Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: Road Trip Romances

This week, we’ll be featuring romances that are all about the road trip. To get us in the mood, we chatted briefly about the trope and our own experiences on the road.

A preview of the books we’ll be reviewing this week

Bottom line: Do you like the Road Trip Trope?

Erin: To be honest, I was kind of surprised when I realized it’s a trope that I need to categorize, so I guess I never paid much attention to it. 

Holly: I LOVE it. It’s my favorite type of forced proximity. 

Ingrid: I haven’t read too many road-trip books but then I did…and I really liked it.

What do you think is fun about the trope?

Erin: It’s a playful trope. An author can take any pair of characters, from enemies to strangers to old acquaintances and put them together for a journey in which they kind of need to figure out how to be together or have a terrible time. Plus, it’s a perfectly reasonable forced proximity situation, whatever the excuses were to get in the vehicle together in the first place, so there can be plenty of opportunities for misadventures and tension that don’t feel like the author is putting the characters together unnaturally.

Holly: So many things! Sometimes the set up for forced proximity stories feels like there’s too much emphasis on the “forced” – but not road trips. You have to get where you’re going, so why not travel together? Road trip stories work in basically any location or time period. Spending a lot of time in a car or carriage is a great excuse to have deep conversations with someone, so the characters developing a connection by sharing confidences is believable. And since you’re traveling, there are plenty of opportunities for shenanigans. Oh no, there’s ONLY ONE BED at the hotel! Oh no, we were just attacked by bandits! This trope is just so versatile. 

Ingrid: I think it sets the characters up for just exactly the right amount of drama. You’re stuck together and things are going to go wrong. And you’ll see things that take your breath away. And you’re also stuck in a box within hand distance of a person you’re attracted to. What’s not fun about that?

What do you find problematic about the trope?

Erin: I don’t think it’s particularly problematic at all, but typically a road trip doesn’t last a very long time, so maybe it isn’t for people who don’t enjoy stories with a fast-paced romance that happens over only a few days. 

Holly: Nothing. There is nothing problematic about this trope. I mean, obviously, sometimes the execution works better, and sometimes a book featuring a road trip doesn’t work for me, but not because of the trope. Maybe if your worry about global warming extends into all areas of your fiction reading adventures, you’d be like, “Man, all that time they’re spending in the car is creating a lot of pollution.”

Ingrid: I guess the only thing I can think of is that it’s kind of unusual having a mobile setting? Secondary characters end up being more in the far periphery than in a book with a more fixed setting. But while that might create challenges for the author I’m not sure I’d call it problematic for the reader…

What’s the most epic road trip you’ve taken? Have your own road trip experiences influenced the way you read road trip romances?

Erin: Well I was going to say that my most epic road trip was my around the world trip, or at least going overland from Nairobi to Johannesburg all over southern Africa, but then my husband said that doesn’t count as a road trip, which bummed me out. In which case I guess it was even we were really not smart in our mid-20s and (twice!) drove all night to get to Titusville, Florida in order to watch a shuttle launch spur-of-the-moment. So for me road trips have often been times of quiet and reflection or dedicated times that I have been removed from any other kind of responsibility. Other than that round-the-world trip, my road trips have all been pretty uneventful and low-key, so sometimes I might roll my eyes when the protagonists hit road bumps that seem like stock problems. But also I’m the “That didn’t go as planned, I guess we’re having an adventure!” to my husband’s “Everything is falling apart, this is a disaster!” so I love finding that sort of grumpy/sunshine dynamic in road trip books.

Holly: Most epic road trip is a tough one. Maybe the time my sister and I borrowed Grandma’s giant Buick and drove around the Southwest for two weeks. This was pre-smartphone, but post-Mapquest, so we had printed out directions for our route every day. Not all of them were entirely accurate. Also, it rained while we were in Vegas, so the one day we stayed in a fancy hotel instead of camping, the pool was closed. Lame! 

However, my reading of road trip romances is probably more heavily shaped by the many times my husband and I drove from Chicago to the East Coast, because we were those people who got a dog and then had to bring him everywhere with us. All of our trips included hours of just talking and checking in with each other. (And listening to the Savage Lovecast.) So the idea of a road trip as a time set apart from real life, where you can build connections in ways that aren’t usually possible – I completely believe it.

Ingrid: Well, I bailed on Maryland after living abroad and decided to move to Colorado on a bit of a whim. I drove myself all alone the whole way, my car had no air conditioning, and I was stung by a stowaway bee while driving. I think I made it there with $200 to my name. But it was liberating to be that alone, and I loved it. I think road trip romances maybe feature one person too many, based on that experience!! 

What’s one book you loved that features this trope? What’s so great about this book and the way it handles the trope?

Erin: The best book for this trope has got to be A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare. Other books are also great, sure sure, but Colin is a whole mess, and Minerva pretty much kidnaps him so she can go to a geology convention in Scotland. There’s a lot of that standard rake/bluestocking histrom business in this book, but Dare plays with it in ways that are light and fun, so the whole book is just delightful.

Holly: Good rec, Erin! A Week to be Wicked is hands down my favorite Tessa Dare book. But road trips work in all time periods, so how about a Western? The Gunslinger’s Vow by Amy Sandas is excellent, in part because the perils of the road allow the heroine to reveal herself – both to the hero, and to herself.

Ingrid: Well, Hairpin Curves was absolutely delightful because it took estranged best friends and provided a really gradual but tense unfolding of what went wrong while new romantic tension was building. It felt like a lot of emotional and sexual development at once, which I think makes sense in a road trip—it’s a lot of time to think and talk, and you’re so physically close!! 

What do you think? Do you love the road trip trope? Is there something about it you hate that you’re dying to tell us about? What’s you’re favorite road trip book? Let us know in the comments!

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