The Atlantic

The Rise and Fall of the Family-Vacation Road Trip

Richard Ratay, the author of Don’t Make Me Pull Over!: An Informal History of the Family Road Trip, discusses the factors that turned road trips from an individual adventurer’s pursuit into a family activity—and those that led to their decline.
Source: Steven Gottlieb / Getty

The writer Richard Ratay was on the beach in the Dominican Republic several years ago, watching his kids play in the surf, when he started thinking about just how different vacations were for his kids than they had been for him when he was their age.* Why? Chiefly because, unlike the vacations he’d taken as a kid growing up in Wisconsin, this vacation hadn’t required its participants to spend multiple days squeezed into a car. Instead, they’d flown.

In his new book, Don’t Make Me Pull Over!: An Informal History of the Family Road Trip, Ratay writes that throughout the 1960s and ’70s, America was at Peak Family Road Trip. The interstate-highway system was materializing from coast to coast at the same time automobiles were becoming a fixture parked in front of family homes; add a generation of dads who’d returned home from war bitten by the travel bug and a new, still-unreliable, prohibitively expensive air-travel industry, and you suddenly had a country full of families packing up their station wagons to go on vacation.

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