In 2000, Mike Marriner, then 23, was a med-school-bound water-polo player at Malibu, California's Pepperdine Universitya school where many students, like himself, had their life paths plotted out. The last thing a smart Pepperdine grad was expected to do was dump everything and take a three-month, 17,000-mile road trip across America in a neon-green RV. But that's exactly what Mike and buddies Nathan Gebhard, a 23-year-old business major, and Brian McAllister, a 26-year-old communications major, did in the fall of 2001.
Instead of getting jobs or going to grad school, the trio enrolled in the University of the Road and drove coast to coast to interview movers, shakers, and complete unknowns, looking for insight and inspiration. At trip's end, they'd spoken to more than 80 peoplefrom winery founder Robert Mondavi, in California, to a Maine lobsterman named Mannyand created a hot new brand: Roadtrip Nation. To date, the journey has spawned two books; the PBS documentary series Roadtrip Nation, which kicked off this summer; partnerships with Starbucks and J.Crew; sponsorships from State Farm Insurance and Microsoft; and Roadtrip Nation summer programs at 100 colleges, allowing 43 teams of students to make their own journeys rife with interviews and self-discovery. "People need to get away from all that noise and pressure at home, which cloud your vision of who you are," Marriner says.
On the road, he adds, you learn truths firsthandlike the one about money not buying happiness. Interviewing Manny the lobsterman, a 30-year-old college grad with a paltry paycheck, helped clinch that argument. "The guy was so amazingly happy and fulfilled," Marriner says. Another eye-opener was 56-year-old Boston Beer Company founder Jim Koch, who left a lucrative post as a consultant to make ale in his kitchen. Twenty years later, Samuel Adams is one of America's best-loved brews. "To Jim, the greater risk was staying in a job that wasn't satisfying," Marriner says.
The notion that following dreams and passions trumps cash is a welcome one for a generation of college vets engineered to run as fast as possible toward prosperity. Leaving a prescribed career path might feel very unsettling, Marriner allows, but the Roadtrip Nation credo emphasizes taking control of your destinybefore you find yourself on the ultimate off-ramp. For more inspiration, go to www.roadtripnation.com.