April 21, 2021

BERNSTEIN | Start Planning Your Summer Road Trip

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Let’s assume you’re fully vaccinated. This article is not devoted to why you should get vaccinated — there are others that are; it is, however, a take designed only for those who have achieved some higher level of immunity to COVID-19, or who intend on reaching that immunity by the summertime.

And when summertime comes, so too will a new sense of freedom unfelt for over a year. This summer, the leaves will feel greener. The air will be crisper, the fields will be more open and the roads will be less traveled than we’ve ever seen them. So when you close your planner after finals, or throw your cap after graduation, take time to revel — and then, if you can, leave.

I don’t want to sit here and tell everyone they need to drive across the country. A road trip can be as simple as going away for a weekend or on a day trip to somewhere like Niagara Falls, which I’m hoping to take at some point this semester. It doesn’t matter the length or the distance, or even the destination, so long as the trip embraces adventure. Big time commitments with work or financial troubles shouldn’t have to get in the way. There really are ways to work around them.

It doesn’t even matter if you drive yourself! There’s nothing like speeding down the highway at the wheel. But, if you need to travel by train or bus, which I did on a midwestern road trip in 2019, you can still learn to love life on the road.

You have to road trip while in college (or immediately after graduation). Why? It’s the same reason why we’re here in the first place, why anyone will study abroad or really why anyone wants to travel anyway: We, as students and as people, love to explore. 

There’s a certain thrill in discovering something new, and that’s what a road trip should be all about. On a good road trip, you travel somewhere unknown. But moreover, you follow the little tangents and side-quests that take you to the roadside shack with the best barbecue of your life or introduce you to a stranger who tells you the funniest story you’ve ever heard around a campfire. On my way back from a road trip to Maine, I bought the best blueberry pie of my life from the trunk of a minivan on the side of the road. 

We learn from these new experiences and from so many others. On a road trip you learn the indescribable tips and tricks of how to find a place to crash in somewhere unknown or how to find a good dinner out of nothing. You learn how the stars really shine brightest when you’re in the middle of nowhere. You learn how to get where you’re going and how to get lost. And isn’t learning those things what the college years are really all about?

But when it comes down to it, all this pretty language and crap about valuable lessons skirts over the central reason: road tripping is fun! It’s fun to adventure and get lost when you’ve got nowhere to be and you’ve got nothing ahead but the road. To debate with your friends over who’s a better aux or who’s a better driver. To get some stupid story about stumbling upon the World’s Only Corn Palace, which I did when I traveled to South Dakota. These things are fun and we’re young, stupid college kids who are too stressed too often, and I will die on the hill of advocating for more excitment.

Now is the best chance to make those stories out on the road. This summer, we have time and mobility and we have to take advantage of it. 

School will be over and although many of us will be working, it’s hard to compare a summer job to a school semester in terms of time commitment. We’ll have more time on the weekends, we won’t have homework and maybe we’ll be able to make room in our calendars for travel. If you have a remote job this summer, then there’s really nothing holding you back from hopping on the road. 

The freedom of time was still there last summer, but we were restricted out of safety. Now, we’ll be vaccinated by summertime (and if you don’t yet have plans to get your shot, sign up here!) and although things still won’t be normal, I’m hopeful about being able to travel. This summer is a real opportunity to break free of the entrapment we’ve had at home for so long, and even though huge music festivals or parties won’t be there to populate our road trip to-do lists, it just means the stops we take will be more personal.

Connect with an old friend in a far off city if you’re both immune, visit a monument or a museum, or explore a national park and go camping — I myself am hoping to explore some of the parks in Colorado this summer. There are plenty of safe and available road trip stops you can make on your trip.

In fact, let’s dive in: let’s talk about how to make your road trip this summer the best it can be.

The first step to any good road trip is having a good partner (or team!). Going with someone else is practically necessary: it cuts costs to make things cheaper, gives you a resource to stay safe and helps ensure you’re never bored on the road. Picking can be hard though; you may have lots of friends, but friends that you could spend consecutive days with? Now that’s asking a lot. Be particular. The experience is better for everyone if you can live together without bickering or tolerate the same levels of spontaneity. 

Next are your stops. They always say that the journey is more important than the destination. But let’s not act like the destination isn’t important too. Plan your stops with two things in mind. The first part is finding places to stay. Have a couch to crash on, a campsite or an Airbnb wherever you go. I like to reach out to friends and family ahead of time and plan my trip around them. Sleeping well is especially important when you’re driving a lot, and rest should be a priority. I originally went to Wisconsin because I had a place to stay and I ended up going to the State Fair, where I filled up on brats and fried cheese curds.

Secondly, make sure you’ve got things to see! Roadside discoveries are half the fun, but they only come when you’ve got somewhere to drive through to begin with. Make sure you’ve got ideas in mind for every place you go, whether that’s a Maine lobster dinner or Mount Rushmore. Plan well, and give lots of opportunities to stop. If you’re doing things right, you’ll never be in a hurry.

The last thing you need to know is that there really are no rules. Your road trip is whatever you make of it. Let the wind blow through your hair as you drive along the highway and let it take you in whichever way it blows.


Daniel Bernstein is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at dgb222@cornell.edu. Feel the Bern runs every other Monday this semester.