Grounded-for-a-YearI haven’t flown in over a year. I was floored when I realized this a few weeks ago. After all, traveling has always been a passion of mine – a driving force in my life. I’ve found myself talking about it a lot – this aviation drought. It’s become a conversation starter at parties.

I’m going on vacation next week. I’ll finally reach 30,000 feet, right? Actually no. I’ve chosen instead to take a road trip through the South, making my way down to Nashville, Tennessee, through Asheville, North Carolina, before coming back up to New York – foregoing the majesty of air travel for at least another few months.

Nashville has been on my radar for a few years now. Indeed both Tennessee and the Carolinas offer a bevy of destinations and activities – whitewater rafting, camping, concerts, and breweries. But it’s the journey that I truly yearn for. The winding, wooded trails of the Great Smoky Mountains, the increasingly twangy accents heard along the way, the four-pound burrito served up in Knoxville that I hope to vanquish. It’s a Kerouacian quest where the car is not just a car; it’s what makes the journey complete.

Looking through this voyager’s lens, allows me to challenge a tried-and-tested marketing thought. Travel brands, like airlines and car rental agencies, often concentrate on touting the logistics of their product – reliability, service, and price. The narratives they tell ensure that consumers can’t tell the difference from one airline or rental agency to the next. They sell the impersonal benefits of traveling on a vessel in their fleet, but not the potential of the journey itself. When it comes to flying, most airlines are simply the method by which people reach their destination, and not the initial vacation experience that they could be.

However, some airlines have begun to realize the value of the journey. A few have launched themed flights that offer unique mid-air journeys for its passengers. Last year, Eva Air introduced a Hello Kitty-themed airplane and Air New Zealand ran flights on a Hobbit-themed plane in anticipation for the movie, complete with safety videos featuring creatures from Middle-Earth.

Extraordinary experiences can also be had during daily travel.

Amid the 5 million rides taken each day on The New York City Subway system, vintage or themed trains occasionally pop up around the holidays and to commemorate special events. Most recently, the MTA celebrated the reopening of A train service to the Rockaways – the beachfront area of Queens that had been inaccessible by train since Hurricane Sandy hit – by running subway cars that dated back to the 1930s. Hands typically used for strap-hanging, instead clutched camera phones – ready to share this unique occurrence on social networks.

There are plenty of opportunities for travel brands to become part of the quest by providing unique memories to travelers that, in the case of the airlines, can potentially increase the likelihood they will be chosen for the next trip.

In travel, as with most elements of life, the journey is just as important as the destination. I miss everything about flying – peering out of the portholes at the expanses below and even the “horrors” like ear congestion and turbulence. While I long to be reunited with the sky, that journey will have to wait. I have some tires to burn.