The Road Goes on Forever

If coming home from school means a long drive, you’re going to need a few things.

By Michelle Criqui, James Madison University


The sun was low in the sky as my sister and I set out on the highway, heading north for a weekend at home — a glorious oasis away from the stress and chaos of campus life.

For us, it’s typically a somewhat tolerable two-and-a-half hour drive. But on that evening, as the sky darkened with stormclouds and traffic began to back up from a wreck up ahead, I realized that we were in for a much more complicated journey than we were used to.

Eventually, we had no choice but to get off the highway and take a winding detour through the Virginia countryside in the pouring rain, though at least we were able to keep each other company. When setting out on your pilgrimage back to the homeland, whether you live relatively close or several hours away, one of the key tricks to survival is having a travel buddy.

But what do I do if I have no friends?

Travel Tips for When the Road Goes on Forever

Image via lauraaustinphoto.com

Fear not! Many universities actually have ridesharing programs — such as Zimride — which provide you the opportunity to supply yourself with passengers and get paid while you’re at it.

But if you still have no choice but to ride solo, I’ve got some tips and tricks for you as well, particularly when it comes to escaping the clutches of boredom, staying comfortable and conquering that highway anxiety.

Stay Entertained

Whether you’re on your lonesome or with a friend, making sure that you have a wide selection of on-point music is crucial. Depending on the setup of your car, this selection may be restricted to CDs (or even cassettes, if your car’s an oldie), or could include the vast collection of genres on Spotify or Pandora through a Bluetooth or auxiliary connection. Make sure that you plan accordingly!

Pro Tip #1: Get a rough estimate of the length of your drive and put together a road trip playlist with enough quality music to get you through your journey. Be sure to include a balanced variety of pump-up jams, songs to belt out soulfully and maybe a few wildcards to keep it interesting (Weird Al, anyone?).

Also, remember to ask your travel buddy, if you’ve got one, for their music preferences. Nothing’s worse than embarking on a long drive with someone who plays unbearable music. You don’t want to stick in your earbuds and offend the driver, but you’re pretty sure that if you don’t get there soon your ears might just start to bleed. So if you’re the driver, by all means — save an ear, save a life.

Especially if you’re the driver, another key way to ensure entertainment while you’re restricted to staring blankly at highway lines for hours on end is to listen to a podcast. I never got the appeal of podcasts until I had to take a fairly long commute to a summer job, and decided one morning to shake things up and give Rhett and Link’s comical yet informative Ear Biscuits a try. It was great, like listening in on an intriguing conversation between friends.

Unlike those annoying morning radio shows, with podcasts you have the power to select an episode based on what interests you. From tackling important issues in the media to hosting fascinating interviews, podcasters bring variety to an ordinary car trip.

If you’ve got a friend with you — or a sister, in my case — a trip home from college is the ultimate opportunity to finally take a deep breath, unwind and let out some of those festering stressors over which you’ve been ruminating. There’s something about being stuck in a vehicle with someone for a long duration of time that works just like those 3am sleepover conversations — before you know it, you’re revealing secrets and venting about your Bio crush. Don’t be afraid to let it all out!

For the solo riders out there, this may sound strange, but don’t even try to deny the truth: Taking a car trip on your lonesome is the perfect opportunity to have a lengthy, in-depth conversation — with yourself. Go over your day’s plans out loud, rant about that stupid project you’re supposed to do over break, ponder life’s deepest unanswerable questions, ramble on about your deepest, darkest secrets and even take a moment to pray, if that’s something you do. There’s just something so cathartic about vocalizing your thoughts, especially those you’d never otherwise mention.

Be Comfortable

An important aspect of ensuring contentment during a long car trip is to stock up on snacks, drinks and plenty of caffeine. The caffeine part is critical, especially if you’re traveling early in the morning or late at night. Brew up a thermos of joe before you go or drive thru your friendly neighborhood Dunkin’ to be sure you stay focused and alert.

If you’re anything like me, however, you’ll want to avoid making a pit stop at all costs (nasty gas station bathrooms and added time tacked onto your ETA? Yeah, no thanks), so it’s key to manage your consumption of liquids very carefully.

As tempting as it may be, don’t just down that large iced coffee five minutes after hitting the road. Trust me, you’ll be cursing yourself out when you hit a patch of standstill traffic and have to veer off to the shoulder to mark a bush.

Pro Tip #2: Pace yourself! Sip that drink and try to make it last as long as possible. f you already know that a stop will be unavoidable, take a look at your route ahead of time and pick out a decent place halfway through your journey to take a quick break. That way, you’ll be able to drive easy knowing that a sufficiently hygienic bathroom is waiting in the wings should you need it.

Another important aspect of comfort on the road home is wearing the right clothing.

Ladies (and, let’s be real, men too), this is the time to whip out those comfy spandex leggings and slip into your well-worn Ugg boots.

Hoodies, athletic shorts, tank tops in warmer weather — throw on whatever you think will be pleasant to sit in for hours on end in a vehicle with little wiggle room. Think “homeless casual,” AKA Monday exam day, and you’ll be great.

For longer, more time-consuming expeditions, bringing along a quick change of clothes and having some touch-up essentials handy (such as hand wipes, deodorant and a towel for spills) will make it all much more bearable.

Calm Those Nerves

While this may not be an issue for everyone, there’s something about driving long distances by myself — and even with others — that sometimes cause my anxiety to flare up. Bad weather, like the storm my sister and I were caught up in recently, make this especially difficult, to the point where I dread leaving and am 97 percent sure this is where it all ends.

If coming home from school means a long drive, you're going to need to be prepared.

Image via NYTimes.com

If you’re an over-thinker like me, the best advice I can give is to come up with specific distractions from your worries so that you’re less focused on potential danger (or whatever your concern may be). When you’re more relaxed, you’ll be able to drive more comfortably and even more safely.

Singing along to your favorite songs or talking in-depth to someone about a specific subject are good ways to get your mind off of your anxieties. But it’s important to remember that, while it may be embarrassing to admit, you should let the person or people you’re with know how you’re feeling. Sometimes just stating your worries out loud can strip them of some of their power, and opening up to others can also help to bring you some peace of mind.

If you’re alone, you could try calling someone (on speaker or through your car’s system) and letting them know how you’re feeling and where you are on the road. No matter what, always let somebody know when you’re leaving and when you expect to arrive, so that they can help you out if you’re ever in trouble.

Pro Tip #3: If you don’t feel good enough to continue driving, there’s nothing wrong with taking a breather at a pit stop somewhere along the road. Stretch your legs, get yourself a drink or a snack, give someone you trust a call — just take care of yourself. Don’t bring yourself down or tell yourself that you’re weak for being an anxious driver. You’ve got enough on your plate with the stresses of being a college student and whatever pressures await you at home; you don’t need to heap onto any of that.

No matter how you’re traveling or what’s bringing you back home, when you live a considerable distance away from your university, taking that long drive back to the motherland is just a rite of passage.

Rather than looking at it as a waste of several hours, take that time back and make it your own. Sometimes, travel days are the best days. As Greek poet Constantine Cavafy once wrote: “When you set out on your journey to Ithaca, pray that the road is long, full of adventure, full of knowledge.”

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