On Road Trips to Graduate School

Author: Brianna

A road trip was the right choice, I think, to take me from Oregon to Boston. Literally cross-country: Pacific to Atlantic, Northwest to Northeast, and all the land in between. It’s 3100 miles as the Google Maps flies, but just shy of 4000 if you take a more Scenic Route. (Which we are.)

Right now I’m watching a mild thunderstorm play out over the hills of a Montana ranch. Two days ago we hiked the Highline Trail at Glacier National Park, which between the alpine meadows and the great sweeping vistas of the glacier-scoured valleys was as awe-inspiring as national parks ought to be. Before that we visited an old friend in Idaho, and before that I dragged my traveling companion to see the Painted Hills and the beautiful Thomas Condon Paleontology Center in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

Sheep Rock
Sheep Rock in John Day
A lake at Glacier National Park

I miss my cats already, and my lab (my colleagues and the lab space, that is; I left a dog in Oregon and miss him too, but he’s only half-Lab). But it’s easier to handle these things when day after day presents me with incredible new places. I’ll let you know if I’m still feeling the awe when we’re driving through hundreds of miles of corn fields…

At five days in, I have some thoughts on road-tripping to grad school, or any place really. Shall I pack it into a convenient listicle? I shall.

Brianna’s Remarkably Useful Thoughts on Taking a Road Trip to Graduate School

1. Pre-trip check your car. Les Schwab will do it for free, if you want. At the very least check your fluids and tires; we had a low tire that turned out to have a nail.

2. Chuck a Camelbak full of water up behind one of the seats. Hooray, water has become easily accessible at a moment’s notice! While it may lead to more pit stops, hydrated people = happy people. Also food. Jerky, string cheese, trail mix, fruit, cold slices of ribeye steak, whatever floats your boat.

3. Audiobooks, podcasts, music. We’ve burned through Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane already – both narrated excellently by their authors – and are a few chapters into Ender’s Game. I admit, I am kind of itching to get back on the road so we can keep listening.

4. Baby wipes are insanely useful things. See also: sunglasses, pocket knife, Ziploc bags, duct tape.

5. Do you have ANY idea how much stuff you can fit into a Subaru wagon? We don’t have too many worldly possessions, but we do have more than it seems ought to fit in there. The mind, it boggles.

6. Ship your books media mail. Flat-rate boxes up to 70lbs.

7. Hitting up friends and relatives to stay with on the way is a good thing. Real showers, real beds, real food, real places to do laundry; this balances the camping times. You also get to visit people you care about and maybe don’t see very frequently.

I never thought much about the choice to drive instead of fly. It seemed reasonable: traveling companion wanted his car in Boston, neither of us has all that much stuff to move, August was pretty empty schedule-wise, and there are many cool things to see between the oceans. One of those “obvious” choices that I will later be very grateful for, I suspect–and I can’t tell you the number of people who’ve told me they wish they could take a Big Road Trip like this. I agree that it may not often be a feasible vacation. Road trips can be inconvenient. Expensive. Takes a lot longer to get places because the getting is the point. They require a certain amount of comfort with boredom, or at least long stretches of thinking and staring out the window. I don’t mind those things too much, and the waiting is good for me. While I feel a bit like an excited puppy when I think about starting my program in less than a month, the road trip makes it happen mile by patient mile. The road trip leaves me time to watch thunderstorms roll swiftly in, and darken the sky, and – much later – meander grumbling away.

Thunderstorm coming in over the sunflowers

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