It’s no secret that Americans love a good road trip. Whether it’s a trip down the Mother Road or a cross country journey to start a new life, heading out on an adventure on the open road has been part of our culture for hundreds of years. Before you head out on your summer vacation, check out the history of road trips and how they’ve changed over the decades.
In the 1800’s the bravest men and women set out on the most epic road trips. They were all headed west, to start new lives on the frontier. They didn’t have cars, so they packed up their covered wagons with all the belongings they could carry. Back then, there weren’t any roads, and there weren’t any roadside attractions. Since they didn’t have access to fast food and convenience marts, they had to bring hundreds of pounds of food for themselves and their animals. They also had to leave knowing they might never see their home again. Thankfully, road tripping has come a long way since then!
The roads still weren’t great, but at least some people had access to cars. Unfortunately, with cars being brand new inventions and the roads being treacherous, road trips were still only undertaken by the bravest (and wealthiest).
The people who went on road trips fondly thought of themselves as gypsies. They left behind their modern, urban lives to camp by the roadside for a few days. In an era when most people travelled by train, it was a luxury to have some flexibility in your travel schedule.
In 1926 the Chicago-to-Los Angeles route was officially named Route 66, and has become synonymous with road trips in general. Route 66 is mentioned as the “mother road” in The Grapes of Wrath, and was the path many took to escape the Dust Bowl and begin new lives in California.
After WWII, road trips became the norm for American vacations. People had more disposable income, and were ready to see the sights, and head west for new opportunities. People who lived along highways were able to open up gas stations, motels, and restaurants, and became quite successful. Eventually, the roadside tourist trap was born. This is more or less the same format as modern road trips.
Thanks to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, American highways were made much more accessible for long car rides. There are hundreds of routes you can take to see this great nation. While you may not always be able to find the kitschy roadside shops as you once were, road trips are much more convenient and consistent today. You’ll see familiar restaurants, gas stations, and hotel chains along your way, but the adventurous spirit is still there.
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