There are many stories of business and life reinvention that have come out of the pandemic.
For Shari Wallack, founder of Buy the Sea, an incentive-travel broker, her path led her living out of a van that has been wrapped to resemble Royal Caribbean International's Oasis of the Seas.
In the early days of the pandemic, Wallack was convinced she would of lose her business, and with it, her identity. Her anxiety led her to short stint in a mental hospital, followed by a 95-day trip around the U.S., and she described the adventure and renewed life outlook in the book she published this summer, From Hell to Challah.
This fall, she is taking van life to the next level, with a tricked-out vehicle wrapped on one side to look like the Oasis and the other Royal Caribbean's Perfect Day at CocoCay private island.
"I want to get the public excited about Royal, but also about the cruise industry," she said. "I want to drive the van and have people say, 'what is that? I want to go on a cruise! How awesome. How do I get more information?'"
Wallack plans to park the van inside national parks and other populated areas. She has stocked the van with treats and hopes that people will be curious and want to take photos with it; and she wants to use the van as a launching pad for conversations about vacation and incentive travel and to collect stories for her next book. A QR code on the side of the vehicle will send people to Buy the Sea's website.
"Awareness is what I am going for," she said. "If it brings new incentive clients to me, great. If it sells books, great. If it gets some news stories about me and Royal, even greater. I am all about creating a stir."
Her idea got the attention of at least one industry bigwig. When Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade support and service for Royal Caribbean, heard about the idea, she offered to pay for the wrap.
Buy the Sea is Royal's top incentive account, but Wallack's affinity for the line goes deeper.
"Royal was the most supportive company we worked with during Covid," she said. "So wrapping the van like a [Royal] ship is partly my way of acknowledging their partnership."
On the passenger side, which has the private island on it, a ship in the distance moves to the left when the door slides open. The driver's side shows the port side of the Oasis, and the back of the van has the view of the ship's Boardwalk neighborhood, with its balconies and twisting slides.
"I hope people don't drive off the road," Wallack joked.
Wallack thinks this is the perfect time to use a van to promote cruising, giving the popularity of van life and the attention around the Oscar-winning movie "Nomadland." "I assure you my van is nicer," she said.
Wallack has taken the van to travel conferences already, and is driving around Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and this week, Southern California. Her only real plan, she said, is to "spread joy, enjoy the great outdoors, and get people to support the cruise industry again."