It’s 4:45 am on a luxury coach in the middle of the desert. The curtain in my bunk opens and I’m awoken by a hand on my shoulder and a familiar (if exceedingly excited) voice saying, “We’re here! We’re here!”
I scramble down out of my bunk, delirious from the two hours of sleep I managed the night before, and run to get my backpack. I rush out of the coach to a strangely empty, but familiar, parking lot. I start running — both to warm my bare legs (it’s unexpectedly cold), and to make sure I don’t miss the big show.
It doesn’t take long to lose the crowds and suddenly I’m alone at the edge of the world. I find a spot on a rock to drop my camera gear and sit down — I’ve scored the best seat in the house. As the sun starts to come up over the Grand Canyon, I can’t help but tear up. I’ve seen it before, but just like everyone else will tell you” This view never gets old. It’s iconic for a reason.
I sit alone, perched on a lone rock with my legs dangling a mile above the canyon floor, for what feels like hours. Maybe it is. After a week on a luxury coach with nine strangers, the release is mandatory. It feels luxurious. In just a week I’ve surfed in San Diego, explored Santa Monica, hiked in the dry desert heat of Joshua Tree, and faced my fear of heights in Palm Springs. My time alone is a chance to reflect on my trip and on the diverse land and cityscapes this country continually offers the eager travelers.
So how did I end up on a tour bus (most recently inhabited by Olivia Newton John) at the Grand Canyon at 4:45 am on a Friday morning?
I was on the road with (the aptly named) Roadies, a travel startup, on their inaugural tour. Roadies, founded by Lee Roth and Mark Wills, is aiming to “reinvent the road-trip” through heavily curated week-long bus trips through some of the American Southwest’s most iconic locations. But this isn’t your grandmother’s bus trip — Roadies contracts luxury tour buses with all of the amenities (lounges, tv’s, wifi, snacks) that drive primarily during the night — so travelers wake up in a new location each day.
Roth conceived of the idea on a hike with a friend, lamenting the lack of time available to plan and take road trips.
“I thought: ‘There’s something magical about road trips,'” he explains. “So how can we take that magic without the pain of driving all day and planning for weeks? What if we could create an experience where every day you wake up to a new view, experience, and adventure?”
Roadies partners with local resorts, attractions, and adventure guides along the way to create iconic experiences at every stop. The resorts provide showers, gyms, and spas, and “tour managers” plan activities each day — along with a la carte options (surf lessons in San Diego and rock climbing in Joshua Tree are just the beginning).
As a frequent National Parks traveler, Roth and Willis asked me to tag along on the inaugural tour — which not only included the stop for sunrise over the Grand Canyon but also a day in Joshua Tree National Park. To be honest, as a solo traveler, I was hesitant. Travel is so personal, and the way that I experience a place is also personal. Just like in any story, the setting and characters determine the plot. Still, I loved the concept and thought it was worth a shot, so I headed to San Diego to meet the team.