Is the Road Trip a Thing of the Past?
How rising gas prices and a bad economy affect the great American adventure.
The road trip was born out of the economic boom of the mid twentieth century. During the 1950's, the popularity of the automobile took off as it gave families the freedom and ability to travel. With the expansion of the Interstate Highway System under President Eisenhower, it didn't take long for Americans to discover the majestic beauty that could be seen along the open road.
In the good ol’ days, it wasn’t uncommon for the family to pack up and drive across the country to visit family in Buffalo, go up north for an Alaskan adventure, or head out west to see the Grand Canyon. Except for the gas crisis in the 1970’s, Americans enjoyed nearly a half century of virtually unlimited freedom on the open road.
Loss of Freedom
As gas prices began to rise at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the inevitable was bound to happen. The number of Americans hitting the road in their cars, trucks, and sport utility vehicles began to quickly dwindle. Gas-guzzling SUV’s were the first to feel the pinch and pickup trucks were soon to follow. With lower fuel economy, these workhorses of the American family were no longer economical to drive on the long cross-country trips that many people had enjoyed in the past.
A number of factors threatened to forever relegate the road trip to history. The road trip took another major hit in the 2008 as gas prices hit an all-time high – with some prices exceeding $5.00 per gallon in many locations. With many domestic cars and trucks suffering from poor fuel economy, the end of the road trip looked certain. To top it all off, the economy faltered and many families across the United States began to feel the effects of a deep recession. But a strange thing happened as gas prices began to fall at the end of summer 2009. People began to rediscover the parks, museums, and recreation areas that were close to home and the “one tank trip” entered the common vernacular.
As the year rolled along, the road trip saw a massive revival – as more and more people took to the highways on their one tank trips. Many families decided that staying close to home was far more economical than flying away to remote destinations. Even with poor economy and higher gas prices, the one tank trip seemed to be the savior of the road trip.
Road Trips of the Future
The definition may have changed, but the freedom people feel when driving down a wide open highway still remains. They will continue to adjust their lifestyles by vacationing closer to home and discovering new forms of local entertainment. Americans will buy cars that consume less fuel and will find new ways to improve the fuel economy of their beloved pickup truck.
The road trip was born in a period of economic prosperity and ironically, it has been revived in a period of economic uncertainty. During a time when the auto industry begins to emerge from its tumultuous past, the road trip promises to remain a solid part of American culture.