History of Road Tripping in the USA
The number of Americans holding a passport has been growing in recent years. As per the recent report of the Travel State Gov, about 43% of Americans hold a passport. Yet no one can deny the timeless appeal of exploring the vast land in a quintessentially American way i.e. the road trip. The history of road tripping in the USA is an entwined story of the evolution of roads, cars, and Americans’ zeal for travel.
Was all the trouble worth $50?
I am absolutely certain that a fifty-dollar bet was not a compelling reason for Horatio Nelson Jackson to blaze the automobile trail across the U.S. In 1903. I think it must have been the alluring adventure of open roads for Jackson’s pioneer road trip across the country. He started from San Francisco in a 20-horsepower Winton touring car with his co-driver and mechanic Sewall K. Crocker and a bulldog Bud. It took them 63 days to reach Manhattan following treacherous dirt roads, cow paths, and railroad beds, needless to say, countless misadventures and car-breakdowns. He never collected his well-earned fifty dollars. It was the true beginning of road trips for pleasure and recreational purposes in the USA. I would highly recommend watching Horatio’s Drive documentary by Ken Burns on PBS.
Get your kicks on…
About a decade later, Ford Motor Company began mass-producing cars, and by 1926, U.S. Highway 66, a 2,448-mile road connected Chicago to Santa Monica and ushered America into the Golden age of roadside diners, motels, and drive-ins. A road that became legendary Route 66. John Steinbeck called Route 66 the “Mother Road” in his novel The Grapes of Wrath, as it became the road to opportunities for migrants fleeing the Dust Bowl. For three decades Route 66 captivated the imagination of Americans and made an enduring influence on pop culture. Bobby Troup wrote “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” on his ten-day journey from Chicago to Los Angles. A mini-travelogue-like song was released in 1946 and it immortalized Route 66.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s vision
Post World War II, America’s economy grew in leaps and bounds. Almost 75% of American families owned a car and had more disposable income than ever before. As an Army Officer President Dwight Eisenhower summed up difficulties of cross-country travel faced by the army as “through darkest America with truck and tank”. He authorized the Interstate Highway System connecting all U.S. cities in 1956 and thus started a new chapter of car innovations and American exploration.
Road trips took a new meaning after Jack Kerouac published his book “On the Road” in 1957. Beyond the ordinary escape of routine and vacation, road trips also became transcendental experiences and a way to self-discovery. A landmark movie “Easy Rider” was made with a small budget and lots of drugs in 1969. It explored the Southwest and societal landscape of the USA and gave glimpses of the hippie movement and communal lifestyle. Since then road trips have inspired countless movies of all genres like Little Miss Sunshine – a comedy, End of the Tour – a drama, Green Book – a contemplative story.
Inequalities on the road
Road trips were not equally enjoyable for all Americans. African Americans were subjected to all kinds of inequalities like threats of unwarranted traffic stops, intimidation, and physical violence during the era of segregation. They were refused food, gas, auto repairs, and lodging due to legalized discrimination. These risks of road trips were the catalyst for Victor Hugo, a New York City mailman to publish The Negro Motorist Green Book, or simply called The Green Book in 1936. From the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s, Green Books guided African Americans to find relatively safe routes, restaurants, and hotels. LGBTQ travelers have also continued to face many discriminations and depend on self-published guides for safe travel.
A journey forward
After many decades, road trips are still one of the best ways for an immersive travel experience. Technology has come a long way since Route 66. Cars with better mileage and safety features, roads with better connectivity and signages, smartphones with excellent apps have made road trips safer, easier to plan, and change. Today, 46,000-mi. of Interstate highways and approximately 56,000 Interstate bridges connect the vast American landscape from oceans to its heartland. If you are not taking a road trip due to safety concerns, whether as a solo woman or for any other reason, check for the resources on the internet. You will certainly find some useful information to plan your road trip. There are numerous reasons to take a road trip, plan one now. Here is a 2-week New Mexico road trip to tickle your adventurous spirit.
Happy and safe travels!