Alanah Story, a 23-year-old woman from Knoxville, Tennessee, was on her way back home from a trip to Orlando, Florida, when her flight got canceled.
Instead of waiting around at the airport, Story, who was traveling with her mother and godmother, decided it would be a good idea to rent a minivan and drive the 650 miles back to Tennessee.
They weren’t the only ones who had the same idea. After speaking to several other passengers who were also booked onto the canceled flight, they managed to find ten other people also traveling in groups of two or three who wanted to share a minivan with them.
The strangers came together to make a plan. Story, who frequently makes lifestyle content on TikTok for fun, decided to share her unexpected journey on the app, explaining what happened and introducing the group of strangers to her followers.
Within an hour, her videos chronicling the journey began to go viral. Thousands — and eventually millions — of people followed the group’s journey in real-time as Story posted occasional updates about their progress on the 10-hour drive.
Just before the group departed for their drive on December 5, Story said her mom suggested she chronicle the drive on her TikTok account.
Less than an hour after she posted her first clip — which introduced each of her fellow travelers — thousands of people had watched it, she said. Her fellow travelers began downloading the TikTok app to keep track of the view count together.
“We were freaking out about how many views it was getting because it was jumping by the thousands per 30 seconds,” she said, adding, “We were experiencing going viral in real-time in that van together.”
The group posted two more videos about the progression of their journey on Story’s account. Commenters followed along, saying that they were rooting for them to reach their destination, and commented on the various people and personalities who spoke on camera. Viewers were particularly delighted by a family who said they were trying to get their daughter to the University of Tennessee for a visit, admiring their dedication and saying they hoped she would get into the college.
The series of videos have received more than 5 million cumulative views, and Story told Insider she gained roughly 20,000 followers as a result.
Story told Insider that the group was “having so much fun” with their moment in the TikTok spotlight.
“I was obviously excited that my video was doing well. But they were all really into it. There wasn’t a silent moment in that van the whole car ride,” she said.
While Story’s TikTok videos don’t typically get millions of views, the TikToker said she has previously had tastes of viral fame, with some of her previous videos receiving up to 2 million views.
It was really special, she said, to give a group of strangers, many of whom did not even have the TikTok app before this, a viral experience using her TikTok platform.
“I thought it was so great that my little account was able to let them have this moment. And it was a lot of fun to see how they were geeking out over it,” she said.
“I may have had the platform, but without them, there would have been no viral moment,” she said, adding, “I’m just beyond thankful that these are the people who did it with me and just glad that I got to experience this and that it made so many people happy also,” she told Insider.
“We don’t really get a lot of good news anymore. And this is such a feel-good story during the perfect time of year with the holidays ’round the corner,” she said, adding, “This is a story that people were happy to see because they can clearly see all of our differences in the video, and yet we still all came together.”
For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider’s Digital Culture team here.