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A few weeks ago, we received email from a college student working on a presentation about road trips. Why do they appeal to every generation? he asked. Is there something quintessentially American about them? Here are some of the thoughts we shared with him.
just road trips that appeal to every generation, but any journey that
takes a person away from home/family/familiar surroundings. In twenty-first-century
America, an automobile is a naturally appealing means of transport. (Some
would say you aren't really on a road trip if you aren't on a motorcycle,
but that's a whole separate topic.) While there are as many reasons why
people take road trips as there are people who take them, they really
all fall into two categories.
First, there's the youthful jaunt. The main appeal is to have fun by being free from supervision, rules, and the mundane restrictions of day-to-day life. Nobody on a youthful jaunt thinks they're going to stay away forever or find a new life. In fact, it's just the opposite. Youthful jaunts have deadlines, like the day classes start or your boss says you have to be back at work. Spring break road trips are classic youthful jaunts.
The other kind of road trip is the youthful quest. In this case, the traveler has some reason to hit the road beyond taking a break from routine. The goal can be anything from attaining spiritual enlightenment or finding personal roots to eating pizza in every state or writing the great American travelogue. The journey may be long and arduous, or it may be short and fulfilling. When travelers set out on youthful quests, they might well have no itinerary, no idea of how long their trips might last, or the slightest notion of how to finance their wanderings.
That's it. There are no other kinds of road trips. Regardless of your age, if you're on a trip that doesn't have a tangible purpose like delivering the mail or going to your sister's wedding, you are on a youthful quest or a youthful jaunt.
But wait. The trip to your sister's wedding can be an awesome road trip. For that matter, a trip to the dump can be a road trip if you decide to call it one. It really is all in your head, which is the same reason we will never, no matter how old the calendar says we are, stop going on youthful jaunts and youthful quests, even if all we're really doing is going to 7-11 for a quart of milk.
Remember those fairy tale guys who stuffed their belongings into bandanas, tied them on sticks, put them over their shoulders, and headed out on foot to "seek their fortunes?" Nowadays, they'd be taking the old Chevy, but it's the same story. We all want to see what's out there, what's around the next bend. No matter your age, the road sings a siren song. Even ninety year-olds go on youthful jaunts and quests.
We do think that road trips hold a special place in American culture. We consider Lewis and Clark road trippers, and the '49ers, and all those hardy souls who traveled west on the Oregon Trail. In fact, just thinking about them makes us want to hit the road right now. Whether it's a quest or a jaunt, we never feel more alive than when we're "out there!"
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