You Need a Surprise Road Trip This Weekend

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You need a surprise road trip this weekend.

In a time of shelter-in-place, working from home, and schooling at home, there has never been more of a need to get out of the house with a purpose. 

When every day can seem like the same, I feel strongly that weekends should feel like a weekend. It can be valuable to break routine while still social distancing, not interacting with others, but also giving yourself a mental break from inside your four walls.

No matter your budget or life stage, there are pandemic-safe things to go out and do!

So I started a “Surprise Road Trip” tradition with the family, where I choose a social-distance-friendly destination about an hour’s drive away in and then surprise everyone by driving there on the weekend.

Since most places are closed but others are too busy, I’ve decided to focus on some old school road trip destinations that are outdoors, kind of dumb, and a complete spectacle. 

So far, I’ve surprised the kids by rolling up at:

For each trip, I pumped up expectations for our trip as only a dad can. I provided clues, a countdown, and lots of dad jokes about how amazing the reveal would be. And of course there are surprises when we get there. I brought nickels for the kids to “make a wish” at the buffalo nickel, cans of green beans to pose with the Green Giant, and a picnic lunch at the smallest park. I bought Dala horses online for the Giant Dala Horse. And yes, we listened to Weird Al’s 7-minute classic, “Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.”

Are each of these a stupid thing to do and a huge eye-roll moment? Heck yes they are. 

But each trip has been something to look forward to all week, and change up the day-to-day pace. Mission accomplished. 

Back at home, we’ve also spent weeknights exploring our neighborhood, hiking to hidden lakes, and even peering in the windows of a dead KFC. 

Here are some resources you can use to find offbeat road trip destinations within an hour of your home: 

  • Roadside America – this site not only has a great catalog of ridiculous road trip stops, you can also use the map feature to see what’s immediately nearby, or maybe a little longer drive. 
  • Atlas Obscura – this is a little classier list of destinations and stops.  
  • Off the Beaten Path – this book series is pretty great, and there’s one for every state! 

The weather is getting gorgeous, and there’s no excuse not to do some urban exploring. Just don’t forget to stay away from other people, don’t take unnecessary risks or risk to others, wear a mask if you’re around others, and capture that #content, too!

See you on the internet!

PS: You’ll note the Jolly Green Giant, Wooden Nickel Buffalo, and Dala Horse were all wearing masks. What a fun surprise to normalize masks to our kids. BONUS! 

update: PR Week wrote about it!

PR Week: A vacation during the pandemic?

Who needs a dreamy vacation to Hawaii this year when you can take a trip to see the world’s largest ball of twine or an enormous statue of the Jolly Green Giant?

Those are some of the magical sights Greg Swan, Fallon’s director of digital, social, PR and innovation, has been seeing with his family during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has been organizing surprise road trips for his family each weekend, for 15 weeks now, hitting weird and wonderful destinations within a 60-mile radius of his Minneapolis home.


Boredom Is Spreading the Coronavirus: People who are rarely bored seem to have an easier time sticking to social distancing behaviors, new research suggests

But increasingly, researchers are starting to look at boredom through a value-neutral lens because at its core, what boredom does is trigger people to do something else. “And that can be something dangerous or risky or unhealthy, but it could also be something that’s good for you,” says Bieleke.

Greg Swan, an advertising professional based in Minnesota, was faced with Covid-19 restrictions and found himself fast becoming bored.

“We are definitely a single-income family in a house that is too small,” says Swan, who in addition to his wife shares his home with their three children aged 14, 10, and nine. “And for the last 14-plus years, I’ve been on a plane almost every other week. And so to be home every weekend, you know [was a change]. We cleaned out the basement, and I painted a fence, and I did landscaping… and you kind of run out of stuff to do around the house pretty quickly.

That’s when he tapped into his creativity and came up with the idea of socially distant day trips. Each weekend, the Swann family travels to an attraction within a 60-mile or so radius from their home (close enough to minimize the need for things like public restrooms). To amp up the anticipation, he doesn’t tell his family where they are going ahead of time; instead, during the week he doles out clues. So far the family has visited dozens of sites, from Extreme Sandbox in Hastings, Minnesota, where you can watch heavy machinery at work from the comfort (and distance) of your own vehicle to a corner of Lawshe Park, in South St. Paul, Minnesota — the first place where women in the United States voted after the ratification of the 14th Amendment.

“I hear from my co-workers they’re like, ‘Man, we sat at home and watched Blue’s Clues this weekend, and you went on this adventure,” says Swan.

Swan’s behavior — creating a plan of activities to do to avoid breaking social distancing — can help even bored people stick with social distancing, according to Bieleke. That’s in part because boredom tends to overlap with a lack of self-control, “basically the ability to control your impulses or your behavior and to do things,” he says. It’s what allows us to do things — like socially distancing — even if we don’t enjoy them.

Bieleke co-authored a study that’s still in preprint that looked at the effect of creating explicit plans on maintaining social distancing. To do that, they surveyed roughly 600 people, over two one-week periods administering a lesson in if/then planning based on social distancing such as “If I want to see my family, then I will have a video chat with them.”The researchers found that people who made a plan were more likely to maintain social distancing with one exception: the unmotivated. Roughly a quarter of the participants said from the outset that they were unlikely to stick to social distancing—and they didn’t.

“For plans to be effective, you actually have to be quite motivated,” says Bieleke.

According to Bieleke, there are ways of encouraging motivation — and it looks a lot like what Swan is doing with his family. “He’s establishing some baseline motivation that you need,” says Bieleke. In other words: socially distance, but make it fun.

“We can’t have a big birthday party, so what are we going to do? We’re going to do a drive-by parade. We can’t go visit grandpa and grandma in Florida. So what are we going to do? We’re going to go visit [Minnesota’s] largest Dala horse. And we’re going to learn about how in Sweden, wooden horses were used as both toys and commerce, like a hundred years ago. So you could buy food by trading a wooden horse toy that you bought. And then I’m going to hand you a wooden horse toy. And then you’re going to ask me if you can turn it into Fortnite bucks, and I’m going to say no,” says Swan. “Boundaries are good for creative people.”