Riding in Cars with Strangers: How to Navigate a Roadtrip



You may only be able to think of a few other situations more awkward than spending 6 hours in a car with someone you don’t know. In this case, you’re right, but it doesn’t always have to be this way.

Catching a ride home with someone during break is almost always the cheaper alternative to flying. However, some people would much rather deal with the high-cost of a plane ticket, than deal with the potential cost of hours of small-talk; even worse – what if they’re a serial killer?! News flash - they’re probably not a serial killer, and are just as nervous to suddenly have to present their whole life story to another stranger in a confined space. Both of my rides home were found through friends, so, at best, I knew that they wouldn’t have been recommended to me if they were more on the sketchy/creepy side. Once you have the ride, though, how do you navigate the long road with the long silences? Small talk? Nervous laughter? Earphones? Here are some things I've learned to keep in mind in order to make for a bearable, and, dare I say it, enjoyable carpool. 


Start with the basics:

Remember those ice cream socials? The same applies here. Ask each other about your majors, classes you’re taking and any extracurricular activities. Conversation will generally flow from here, and getting the basics out of the way will make the first 10 minutes less awkward.


Silence is okay:

Once you’ve eventually run out of small talk, and finding out about each other’s life histories, there will be a long silence. This is okay - look out the window and enjoy the scenery – they will probably do the same.


Music is your friend:

At one point or another (most likely during an awkward silence) they will ask if it’s okay to play some music, or even if you would like to play some music. If you do get handed the aux cord – handle this responsibly. If the person you’re driving with hates all rap music – don’t play your Kanye playlist on repeat. Simple. More than this, music is a great conversation starter and can help reveal a lot about a person.


Bring food:

In many cases, it may not actually be eaten, but bringing a bag of chips is a simple way to show your gratitude to them for being willing to have a stranger in their car for hours on end.


Say thank you:

It goes without saying, but don’t forget to send a thank you message after your ride! It will help start things off on the right foot for the journey back to campus.


Learn for next time:

Take a mental note of the vibe for the first ride was and make adjustments as needed. For example, both times I misjudged the snack thing completely the first time. At first, I brought chips and cookies (because that’s what boys eat right?!) to a guy who was really health-conscious, and the next time around, I brought cookies to a guy who had given chocolate up for Lent – yikes. Let’s just say I made a few changes for the trip back.


Embrace the awkwardness:

At the end of the day, you both know what you’re getting into. Make some jokes about the situation, and help lighten the mood a little.


In fact, I’ve gone through this process twice now, and surprisingly enough – I’ve actually really enjoyed it. You find out things about a person on a long car ride, which you would never normally take the time to find out about in real life. In the age of social media and texting it’s nice to be forced to actually have a real conversation once in a while. You find out roughly the same amount of information in a 6-hour car ride- than you would during the first month of normal friendship.