Are road trips a rite of passage for your college student?

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Registered: 08-06-2009
Are road trips a rite of passage for your college student?
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Thu, 06-09-2011 - 8:47am
By John McAuliff
The author spent the night alone in the Devil’s Tramping Ground. Now the thought of sleeping in an empty Wal-Mart parking lot doesn’t seem so bad.
The pressure is on. Get the job, get the internship…go on the road trip? College summers are incredibly important. As a whole, they mark a full year of life in which you can do whatever you want with no restrictions. You’ll be told you need to get a job to keep up with your classmates. I agree that getting ahead is important, but what if jobs and internships aren’t the best way?

A girl I met on the road recently told me: “A formal education will make you a living, a personal education will make you a fortune.” I agree. So do Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Richard Branson. It is hard to be more successful than everyone else by doing the same thing as everyone else. If you want more than just a living out of life, you’ll need to work on you.

Most societies have ways of cultivating personal development in the form of rites of passage. The Maasai tribe of eastern Africa sends each boy of age out into the brush with only a spear to track and hunt a lion, alone. Australian Aborigine boys travel for six months through the wilderness with their father, grandfather and spiritual elder. Spartan women went through rigorous athletic tests to prepare them for the Spartan lifestyle. In America, our rites of passage are parties. Baby shower? Party. Sweet 16? Party. Bar mitzvah? Party. Prom? Party. Wedding? Party. We even have parties before the wedding parties!

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Nothing against partying, but I have to ask: What happened to the rite of passage as a challenge? I am not hunting black bears or wandering the pine barrens, but this summer I’m traveling around the country on a 70-day road trip, setting challenges for myself, concentrating on my own personal development and exploring the landscapes and cultures of the country I live in, but have barely seen. The road trip is a uniquely American rite, and one we can all share regardless of religion or sub-culture. Ten days in, I already feel a little older.

I have been traveling the American South after leaving New York on May 21 with a budget of $2,750. I set goals for myself: become more self-reliant and resourceful, become more confident and outgoing and become a stronger writer. To achieve these goals, I have been setting challenges. To become more outgoing, I force myself to start conversations with 50 people a week. To become more self-reliant, I sleep only in my car and campgrounds, being careful to find safe places. To improve my writing, I keep a blog called “Restoring the American Rite of Passage: The Road Trip.”

Achieving these goals will help me become the person I want to be, and they translate to professional success too. High confidence will make me a better networker. Self-reliance will help me stand out in an office environment. Stronger writing skills will set me apart from the pack on essays and cover letters. If I can achieve that while seeing the country, having exciting experiences and meeting incredible people, I’ll have accomplished far more than I ever have in past internships or jobs.

So that’s the ideal. On the road 15 days so far, I’ve had the opportunity to put my goals into practice. After spending a few days with friends relaxing in Virginia and eastern North Carolina, I began my trip through untraveled territory. I decided to challenge myself with the most difficult first night I could find: a night alone at the Devil’s Tramping Ground. I figured that if I could spend the night with the devil, all the nights after that would be less imposing.

The legend of the Devil’s Tramping Ground, originating in the 1700s, is known to virtually everyone I spoke to around its location in Bear Creek, N.C., and each had a new part of the legend to add. Out in the woods lies a perfect circle where nothing has grown for hundreds of years. At night, the devil appears and plots new ways to torture humanity. Legend has it that he appears as a billowy spirit with the body of a man and a set of glistening horns. Supposedly, anything left in the circle at night will be thrown into the woods by morning. Reports of strange symbols, animal bones, American Indian chanting, satanic ritual and dead dogs come from drunk kids who build fires and try to stay the night. As far as anyone knows, groups have camped out, but nobody has ever stayed the whole night at the Devil’s Tramping Ground alone.

Spotting a challenge, I decide to spend the night. It is stormy and wet. Fearing flooding more than the devil, I set up my tent. Much to my shock, a group of four college students pull up to the spot in a red sedan. A conversation reveals that the four are all part of the same church group, the Mormon Church. Despite my further shock, we become fast friends, and get dinner at a seafood joint in a nearby town. They decide to head home to Chapel Hill, I decide to stay in the devil’s domain.

Long story short, I survived the night. Odds are I was not really the first, but it was an experience I won’t soon forget, and I’m happy to take credit until someone else claims it. The sheer enjoyable absurdity of meeting four new friends deep in the woods from a culture so different than my own was enough to make the experience worth it, but the sleepless hours attuned to every noise the dripping wet forest produced hardened me to nights alone in Wal-Mart parking lots.

The author stopped at a hot-air balloon festival in Simpsonville, S.C., and enjoyed the Southern culture surrounding him.
After hearing about a hot-air balloon festival in Simpsonville, S.C., I figured it would be a great opportunity to begin exploring Southern culture, another one of my goals. Simpsonville greeted me with a $5 parking fee, a $10 entrance fee and a long walk through a carnival-like atmosphere complete with a Ferris wheel, shooting games and funnel cakes. Children led their families from ride to ride, spending money. The hot-air balloons slowly blew up and took off, disappearing into the sky. The crowd, mostly families, gathered in lawn chairs and cheered each one up. I got the opportunity to fly up in one myself with American Escapes Aerosports (www.shreveportballoon.com), which made the trip well worth it.

