The second I sold my textbooks, I was already out the door on a summer road trip. If you’re like the author of this sample piece, you already have your bags packed, your dog at your mom’s, and the remainder of your student loan money accessible for the best road trip of the century.
Top 10 summer vacation spots for college students
Don’t forget to gas up, stock up on sunblock, beer, and nutritious road snacks (think Starbucks fruit and yogurt cups, string cheese, Slim Jims, and Twizzlers) – and don’t forget your tent. We’re going where no college students have ever gone before. Well, that’s not strictly true, but adventures will abound, and no road trip is bad with good company. Here are the top ten summer vacation spots for college students – not all of them accessible by car.
Okay, it’s not accessible by car unless you live in Europe, and it’s certainly not the most affordable student summer trip in the world, but it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for fun that many can’t resist. The average airfare has dropped 6 percent this year, but that still doesn’t put the hefty $1,692 airfare within your grasp unless you’ve been saving up all year. That said, Amsterdam is fun; possibly too fun. According to Partyearth.com, coffee shops are a top attraction – can’t imagine why. If cannabis is your thing, then Amsterdam has plenty of it.
Party spots like Woodstock 69 and the Melkweg (it used to be a milk factory) offer entertainment from dancing to art galleries to movies. The Cannabis College Museum is an educational tour of weed history, set in a quaint 17th century canal house since the 1990s. Wynand Fockink is a Dutch distillery and tasting house that has been around since 1679, and Vondelpark covers 120 acres and was designed in the mid-1800s. It features lakes, rose gardens, playgrounds, wildlife, and sunbathing on summer weekends. Who wouldn’t enjoy that, especially after a visit to the local coffee shops?
San Juan, Puerto Rico
While the plane ticket to San Juan will run you around $500 from San Francisco, traveling there during the summer months is much cheaper than it is in January. The best part about traveling to San Juan is that you don’t need a passport. The Island of Enchantment includes perfect weather and the evolving neighborhood of Santurce, filled with excellent restaurants, galleries, and night life that takes over the streets in the wee hours. The beaches in San Juan are extensive, stretching across the northern edge of the island. Check out the local salsa music scene at the Nuyorican Café – San Juan’s hottest club.
You may get poetry readings early on, as well. It gets busy at 11 P.M. Latin Roots is provides free salsa lessons from 6 P.M. to 10 P.M. each night and live bands starting at 8 P.M. Kitesurfing is a popular sport in San Juan, and Kitesurfpr offers islandwide charters and boat support for your adventures. Fuerte San Cristóbal is one of the largest military forts the Spanish built in the Americas, and contains a fascinating museum, store, military archives, a model of soldier’s barracks, and gorgeous views of the city and the Atlantic Ocean. If none of that appeals, you can pack up a bag and head to the beach for a relaxing day in the sand and surf, letting your final grade concerns drift away on the waves.
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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Montreal is a truly international city, and boasts 300 clubs. The drinking age is only 18, and it’s the second-largest city in Canada, filled to the brim with culture, history, and hostels you can stay in cheaply. Most people in Montreal speak French, so brush up before you head out. On the 16th of August, Montreal holds a pop-up restaurant festival for Restaurant Day – anyone can create their own restaurant wherever they want, choosing the menu or concept that appeals to them.
Choose from over 50 pop-ups during this food carnival, or design your own. Bike riding on rentable Bixi bikes is a popular summer pastime in Montreal, and the large number of bike paths guarantees an interesting ride down the Lachine Canal or up the mountain. The popular Laurier Park is host to picnicking, a swimming pool, ping-pong tables, and friends just enjoying beer together. Take in the Mural Festival from the 5th to the 14th of June – muralists, DJs and other artists perform on the Boulevard St-Laurent. Graffiti and parties are to be expected. Then take a stroll to the Kem Coba Ice Cream Shop, which launches a new ice cream every two weeks, usually seasonally inspired.
Iceland is perfect for outdoorsy people – ice climbing, glacier hiking, and just plain hiking abound on this northerly island. Be warned, though, these activities are not for the faint of heart, and the terrain is very mountainous. After a hard day on the mountain, head down to the warm water pools in every town that will help you relax. The sun never actually sets during the summer in Iceland, so bring your blackout curtains and eye-masks for sufficient rest.
Lonely Planet writer Carolyn Bain says that Iceland makes her want to become a birdwatching vulcanologist – the landscapes are vast, unspoiled, and breathtaking; the locals are warm and resourceful – very pleasant to be around. Live music, visual art, handmade crafts, and excellent cuisine abounds. Iceland has always been egalitarian and focused on green concepts – all wrapped up in a blue-eyed, blond-haired Nordic population. Don’t miss the Aurora Borealis during a soak in a geothermal lagoon.
And now for something completely different – what about a cruise? They are all-inclusive packages, and you can pick your group of destinations. Don’t worry about getting bored aboard – there are bands, night clubs, lounges, bars, swimming pools, and even fitness centers. Oh – and LOTS of food. You can take a cruise through the Hawai’ian Islands, down to the Caribbean, up to Alaska – you name it, there’s a cruise that goes there.
Student discounts are often available, and it’s the perfect getaway for multiple destinations in one trip. Carnival’s Western Caribbean Cruise departs from Miami and stops in Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, and Cozumel for a around $150 per night, meals and access to amenities on board included. This is such a good deal that even students can afford it – and still swim with the dolphins or stingrays at the cruise stops. If you’re looking for something a bit more European, you can always learn about culture and cruise Greece, Malta, Sicily, Naples, and Rome, but you may need some help with the plane ticket to Istanbul, Turkey.
