The Hippie Trail: A History by Gemie and Ireland charts the experiences of travellers as well as the socio-cultural contexts of destinations that became a part of the hippie trail between the 1950s and 1970s, through themes that throw light on the socio-cultural as well as ‘inner’ experiences of the travellers. The authors have rejected a micro reporting of the hippie trail, rather exploring narratives that developed over time, in order to understand the larger patterns which emerged in the experiences of the hippie-trailers. They have also refrained from examining the hippie-trail by categorizing the destinations geographically, as they assert that experiences could be similar regardless of geographical locations.
In fact, an important line of argument that the book offers is a cluster of meaning(s) within the term ‘hippie’. There is an interesting examination of how the term originated, gained popularity, what kind of people it defined, and most importantly, whether it was a representative term for all the travellers in the hippie-trail. Another interesting way in which the book formulates the definition of a ‘hippie’ is through identical conceptual categories that highlight what a hippie was not, rather than what he/she was.
The four chapters of the book are essentially dialogues that the authors have with their data, and these dialogues are based on questions that form the core of this book. The main question that comprises the first chapter, for instance, is whether the trail was all about drugs. Similarly, in the second chapter the discussion is around themes of ‘love, sex and some linked issues about identity’ (p. 28). The third chapter revolves around the similarities and differences between the hippie-trail travellers and the general concept of ‘tourist’—the main question being whether the hippie-trailers were just another bunch of tourists. In the fourth chapter, the discussion shifts to the comparison of hippie-trailers to pilgrims. The final chapter is a descriptive account of the representation of the trail in popular media—on screen, in fictive as well as travel accounts—since the 1960s.
The Hippie-trail, broadly, was a movement of travellers from the West to the East between the late 1950s and 1970s, which was primarily marked by external as well internal experiences of the travellers. The hippie-trailers were travellers, no doubt, but their method of travelling originated, not in a simple act of travelling to see new places, but a deeper quest for ‘adventure’ (p. 4), and ‘something exotic’ . However, the meaning of such vague terms as ‘adventure’ and ‘exotic’, which varies not just at a cultural but also at the individual level of thought and perception, forms an important tangent along which the book is structured. In the introduction, the authors present their ideas pertaining to a fixed beginning and end that can be identified in the hippie-trail. They conduct an in-depth examination of certain preceding events which, they believe initiated the large-scale movement of people along a designated set of destinations. These preliminary events, their identification as the initiation and end point of the trail, gives a new context through which we can imagine the trailers and their experiences.