Road trip

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Historic Route 66 in New Mexico, USA

A road trip, sometimes spelled roadtrip, is a long-distance journey traveled by automobile.


First road trips by automobile[edit]

The Benz Patent-Motorwagen Number 3 of 1888, used by Bertha Benz for the highly publicized first long-distance road trip by automobile (of over 106  km / 60 miles)

The world's first recorded long-distance road trip by the automobile took place in Germany in August 1888 when Bertha Benz, the wife of Karl Benz, the inventor of the first patented motor car (the Benz Patent-Motorwagen), traveled from Mannheim to Pforzheim (a distance of 106 km (66 mi))[1] in the third experimental Benz motor car (which had a maximum speed of 10 kilometres per hour (6.2 mph)) and back, with her two teenage sons Richard and Eugen, but without the consent and knowledge of her husband.

Her official reason was that she wanted to visit her mother. But unofficially, she intended to generate publicity for her husband's invention (which had only been used on short test drives before), which succeeded as the automobile took off greatly afterward and, the Benz's family business eventually evolved into the present-day Mercedes-Benz company.[2]

Presently there is a dedicated signposted scenic route in Baden-Württemberg called the Bertha Benz Memorial Route to commemorate her historic first road trip.[3]

Early road trips in North America[edit]

Jackson driving the Vermont on the 1903 cross-country drive

The first successful North American transcontinental trip by automobile took place in 1903 and was piloted by H. Nelson Jackson and Sewall K. Crocker, accompanied by a dog named Bud.[4] The trip was completed using a 1903 Winton Touring Car, dubbed "Vermont" by Jackson. The trip took 63 days between San Francisco and New York, costing US$8,000. The total cost included items such as food, gasoline, lodging, tires, parts, other supplies, and the cost of the Winton.

The Ocean to Ocean Automobile Endurance Contest was a road trip from New York City to Seattle in June, 1909.[5] The winning car took 23 days to complete the trip.

The first woman to cross the American landscape by car was Alice Huyler Ramsey with three female passengers in 1909.[6] Ramsey left from Hell's Gate in Manhattan, New York and traveled 59 days to San Francisco, California. Ramsey was followed in 1910 by Blanche Stuart Scott, who is often mistakenly cited as the first woman to make the cross-country journey by automobile East-to-West (but was a true pioneer in aviation).

The 1919 Motor Transport Corps convoy was a road trip by approximately 300 United States Army personnel from Washington, DC to San Francisco. Dwight Eisenhower was a participant. 81 vehicles began the trip which took 62 days to complete, overcoming numerous mechanical and road condition problems. Eisenhower's report about this trip led to an understanding that improving cross-country highways was important to national security and economic development. [7]

Expansion of highways in the United States[edit]

Pie Town gas station and garage in 1940

New highways in the early 20th century helped propel automobile travel in the United States, primarily cross-country. Commissioned in 1926 and completely paved near the end of the 1930s, U.S. Route 66 is a living icon of early modern road-tripping.

Motorists ventured cross-country for holidays as well as migrating to California and other locations. The modern American road trip began to take shape in the late 1930s and into the 1940s, ushering in an era of a nation on the move.[8]

The 1950s saw the rapid growth of ownership of automobiles by American families. The automobile, now a trusted mode of transportation, was being widely used for not only commuting but leisure trips as well.

As a result of this new vacation-by-road style, many businesses began to cater to road-weary travelers. More reliable vehicles and services made long-distance road trips easier for families, as the length of time required to cross the continent was reduced from months to days. The average family can travel to destinations across North America in one week. For example, Maryland journalist Kevin James Shay drove his two kids, Preston and McKenna, across the United States and back in roughly two weeks in 2013, visiting the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and other top attractions during the 6,950-mile trip.[9]

The biggest change to the American road trip was the start and subsequent expansion of the Interstate Highway System. The higher speeds and controlled access nature of the Interstate allowed for greater distances to be traveled in less time and with improved safety as highways became divided.

Travelers from European countries, Australia, and elsewhere soon came to the United States to take part in the American ideal of a road trip. Canadians also engaged in road trips taking advantage of the large size of their nation and close proximity to destinations in the United States.

Some took to the road for years. After their home in Pasadena, California, was destroyed in a wildfire in 1993, Megan Edwards and Mark Sedenquist lived in a custom-built motorhome they called the Phoenix One for six years. They later settled in Las Vegas and started a website,,[10] to network with other road-trip advocates.

