Immense, home of dramatic landscapes, infused with car culture and equipped with an extensive network of highways, America is a country made for road-trips if there ever was one. Its infinite stretches of straight roads have inspired countless young folks to jump behind the wheel, hold out their thumb or hop on a freight train in search of freedom, meaning… or just for the sake of not sitting still.

Of course you’ve all read the classic On the Road (you haven’t? time to catch up), so here is a list of five lesser-known books that will make you want to follow the path of those who have roamed the fifty states. Chuck a copy of your favourite along with whatever little possessions you have in the truck of an old Thunderbird, hit the gas, and there you are — ready for a wild ride through the land of dusty roads, moon-like deserts and twinkling motel signs.

 1) Baby Driver, Jan Kerouac

Yes, she’s the-daughter-of. And although she only met her dad a couple of times, Jan definitely inherited Jack’s taste for three things: extreme experiences, liquor, and writing. Baby Driver follows her odyssey through New York, Santa Fe, Central America and the jungle of Peru, juggling eccentric friends, an exhausted ex-husband and a psychotic Argentinian lover. Travelling extensively, surviving on odd jobs (and the occasional prostitution gig), living in whatever shabby room she could find (or sleeping in her car), Jan lived her itinerant life to the fullest — and wrote about it with talent.

(Note: The reason the copy pictured in the photo reads Girl Driver is that it’s the French edition of the book. I know, weird translating a title in English into another title in English.)

2) Not Fade Away, Jim Dodge

I’ve written about my love for Jim Dodge before. In Not Fade Away, the hero gives himself the absurd mission to bring a stolen white Cadillac and the love letter it contains to the tomb of The Big Bopper, one of the three rock’n’roll stars who perished the day the music died. With the henchman of his mafioso ex-boss on his heels, Floorboard Georges embarks on an amphetamine-fuelled road-trip that takes him from San Francisco to Beaumont, Texas, and back — or almost.

Set in the 1960s, Not Fade Away is an ode to music, to insanity, and to what road-trips used to be when the only means of communications was payphones and researching your destination meant stopping by small-town libraries on the side of the road. Trippy and old school.

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3) Day out of Days, Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard’s vision of the road is not one of freedom, or even joy. The characters of his short stories and poems drag their loneliness along the roads of the Midwest, from Saint Paul to Santa Fe, revisiting their memories, balancing between boredom and violence, sometimes briefly encountering travel companions, but always returning to their solitude. These are contemporary stories, but they keep echoing the faded myth of the American West. Rough, sharp, morbidly funny, brutally beautiful.

4) Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo, Oscar Zeta Acosta

Remember the humongous Mexican lawyer from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Well he was a writer, too, and these are his memoirs. After the sudden death of his secretary, Oscar cracks up and quits his Legal Aid job on a whim. His next move? Hitting the road in his Plymouth with no plan to return, downing Bud after Bud, in search of his sanity.

Along the way, he has long imaginary dialogues with his former shrink, meets rich Californian hippies, and ends up accidentally high on acid in Alpine, where he makes acquaintance with… a certain Hunter S. Thompson. Not a book for the faint of heart.

(By the way, no one to this day knows whether Oscar Zeta Acosta is alive or dead: he has simply vanished from the face of the earth.)

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5) Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America’s Hoboes, Ted Conover

The tradition of freight-hopping is dead, and so is the American hobo. That’s what young Ted Conover gets told in 1980 when he decides to leave home with nothing but a pack and a bedroll to experience the life of a tramp. But it turns out Ted’s intuition was right: hoboes are still roaming the continent, albeit less numerous and visible than during the golden era of illegal train-hopping.

Rolling Nowhere is the vivid, extremely well-written account of his time among those who live on the fringes of American society — and of the characters, some determined and some adrift, some incredibly generous and some scarily violent, who choose (or have) to live this rambling life.

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All photos by Marie Colinet.
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mariecolinettravelettesMarie Colinet was part of the Travelettes team from 2013 to 2015. Originally from Toulouse, France, two years lived in Australia left her speaking English with an awkward Fraussie accent. In September 2015, Marie is starting the epic 6-month-or-who-knows-how-long road-trip along the Panamerican Highway that she’s been dreaming of since her teenage years — all the way from the U.S. to the very tip of South-America. You can follow her on Instagram @mariecolinet!