Road Trip: The Epic Hero’s Daring Journey

Everyone has a little wanderlust in their veins.

Something out there needs to be explored. The moment you put on your travel clothes, grab your cup of coffee and banana (for potassium), and hop in the car prepared for the wild or the city, you embrace adventure. The road trip is a classic American fixture of 20th century travel. Our affordable four-wheel vacation. Since 1926 we’ve been driving routes in search of National Parks, big cities, travel stops, secret spots, and back highways. The tale of the automobile on the road is like one of ancient days.

The quest you seek is the Epic Hero’s journey.

The classic road trip reflects Joseph Campbell’s Epic Hero Cycle*, which any adventurer can survive with the right knowledge. Every great road trip contains these essential elements of Homeric proportions. Prepare in advance and read them now.

The true hero refuses the call to adventure just the first time.

The Call to Adventure

The call to adventure is that feeling in your bones when the breeze picks up and brushes your face just enough to make you notice. You look West, East, or wherever your heart draws you, and wish you were on the road. The true epic hero refuses the call to adventure the first time, but cannot resist on the second request. So get back to work and plan a road trip for next weekend.

Crossing the Threshold

Your road trip travels will take you over the heroic “Threshold” to a supernatural world on this journey. Many outdoor places in the Continental United States can be supernatural. From dusty low valleys where the sun’s on your back to mountains’ misty air at high altitudes. It’s a new world, from museums to groundhog hills to deep-dish pizza to geysers. You can see it all in your own adventure.

Supernatural companions will help you on your road trip.

Supernatural Aid

Each hero has an important animal or human companion show up during their adventure. You might have a Frodo to your Sam, or a Hedwig to your Harry. Whoever it is, remember that often the hero’s companion is assigned to him or her… They don’t always choose their aid. Help could come from anyone on a road trip, so be alert. You might make new friends.

The Initiation could be anything.

Initiation

The hero, sometimes with the companion, must deal next with an initiation. In the Epic Hero Cycle, an initiation is an event or circumstance the hero cannot yet maturely face, and so fails at. On a road trip, initiation could be a flat tire, hours lost in unknown places, or more food expensed than anticipated.

Ritual Death

After failing the Initiation, the hero learns something about their Self and abilities. Through this process, they leave the past behind and become a true Hero. This is when the hero’s true strengths show through. Whatever the Initiation brought you, you are ready to handle. So get over your road trip hump and keep going.

Hero Performs a Physical or Spiritual Deed

The Ritual Death is over when the hero performs a road trip deed, spiritual or physical. Maybe you found the best travel stop in the US. Or arrived at your camping ground when you thought you were lost. Perhaps you grabbed everyone breakfast in the early morning before everyone got into the car. It all depends on your personal adventure and the needs of your roadie crew.

Welcome home, hero.

Restitution & Return

What’s sweeter than returning to your own space after an adventure? After the road trip, it’s time to go home. The restitution is the hero’s reclamation of his title, land, and the final treasure or virtue. Claim your old places back and celebrate like an epic hero.

Road trips have been an expression of exploration, adventure, and the pursuit of fresh air in America for over a century. The tradition of car travel will never get old, and neither will those hazy blue mountains waiting for you. Go ahead, hero. Jump in the car and start your epic journey.


Never been on a road trip? Here’s a guide to your first one. Read about the Epic Hero Cycle in greater detail here or watch a neat slideshow about it here. The New York Times also has some great guides to road trips. You can also read more automobile news, photography, technology, and more at GearHeads.


Corissa Haury is a writer in Maine. Follow her on Twitter here.