.
- Paul is about two bumbling nerds who are on their way to a Sci-fi convention to pitch a comic one of them's written, only to wind up picking up a Grey named Paul who escaped Area 51 and was trying to get to an area where he could contact his people to leave. Hijinks and an accidental kidnapping ensue.
- Paper Moon: Moses and Addie Travel from Gorham, Kansas to Joplin, Missouri, conning people along the way.
- Planes Trains And Automobiles, which is all about a businessman's frantic efforts to make it from New York to Chicago for Thanksgiving, while all kinds of bad luck and complications get in his way.
- All of the Hope/Crosby On The Road pictures, which always featured Bob and Bing as comic partners getting in various misadventures as they traveled from A to B.
- Rain Man: After the Black Sheep brother finds out that he's been disinherited, with his late father having left all his money to an unknown older brother in an institution, he kidnaps the brother and goes off on a cross-country trip.
- Rubin And Ed comically relates a trip made through Utah to give a man's deceased cat a proper burial.
- Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird has Big Bird traveling to the fictional Ocean View, Illinois, to live with Dodo family, only to find he doesn't really fit in with the family, and flees to return to Sesame Street; at the same time, his friends embark on a journey to try and meet him half way.
- The Sure Thing is a great example from The Eighties, combining this with Quest for Sex, as a college student travels from the east coast to California in search of nookie with the eponymous "sure thing".
- Tommy Boy follows Tommy and Richard's travels as they attempt to sell brake pads. Complete with singing along with the car radio, hitting a deer, and other events typical of the genre.
- Weekend by Jean-Luc Godard is a satirical roadtrip in a World Gone Mad in which everything is Serious Business.
- Who's Singing Over There? describes an eventful bus trip to Belgrade on the eve of the German attack on Yugoslavia during the 2nd World War.
- Wild is a road movie on foot, as Cheryl Strayed goes on an 1100-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, on a voyage of self-discovery.
- Zombieland is pretty much a Road Movie set after the Zombie Apocalypse. Initially, Columbus is looking to get to Columbus, Ohio to find his estranged parents (mostly for want of anything else to do) and the girls are going to Pacific Playland. Tallahasee is mostly just in it for the zombie killin' (and the Twinkies). Halfway through, Columbus finds out his parents are very probably dead already, and once the climax at Pacific Playland is over, the end of the movie seems to signal the four of them starting their Walking the Earth.
- Two Lane Blacktop is about a cross-country race between two stoic street racers and a mysterious man with a Multiple-Choice Past. Along the way, a girl drifts between the two cars.
Live Action TV
- Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn may qualify, in that while Huck and Jim didn't go "across" the country, they did journey down the Mississippi River from the North to the South on a crude raft, with plenty of perils (particularly for Jim in the Antebellum South).
- Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon is a nonfiction chronicle of the author travelling around the US in his camper-outfitted van on back roads (highways that were often colored as narrow blue lines on old gas-station maps), visiting many obscure or ideosyncratic small towns, in the 1970s.
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, both the book and the film.
- Generation Kill is effectively described as a combination of this genre with a war movie, as it deals with the members of Marine Recon driving through Iraq during the 2003 invasion.
- The Odyssey, in a way. It's basically about a king and his men on their journey home from war. By sea, of course.
- The Road, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and film starring Viggo Mortensen about a boy and his father following an abandoned highway After the End.
- The Stand turns into an After the End version of this, as the characters make harrowing journeys to either the rallying place for the protagonists (Boulder, CO) or the rallying place for Satan and his antagonists (Las Vegas, of course).
- Robert Persig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance details a motorcycle journey by him and his son across the western US, along with a journey of philosophical and spiritual discovery.
- Due to a blockade, Marcus and Dr. Franklin leave Babylon 5 and embark on a Type 2 on board a slow freighter to Mars in order to meet with La Résistance.
- The original Battlestar Galactica sent crew members on Type 3 trips in a great many episodes. The reimagined series was a little more restrained about it.
- An episode of The Drew Carey Show has the main cast piling into the Buzz Beer van and travelling to New York in an attempt to sell the beer outside a baseball game.
- Gold Rush: Each season opens with a type 1a trip that delivers the miners to their gold mine in the slowly thawing far north.
- A few low-grade secondary type 1a trips are undertaken during the course of the mining seasons in order to obtain more mining resources. (Loans, materials, machines and equipment)
- I Love Lucy had a several-episode arc where Ricky got cast in a Hollywood movie, so Lucy, Ricky, Ethel, and Fred drive a Type 1a cross-country to get there, stopping in (in subsequent episodes) Ohio, Tennessee, Albuquerque (Ethel's hometown), before finally getting to Hollywood, where they meet (through several more episodes) tons of Celebrity Cameos.
- JAG played with this one. Because Harmon Rabb is a trained fighter pilot, he flies to Cuba in one episode. He almost blows the actual mission.
- Another episode has Harm and Mac, on their first mission together, driving into the desert to find the people who stole the US Constitution. Both are a bit cagey, as Harm can't help but notice that Mac looks just like a former lover of his who was murdered, and because Mac knows that the man who stole the Constitution is a family friend of hers.
- Yet another episode has Harm, Mac, and Budd driving a rental car to the site of their next case, due to there not being enough money in the budget to buy them plane tickets. On the way, they end up at a Quantum Leap convention, complete with Donald Bellisario addressing a group of fans.
