21 Ways Road Tripping Was Different in the '90s


Let's face it: you don't hang onto a D.A.R.E t-shirt from 1996 because it's still in style. It's all about the nostalgia. And the same goes for your memories of road trips in the '90s -- sure, new technology in cars, stereos, and maps have made just about every aspect of a long haul in a car better. But that doesn't mean you'd trade in your dashboard Discman for anything in the world. Except maybe a 6-disc changer and subs in the trunk, of course.

Let's relive the glory days of road trips in the time of Trapper Keepers, TGIF, and Tamagotchis.

You blasted tunes on your Discman

You were only super cool if you had a Discman parked on your dashboard with one of those fake tapes that plugged into your tape deck. And it was powered by your cigarette lighter, because cars still had those. You bumped such hitmakers as Ace of Base, Jamiroquai, and Green Day.

Your car was littered with CDs

A few were probably straggling around in the backseat on their own, but you likely kept your 96-disc CD wallet back there, too. And you DEFINITELY had one of those behind-the-visor sleeves where you kept your 10 go-to discs. And it DEFINITELY had a Cranberries album in there. Which you're DEFINITELY still pissed about not getting back from Chad. Chad DEFINITELY sucks.

You kept an atlas under the passenger seat

Rand McNally wasn't just a name that sounded like a weirdly pretentious Irish singer. In fact, it was an essential part of your car. You knew how to look at that grid and figure out where you were better than you could find books at the library using the Dewey Decimal system. You probably even had a paper map in the glove compartment. Although you could never figure out how it was originally folded.

You got lost... often

Even with Siri hurling directions you, you get lost. Back in the '90s? Well, in the pre-Mapquest days, if you didn't have somebody tell you the route, you'd have to plot it out yourself. And if you're anything like every dad who's ever driven a car, you were bound to miss an exit or make a wrong turn, but never own up to the mistake before you were 20 miles down the road. 

You took questionable rest breaks

When you gotta pee, the next rest stop is 40 miles away, and Yelp is just a glint in some nerd's eye, you could make a number of bad choices. Like, eating anything from the salad bar at a roadside diner. Or actually talking to a trucker at a truck stop and thinking he's just really friendly and has no interest in you, drugs, or you taking drugs.

Everything was DIY

Don't like the look of Seedy Motel? You'll have to drive down the street to Roach Motel to find out it's just as bad -- but at least it has a pool. There were no TripAdvisor photos or reviews to guide you in your quest to find the best $29/night hotel room in Chickasha.

Hidden gems actually existed

Rather than eating at an Internet-approved restaurant, you asked locals and ate where they ate. And that gas-station/BBQ joint you never would have tried turned out to be better than your eventual destination. Maybe you even made a friend or two without swiping right on anything in the process. It's nearly unfathomable these days.

Staying in touch took work

If you were ahead of your time, you’d give out your Hotmail address, ICQ or AIM screen names. But barring you actually having dial-up access, you had to give people your phone number and/or address. You know, that thing that was plugged into a jack in the wall that had a keypad like an iPhone, but didn't have Angry Birds.

Address books were imperative

Here's a thing that basically doesn't exist anymore: a handwritten log of people's names, addresses, and phone numbers, all in one place. You probably memorized your phone numbers, your best friend's, and your girlfriend's, even. But if you were visiting someone from out of town, you needed that stuff written down.

You had to be on time

Punctuality is still appreciated, of course -- but back in the '90s, you had to designate a meet-up time and spot, or otherwise risk not catching up with the rest of your crew. And imagine if you met the Funky Bunch with no Marky Mark, just because nobody made sure Mark knew to meet at TCBY at 4:30pm.

Hoarding coins was essential

Your center console held more quarters than your checking account when you were in college, all for the sole purpose of always having enough change for tolls. And then E-Z pass happened, and you finally had somewhere to put your Big Gulp.

You actually used pay phones

And for any time you weren't using coins for tolls, you kept them so you could call your mom and assure her that you weren't dead in a ditch. Or, if you didn't have change handy, you dialed collect. Remember Bob Wehadababyitsaboy?

You used cameras and film

You actually invested in a top-of-the-line 35mm camera and 13 rolls of film for your big trip. Picking up developed photos at the drugstore a week later was like Christmas coming early... until you realized 75% were blurry, under lit, or had your finger in the frame. But still, it made going to Walmart that much cooler. As if a place that sells both Bugle Boy jeans AND Orbitz soft drinks could get any cooler.

You took way fewer photos

Those 13 rolls of film? Yeah, that's all you had on you. Sure, you could buy more, but mostly it meant you'd have to make sure you properly framed that shot in front of the ocean in your best Hilfiger polo, as it was your only shot. And food photos? Pssh. First-generation foodies didn't even have driver's licenses yet and had never heard of quinoa. They were too busy watching "My So-Called Life" and eating French Toast Crunch.

Sharing pictures was awful

"Wanna see my vacation photos?" was right up there with "Wanna watch The Island of Dr. Moreau tonight?" and "Wanna listen to the new Aqua album?" for most painful questions of the decade. Your 32-minute slideshow or painstakingly constructed photo album was actually not fun for anybody else, even though nowadays, the 27 comments on your "Bugaha 2013!" Facebook album suggest otherwise.

There was no social media trail

Today, everything's "pictures or it didn’t happen." But just because 37 "friends" didn't like your photo of the cat-shaped rock you discovered in Arizona, doesn't mean it didn't exist.

You drove a Ford Taurus

Your bitchin' silver Ford Taurus with the totally sweet tape deck was America’s no. 1 bestselling car from 1992 to 1996. Man, could that V6 burn rubber -- and engine oil, by the end of its time. Or maybe you drove a Toyota Camry, which replaced the Taurus as most popular car in the US from 1997 well into the '00s. Hell, you probably still drive a Camry today.

Gas was so cheap

Remember when you could fill up the tank and buy a Big Gulp and a hot dog for $15?

No one knew what kale was 

Fruit Roll-Ups, Slim Jims, and Surge fueled your driving as much as the gas in your tank, as you were blissfully unaware of things like "trans fats," "cholesterol," and "diabetes."

Sending emails was like sending smoke signals

You’d trudge to the public library to snag one of the three computers with Internet access. Then it'd make that God-awful squeal that sounds like a live cat trapped inside a margarita maker during a hail storm as it connected, and you logged into Hotmail to type out a mass email you would send to every single person in your address book, which was basically seven people. Then you'd use your last five minutes checking out or downloading photos of Teri Hatcher. Because "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" was da bomb.

Missed connections were more than a Craigslist page

Your friend could have been in the same library, downloading the very same Teri Hatcher photo, and you'd have never known it. Partially because there were only like seven photos of Teri Hatcher on the Internet at the time, but mostly because nobody spent that much time on computers in the first place. Except to download Teri Hatcher photos. The truth is, the 90s were a simpler time. Nowadays, there are way too many Teri Hatcher photos out there.

Sophie-Claire Hoeller is Thrillist's über-efficient German associate travel editor, and has had frequent flyer status since she was born in a Lufthansa terminal. Follow her @Sohostyle