Road Kill: Death of the Family Summer Car Trip?

Road Kill: Death of the Family Summer Car Trip?

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Lately there’s been a lot of talk about raising the minimum wage.

Minimum Wage
(The All-Night Images Flickr Photo)

Back in 1964 when I was a college freshman, I was paid the federal minimum wage of $1.25/hour to deliver pizzas, and chicken, fish and rib dinners. Adjust that wage for inflation, and someone performing the same job in 2012 should have been paid $9.25, or $2.00 more than what the federal minimum wage has been since July 24, 2009.

So what’s all of that got to do with travel?


When I made my “epic” journey from Seattle to Disneyland and back in 1956, my stepfather worked as a clerk in Seattle’s main downtown post office. He may have been paid more than minimum wage, but as a blue collar worker his salary wouldn’t have been a king’s ransom.

My mother, who had supported us by working as a waitress after she and my father divorced, quit the “out of the home” labor force for good once she remarried.

We didn’t travel far and wide on vacation. Except for the California trip, our “leisure travel” destinations were either my grandmother’s farm in Northern Idaho, or nearby places such as Seaside, Oregon, or Vancouver and Harrison Hot Springs in British Columbia.

Miami TrainWhen my mother was still waitressing, she and I once flew to Vancouver in the morning, spent the day, and returned to Seattle by train the same evening. And a few years later, as a teenager I would ride the rails to Miami Beach and back with my church group. But as a family, we always traveled by car.

Few of the kids I went to school with—at least until I was in high school—came from homes where the principal bread winner was a doctor, lawyer, or other professional. But even if they weren’t living high on the hog, many of those families still could afford to “see the U.S. in Your Chevrolet,” if only to visit relatives living in parts of the country a few days drive, one-way, from the Pacific Northwest.

But the era of the family road trip could be coming to an end, killed off by the rising cost of living in general, and escalating cost of travel, in particular.

Yesterday I learned of a couple living in the San Francisco Bay Area who both have jobs, but don’t own a car. Not only don’t they own a Lexus or Mercedes, they don’t own a car of any kind.

While public transit can help car-less folk get to an from work, using buses or light rail trains to take your kids (they have two) to school, day care, or the doctor, can be very inconvenient. Nor is shopping, or any other “adult” activity easy unless you own a car.

Used Car Lot
(Alden Jewell Flickr Photo)

Without a car, you aren’t going to see any part of the U.S.A. on vacation. And that’s because even if you’d prefer to travel by a mode of transportation other than the automobile, if you can’t afford to buy, insure, and maintain a car, and fill it up with $3-4/gallon gas, a bus, train or plane ticket is probably going to be out of your reach financially, too.

Airplane Ticket
(Ted Kerwin Flickr Photo)

So if the number of American car owners dwindles, who will be the travelers of the future?

The so-called “One-Percent”?

As the income gap between the fortunes of the wealthiest and poorest Americans grows, even those in the middle class may find their “belts tightened” to the point where travel—not just to exotic international destinations or high-end luxury resorts—but almost any travel at all, will become unaffordable.

What will be the consequences if that bleak “travel” scenario comes to pass?

A lot of economic harm.

Fewer travelers, mean fewer jobs in travel-related businesses. Airlines will need fewer planes, pilots, cabin crews, maintenance workers, baggage handlers and reservation agents.

Hotel staffing needs will drop.

Restaurants and tourist attractions will be shuttered.

Unemployment rolls will grow, mortgage defaults will rise.

Unemployment Line
(Michael Fleshman Flickr Photo)

It could be the 2008 “Great Recession” déjà vu all over again.

And what will be the political ramifications if fewer of us can travel away from home?

Will we begin to view Americans living elsewhere as belonging to other, less familiar and friendly “tribes”?

And what about our ability to relate to citizens of other countries whose language and culture differs from ours?

A rising tide lifts all boats.”

A rising minimum wage will raise the level of wealth for all Americans, allowing us to continue to make “The Great American Summer Road Trip,” as well as visit lands where we, as individuals or families, have never gone before.

Road Trip Photos
(Joel085 Flickr Photo)

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One Reply to “Road Kill: Death of the Family Summer Car Trip?”

  1. You’ve give me a lot to think about. I certainly hope that the end of the family summer car trip isn’t in sight. When my mother-in-law was growing up, her father took the family on numerous road trips across the USA in the late 1940s to 1950s. He was just a Special Delivery Mailman for the USPS, but that was enough to fund their travel.

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