B-Rated Road Trips

Intersession is a great time to travel. Here's how to do it, with some stops B-school students might enjoy

Winter break is a time to reconnect with friends and family you haven't seen for weeks or months. But why do it in your hometown?

After all, you grew up there. You've been to many—or most, depending on the size of the place—local hotspots. You have your favorite restaurants, theaters, diners, and sports venues. Even if you're from a huge city, you can feel as though you know it like the back of your hand.

With a few weeks or even months off, there's plenty of time to take a few day trips or one longer road trip. Most guidebooks will point out the usual sites—the theme parks and the historical museums—that families will enjoy. But business students have their own interests—many of which can be accommodated with specialized stops, some of which are listed in the accompanying slide show.

For instance, instead of just thinking about making money, think about how and why we make money at the Money Museum in Colorado Springs, Colo. Or instead of thinking about a bleak past and future for Cubs fans in Chicago, you can learn about investing in futures at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

But no matter how much fun a road trip might be, a little bit of planning and caution will make it better. Here are a few tips to keep in mind before you set out on your travels.

Make Goals. There's nothing worse than setting out on the open road with no plan in mind. Figure out a timeline for when you'd like to hit your destination or a certain landmark on the road.

That's what Matthew Tobe does. Tobe, a 2006 graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder, is on the road for work almost 100% of the time. He travels to college campuses—by car or plane—around the country for his job with the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity. To ensure that he makes good time while driving, Tobe sets a specific time goal and then tries to exceed it. He always does.

But don't be unrealistic about how much land you can cover in one day. RoadTripAmerica.com suggests traveling no more than 500 miles—or 10 hours—in one day, especially in the winter, unless travelers are experienced motorists and are taking turns driving.

Avoid Boredom. Spending hours on end in a small car can drive even the calmest person nuts. There's more to do than stare out the window, fight about what radio station to listen to, or try to fall asleep (if you're not the driver).

Villanova University seniors Brock Bergman and Michael Burke traveled around the country for seven weeks in an RV last summer, so they had to figure out interesting ways to keep entertained. "The vehicle we were driving was so old and the ride was bumpy, so we couldn't really play video games or watch TV," says Bergman, a business major. "We got into crosswords and Sudoku."

The pair bought 150 puzzle books, and whoever wasn't driving would see how many he could complete in an hour. Then they would switch.

Music, of course, helps alleviate the boredom. But, since you're business students, you just don't want to listen to any songs. You want to load up your iPod with ditties like Money by Pink Floyd and Can't Buy Me Love by the Beatles. For more suggestions for a monetary-themed musical mix, check out our our suggested mix here (click on image on right).

Use Your Network. Networking can expand past the job hunt (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/6/06, "The 'Do Nots' of Networking"). Most likely, your budget isn't very large, so before you start to think about hotel accommodations, contact family, friends, friends of friends, and others you sort of know who live in the area you're traveling to. They should be more than willing to let you crash, especially during the holiday season when the spirit of giving is in the air (see BusinessWeek.com, 11/28/06, "A Bounty of B-school Gifts").

National fraternities and sororities and other student organizations have chapters at other campuses. Contact the clubs prior to your visit to see if you can stay at a house or apartment of a member or alumnus.

If networking your way into someone's home doesn't work out, finding a good deal on accommodations is key. Though a hostel might seem like the cheapest option, a chain motel that includes breakfast and Web access is often a better option, says Mark Sedenquist, publisher of RoadTripAmerica.com. Sedenquist also suggests stopping at state and city welcome centers, which often offer coupons for local lodging and restaurants.

Remember That It's Winter. Unless you'll be road-tripping in a warm climate, forget about the camping and stay indoors. Leave the tents for a summer road trip.

Driving itself is trickier in the winter, especially if it's snowing or icy. Sedenquist suggests yielding for other vehicles, having a light touch on the controls, making frequent rest stops, packing a "Go Kit" with extra clothing and food, and using the "tortoise" style of driving. "Pick a lane and stay in it—less chance for fender benders and slow down a little. Learn about skid recovery techniques, and practice."

Document Your Trip. Bergman and Burke, the Villanova students, are incorporating their summer road trip into a documentary, which also features interviews with interesting businesspeople (See BusinessWeek.com, 7/20/06, "Business Boot Camp"). It is set to be screened on campus after it is finished up this spring. If you don't want to go that far, at least bring a video recorder or digital camera to capture memories.

"I like being able to look back on what we did, even pieces that are not going to make the final cut [of the documentary]," says Bergman. "Even if you're going away for two days, be sure to bring something."

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