The Death of the Road Trip?

Last week I had the opportunity to drive to London, Ontario, and visit the hiking trails, restaurants, and cultural spots in the area (respectively – Sifton Bog, Waldo’s on King, and the London Music Hall). I’ve been to London multiple times in the past to take in much of the same, with some variations, but the place continues to fascinate me. I also love the feeling of hopping into my car and traveling over a short, two-day period entirely on my own schedule.

Although I get a huge thrill from this form of travel, I often wonder if other people feel the same. I enjoy local trips because they are comparatively cheap and require limited pre-planning. I always find something novel and exciting to enjoy on the fly – for this particular trip to London, I also made a brief drive down to Norfolk County, where I went ziplining at Long Point Eco Adventures and hiking in Backus Woods.

I’m firmly of the opinion that this kind of travel has social, environmental, and cultural benefits. Socially, it means that I have deeper emotional and cognitive connections with Southwestern Ontario (what some might refer to as a ‘sense of place‘ towards this geographic region). This kind of connection provides me with a long list of positive psychological reactions (e.g. a stronger personal identity) (Cross, 2001). Environmentally, it means that I’m not traveling by air, “the most polluting form of transport per passenger-kilometre” (Green Choices, 2014). Culturally, it means that I’m supporting my local tourism economy. When I worked with the Southwest Ontario Tourism Corporation (SWOTC) last summer, they were always debating how to attract more people to Ontario’s Southwest. A lack of charismatic attractions and overnight accommodations was seen as a detriment to the economic success of the region. This would not be the case if everyone in Ontario traveled and spent their money locally.

My sense that local travel is of declining interest to the modern tourist (or ‘traveler’, as they prefer to be called) is based on both anecdotal and research-based evidence. My social media feeds are full of people traveling and volunteering abroad, often for the purposes of course work or perceived benefits to their employment eligibility. Many people in the Millennial generation see it as a point of prestige to travel internationally (see the report, Traveling with Millennials). A recent report by the World Youth Student & Education (WYSE) Travel Confederation found that “[i]n 2012, $217 billion of the $1.088 trillion tourism “spend” worldwide came from young travelers, an increase that vastly outstripped that of other international travelers” (Mohn, 2013). Sexy travel for current generations means finding that unique, local spot in a foreign country, rather than staying home and exploring new spots in your own home province or country (Mohn, 2013).

As I’ve previously pondered, we’re not like Kerouac anymore. Tied down by bureaucracy and high gas prices, the sense of economic freedom and curiosity that past generations enjoyed has evaporated. Fewer young people relocate for work (see my blog article on this topic here). Although it would seem logical to travel locally in an era of rising costs, more people are finding ways to travel internationally on the cheap (Gourgy, 2009). Companies like G Adventures profit from this attitude by offering unorganized, self-initiated, and cheap international travel experiences. This makes me wonder – can we expect to see the death of the road trip in our collective future?

Do you take regular road trips in your local province or country? If so, please feel free to contest my ideas by commenting below or Tweeting me (@legault_maria)!

Below are a few memories from my road trip last week (in just two days, much can be seen and experienced).

A hike near Long Point Eco Adventures - St. Williams Conservation Reserve.
A hike near Long Point Eco Adventures – St. Williams Conservation Reserve.
In the St. Williams Conservation Reserve.
In the St. Williams Conservation Reserve.
In Backus Woods.
In Backus Woods.
In Sifton Bog.
In Sifton Bog.
Looking out over London, Ontario.
Looking out over London, Ontario.
At the London Music Hall.
At the London Music Hall.
The Long Point Eco Adventures Observatory.
The Long Point Eco Adventures Observatory.
Looking out over the Long Point Marshes.
Looking out over the Long Point Marshes.
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4 Comments Add yours

  1. robertlfs says:

    The few day road trip has always been my favorite form of rejuvenation. I write this from Texarkana, Arkansas after leaving Memphis, Tennessee this morning on a three-day back road trip to a conference in Austin, Texas. So, yes, Google Maps says it’s a 10 hour drive, but I am taking three days of back roads to get there. Today drove through Johnny Cash’s hometown of Kingston Tennessee, Hope Arkansas, home President Bill Clinton, and lots of rice fields and pine trees along the way. So I have got about another 400 miles to go and 2 days to do it in. The perfect way to recharge at the end of the semester. I have been traveling like this for years. Memories that stay in my head through time I experience on these types of trips – the Cypress Swamp on the Natchez Trace, the Pearl Button Museum in Muscatine Iowa, the General Store in Lorman Mississippi, sunsets near Sicily Island, Louisiana, the town of Darwin, Death Valley, etc. etc. all came from roads less traveled.

  2. marialegault says:

    Incredible! I’m taking notes on your journeys; in particular, I’ve always wanted to hike along the Natchez Trace. How inspiring to know that some people still travel independently, by car, and find incredible value in the unexpected and unique experiences along the way. Thank you, Robert, for sharing 🙂

  3. Linda says:

    Just sayin’ – thanks for the kind words on your visit to Norfolk. I live in Simcoe and I think I’m in god’s country. I love it here. There is soooo much green space, good music, art and things to do plus the agriculture scene is very diverse. Every store that I need is only a 5 minute drive away. I can be at a beach in 10 minutes. I moved here from Niagara and I wish I had done it sooner.

  4. marialegault says:

    Wonderful, Linda! I completely agree with you on all counts – I love Norfolk more every time I visit 🙂 Fantastic that you get to live there; I admit I’m a little jealous.

    Take care!

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