The weekend college road trip is an art. It requires all of the participants to be in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. When executed properly, the college road trip is a success. When executed poorly, it looks a little like what happened with me last month. “Oh, dear,” you gasp, “whatever shall we do to avoid your perilous plight?” Well, gather around for a word of advice. With brief anecdotes, it should suffice.
1. If at all possible, plan your route very carefully ahead of time.
To understand how something so simple could be a problem, you also need to understand that I have a terrible sense of direction. I regularly get lost with a constantly correcting, weekly updating, clearly enunciating GPS.
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When I was a high school senior
, I chose which schools to apply to with little to no awareness of how near or far they were to everything around them; I didn't find out where Brandeis University was on a map (and how close it was to the places I had always wanted to visit) until months after I had sent an official rejection.
When I visit family, they constantly call to make sure I'm not too lost. Heck, I have noticeable moments of confusion when going to places I visit daily, such as home. All of the printed maps and dazed conversations with experienced travelers has not changed that, yet.
It is easy to see, then, how a planned, short, relatively local college road trip could get out of hand.
“Kyiara, are we… are we lost?”
“What? No! No. We… are fine. We are perfectly fine…. Okay. Maybe we are a little lost.”
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If any part of your college road trip involves a conversation like the aforementioned one, then you have had a serious breakdown in planning. When you get lost, the trip expands from good old “travel from Point A to Point B” to a full alphabet sequence.
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To provide a point of comparison, it is like being asked to “run a couple of errands while you are out” when you only wanted to go visit a friend: for every additional stop, the trip becomes longer, more expensive, and a little less fun.
Getting lost on a college road trip includes all of that plus the loss of time at your destination. Did you schedule a campus tour
? It is time to reschedule if there are anymore tours running when you get there. Did you make reservations with a hotel? You may have to call and request a special late check-in (which, depending on the hotel chain, could cost extra).
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Every mishap calls for another adjustment along the way. Just save yourself some trouble, and carefully plan your route ahead of time. Even better, have someone who knows the way travel with you. This brings us to the next point….
2. Budget for mishaps.
After taking a few extended detours the first night, we finally managed to hit our stride. Then, a stomach rumbled. Soon after that, another stomach rumbled.
“Um, did you all pack any snacks?” A quick shuffling through backpacks confirmed the horror: we had each brought along nothing to eat except ramen. Being young people, we had prepared to eat a couple of snacks at the hotel. None of us had really stopped to consider the drive. “I’ll... stop somewhere soon.” Fortunately, there was wiggle room in the budget.
The lessons learned do not stop there. We went on to have more mishaps. We happened to get lost on the campus when a severe rainstorm started, missed the last tour of the weekend, and misplaced the car. Did I mention that this occurred while trying to visit the first school on our list? It was one voiceover away from a movie script.
We, however, did not give up on the trip. The missed tour coincided with the basketball game. The teens were able to get t-shirts, posters, and all of the other great college swag that appears at campus activities. We also found some college students to provide us with a far more comfortable tour
the next day of a couple of campuses. (As the students who showed us around did not work for the schools we visited, they were willing to share all of the quirky, unofficial landmarks. Nice!)
Despite all of that, the trip still had the desired effect. At my sister’s apartment (which happened to be quite close to the campuses we visited), the teens started opening up about their plans after high school. It did not matter that not all of them wanted to go to college; what was more important was that they were talking and asking questions on the subject. Even more surprising, the teens wanted to visit other schools at a later date.
That’s what a college road trip is supposed to do. It is not only the opportunity for parents to steer their children to particular schools and career paths (although it may seem that way at times). It also is not only for confirming a school choice (although that could be a pleasant result).
A college road trip is a chance to think about your future outside of all the usual factors in your life. You have the opportunity to step away from your high school, your friends, and your family while trying on a new lifestyle.
In retrospect, there is one more rule to fill in the blanks.
3. Relax. You can’t control everything.