Road trips have been a part of American history since they were possible – “Every American hungers to move,” wrote John Steinbeck. Whether it’s a trip mostly for the destination, or a trek just for the sake of it, road trips do something to the soul.
I have been very lucky in my life to take many road trips – some alone, some with great friends, and some with a meowing cat in the backseat (or hissing over my shoulder at the oncoming traffic).
I’m very familiar with the roads from Indiana to Louisiana, many routes through Florida, and have ridden in the car countless times through Kentucky and into every corner of Tennessee. I have reveled at otherwise boring sights – passing through Birmingham, Alabama (the only highlight of a 15 hour trip), the faded T-Rex in Tennessee alerting passersby of Dinosaur world, and the coming and going of familiar restaurants and pit stops that so quickly become comforts of the road.
One of my most memorable road trips was from Austin, Texas to Oklahoma City – it was nothing but tall rock, cattle fields, and pickup trucks barreling down dusty farm roads – I felt like I was living in a Nicholas Sparks’ novel, aside from the occasional casino that would pop up every twenty miles or so.
Because road trips are such a part of being American, they’re a part of our literature, and our culture. And I wanted to share some of those more well-known road trips here.
On the Road
“On the Road” by Jack Kerouac is a classic literature piece that really captures the spirit of the American road trip. Published in 1957, the most famous road trip in American literary history features two friends: Sal Paradise (really Kerouac) and Dean Moriarty criss-crossing the country during the 1940s, including a trip south of the border. According to a map of their travels, they likely would have driven right through Marfa!
In 2015, country artist Chris Stapleton released “Traveller”, an album he wrote after taking a soul-searching road trip. In 2013, Stapleton’s father died, and he’s told multiple news outlets that he needed to regroup. So, his wife bought a 1979 Jeep and they flew to Arizona and spent 10 days driving it back home. Stapleton has said that the album’s title track was inspired by seeing the sunrise over New Mexico.
National Lampoon’s Vacation
In 1983, we were introduced to the charming Griswold family when they pack up their station wagon and head across the country to the Walley World theme park and partake in many adventures. Today, this movie remains to be a classic, and an interesting reminder of what life on the road was like pre-smart phone.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
We were graced with “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson first as a 2-part series in “Rolling Stone” in 1971, and then it was released as a book in 1972. It became a movie in 1998. It is a story based on two road trips Thomson took to Las Vegas on journalism gigs. Aside from the road, there’s lots of drugs and hallucinations, and although it’s difficult to decipher the real from the imagination, it makes for a memorable tale.
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion
While this 1997 hilarious film (it’s one of my favorites) doesn’t revolve around a road trip, it’s vital to the plot. Lifelong friends Romy and Michele decide to travel from Los Angeles to Tucson for their high school reunion where they plan on fooling their old classmates with a detailed story about their post-high school success, complete with fancy rental convertible and home-sewn outfits. Somewhere along the road, they concoct their story, and get in a pretty nasty fight. It’s funny, relatable, and their road trip puts them in a classic diner with memorable one-liners.
In 2008, John Green graced us with “Paper Towns” in book form, which later became a movie (in 2015). Set in Orlando, Florida, “Paper Towns” is the story of Quentin Jacobsen — a less-than-popular high school senior, who has spent a majority of his life being obsessed with his next-door neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman (the legend).
“Margo Roth Spiegelman, whose six-syllable name was often spoken in its entirety with a kind of quiet reverence. Margo Roth Spiegelman, whose stories of epic adventures would blow through school like a summer storm…”
Quentin has only admired her from afar, until she steps into his room one night in need of his help with a revenge mission. He’s as close to her as he’s ever been, but before his ultimate dreams come to fruition, she’s off on one of her adventures, leaving the town wondering where she went.
But just like before, she leaves clues behind. Quentin and his friends go in search of her clues, heading on a man hunt (in a soccer mom van) across the country to find their six-syllable, legendary classmate.
I mean how can I even consider leaving out Miss Britney Jean Spears and her on-screen debut in 2002?? I cannot. It was not a great movie, possibly not even a good one, but it involves three teenage girls taking a road trip across the country (in a convertible) in search of themselves. Aw.
And there you have it! What are some of your favorite books, movies, or even songs that reference life on the road? I’d love to hear them! Tomorrow, I’m talking what to pack, or at least, what I’ve got piled up ready to go…