So this blog post should read: ‘I flew back to Scotland on the 18th of December and had a lovely Christmas and Hogmanay back home…’ As you may have guessed, that didn’t happen. What did happen was just under a month of driving from Connecticut, through 14 states down to Tennessee, New Orleans and Miami. We drove three thousand miles through New York at Christmas time, spent Christmas in a log cabin in Tennessee, saw the Nashville strip, experienced the wonder that is New Orleans, saw alligators in the Everglades… and honestly? In the full spirit of ‘You-Only-Exchange-Once’- I would do it all again at the drop of a hat.
That being said, I’m sure you guys don’t want to read the full blow by blow of exactly what we did so I thought that this month I’d attempt to condense the whole trip into a slightly more useful list of Road Trip Dos and Don’ts that I’ve picked up over the last few weeks.
- Pack light (and smart!) – We tried to stay at places that had some method of washing clothes, take advantage of this and pack less! We struggled because we literally drove from the snow and ice in New York to beaches and bikinis in Miami, even then though, you’d be amazed how many situations a pair of jeans can suit… The best thing we brought was probably an inflatable mattress and a duvet/pillow set. Not only were they ideal when someone ended up sleeping on the floor, but having a duvet in the back of the car made the entire drive exponentially more comfortable.
- Be spontaneous- I think one of the reasons our trip worked so well is that we didn’t plan it too extensively. We knew where we’d be for the important dates like Christmas and New Years and for big destinations like Nashville, but apart from that there was a lot of ‘Let’s just drive south and see where we end up’. I mean if you’re not gonna make it an adventure, why bother road tripping?
- Take people up on their offers of accommodation- If I’ve learnt anything from study abroad, it’s that people, especially Americans, love to help out travellers. So when someone offers you a free place to stay, take them up on it! Some of the best experiences we had on our road trip were when we stayed with friends and their families. There’s really nothing better than being shown around somewhere by the people that live there, also, you know… free things are good things…
- Choose your travel partners wisely- This. One hundred times this. Given that we’d just spent the last four months living in each other’s pockets, I was pretty sure there wasn’t anyone I’d rather be with. Had I been leaving from ‘normal life’ in Glasgow though and I definitely would have been more careful choosing who I was travelling with (remember that you are voluntarily opting to spend a lot of hours in a very small space with these people.) On that note, if possible always try and keep a spare seat in the car, everything is so so much better when you haven’t crammed three people into the backseat!
- Be too ambitious with your route- This is more of a personal preference, but in my eyes if you’ve committed to driving fifty hours down the length of the country then you might as well try to make the ride almost as enjoyable as your destinations-right? I go stir crazy in a car if I’m literally driving from a to b six hours a day, but if you stay off of highways and stop at little towns to check out family run shops and diners, the whole experience is much more enjoyable. Saying that, the drive is obviously longer if you avoid the highways, so you can generally travel to fewer places or go less far- it’s kind of a toss up based on what you value the most.
- Expect everything to go smoothly- It might seem like a given, but things are gonna go wrong. Even with the best preparation things will be left at home, entire bags, jackets and sets of keys will go missing, cars will break down -at best temporarily- to name but a few situations that I have absolutely no personal experience with whatsoever… It is therefore always sensible to have a little extra cash around to deal with problems and issues as and when they arise.
- Spend all your money at the start- Again another obvious one that we absolutely did not have to deal with… I’m not saying don’t spend any money, all I’m saying is that if you make a vague attempt to budget at the start, even when all hell breaks loose and you decide to spend all of your money on something ridiculous you should have just enough money to be able to avoid having to miss out on stuff at the tail end of your trip.
- Plan too far ahead- As pretentious as this may sound you literally never know where life is going to take you- which is my excuse for leaving all of my planning to the very last minute… In seriousness though, in this situation a more relaxed approach can be beneficial both on the smaller scale of not booking things too far in advance in case your plans change, or in a much wider study abroad sense i.e. study abroad is super fun, don’t book a flight home for Christmas.
Either way I guess what I’m trying to say here is try not to over plan your time abroad before you get here. You meet the most amazing people and chances are, you’re going to want to take advantage of the finite time that you have with them, so it’s always nice to have at least some sort of flexibility to let that happen!
Anyway, classes started last week here so we’re well and truly back to reality.
Hope you’re all good in Glasgow, see you soon!