Others began to see how fast they could reach all 48 states in the Contiguous United States. Texas insurance agent Jay Lowe and two associates set the record in 1994 of just under five days, and they were mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records.[11] After others beat that time, Lowe and his partners again eclipsed the record in 2019, driving 6,619 miles through the 48 states in just under four days. [12][13]

Possible motivations[edit]

Many people may go on road trips for recreational purpose (e.g. sightseeing or to reach a desired location, typically during a vacation period; e.g., in the US, driving to Disneyland from Oregon).[14] Other motivations for long-distance travel by automobile include visitation of friends and relatives, who may live far away, or relocation of one's permanent living space.[14]

In a January 2022 survey conducted by OnePoll, 2,000 American drivers were polled. The results revealed that, on average, individuals have embarked on approximately seven road trips throughout their lives. Over 78% of Americans have reported discovering special destinations such as restaurants (46%), historic locations (40%), and roadside attractions (38%), during their journeys that might have gone unnoticed if they had chosen an alternative mode of travel. Respondents also highlighted the additional benefits of road tripping, such as quality bonding time with family and friends (51%), the flexibility to make stops (48%), and the financial savings associated with this more economical method of travel (46%).[15]

In popular culture[edit]



  • In The Open Road: Photography & the American Road Trip (2014), the photography writer David Campany introduces the photographic road trip as a genre,[21] the first book to do so.[22]
  • Robert Frank, The Americans (1958) – Sean O'Hagan, writing in The Guardian, about the inclusion of The Americans as the starting point in Campany's The Open Road: Photography & the American Road Trip, said "Swiss-born Frank set out with his Guggenheim Grant to do something new and unconstrained by commercial diktat. He aimed to photograph America as it unfolded before his somewhat sombre outsider’s eye.[23]
  • Ed Ruscha, Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963)
  • Stephen Shore, Uncommon Places (1982) and American Surfaces (1999)


Many movies and other forms of media have been made that focus on the topic of road trips, including the namesake. Many tend to be comedic, although road movies such as Easy Rider and Thelma and Louise exemplify the American dream.[24]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ GPSies®, Klaus Bechtold, Berlin. "Motorradtour Mannheim - Bertha Benz Memorial Route Hinfahrt - GPSies".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ "The Car is Born". Archived from the original on 2011-06-09.
  3. ^ Bertha Benz Memorial Route (official website)
  4. ^ "Horatio's Drive - PBS".
  5. ^ "Ford No. 2 in the Lead: New York to Seattle Automobilists Reach Baker City". New York Times. June 21, 1909. p. 8. Retrieved September 13, 2016.
  6. ^ "Early Adventures with the Automobile".
  7. ^ "Ike's Excellent Adventure". The Attic. 8 August 2019. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  8. ^ Carey, Meredith (May 6, 2020). "15 Vintage Photos of Iconic American Road Trips". Conde Nast Traveler. Retrieved May 30, 2023.
  9. ^ Baronoskie, Lindsay (July 23, 2014). "The Last Magic Road Trip/Road Tripping with Kevin Shay". Globetrotters/Lake Highlands Today.
  10. ^ "Road Trip America". Retrieved April 2, 2024.
  11. ^ Boggs, Alison (June 16, 2010). "Trio plans to hit 48 states in 96 hours". The Spokesman Review.
  12. ^ Ferguson, Deborah (July 11, 2019). "Colleyville Man Takes Off on Record-Setting Road Trip Across the Continental U.S." KXAS-TV, Dallas-Fort Worth NBC affiliate.
  13. ^ "Journo". July 18, 2019.
  14. ^ a b "All the reasons to go on a road trip". Howtobookyourtrip. 11 November 2019. Retrieved 2021-06-18.
  15. ^ "Americans Prefer Road Trips to the Destination — Especially Spontaneous Ones, Survey Finds". Peoplemag. Retrieved 2024-01-10.
  16. ^ Bryson, Bill (1989). The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America.
  17. ^ Fitzgerald, F. Scott (1924). The Cruise of the Rolling Junk.
  18. ^ Heat-Moon, William (1982). Blue Highways.
  19. ^ a b Theroux, Paul (September 2009). "Taking the Great American Roadtrip". Smithsonian magazine. Retrieved September 2, 2021.
  20. ^ "Lolita". Goodreads. Retrieved 2016-01-09.
  21. ^ Little, Myles (24 September 2014). "Go on an American Road Trip with the World's Greatest Photographers". Time. Archived from the original on September 26, 2014. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  22. ^ "David Campany: the Open Road". Leica Camera. 21 October 2014. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  23. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (30 November 2014). "The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip review – a survey of photographers' journeys". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  24. ^ Road Trip Movies Exemplify the American Dream, Theresa Knudsen,
  25. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "The Rolling Stones: Route 66 – Song Review". AllMusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved March 27, 2015.

External links[edit]