The advantages of Rochester aren’t limited to the open curriculum, fantastic professors, and passionate student body. Becoming a Rochester student also comes with the perk of living in a place within easy driving distance of some of the most exciting cities in the country that can provide easy entertainment and stress relief for antsy college students. In my three-and-a-half-years at Rochester, I’ve had the chance to go on quite a few mini-vacations to other cities in the region. Here are a few of my favorite getaways:
New York City
When I first announced that I was going to school in New York, everyone back home immediately assumed I meant NYC and then when I explained that no, my school was located in Rochester, they still assumed that I’d be able to go to the city on a regular basis. While this hasn’t been the case (NYC is about six hours away if you drive directly and the weather is good), I have been able to make it down to the famous city a couple of times over the past few years.
During my freshman year, I flew down to meet my dad and stepmom in the city for spring break. We were typical tourists—exploring Central Park, visiting the 9/11 Memorial, touring the American Museum of Natural History, marveling at Times Square, and catching a handful of Broadway musicals. While the weather wasn’t super springy, we had a nice trip and I could finally tell my friends back home that I had made it over to NYC since starting school.
The second time around, I went home with a friend from Westchester for Thanksgiving. We drove down in her cousin’s van with a few friends and split the gas bill six ways. One of our friends was taking the train from NYC to DC at 3 am so we headed to the city around midnight where we walked around an empty Times Square and ate pancakes at 2 am in a 24-hour diner. But the high point of the trip was attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. While my friend was a bit jaded after years of going to the parade, I couldn’t be more excited. For years I had watched the parade every single Thanksgiving from my living room, so finally getting the chance to cheer on the marching bands and watch the giant balloons float by up above in person was a huge thrill.
My trips represent two very different ways of “doing” NYC—flying and fancy hotels (with the parents footing the bill) vs. carpooling and crashing with a surrogate family. But I also know plenty of Rochester students who take Megabus or Amtrak and stay in Air B&Bs. All in all, NYC is a rather accessible destination for a week-long vacation or a weekend away (when you can spare the study time).
I fell in love with Washington, DC, in eighth grade when I visited the city for a week-long People to People leadership camp. But I hadn’t had the chance to go back until this past summer when my friend from Fredrick, Maryland, agreed to a weekend trip to visit his family and explore the city. So in early July, we made the six-hour drive down to Fredrick and spent two days seeing the sites and making the most of our time in the capital. While it was sweltering outside, we found refuge in the National Museum of American History and the Hirshhorn Museum. We met up with friends who were spending the summer interning in the city, viewed the monuments at night, took a trip to the Washington National Cathedral, visited Old Town Alexandria, walked along Embassy Row and U Street, and had dinner in Dupont Circle. And each night, we returned home to comfy beds and had home-cooked breakfasts waiting for us each morning.
During our time in DC, we only spent money on food and metro cards. We were lucky enough to have a free place to stay and all the attractions we visited were open to the public, free of charge. Like many cities, DC is a place where you can easily spend a lot of money on elaborate tours, fancy dinners, and admission to the non-Smithsonian museums. However, if you’re on a budget (like most college students are) there’s also plenty to do and see that can keep you busy and happy for days.
I’ve also been lucky enough to make the trek from Rochester to Toronto twice in the past few years. Our annual four-day fall break has proven to be the perfect time for a quick trip to the Canadian city, which is just about three hours away by car. During my sophomore year, a group of friends and I took a Zipcar from campus for a day trip in Toronto, leaving Rochester around 5 am and arriving back around midnight. This October, I went back with a different set of friends for a slightly longer visit. We took a Megabus from downtown Rochester and stayed in a funky hostel near Old Toronto. Both travel options proved rather affordable and we spent little money on anything besides food. Crossing the border was fast and easy as well—all we needed was a passport and a plan.
Toronto is extremely easy to navigate. With no data on our phones because of international phone charges, we relied heavily on paper maps to make our way to Kensington Market, Chinatown, Dundas Square, and the Toronto Waterfront. Between my two trips, I had the chance to walk around the base of the CN Tower, bike along Lake Ontario, get treats at Bang Bang IceCream and Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, and even stumble upon De Grassi Street (yes, the show changed the spelling). While we mostly traversed the city on foot, we also took a couple trips on the city streetcars and an Uber ride. Food was both accessible and affordable, even for a group of vegetarians. Truly, Toronto is the perfect destination for Rochester students looking for a mini vacation and has become one of my favorite cities I’ve ever visited.
Just last month, I made my first trip to Boston when I once again went home with a friend for Thanksgiving (this time to Wellesley, Massachusetts). While we were only able to squeeze one day in the city in between Thanksgiving feasts and family functions, it was enough to give me a strong feel for the historic city and I can’t wait until I get the chance to go back. While Boston is the farthest from Rochester of the cities I’ve listed here (it took us six-and-a-half hours to get there without traffic and eight to get back with traffic), it’s a doable commute for a longer trip. In our case, we headed out Tuesday afternoon and returned Sunday night.
During our time in Boston, we met up with friends, explored the public gardens and Boston Common, had lunch at Quincy Market, visited the waterfront and Little Italy, stopped by the Old North Church, and made our way to Cambridge for a walk around the Harvard Yard. While we took the “T” into and out of the city from the suburbs, we spent the rest of the day traveling on foot and ended up spending less than $30 for two meals and ice cream. It was a day to remember and while I’m not sure I’ll be able to make another trip to the city this year, I’m so glad I got to visit before I graduate.
Moving to the northeast for college has given me the opportunity to visit so many wonderful places and I’m so grateful I’ve had the chance to take advantage of so much of what this region has to offer.