It’s hot in some places, and still snowing in others. Record-high gas prices. 40-year-high inflation. The political climate is tense. Supply chain issues continue to wreak havoc on the most vulnerable. Russia’s war on Ukraine persists. Workers are hard to find. Who wouldn’t want to get away?
My hand is raised, and so are the hands of 34.9 million people who say they plan to travel 50 miles or more to take a much-deserved road trip this summer. That’s according to AAA’s annual Memorial Day travel forecast.
AAA’s survey is an indicator of what the roads will look like till Labor Day. According to Andrew Gross, national public relations manager at AAA, and a recent guest on our Convenience Matters podcast, the forecast has never shown a strong Memorial Day and then a downer summer. People typically take a shorter trip over the Memorial Day holiday as a precursor to a longer vacation later in the summer.
However, we are in unchartered waters, Gross said. COVID-19 is still around, and high prices are not going away, so that begs to question whether travel will change. While we won’t know until the fall, it will be observable as the months tick on.
All said, we’re almost back to pre-pandemic levels in terms of how many folks plan to travel this summer. We’re not there yet, but nearly 35 million people is no small sack of potatoes. And where do these drivers pit stop? Convenience stores.
We often see the summer drive impact on convenience stores firsthand because that’s the time we’re in stores filming for Ideas 2 Go. We encounter the bustling customer traffic during the morning and lunch rushes, as well as hungry and thirsty travelers walking into a particular c-store for the first time and seeing a camera crew. Then, of course, they quickly realize they won’t be extras in the next superhero blockbuster. My apologies.
Filming for Ideas 2 Go is kind of like its own version of a road trip. The longest drive we’ve done so far from town A to town B was about 9 hours—I’m looking at you, North and South Dakota—because we detoured to Mt. Rushmore. When in Rome, right? Granted, it took a good two hours to see another form a life during some parts of the drive, but the journey was well worth it.
Other times we’ve driven through areas where there are so many convenience stores that we had to cut ourselves off from stopping so we could make our next shoot. Colorado, Utah, Iowa, Georgia, Texas and Oregon come to mind.
Along with Gross of AAA, we aired several podcasts in May that highlight road trips. Stephanie Stuckey is on a mission to revive not only the Stuckey’s brand and her family’s company, but also the nostalgia and freedom that we feel on a road trip. C-store foodie Al Hebert, also known our Gas Station Gourmet, has spent most of his adult life on the road and knows all the tips and tricks to having a memorable road trip. My favorite tip from Al: get off the beaten path—that’s where you’ll find the best c-store food and people.
This year is different, no doubt about that, even if you only look at what I mentioned in the opening paragraph. But is the desire to make memories, see open spaces, breathe in fresh air, camp out under the stars, read the books that have been stacking up and sit back and take a much-needed break—physically and mentally—from this everyday thing called life going to change? I can only answer that for myself.
I’ll leave us with this: I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Be the first person who makes someone smile today.” If 34.9 million people hit the road, they will have about 148,000 chances to experience a convenience store, whether it’s a brand they know and love or are seeing for the first time. There are 2.38 million people working in the convenience store industry. Now, math isn’t my strongest asset, but that’s a lot of opportunities to bring smiles to the faces of people whose road trip may exhausting, tiring, taxing—or just fine. Whatever the case may be, that trip would not be possible without a convenience store, whether it’s for food, fuel, beverages, snacks and yes—to use the restroom.
Coming off the road and seeing the smiling face of someone working in the c-store? That’s a memory worth keeping.
Safe travels and happy trails, wherever the road takes you.