Friday, June 3, 2016

The Great American Road Trip

Summertime and the livin' is easy, heh.

At the New York Times, "America Is Hitting the Road Again":
ON ROUTE 66 IN NEW MEXICO — Bob Pack forgot to bring his James Taylor CDs. Still, he and his brother and sister were having a blast, rolling among the sandstone mesas, ghost towns and kitschy tourist attractions.

They reminisced about family trips as children back in the 1950s, Mr. Pack and his sister, Joann, said, and not even their brother’s “annoying” habits of chewing tobacco and telling dirty jokes could ruin the drive. “I wanted to see West Texas one more time,” he said over breakfast at the Route 66 Casino Hotel.

Over in Arizona, Kay McNellen, a 23-year-old actress from San Diego, said she took to the highway almost every weekend these days, just to see how far she could drive. She has motored across the Mojave Desert, admired Sequoia National Forest and Instagrammed the Grand Canyon. “This is a better view than Netflix will give you,” she said.

The great American road trip is back.

It’s partly that gasoline this driving season is cheaper than it has been in 11 years, according to the AAA motor club, and that the reviving economy is making people more willing to part with their money. But there is more than that at play here. This may be a cultural shift, as Americans experiment with the notion that maybe money can, in fact, buy happiness, at least in the form of adventures and memories.

It is a change that appears to have taken root in the years since the 2008 financial crisis. “Postrecession, people are focused on memories that cannot be taken away from them, as opposed to tangible goods that expire and wear out,” said Sarah Quinlan, a marketing executive at MasterCard Advisors. “There’s a sense that you can take away my job, you can take away my home, but you can’t take away my memory.”

Whatever their motivation, Americans last year drove a record 3.15 trillion miles, according to the Department of Transportation, beating the previous mark, set in 2007. So far this year, both travel and gasoline consumption are up again.

The desire to get behind the wheel still comes as something of a surprise. The conventional wisdom was that driving mileage had probably peaked in 2007. The demographic bulge represented by the baby boomers is aging out of the driving years; people typically drive less as they hit retirement.

At the same time, millennials were not sharing the passion for the open road that previous generations of young adults had. Many, in fact, preferred to live in the nation’s downtowns, eschewing personal cars in favor of shared Ubers, or walking to their work and play.

But it turns out that both generations are driving more than anyone expected. “A lot of millennial behavior was really deferred assimilation,” said Steven E. Polzin, a transportation researcher at the University of South Florida. In other words, just like Mom and Dad, they were destined for a more traditional lifestyle — the marriage, the home, the garage — they just took a little longer to get there.

One such millennial is Jenna Bivone, a 29-year-old website and app designer, who two years ago left downtown Atlanta to live on the outskirts of the city with her boyfriend. “We used to walk everywhere, but the rents were too high and we wanted some land for my dog,” she said. “In a more suburban area we found good schools, stuff like that for future plans.”

Now she has a daily commute of at least a half-hour each way, and on weekends she and her boyfriend drive around Georgia and neighboring states looking for the best hiking. Over the last three years they have taken road trips in Wyoming and Colorado to hike in the national parks.

“When we travel we want to go to places we might never see again,” she said. “We’re not going to be young forever.”

Michael McNulty, a 67-year-old biotech executive from San Francisco, might not agree with the last part of her statement. Last year he bought a used Ford Airstream B-190 motor home on Craigslist for $13,000 as an experiment. He and his wife are enjoying the road trips, he said, and they are gradually extending their radius.

“The kids’ colleges are paid for, and they are out of the house,” he said. “We have been all over the world, and now we are seeing the U.S.A.”

Mr. McNulty did all the driving to the Grand Canyon for an extended weekend in April, and he prepared to drive all the way back home, 14 hours, in one day. The reason was simple, he said. “We’re going to go for it on Tuesday,” he said, smiling, “because I have to get back to work on Wednesday.”

The phenomenon is being further amplified by, of all things, a desire in some families for cross-generational adventures that harks back to a halcyon age of bundling everyone into the station wagon, counting license tags from faraway states, and mediating back-seat fights over who started the fight. Baby boomers, it seems, want to bond with their grandchildren on the road. Rental-car companies are reporting increased demand for bigger vehicles to accommodate the generations...
Still more at that top link.