It’s 9pm on a Sunday night. You’ve barely moved for hours and you see the glowing neon sign flashing open in the 7/11 window. You get out of your car with stiff legs and Cheetos crumbs stuck to your jeans. You and your friends stretch your legs, buy a bottle of water and pile back into the car.
Everyone knows road trips can be long and grueling. You eat too much junk food, fight about what is the fastest route to take, and face a constant battle with boredom. Yet time and time again, long distance travel by car is portrayed in history – and Hollywood films – as one of the most iconic forms of travel. One could even argue that road trips are a defining aspect of American life. The question is, then: is the road trip a dying icon, or does it just need a rebirth of some kind?
As far as the “millennial generation” is concerned, the road trip appears to be dying. Although millennials are seen as a generation who love to travel, we are mostly traveling outside the United States. According to Boston Consulting Group, millennials are 23% more interested in traveling abroad than other generations. So perhaps we’ve forgotten just how enlightening and satisfying it can be to visit places close to home. One doesn’t have to spend $1200 on plane ticket to Europe in order to get adventure, see beautiful places and form connections with new and interesting people.
Let’s assume that American pop culture history got it right. Perhaps a road trip is the best way to travel and this recent generation have just forgotten how wonderful going on a road trip can be. The question then becomes, why have millennials forgotten about road trips?
First off, millennials aren’t buying cars. While most can remember counting the months until getting their first driver’s license, the fact is that people old enough to drive just aren’t getting their licenses. A Washington Post article, “The many reasons why millennials are shunning cars,” gives three reason why millennials are driving less. Essentially, one is that gas is too expensive (although it is down significantly since the article was published), two is that technology has made it possible to get a ride without owning a car (Uber, Rideshare, etc), and third is that millennials are choosing to live in more “walkable” places. The way millennials think about cars have changed which this means less interest in road trips.
Perhaps another reason why millennials aren’t taking road trips like older generations is because technology has changed our concept of patience. Because millennials grew up in the age of the internet, we have trained ourselves to easily jump from Facebook to Twitter to Snapchat in a matter of seconds. A conflict thus arises, as anyone who has gone on a road trip before knows that it requires some level of patience. We require finding ways to entertain ourselves – there’s no free wifi in the middle of Route 66 – and trying out new ways of interacting with others in a small space. Technology has let millennials avoid both being patient and interacting with others in everyday life. Look around any public space – the bus or shopping malls – do you see anyone interacting with one another without their phones in their hands? Road trips don’t mean that you have to leave your phone behind, however after 9 hours in the car and there is nothing left to scroll on Facebook, playing the license plate game in the backseat might seem a little more inviting.
Technology has also made millennials addicted to instant gratification. We can get food delivered to our door or picked up by Uber in a matter of moments. This becomes a problem because there is nothing instant about a road trip. A road trip takes persistence, patience and the willingness to be flexible in the face of new obstacles. Maybe you run out of gas in the middle of Big Sur or maybe you hit rush hour going through Las Vegas, just as your air conditioning goes out in 105 degree weather. All you can do is relax, enjoy the journey and the people you’re with–something millennials seemingly don’t have a lot of practice with.
Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, The Lost Coast, Route 66. Millennials are forgetting about these places when we are addicted to our technology, flying to Europe and not buying cars. We are forgetting the reality that there are unique and beautiful places only hours away from them. The mindset of focusing on places abroad rather than at home can also be detrimental to the support America needs from its young people. More than ever, America is in need of passionate, educated people, and if millennials aren’t interested in the people and places around them, America will lose the full support and energy of a group of important individuals. Gaining interest and appreciation for one’s own country is one of the many benefits of road trips and why road trips should see a rebirth among the millennial generation.
The most confusing thing is that, when looking at the millennial generation, we seem like a generation that could potentially love road trips. Yes, we are reliant on technology, but what better way to find the best place to eat on your way to Yosemite then using your phone to scan Yelp? Millennials are a generation of creative, driven and enthusiastic individuals. We just need to be reminded of “older” forms of travel and just how rewarding they can be. Reminding millennials of how unique road trips can be has the potential to provoke more interest in the issues and beauty close to home. This could bring people together and challenge them to interact on a more personal level, be creative and problem solve together. Road trips should not be lost forever, they just need to be reborn. Perhaps millennials need to be reminded of the child who stuck their head out the car window fascinated with the rocky desert or bright blue ocean flying by.