A college road trip is a rite of passage in the U.S. – everyone in college or college-age should go on one, no matter how shoe-string your budget is. In fact, sometimes it’s the scraping-by that makes it even more interesting and leads you off the beaten path. You’ll meet the weird and wacky characters, stay at the funky motels, and eat in the little retro diners unlike those with money, who often end up having a very sterile and boring vacation by comparison.
One thing’s for sure, this won’t be anything like the road trips you took with your family! This will be one long party – whether you drink or not! This list of the top college road trip destinations will get you started planning – but first a few words to the wise:
- Choose your college road trip companions carefully. Some guy or girl from the dorm that you can tolerate at school may turn into a nightmare on the road. If you’re planning on bringing someone you don’t know well, make sure to spend a lot of time with them (as much as you can spare) before you go to make sure there’s not some crazy or annoying quirk or quality you didn’t notice before. Remember, you’re going to spend a lot of time with this person. Even if you’re going as a group, you won’t be able to avoid them – where they’ll be every day of your road trip. Want more pointers? Check out my article The #1 Thing on Your Road Trip.
- Get your car (or cars if you’re going as a large group using multiple vehicles) checked out and repair whatever isn’t working. Get an oil change, too. I know, it may cost some money, but think about this – do you want to end up stuck in some nowhere town for most of your vacation waiting for your car to get fixed?
- Speaking of money – make sure you have enough. Use my road trip calculator to figure out how much your trip is going to cost. If you’re buying booze, definitely add that to your bottom line. If it’s running over-budget, find some ways to trim. A good way to do this is to stick to inexpensive hotels. You’re going to be too busy having fun to really care about your room, so it’s a great place to save. Just make sure the hotel is in a fairly safe place – you don’t want to be dealing with someone mugging you or stealing your car.
Okay – so let’s get to the list. These are not ordered in a way that means that one is better than another. They’re all great for different reasons and at different times of the year.
College Road Trip: Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas is a huge party – whether you gamble or not. You can enjoy it without a lot of $$$, too. Just stay in a motel and limit your gambling to a certain dollar amount. The casinos and resorts are all cool to check out, and between the pool scene during the day and the club scene at night, you’ll have a blast.
Best time to go: Anytime
College Road Trip: Miami, Florida
Miami’s scene is all about the “beautiful people” – don’t you want to be one? Besides the great beach and club scene, it’s also one of the best places to visit in the winter, when most of the country is cold, cold, cold! What makes Miami even better is how close it is to the Florida Keys – make your college road trip even better and road trip it through the Keys to Key West and enjoy an even rowdier and crazier party scene. There is nothing like the drive through the Keys – it’s a singular experience.
Best time to go: Winter and spring
College Road Trip: South Padre Island, Texas
This is one of the true Spring Break destinations on the list. The party scene is renowned and the island’s got fantastic weather in the spring. If you go any other time of year, expect the usual beach community stuff and not much excitement. Go during Spring Break and expect some non-stop partying!
Best time to go: Spring Break
College Road Trip: The Coast of California
The coast of California is gorgeous and every city has its own flavor. What makes this road trip great is that the trip itself is the destination. Start in San Diego or Los Angeles (great party town) and then ride up to San Francisco. Try to stay on Rt. 1 and hug the coast for the best views. This college road trip has a blend of partying (if you choose) and mellow laid-back fun. Want some tips? Check out my California Coast Road Trip Tips – just scroll down to the second half of the article.
Best time to go: Anytime
College Road Trip: New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is an awesome college road trip destination and not just during Mardi Gras and the Jazz Festival. First of all, it’s just a great city to explore with its streetcars, French Quarter, Charles Street mansions, and spooky “Cities of the Dead” cemeteries that make you think of the vampire novels of Anne Rice. If you want to party – there’s plenty of that to be had year-round. I’d avoid it during the summer, though, as it can be extremely hot and humid.
Best time to go: Fall, winter, and spring
College Road Trip: New York City, New York
The greatest city in America has to be on this list. NYC has everything a college-age kid wants – excitement, lots of sights to see and explore, and incredible nightlife. The only downside to this destination is that it can be fairly expensive. If you’re on a budget, stay outside of the city in a less expensive suburb and take the train in.
Best time to go: Spring and fall (NYC at its finest)
College Road Trip: Lake Havasu, Arizona
This place has become renowned for its wild Spring Break party scene – you’ll want to get to know some people with boats as the scene during the day is 100% on the water. What if you’re not into a party scene? Travel around Arizona and New Mexico and see the Grand Canyon, National Monument Park and the Carlsbad Caverns. For more tips, check out my Arizona and New Mexico road trip tips.
Best time to go: Anytime
College Road Trip: Block Island, Rhode Island
I’ve partied a lot on this island and I can tell you that it is a Mecca for college-age kids in the summer. There are plenty of bars and shops downtown, and the beaches are great.
Ballard’s is the place to be if you road-trip it up and take a ferry over for the day. It has its own beach with cocktail service and bands that play all afternoon into the night. Also, check out the National for a cocktail at the bar on their huge wrap-around porch. If you’re a foodie, the food on the island is awful or, if you’re lucky, just plain/very basic, so don’t come here for the good eats. I recommend staying on the island for a couple of nights if you can – you’ll be able to enjoy the late-night scene at Yellow Kittens and Captain Nick’s and then stumble home to your hotel. Have a bonfire on the beach one night if you can – it’s the best! Make sure to get a permit if you’re planning on doing this.
Best time to go: Summer
Every season, as well as every type of college road trip destination, is covered in this list. If you’re into partying, there are tons of party-scenes for you. If you’re not, there are plenty of places on this list that are must-sees. The road is yours!