Posted on May 10 2021
By Ali Harford
The concept of the American roadtrip has been around since the early twentieth century but truly exploded following the creation of the interstate highway system in the 1950s and '60s, and the proliferation of cars following World War II. Middle-class American families started to take more vacations in the form of roadtrips, according to Allyson Hobbs, who teaches a class on roadtrips at Stanford University. Vacations became a tradition and a way “for Americans to strengthen family bonds,” Hobbs said in an interview with PBS.
Roadtrips found the spotlight again in 2020, following travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. When airlines shut down, people turned to the roadtrip as a safer way to take a vacation. Roadtrip popularity is still gaining momentum in 2021—a survey completed in early 2021 found that almost all 10,000 respondents were planning to travel more in 2021 than in 2020 and 2019. More than half said they were planning to travel using only RVs. 61% percent said they plan to travel over 500 miles.
Personally, I love roadtrips. I love being able to go anywhere, I love car-camping, I love pulling off the side of the road to stop at some random roadside diner. Modern America was built by and for the car, and that’s starkly obvious when travelling the country on the road. Roadtrips are a lifestyle now too, with the popularity of “Vanlife.” In an essay for Smithsonian Magazine about the American roadtrip, author Paul Theroux writes: “The visible expression of our freedom is that we are a country without roadblocks. And a driver’s license is our identity.”
Below, explore a map of four of the most popular roadtrips in the U.S.: Blue Ridge Parkway, Route 66, the Rockies, and the Pacific Coast Highway. To interact with this map and view driving directions, view this map on ArcGIS.