I just finished the first leg of a drive (1,200 miles) of what will be a quasi-road trip since I intend to stay in one place for two weeks. Like many of my peers way back at age 16 in the 1970’s, I applied for my license on my 16th birthday – and in my case, applied for my road test as well. Having a driver’s license ASAP was the road to freedom – even it meant borrowing my Dad’s car. Today 16 year olds are obtaining their driver’s permits and licenses at a lower rate than in over thirty years. With the advent of self-driving cars (Thanks again Google!), the American road trip may somewhat soon be a thing of the past.
The road trip was born in the USA. A short article in The Smithsonian attributes the road trip to the genius of Henry Ford. When I was younger my family did take a few road trips – not like some families who’ve made annual sojourns a part of their life. The expression “A journey is its own reward” rang true even if it included running out of gas, broken down vehicles, flea bag hotels and barely edible food. Because we have the memories! There were seemingly only a couple of dozen radio station to listen to, 8 track and cassette tapes, no air-conditioning (or you wouldn’t run it since it used a lot of gas AND could cause engines to overheat). We had products to buy for the road like Zerex and Prestone. Battery brands like Sears’ DIE HARD were advertised continually.
Between the behavior change of millennials, and the promise that Google (as well as Tesla, Uber and others) wants to drive your car what will become of the American road trip? How about road trips in other countries? Or through Europe, Asia, or China? The Chinese are buying cars – maybe not quite as fast as in recent years but still at substantial rate. Are there Chinese road trips?
Car ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft are amazing innovations. Most of those rides have the rider looking at or talking on his or her phone almost the entire trip. The journey is nothing, but a journey.
Why will people in the future do a road trip if Google is driving their car? A very different experience to be sure and only a sense of nostalgia will motivate people to try it the old fashioned way. If your car insurance will allow it.
I still love driving myself. In fact I drove all 1200 miles only because my wife couldn’t care if she drives or not and I prefer driving to being a passenger. It’s a good thing I am not a control freak.
It’s evident that the era of owning cars and driving them around is on the way out. It will take a few more years but not more than twenty and possibly less than that. IF that happens then the old-fashioned road trip will have lasted maybe 125 years.
Currently gas is cheaper than it has been in years. Automobiles are the safest they’ve ever been. Mobile communication takes so much risk (and excitement if you ask me) out of the road trip equation. Still, if you love driving as much as I do, get out there and get rolling across the USA before it’s too late!