This holiday season, my fiancé and I decided to attack our travels a bit differently. For the last two weeks of 2019, we had two families to visit in two different states. Not wanting to deal with rushed holiday crowds at the airport and having not secured a proper pet sitter for our two dogs, we opted for the open road.
We’ve taken many road trips before but never with such grand distances in mind. From the west coast of California to the frozen lakes of Minnesota, we had a lot of ground to cover and only so much time to do it in.
We packed our Chevy Colorado to the brim with our skis and snowboards, presents of all shapes and sizes, a cooler of dog food, our work bags, two dog beds, as well as two pooches to lay atop of those dog beds, and we took off on a cross-country road trip.
Road trips originally started out as individual ventures in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the automobile industry was just getting started. Cars were much slower back then, but men and women would attempt to travel long distances as a personal feat. The popular family road trip didn’t really come on the scene until post-World War II. Young men were back from the war with the travel bug, plus they were starting to raise families. The Federal Highway Act of 1956, which helped fund the construction of many of the interstates we still drive on today, was another big impetus for the classic family road trip. Richard Ratay talks all about this history in his book “Don’t Make Me Pull Over!,” which looks at his own childhood on the road with his family, as well as the history of road trips throughout America.
The phrase, “it’s about the journey, not the destination,” rang true in the 1960s and 1970s, when Ratay said the popularity of the family road trip was at an all-time high. Then, in 1978, the Airline Deregulation Act was passed, making flights more plentiful and cheaper, like, way cheaper. The average airfare dropped by about 30 percent from 1976 to 1990, according to the Government Accountability Office. Ratay said this was the main reason for the decline of the family road trip.
“Almost overnight, the cost of flying fell within reach of the average American families,” he wrote. “Once strictly the domain of the wealthy and well heeled, air travel was suddenly open to just about everyone.”
I wasn’t alive in the 1960s or 1970s, during peak road tripping times. Unlike Ratay, who took his first flight when he was in the fifth grade, my parents boarded me on those metal tubes before I was old enough to talk. Still, most everyone in my family loves to drive. Whether it’s to save money, pack heavy or just because the open road is usually more peaceful than airports, we often used our vehicle to get places while I was growing up. I didn’t learn a lot about our country from viewing it up in the air. I got to know our states and towns via the Interstate.
Fly over states don’t exist on the open road. People who are often forgotten on the coasts and in big cities are alive and well, sitting next to you at the diner sipping their morning coffee or ahead of you in line at the gas station buying a pack of cigarettes. Ratay said our country is shrinking. The easier it gets to travel to the exact place we want to be, the smaller it gets. The country isn’t any less vast and diverse than it was in the mid-1900s, so maybe it’s our minds that have gotten smaller.
I thought about this as we traveled a good chunk of the country this holiday season, as the radio airwaves updated us of the arguments happening in our nation’s capital, our country seeming to grow more polarized each time we turned on the radio or read a news story. I remembered just how many cultures and kinds of people exist from California to Colorado to Minnesota. We all seem so different, but when you take a second to pull over, look around, maybe even talk to someone, it becomes apparent that we all have a lot more in common than we give ourselves credit for.
We’re always in such a rush to get to our destination, but sometimes when we slow down and enjoy the journey, we can open our minds and hearts to places, people and ideas we often forget.
Barbara Platts loves the open road and hopes to get back out there soon. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.