- Little House on the Prairie: The Ingalls family went on at least one Type 1a road trip, while the dad (Charles) went on multiple trips.
- The Love Boat: In an interesting twist on the trope, the job of the regular cast was to facilitate type 2 trips for the guest stars.
- NCIS: Members of the NCIS crew are on a Type 2 international flight when a body is discovered.
- One episode of the British comedy One Foot in the Grave had Victor and Margaret stuck inside their car in a traffic jam for the entire episode for a Type 1b.
- Red Dwarf: Several Type 3s using the Starbug.
- Stargate Verse: When they aren't spending mere seconds using the Portal Network to gate between planets light-years apart, they eventually use a variety of starships. When there's only a few seconds of travel time, there's no time for plot. When travel takes days or weeks, plot has loads of time to develop.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: Several different crew members took shuttles to get someplace the Enterprise wasn't going.
- That '70s Show: The gang traveled out of town so the boys could check out a college.
- Wings introduced the infamous Carlton Blanchard in one of these. Blanchard wins a contest where the prize is a trip anywhere. Because of how the description was written note , he uses the prize to visit his brother in the American Southwest and fight him for their father's pocket watch.
- Havalina Rail Co.'s album America is a concept album about a road trip across the US, with each song corresponding to a different area traveled through. The back cover of the album has a map depicting the route traveled.
- Garfield and Jon (and sometimes Odie) go on Type 1a road trips occasionally. They've also gone on Type 2 ones.
- Red & Ted's Road Show has its titular protagonists traveling across America, wreaking havoc along the way.
- World Cup Soccer had the player progressing through the cup in different locales in the U.S. (matching those of the 1994 World Cup, which the game was made to promote).
- The much-maligned Vacation America was all about this.
- Adventures in Odyssey has two mini-arcs involving road trips. One is Connie and Joanne going to Washington D.C., and another is Eugene and Bernard.
- El Goonish Shives "Hammerchlorians" arc dedicates several pages to a Type 1a road trip.
- An early Freefall arc had the crew of the Savage Chicken embarking on a Type 1a to an abandoned colony ship. It was technically a salvage mission, but Sam and Helix both called it a road trip.
- Final Fantasy VII: The Sevening: Page 271 has everyone pile into The Buggy and do stereotypical road trip things like suggest travel games, ask "are we there yet?" incessantly, sing "99 bottles of beer on the wall", and get carsick.
- Zeus' Godly Goodtime uses this as backdrop for Zeus and Kratos to spend some father-son time together. Too bad the surprise-destination Zeus planned ends up being Nintendo Land...
- Chakona Space: Plenty of interstellar type 2 and 3 trips.
- While the first Chris and Scottie's Road Trip (made by the same man behind The Irate Gamer) was a World Tour, the second installment is focused on the US instead.
- Homestar Runner: In the Strong Bad Email "road trip", Strong Bad and the Cheat attempt to go on a Type 1a road trip, but end up getting locked in the car with no way to start it for the duration of the episode, turning it into a Type 1b.
Strong Bad: And that was our road trip. Or, more accurately our car trip, since we didn't go on any roads. Or, even more accurately, our car, since we didn't go on any trips either.
- The Adventure Time episode "Thanks for the Crabapples, Guiseppe", where Ice King and some of his fellow wizards hop on a van and take a trip to Butt Mountain.
- In one episode of Chowder, a simple delivery turned into one of these, much to Chowder's joy. Unfortunately, they were delivering explosive fruit.
- The third Danny Phantom Made-for-TV Movie doubled as this when the titular hero and his friends had to travel cross-country to obtain three magic gems.
- Daria: "The Road Worrier" sees Daria and Jane take a road trip with Trent and Jesse to go to Alternapulooza. It ends up being a Type 1b, but Daria and Trent do get some "quality time".
- Family Guy seems to have gone on more than one with their "Road To..." episodes.
- The Flintstones: have gone on a variety of different Road Trips.
- One Futurama episode, Bendin in the Wind where they follow Beck in a VW bus is a Type 1a.
- The Phineas and Ferb episode aptly titled "Road Trip" is kind of a subversion of Type 1a: The entire episode takes place while the family is coming home from a road trip.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Over a Barrel may count as a Type 2, with the Mane Six and Spike taking a trip by train to Appleloosa. Pinkie Apple Pie definitely counts as Type 1a, with Pinkie Pie tagging along on a trip with the Apple family to see a distant relative who might hold the key as to whether or not Pinkie really is a distant cousin of Applejack.
- 101 Dalmatians: The Series had the three-part series finale "Dalmatian Vacation".
- The Simpsons features an episode where Bart and some of his friends take Type 1 in order to visit a world fair that turns out to have closed years ago.
- There's an episode when Homer takes Bart on a road trip to a motivational camp across the country due to incident in school and was on a "no fly list" in the airlines.
- A series of Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Summer Vacation has Hamton's family take a Type 1a to Happy World Land, with Plucky tagging along. They take the monorail around one time, then go home.
- One of the final episodes of Nickelodeon's Doug has a Type 1 with Doug's family to see the Painted Gorge, which gets sidetracked by several stops to visit which turn out to be tourist traps, followed by the car getting stuck in the mud and requiring everyone to get out and push it free.