Wish You Were Here

Dec 13, 2013

An exhibition at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, featuring work by Elliot Anderson, Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, Matt McCormick, Roger Minick, Karla Wozniak, and Cedra Wood.

The road trip has been around for centuries. First-century Roman aristocrats traveled around the Mediterranean visiting sites that even then were considered ancient wonders. During the Middle Ages, pilgrims booked “all inclusive” package tours of the Holy Land that departed from Venice. 17th- and 18th-century young British men embarked on the Grand Tour through Western Europe.

Until recently, leisure travel was restricted to the upper classes. The birth of the tourism industry as we know it emerged in the 19th century with the development of railroads and steamships—relatively easy, inexpensive means of travel.

In the United States, railroads fed a boom in tourism and led to the development of destination resorts like Sun Valley. But U.S. tourism is probably best defined by the road trip, the classic American vacation that has sent countless travelers out onto highways to visit National Parks, historic sites and cultural destinations. Road trips are part of the fabric of American culture, the basis for works ranging from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road to National Lampoon’s Family Vacation. Americans live in a country with huge regional variation—the cross-country road trip gives them the opportunity to get to know it in a deeper way, to reaffirm their identities as Americans.

While road trippers may set out with specific goals for their trips, organizing them around ball parks or battlefields, most of us plan our itineraries the same way the ancient Romans did. We tend to visit the same places and take the same photos.

As they have always been, road trips continue to be educational experiences. We buy souvenirs and take snapshots in order to take a little bit of our journey home with us, to literally help us remember the places we’ve been. We send postcards (or update our Facebook status) in order to share our travels (and perhaps impress our friends with them). We travel to broaden our horizons but ultimately, so that we can return home knowing a little bit more about ourselves and our place in the world.

Sun Valley Center for the Arts