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For the most part, the cast of a TV series is normally depicted in their home environment. It's usually their house or apartment. But, for this episode, they need to be someplace distant. Thus, they need to go on a Road Trip. The trip itself is important and is normally part of the plot.
The Road Trip Episode has a feature length counterpart: the Road Movie. The Road Movie is not a Road Trip Episode unless that one movie is part of a tightly networked series and is the only one that features a Road Trip.
Road Trips come in 3 main flavors:
Type 1: The Family Car
The most common type.
The group piles into a family sized vehicle and one of them is the driver, usually the owner. The vehicle in question need not be an actual car. Acceptable alternatives include boats, and horse-drawn carriages or wagons.
- Type 1a: The trip is a round-trip and is completed. The return trip need not be mentioned or seen.
- Type 1b: For whatever reason, they never arrive at the intended destination.
Type 2: Public Transportation
Only slightly less common than a Type 1.
The group travels to someplace truly distant. Trans-continental and trans-oceanic trips are entirely possible and common here. The family car is usually only depicted as getting the group to the terminal. At the terminal, the group boards a train, a bus, an airplane, or maybe even a starship. Nobody in the regular group is depicted as being in control of the trip.
Type 3: The Alternate Transport
A rather rare type.
The regular group is Always depicted as traveling. (Think Franchise/Star Trek.) The mode isn't terribly important here. What is important is that they have left the main transport and taken off in a smaller alternate for whatever reason. Might or might not involve a sub-plot.
Episodic works featuring Road Trip Episodes:
- Garfield and Jon (and sometimes Odie) go on Type 1a road trips occasionally.
- They've also gone on Type 2 ones.
Live Action TV
- Due to a blockade, Marcus and Dr. Franklin leave Babylon 5 and embark on a Type 2 on board a slow freighter to Mars in order to meet with La Résistance.
- The original Battlestar Galactica sent crew members on Type 3 trips in a great many episodes. The reimagined series was a little more restrained about it.
- An episode of The Drew Carey Show has the main cast piling into the Buzz Beer van and travelling to New York in an attempt to sell the beer outside a baseball game.
- I Love Lucy had a several-episode arc where Ricky got cast in a Hollywood movie, so Lucy, Ricky, Ethel, and Fred drive a Type 1a cross-country to get there, stopping in (in subsequent episodes) Ohio, Tennessee, Albuquerque (Ethel's hometown), before finally getting to Hollywood, where they meet (through several more episodes) tons of Celebrity Cameos.
- JAG played with this one. Because Harmon Rabb is a trained fighter pilot, he flies to Cuba in one episode. He almost blows the actual mission.
- Little House On the Prairie: The Ingalls family went on at least one Type 1a road trip, while the dad (Charles) went multiple trips.
- NCIS: Members of the NCIS crew are on a Type 2 international flight when a body is discovered.
- One episode of the British comedy One Foot in the Grave had Victor and Margaret stuck inside their car in a traffic jam for the entire episode for a Type 1b.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: Several different crew members took shuttles to get someplace the Enterprise wasn't going.
- That 70s Show: The gang traveled out of town so the boys could check out a college.
- Daria: "The Road Worrier" sees Daria and Jane take a road trip with Trent and Jesse to go to Alternapulooza. It ends up being a Type 1b, but Daria and Trent do get some "quality time."
- Family Guy seems to have gone on more than one with their "Road To..." episodes.
- The Flintstones: have gone on a variety of different Road Trips.
- One Futurama episode, Bendin in the Wind where they follow Beck in a VW bus is a Type 1a. * My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Over a Barrel may count as a Type 1a.
- The Phineas and Ferb episode aptly titled "Road Trip" is kind of a subversion of Type 1a: The entire episode takes place while the family is coming home from a road trip.
- My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Over a Barrel may count as a Type 1a.
- The Simpsons episode where Bart and some of his friends take Type 1 in order to visit a world fair that turns out to have closed years ago.
- A series of SpongeBob SquarePants episodes have this trope.
- Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Summer Vacation has Hamton's family take a Type 1a to Happy World Land, with Plucky tagging along. They take the monorail around one time, then go home.
- El Goonish Shives "Hammerchlorians" arc dedicates several pages to a Type 1a road trip.
- An early Freefall arc had the crew of the Savage Chicken embarking on a Type 1a to an abandoned colony ship. It was technically a salvage mission, but Sam and Helix both called it a road trip.
- Chakona Space: Plenty of interstellar type 2 and 3 trips.
- Homestar Runner: In one episode, sbemail 156, entitled 'Road Trip', Strong Bad and the Cheat attempt to go on a Type 1a road trip, but end up getting locked in the car with no way to start it for the duration of the episode for a Type 1b.