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College Road Trips: Places to See on Your College Search

woman looking out the passenger side window

There’s hardly a parent with a teenager contemplating college that hasn’t hit the road to visit potential schools. From simple afternoon visits to more complicated college road trips, it’s wise to book some noncollege-oriented activities to offset some of the pressure. After all, when both you and your child are deciding their future for the next four years, tensions can be quite high. Taking time for a hike, visiting a museum or simply sightseeing can be a fun and welcome reprieve.

My daughter and I roller-skated and shopped in Philadelphia, discovered many great restaurants in Vermont, and enjoyed a snowy hike in New Hampshire during college road trips to see schools.

No matter where you go, save time to relax. Here are some highlights we found in popular college towns.

Northern New England and beyond

Our college road trips took us to Burlington, Vt., a fabulous city on the banks of Lake Champlain. Its charming and walkable downtown is packed with funky shops, art galleries and independent restaurants. You can kayak or take a dinner cruise on the water, or hike, bike and ski in the Green Mountains.

Hanover, N.H., home to Dartmouth College and the Hood Museum of Art, is another popular stop for college trips.

If you’re that far north already, why not visit Montreal? It’s less than two hours away. Just don’t forget your passport! Highlights in the easily walkable city include the Old Port area, Olympic Park and the Biodome.

Eastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and Rhode Island

There are more than 50 colleges and universities in the Boston area alone, but there’s no reason to stick to the city proper. Cape Cod and its miles of glorious beaches can be reached in a little over an hour. A 45-minute ferry ride from Falmouth can get you to Martha’s Vineyard, which can easily be explored via bike or public transportation. The more remote island of Nantucket is a bit further afield, but can get there in 45 minutes if you fly out of Boston. Newport, R.I., with its famous Cliff Walk and mansions, can be reached in about an hour-and-a-half. Providence is even closer and its museums, restaurants and shops are fun to explore.

Western and Upstate New York

Niagara Falls is a natural choice for anyone planning school visits to western or upstate New York. You can see the spectacular falls from afar or head out on the Maid of the Mist to get sprayed up-close. It can be fun to get another perspective from the Canadian side, but if you do, remember to pack your passport. Buffalo, just about a half hour south of Niagara Falls on the shores of Lake Erie, features gorgeous architecture and a fascinating history. We were intrigued to learn about Frank Lloyd Wright’s contributions to the city’s architectural scene in the early 1900s, thanks to a wonderful tour at the Martin House Complex.

Washington D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia

Certainly, there are too many colleges to count in the D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia areas, where any number of activities can occupy visitors for days on end. The wonderful – and free – museums of the Smithsonian Institution should be on every visitor’s agenda. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, where you’ll find the National Aquarium, the USS Constellation and the Maryland Science Center, is also a must.

Philadelphia’s rich history is a delight to explore, from seeing the Liberty Bell to Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. For a break you can’t beat the historical Reading Terminal Market. Located beneath the Reading Railroad’s 1891 train shed, it features more than 100 food stalls, which my daughter and I tried to sample our way through.

North Carolina and Georgia

Southern college road trips often involve visits to Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill in North Carolina. Raleigh is home to world-class museums, like the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the North Carolina Museum of History, both of which are free. Definitely leave time to head to the stunning beaches of the Outer Banks, less than four hours away, for a couple of days to unwind.

If you’re heading to Charlotte, put the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the U.S. National Whitewater Center (where you can raft where Olympians train) on your list.

The charming city of Savannah, along Georgia’s coast, is home to one of the country’s largest National Historic Landmark Districts, so a walking tour is a great way to get acquainted with the city and its history. A fun alternative is to take one of the many ghost tours available, since the city is said to be America’s most haunted.

Need assistance with college funding? Let AAA help. You can also visit AAA.com/Hotels to find and book a hotel near your destination. 

By Kim Foley MacKinnon


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