Panama City, Florida
Back stateside, Panama City, Florida, is accessible by car, and has pristine, uncrowded beaches when it’s not Spring Break. They are white sand with emerald green waters, and you can sport fish if that’s your thing, or just enjoy the fantastic restaurants with mouthwatering seafood and the scintillating dive trips on real and artificial reefs. The hotel rooms are abundant and cheap, and beachfront isn’t out of the question this time of year.
If you want to make it a fun road trip, start in Texas and take 15 hours to 3 days to drive the 994 miles via I-20 East. This trip will take you through Texas, Alabama, and Louisiana. You can stop in Birmingham, Jackson, and Shreveport, or even take a detour down to New Orleans for a quick overnight stay. Because PCB (as the locals call it) is on the Gulf Coast, dolphin and whale watching, scuba and snorkeling, and fishing boat charters are all popular activities. Try your hand at surfing or windsurfing, or take a Sea Dragon Pirate Cruise just for fun.
Laird Lake Campground, Medford, Oregon
If you’re really on a budget, or just prefer uncrowded wilderness to beaches crawling with sticky, sunburned, summertime kids and their parents, take a road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway or California State Route 1 and enjoy the coastal views for over 50 miles. The drive from Monterey (where you can hit the marine sanctuary and Monterey Bay Aquarium) to San Francisco is particularly breathtaking.
Big Sur, 30 miles south of Carmel, is worth seeing any time of year. Keep winding up the coast to Oregon, stopping at tiny, coastal towns and beautiful, deserted beaches. Laird Lake (1.8 meters deep) is a secluded campground 487m above sea level. The lake is the headwaters of Elk River, and is stocked annually with several thousand rainbow trout, so bring your fishing pole and a pan to fry up your fresh catch. The campground is private and small, with bathrooms, picnic tables, and fire rings. You can’t get there in the winter, so take advantage of the accessibility during the summer months in this beautiful Oregon spot.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah
Another road trip for the outdoorsy type, Scenic Byway 12 is 124 miles of amazing Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park and the Petrified Forest State Park. Make sure you stay overnight to experience the spectacular sunsets and sunrises. While you’re in Utah, visit Goblin Valley, Moab for some breathtaking hiking and rock climbing in Arches National Park, and camping in Needles Canyonlands National Park.
The vistas are among the most beautiful in the entire world, and hundreds of sculptures in rock created by Mother Nature are spread across Utah’s stark landscape. Zion National Park with the Narrows is a up-river walk with hundred foot waterfalls and stunning rock formations. At some points, you will actually walk through the river, so wear comfortable old running shoes, laced up tight, and carry a walking stick. The river winds down through the canyon, so plan to go for the entire day. Take this hike in the hot summer months for a great cool-off.
Virginia to North Carolina Road Trip
The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through 469 miles, lacking a stop sign or traffic light from Waynesboro, Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Climb Sharp Top Mountain in Virginia in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson, or enjoy authentic Americana and bluegrass music in the small towns that dot the highway route. Although the fall colors are famous, traveling through this country in the summer is also beautiful – the Appalachian landscape boasts a plethora of flowering trees from magnolias to black cherry trees and tulip poplars.
The area is perfect for a bicycling trip or a motorcycle trip, as well as fishing, swimming, and wildlife watching. The Cherokee people are an undeniable part of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the historical aspect of the place, and many places have Cherokee names on the southern end of the highway. If you’re an Americana music fan or part of the bluegrass revival happening right now, live concerts, festivals and cultural events will allow you to experience bluegrass, ballad singing, blues, and sacred music. The Old Fiddler’s Convention and Bluegrass in the Blue Ridge in August are just a few of the festivals that happen throughout the area during the summer.
Hana Highway, Maui
Okay – unless you’re lucky enough to go to school at the University of Hawai’i Maui College, you will have to buy the plane ticket to Maui in order to take this road trip. But I’m sure you’ve always wanted to visit Hawai’i anyhow, so go ahead and splurge! The Hana Highway starts in Kahului, Hawai’i and ends 51 miles later in Hana, Hawai’i. Jungle scenery and stunning coastline waits around every bend in the road, with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean studded with black sand beaches.
Stop at a roadside fruit stand, or plunge into cooling waterfalls in your swimsuit – which may be the only article of clothing you need on this trip. Stop at Jaws or surf break Pe’ahi, home to the biggest surfing waves in the world annually. Note that you may need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get there. The North Shore is home to some of the best surfers in the world, so sit down, relax and just watch them do their thing.
Twin Falls, located in the Ho’olawa Valley, can be accessed via the hiking trails that wind through it. Caveman Falls, Twin Falls, and Wailele Farm are all great spots to visit during your trip. When you get hungry, stop in Paia to eat at the Paia Fish Market or Mama’s Fish House. End your day trip at Waianapanapa Beach on the black sand or relax in the Seven Sacred Pools at the Waianapanapa State Wayside Park.
Road tripping in the summer is an American tradition, but branching out and considering other options for a one-of-a-kind summer vacation will give you something different to talk to your roommates about when you head back to school in the fall. Experience parts of the world you’ve never been, or add little-known destinations to your United States trips.
They say the best part of life isn’t your destination, but the journey – no matter which trip you choose, your experience will be different from anyone else’s, and you’ll have lots of stories to tell about the interesting people you met. These memories will stay with you for a lifetime, so hit the road, the airport, the trail, or the water and experience what the summer has to offer.
Need a job to pay for all your vacations? Learn how to get a job after college.