The Enduring Memory of the 8th Grade Field Trip

The first travel experiences that shaped us—for better or for worse.

Sometimes, when you least expect it, memories of middle school field trips come creeping in, not because of things learned, but rather, trauma experienced. I, for one, will never forget my fifth grade field trip to Baltimore. After a day of touring the ship that fought at Pearl Harbor and petting some stingrays at the National Aquarium, the chaperone moms thought it a good idea to take us—a dozen 12-year-olds from suburban New Jersey—to a nearby Hooters for lunch.

It’s true what they say: The air in the mornings of field trips did, indeed, hit different. For many of us, middle school field trips were our first taste of independent travel. Some of us laid out outfits the night before, our excitement stirring, unable to fall asleep. Others spent the week leading up to the trip in sheer agony, stressed about choosing the right seatmate for the bus. As nostalgia-fueled TikToks have revealed, there was something about middle school field trips that simply brought on the drama.

We rounded up the most shocking and hilarious anecdotes from our friends at Vox who have been shaped—for better or for worse—by their own middle school field trips.

“​​In the sixth grade, our school took us to a makeshift ‘science camp’ in Malibu that obviously taught us nothing about science. Since the counselors had zero scientific knowledge, we would basically just go on 10-mile hikes everyday that would make us sweat vigorously and tire out our tiny middle schooler legs. One day, our counselor (named Dexter) decided to take us to the beach, but in order to get there, we would have to jaywalk across the Pacific Coast Highway, which is notoriously busy all the time. Instead, Dexter had us climb on our HANDS and KNEES through a TINY underground sewer that took us to the beach. I genuinely thought I was going to die and earnestly prayed to God to tell my family I loved them.” – Kelsey Allen, Editorial Assistant, Thrillist

“I definitely remember a bunch of kids running off to dance with the folks from the Hare Krishna movement during our eighth grade trip to DC (I think this was at the National Mall), and then constantly singing their song on the bus for the rest of the trip while the chaperones yelled at them.” – Missy Frederick, Cities Director, Eater

“At my middle school, it was traditional for the entire sixth grade to bike about six miles to Walden Pond as the culmination of a Henry David Thoreau unit. I remember it being a big to-do, with hundreds of teens pedaling the streets toward Concord. The trip was well-chaperoned, but a recipe for chaos nonetheless. A friend of mine lost control of her bike on the steepest hill on the route, hit a tree, and had to be taken to the hospital; middle school gossip indicated that she was air-lifted, but as an adult, I can reasonably assume that an ambulance was the far more likely rescue vehicle. The rest of us made it to the pond and back in one piece (and my friend was okay in the end).” – Kori Perten, Senior Editor, Thrillist

“My very strange, very small school would send the eighth graders on a week-long camping trip to Mexico each year. My year, one of the trip’s ‘activities’ involved dividing us into pairs, blindfolding us, driving us into the desert, and dropping off each pair in a different location. We had to find our way back to town and the rest of our classmates, pool our money to buy dinner ingredients, and somehow figure out a way to cook it. We were given no matches or stoves. We bought cans of beans but had no can opener. It was the late ’90s, so no one had cell phones, let alone smartphones. No waivers or permission slips were signed.” – Mary White, Copy Chief, Vox Media

“My big eighth grade trip was a day trip to Wisconsin Dells. A two-hour drive from my school, this was the farthest I’d ever traveled for any trip without my family at that point in my life, and I was so excited I filled three disposable cameras’ worth of film, mostly on the bus ride there. We rode the famous “duck boats,” explored Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, went mini-golfing, and stopped for Culver’s frozen custard on the drive home. I had never felt so independent before. I’m still chasing that high.” – Joe Erbentraut, Editorial Director, Thrillist

“I don’t remember a ton from my middle school trip to Washington, DC. Though now that I live in the District, I keep having flashbacks. I do recall staying in one of those all-suite hotel chains out in the suburbs, probably an Embassy Suites, which seemed EXTREMELY fancy at the time because it had the word “suite” in it. Other than that, I have a visceral memory of my oldest brother meeting up with us for lunch at some point—he was in law school at Georgetown at the time—and all my female teachers quite literally swooned when he came in and introduced himself. The entire class thought it was so funny and I was so deeply embarrassed. Here I was, all ready to show off my cool big brother to my friends, and damn Mrs. Whats-her-name had to ruin everything with a single bat of an eyelash.” – Meredith Heil, Editorial Director, Thrillist

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Jessica Sulima is a staff writer on the Travel team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram