The open road. It invokes in us a sense of wonder and longing. In books and movies, the road makes for a perfect literary device – mirroring a character’s quest for freedom, spiritual fulfillment, or success, while naturally guiding the narrative arc toward a climax.
Road books and movies make us want to embark on journeys of our own. Since it is Road Trip Week here at BBC Travel, we have mapped out some of the most exciting road trips in contemporary film and literature. If these trips fail to tempt you to get into a car and go, we figure they may at least motivate you to reread On the Road.
On the Road
Jack Kerouac set the tone for road trips in pop culture with his autobiographical novel On the Road. If you are one of the many Americans who has been inspired to travel by his Beat Generation ponderings, you can retrace his first of three road trips on the map linked above. If you decide to retrace his path in real life, take a look at this list of do's and don'ts on traveling like Kerouac, from World Hum.
With a gas tank full of drug money, Wyatt (nicknamed Captain America) and Billy ride their Harley-Davidson motorcycles from Los Angeles International Airport toward New Orleans in search of freedom. Shot in the movie's actual locations, the vast landscapes in Easy Rider could give anyone wanderlust. In this picturesque scene, set to The Band's song, The Weight, our hippie heroes make their way to Monument Valley, just in time for sunset.
Thelma & Louise
As in Easy Rider, much of Thelma & Louise takes place on dusty, desert roads. While fugitives Thelma and Louise drive from Arkansas to Arizona, most of the movie is actually shot in California - around LA and Bakersfield. Not even the dramatic Grand Canyon finale was shot in its actual location. Instead, Utah's Dead Horse Point Park provided the backdrop for the last scene.
From the Cincinnati airport where Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) has a panic attack and refuses to fly, to the blackjack table at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas where Charlie (Tom Cruise) uses Ray to help pay off debt, to a custody hearing in Los Angeles, the Babbitt brothers' road trip is one born of necessity, not pleasure. Travelling in their beloved Buick Roadmaster convertible, though, the two brothers - one autistic and one disgruntled - do eventually get around to bonding. If you plan to follow the Babbitts path, make sure you stop for lunch at the Newport, Kentucky restaurant Pompilios, a nearly 80-year-old Italian joint which still displays the box of toothpicks Raymond spills in the movie.
In Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon traverses America's forgotten backroads (the color blue represented the small highways on old road atlases) in a 1975 half-ton Ford Econoline van which he named Ghost Dancing. "I had converted the van," he writes, "from a clangy tin box into a place at once a six-by-ten bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, parlor." A little piece of contemporary travel history, Ghost Dancing now lives in the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
The road trip in Fear and Loathing is by far the shortest on our list. While the drive from Los Angeles to Vegas is about five hours, it may have taken Duke and Gonzo a bit longer, since they drifted into "bat country" for a spell. If you want to recreate their hedonism without risking a DWI, get ready for a new train from Las Vegas Railway Express. The X Train, basically a casino on tracks, is set to launch next year. Current plans include gaming rooms, sports bars, and cocktail lounges. View "rendering" photos on the train's facebook page.
The Muppet Movie
This movie-within-a-movie tells the story of the epic, cross-country road trip that brought the Muppets together. As Kermit the Frog journeys from his lazy Florida swamp to the bright lights of a Hollywood movie set, he trades his bicycle for a rainbow-painted Studebaker and his solitude for a group of soon-to-become lifelong friends.
Both a road movie and a musical, it comes as little surprise that The Muppet Movie would produce an absolutely delightful road trip song. Movin' Right Along, a duet performed by Kermit and Fozzie (Jim Henson and Frank Oz), was written for the Muppets by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher. It is the perfect song to get you ready for your next trip, whether you choose to "hitchhike, bus or yellow cab it".
Travelwise is a BBC Travel column that goes behind the travel stories to answer common questions, satisfy uncommon curiosities and uncover some of the mystery surrounding travel. If you have a burning travel question, contact Travelwise.