It’s almost spring break, and most likely you have nothing planned. Even though it may be too late to book an all-inclusive resort package to Cancun or Punta Cana, all hope is not lost. There are plenty of places to go during the much-anticipated week of idleness that do not require a plane ticket, a passport, or prior planning.
As long as you have access to a car or bus station, you can always go on a road trip to an interesting destination. Although the phrase “road trip” might conjure up images of a clan of friends pushing a broken-down car down a highway just outside of Cleveland, road trips often go surprisingly well. If properly executed, a road trip can be an excellent way to take that much-needed vacation in a pinch.
The first step toward an excellent road trip is to choose a destination that has nothing to do with what you are used to seeing everyday. Although there are plenty of great American cities to visit, the two most “foreign” big cities within reasonable spring break driving distance are Montreal and New Orleans. Because these two cities were built under heavy French influence, they are much more European both in culture and appearance than other North American cities. Visiting them truly feels like walking into another world.
Although Montreal is actually colder than Philadelphia this time of year, it is still an excellent place to visit over spring break. This Canadian city is about eight hours from Philadelphia by car, and is a surprisingly popular spring break destination for both American and Canadian college students.
One of the greatest benefits of traveling to Montreal is the exchange rate. While the exchange rate isn’t as good as it used to be, it is still significantly cheaper to buy things using Canadian dollars.
Montreal is known as a place to relax. Americans have found the city have been popular since the era of prohibition. The city has a great nightlife and the legal drinking age is 18. There are countless bars, jazz clubs, cafes and reasonably priced restaurants to keep you entertained all night.
The Quartier Latin, the trendy student district of Montreal, offers some of the best and most inexpensive places to hang out at night. Because of the very thorough subway system (which runs on rubber wheels) it should not be hard to get around the city.
Montreal also has sights to check out during the day, including the bio-dome, the underground mall, and impressive architecture in its Old City, which is called Vieux Montreál. Vieux Montreál is full of impressive 18th century stone architecture, and it houses the beautiful Basilique Notre Dame. This church, which was once the largest churches in North America, resembles an old world cathedral.
In Montreal, there is no zoning for red-light districts, so you might find shops selling rosaries and crucifixes right next to strip joints.
If you do decide to take a road trip to Montreal, it might be worth stopping by some of the other cities in the vicinity, including Boston, Quebec City and New York.
If the cold is not for you, you might consider going down to New Orleans. Although the drive is considerably longer than the drive to Montreal, New Orleans offers warm temperatures, great music, and legendary good times.
Located at the base of the Mississippi River, New Orleans and its surroundings are home to the Cajun culture, a culture very different from the Anglo-Saxon culture that dominates the rest of the country.
Most of the exciting things that happen in New Orleans happen in the Quartier Francais, which is home to Carnival, and the New Orleans Jazz Fest. Although Temple’s spring break might not fall on either of these occasions, there is plentiful excitement year-round in the Quartier Francais at night.
The Cajun food served in New Orleans is very different from typical American fare, and could be an excellent treat for those who really want to experience something different this spring break.
Although accommodations can be a bit pricey in New Orleans, the best way to get a room if you have not booked ahead is to call the New Orleans Welcome Center at (504) 566-5031. Local hotels which are under booked often offer discount rooms through the Welcome Center.
If you do take a road trip to New Orleans, you will not only get a chance to explore the American South, but you may also be able to stop at other exciting cities like Nashville.
Although it may ruin the spontaneity of your road trip, it is advised that you pick up a guidebook and a collection of maps of the areas you plan to visit. It’s wild enough to just get up and go somewhere, and a lack of good directions can turn a pleasant road trip into a disaster.
Daniel J. Kristie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.