The country music concert that followed brought out college-age Southerners for a raucous party. “What are you doing here?” one guy asks another. “Same thing everyone else is! Getting drunk!” The pair commenced high-fiving. References to sweet tea and confederacy drew wild cheering from the crowd. Dimly aware that I had taken this trip in part to learn to appreciate other cultures, however fratty they may be, I stayed until the end.

After leaving South Carolina, a visit to Atlanta to see the world’s largest aquarium and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial left me feeling emotional. Montgomery, Ala. showed me the private lives of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and the forgotten faces of those murdered in the civil rights movement.

These are just a few of the things I have found time to do. Follow along at USA TODAY College and my blog as I travel to New Orleans, try out websites for meeting people on the road like couchsurfing, delve deeper into Southern culture at the country music festival in Nashville and take in the damage from the storms, tornadoes and floods in Mississippi and Alabama. With this series, I hope to encourage you to consider a trip like this yourself during one of your college summers, with your own goals, plans and style!

John McAuliff is a freelance journalist and a student at the University of Richmond.
iVillage Member
Registered: 08-06-2009
Most societies have ways of cultivating personal development in the form of rites of passage. The Maasai tribe of eastern Africa sends each boy of age out into the brush with only a spear to track and hunt a lion, alone. Australian Aborigine boys travel for six months through the wilderness with their father, grandfather and spiritual elder. Spartan women went through rigorous athletic tests to prepare them for the Spartan lifestyle. In America, our rites of passage are parties. Baby shower? Party. Sweet 16? Party. Bar mitzvah? Party. Prom? Party. Wedding? Party. We even have parties before the wedding parties!


Does your family have their own rites of passages?

Do you agree all Americans have to have a party for their rite of passage?

Will/did you finance your college students' road trips?
where are/did they choose to go?
Did you make a road trip in your youth?

Do you have a road trip on your bucket list?
Avatar for suzyk2118
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-30-1997
No road trips here for me (we went on a weekend trip a couple times to ski in Wisconsin but that's about it), not sure what dh did back then (he raced cars in SCCA and traveled the country for that, so maybe that counts?). DS and a buddy made a road trip (one night) to Chicago to see a band (dh and I had gone on a weekend vacation so he was home alone otherwise, for the first time) last fall once he'd started college, but nothing beyond that - no means in this economy! DS had no interest in any party for him after age 11 so although he'll likely be snagged into parties for his eventual wedding (not soon I hope! He's only 18!) I doubt he'll want one for any other reason.

I guess in a way we had a rite of passage for ds when he turned 16 as dh is a strong proponent of Street Survival driving school, which ds took a month after getting his license.

Sue
iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999

The only person I ever knew who took a big road trip after college was my cousin Nicky, who is now 40--he & some friends traveled the country visiting the national parks and camping out--personally I would like to do something like that myself, except for the camping, someday.

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-14-1999

After my DS graduated college last year - he & his GF did a Europeon road trip (that he paid for 100%) they visted London, Athens, Rome, Paris - all I paid for was his backpack with was a Birthday gift!

Now he lives/works outside of Philly - this year the two of them went back to Europe and went to: Prague, Amsterdam & Dublin - he loves,loves to travel. They stay at hostels or in a room that a person may rent out - cheap and you get to met the locals.

Kathy
iVillage Member
Registered: 04-16-2009

The rites of passages of Western Cultures are not the parties.

So, the author of the article is showing his ignorance/lack of understanding. He is confusing celebrating a milestone with obtaining the milestone, apple and oranges.

For example, the Maasai young boy proves that he is a man by going into the bush. I am sure that there is a celebration when he gets back from his trek.

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-25-2006

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It sounds like his road trip is a wonderful experience, and one that will enhance his resume, probably more than it would the resume of an engineering student.

No one in our family has ever done a road trip while in college, but DS28 went/met with four friends for a road trip in Great Britain two years ago. (His money, of course.)

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http://www.pnhp.org/news/2009/october/meet_the_new_health_.php

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQTBYQlQ7yM

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-16-1999

Rites of passage?

iVillage Member
Registered: 12-23-2006

We didnt do road trips as such in my family.
Vacations we went to plenty of places like the Dude Ranch in Montana
We rode horses every day,camped out 2 days in tents.
We didnot have TV in the guest cabins
That was before

Visit My Blog Reflections&Inspirations by Pam

"When you stop chasing the wrong things, you give the right things a chance to catch you."

Avatar for sabrtooth
iVillage Member
Registered: 12-03-1999

I have to agree with Itea, that neither road trips nor parties are rites of passage.

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-25-2006

When we grew up in WI, my sisters and I used to envy people like you sabr!

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http://www.pnhp.org/news/2009/october/meet_the_new_health_.php

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQTBYQlQ7yM