Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024
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COURTESY OF ALLYSON CHIU

Road trips can be fun, even if it’s on the New Jersey turnpike with big trucks and traffic.

Every college student chases after this arbitrary thing called freedom. To some, it means to study whatever they want. To others, it means to say “screw it” and go to Coachella in the middle of the semester. But for me, it looks more like what Chris McCandless did in Into the Wild — to buy a beat-up car after college, sell everything else he owns and vanish into a long road trip into the wilderness. Well (SPOILER ALERT), maybe minus the dying in Alaska part. 

I haven’t graduated yet and don’t have enough money for a car, nor do I have the courage like McCandless did. I did, however, have a badminton tournament in Boston and needed to drive the team up to the venue. 300 miles on I-95 along industrial New Jersey doesn’t quite compare to a tour of the American Wild West but, at this time of my life, it’s close enough. 

So with the Enterprise vans rented by the school, we set out on our eight-hour trip to rural Massachusetts (I admit, the tournament venue was nowhere close to Boston). However, we didn’t make it very far before stopping at the Safeway near Morgan State University, because, after all, road trips are not complete without a backseat full of snacks.

We had a weekend’s worth of badminton matches ahead of us, so it wasn’t like we could stuff ourselves with junk food — most of our shopping cart was filled with bananas, granola bars, bottled water and Gatorade. But of course, to satiate at least some of our cravings, a bag of assorted fun-size Snickers and purple Doritos made it into the mix. 

COURTESY OF ALLYSON CHIU

The first stop of a road trip is always to get a lot of snacks. 

I had a backup driver, but I genuinely enjoyed the sensation of flying down the Interstate (at less than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, of course) and shooting the bull with my buddy in the passenger seat, so I drove the majority of the eight hours there. It was not without breaks, of course. Being from California, I was originally a bit shocked on my way up to Boston last year when I saw the frequent rest stops every 20 minutes or so. On the West Coast, we were used to stopping at a local town with McDonald’s and gas stations scattered along the highway, not government-funded rest stations. 

They were a pleasant surprise, actually. We stopped at a few on the way up, and each of them were incredibly clean and modern, equipped with an assortment of fast food and coffee chains. The food was terrible — it was obvious that they were just warming frozen chicken tenders in the toaster oven. But at least it was convenient. I didn’t have time to stop for other amenities like the massage chairs, but they are probably not the most sanitary anyway.

I didn’t need the coffee to keep myself awake, despite Vishnu threatening to give me a boring lecture on the physics midterm I had coming up. Instead, we talked about literally everything else, from one person’s journey to his PhD to the other person’s experience living in Indonesia. As it turns out, eight hours is about enough time to learn almost everything about four people’s lives. 

To kill time even further, we played all the classic road trip games: punching each other at the spotting of a yellow car or a Volkswagen Bug, 21 Questions and Contact. My dad always stopped me from playing these games since they would “distract me from driving,” but I’ve only found that they help the car bond. This sounds corny, but the best part of road trips is always the conversations that you have in the car, the stupid games you play to pass time and everything that you learn from each other. The destination always matters less in the end. 

People always look at me weird when I tell them that I don’t have a particular desire to travel internationally. Road trips are just my preferred way to spend my vacations. For my high school senior trip, my best friends and I drove from San Francisco to Oregon, then Idaho and back. And to move into college, my family and I drove from California to Baltimore, passing cities and parts of America that we would never otherwise see. 

Sure, seeing the Eiffel Tower and Machu Picchu and the Sydney Opera House would be cool, but the friendships and the relationships that I get to foster on long drives are so much more valuable to me. My friends and I could’ve flown down to Puerto Rico and gotten drunk like the rest of our high school class, but I cherish the memory of chatting around a campfire and playing a game of chess at sunrise over Crater Lake so much more. 

Of course, to each their own. I don’t judge people on how they spend their vacations, and I hope you don’t judge mine. But I hope that one day, when you and some friends find a weekend with nothing to do, you might think about renting a car and driving away as far as you can. You might be surprised by what you find along the way.


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