Americans love a good road trip. There’s something about the freedom of the road, windows down, cheap gas station food scattered on the passenger seat, and the possibilities that lie ahead that just gets us going.
It’s probably partly because we have all of this dang space to explore, but most of it just seems to be embedded in who we are.
Some of our most popular classic literature reflects our love of the road, too – from Jack Kerouac to Wild to The Lost Continent, we cut our teeth on these stories, and we never really forget them.
Samuel Bowles, the author of Across the Continent – probably the first true American road-trip book – said “there is no such knowledge of the nation as comes of traveling in it, of seeing eye to eye its vast extent, its various and teeming wealth, and, above all, its purposeful people.”
This amazing map includes every place-name reference in twelve iconic road-trip novels, from Mark Twain’s Roughing It (published in 1872) to Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (published in 2012). It also includes maps of the routes the characters took in the stories.
You can also track the writer’s descriptions of the landscape, and zoom in to see how different authors have written about the same place at different times.
And, if you like, do some philosophical thinking about how the times we live in define our vision.
Preferably while whizzing through Nebraska.
Richard Kreitner, who wrote the entries, and Steven Melendez, who drew the map, chose to include the following 12 novels because their narrative arc matched the chronological and geographical arc of the trip-it chronicles, and they were told in first person.
- Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
- The Cruise of the Rolling Junk by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America’s Hoboes by Ted Conover
- A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins
- Cross Country: Fifteen Years and 90,000 Miles on the Roads and Interstates Of American with Lewis and Clark, by Robert Sullivan
- The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson
- Blue Highways: A Journey into America
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac
- Roughing It by Mark Twain
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
- The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
If you love maps, or road trips, or American novels, or existential crises or dreamers or any of the above, I know you’ll love wandering through this interactive map as much as I have.
If you don’t, I’m sure you know someone who does – so pass it on!