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117. Road Trip larp, Part Two: An event on wheels

This is the second part of the series on the Road Trip larp project. If you want to start from the first post, it is #116.

Road Trip took us more than 2,500 miles. That’s around four thousand kilometers for a European like me. It’s roughly the same distance as it is to drive from Gibraltar to Istanbul.

That’s a crazy distance.

And we did it in a week, playing concerts along the way, shooting music video segments and hitting Las Vegas for a wedding.

It was madness, pure and simple.

In this part of the Road Trip blog series, I look at what it meant to have an event on wheels, and share some thoughts and tips.

We were 22 people to begin with. We started out in a hotel in Chicago, and drove the trip in three touring 15-seater vans. In Arizona, three of our participants decided to branch out on their own, so we ended with 19, at the pier in Santa Monica.

For most of the trip, we stayed in (mostly cheap) hotels, and while some lunches were supermarket-bought and eaten at roadsides, we had most meals at restaurants, diners and cafes.

One car was an offgame support vehicle. This was driven by the organisers, contained the drum set, guitars and some luggage, and also provided participants with an opportunity to take a break from their characters on the road.

From a practical standpoint, food and lodging were included in the ticket price, but alcohol and snacks were not.

We learned a lot from this trip. To make it easy to digest and to be inspired by, I’ve stuck to a Ten Lessons format.

  1. Car time is talking time. It’s easy to look at a drive as a way of getting from A to B. It is. But it’s also a perfect setting for conversation. What we experienced was that the long drives gave people a chance to talk, and really explore their characters. Here, there was time for long talks that are normally not taken. Stories were told and philosophy was discussed. We had worried about the many hours spent driving. We needn’t have been.
  2. Everything takes more time. Oh, the pain of realising that even a five-minute toilet break becomes a half-hour stop no matter what you do. Many gas stations only had 1–2 bathrooms and slow service. Add to that the “Oh, you’re ready to go? Well now, I need to pee…” factor and you get the picture. For next time, we know that even simple things take a lot of time.
  3. The herd is undisciplined. Individuals may be lovely people, but put 22 people together and push them physically, and they’ll become a chaotic mess. “We were told to stay in the car” becomes “Oh, that order was given three minutes ago – it’s probably not relevant anymore. Let’s stretch our legs.” very fast. Knowing this upfront will make future runs easier.
  4. Good drivers are necessary. It’s easy to say “I’ll drive all the way.”, but it’s a lot harder to do it while simultaneously playing a character. We had wonderful participants who volunteered and drove stretches of the road, but we were still pressed on the chauffeur front. Three cars meant 7 drivers, and it should have been more.
  5. Space is at a premium. Things get messy. Trash bags, cans and random rubbish is everywhere. Add to that the assortmemt of phone charger cables, casually discarded laptops and extra clothing strewn around, and you get a good idea of what it’s like. Having a car be your second home for a week is a challenge. Next time we’ll tell people to pack light.
  6. The drive itself was fantastic. I had my worries. We were going to spend a ton of time on the road, in character. The feedback we got told us that this worry was misplaced. If anything, the characters allowed for deeper and different conversations than normal reality would. And the landscapes? Wow. Just plain wow.
  7. Instagram is amazing for road trips. I’m not a big instagram fan. That’s changed now. It was awesome to be able to not only post photos of our journey for all to see, but also to interact via instagram messages, likes and comments. It was especially good for engaging with non-players. I grew a 134-person following in a week. Would recommend to anynone.
  8. There’s a lot to see on Route 66. The sheer amount of weird-ass Americana is mind boggling. There’s also beautiful nature, small iconic towns and roadside diners a-plenty. We could do the exact same drive next year and stop at completely different places without even beginning to get bored. Pretty amazing.
  9. Anchor points are essential. Having places we had to be at certain times gave us something to strive for. It gave us certainties and waypoints and made the whole thing easier to plan. It sometimes made for a punishing tempo, but I’m glad we had these markers to navigate by. The cut the planning into managable bite-sized chunks.
  10. The Road calls and we must obey. It started out as a bit of a joke, but the more we played, the more real it felt. Always on the move, staring down the endless miles of black asphalt. The idea that “the show must go on” is in no way unique to this event, but it was felt very clearly here, that no matter what happened, the road beckoned us onwards.

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Written by

Director, The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Coach at McKinsey

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