“Son, consider it your senior trip.” My young mind was inundated questions as soon as I heard those words for the first time. Had those words really just come out of my father’s mouth? Did he not understand that one’s high school “senior trip” traditionally took place after their senior year, rather then before? And was I stuck in an episode of Boy Meets World? Of all the ways that I imagined spending my senior trip, none of them included being gone over three weeks, spending every night in a different camper cabin, eating Shoney’s five days a week, and covering 6,500 miles…in a car…with my parents. And so it was, that at age 16, during the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school, my father started planning my “senior trip” over a year in advance, what he called the “trip of a lifetime.”
There’s something enchanting about a road trip. I’m not just talking about any kind of road trip, like an overnight drive to watch your high school alma mater play football. I’m talking about a trip past county lines, through regions, around mountains, and across borders. It’s something of a rite of passage, at least in America. You’ll find it on many peoples’ bucket lists, whether American or not. The words “great” are often placed in front of the words “American Road Trip” and there was even a reality television show a couple years ago, called The Great American Road Trip. But it’s not just a staple of America. There’s something about this idea of a road trip that runs deeper then a person’s national affiliation.
As captivating as this kind of travel is, there’s something that’s equally repulsive about it. Road trips aren’t exactly most peoples’ idea of travel. How many times have you been sitting around with your friends and someone said, “You know what I’m itching to do? Fill my car up with gasoline, buy a bunch of candy and Cracker Jacks, and drive down the highway to a roadside motel.” Listen, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with staying at a roadside motel. Hell, I stayed at at Motel 6 just weeks ago. However, the typical elements of a traditional road trip aren’t exactly what people long for from travel experiences. So why the fascination with road trips?
For some people, I think the fascination with road trips is no more then checking something off a list and continuing on. Maybe it’s stopping at every scenic overlook to let the kids out for a view, or maybe even as little as leaning out the window to take a photo of a roadside attraction, such as the world’s biggest dinosaurs in Palm Springs, California. Yet that’s not why I think many people, including myself, have such an affinity for road trips.
There’s something about road trips that you just can’t find with other trips. There’s a mystery and unpredictability to it. Grab your camera, throw some clothes in the backseat, stop by the 7-Eleven for sodas and jelly beans, and then it’s on from there. Spend a week in New York City or at the beach and I can just about tell you what you’re probably going to do with most of your time. There’s not that same predictability to road trips. There’s a sense of mystery, even when an itinerary is planned. It may involve taking a detour as a result of traffic, spending one night in Graceland rather then two, and stopping at a roadside restaurant merely because it’s the first one you’ve seen in 60 miles, or even better, because a couple cute gals in a convertible pulled in.
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move. – Robert Louis Stevenson
When most of the world thinks about America, they likely think of the major destinations, such as San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, and D.C. These cities bring to mind images of iconic landmarks, innovation, industry, and so on. Yet the very fabric of America goes far beyond those things. The heart of America is on backroads, amidst plains, and around mountain bends. They typically aren’t places that your guidebook or map will show you, often coming in the least likely of situations. And this isn’t just a principle of American road trips. I believe it can be true of road trips in many countries around the world. The trip isn’t point A and point B, but rather what happens in between.
It is not down on any map; true places never are. – Herman Melville
A couple weeks ago I visited and cleaned out my childhood home in North Carolina for the last time. Of the handful of items I kept and returned to Seattle with, one of them was a set of photo albums, each that chronicled that three-week, 6,500 mile, 20+ state, senior trip with my parents. Of all the photo albums I had seen from my parents, this wasn’t one of them. There was such detail to each album and photo, with typed-out descriptions for each. As it turns out, my parents were
blogging documenting their travels long before I was. And it’s like this was their last gift for me. As if they knew that I would be so enamored by travel and the world I live in, that one day I would look back upon that trip, not just as a memory, but out of an earnest desire to retrace those same backroads, plains, and mountain bends that I did as an adolescent. My father was right; it was a trip of a lifetime, but a trip of a lifetime isn’t one that I just want to take once.
Buy the ticket, take the ride. – Hunter S. Thompson
What is it that you love about road trips?