Tips on Transporting Your Freshman to College

This is a trip like no other.

By Anne Vaccaro Brady

Whether traveling by road or air, you need a plan for how to transfer the important pieces of your teen’s life from home to college. Because a bunch of mixed emotions accompany your family on this trip, put the effort into making the physical part as smooth as possible. Read on to learn the best ways to navigate this adventure.

Pick a mode of transportation Some parents think renting a small U-Haul truck or trailer is a good idea. But ask any experienced college parent about that and they’ll tell you to think again. The U-Haul has more room than your student’s dorm room so you’ll be lugging half of what you brought back home with you.

A compact or midsize car likely won’t hold everything, unless only one parent is making the trip, leaving the backseat free for packing. The stress relieved by renting or borrowing a minivan, large SUV or commercial van might be worth the money.

For freshman heading to college across the country, flying is often the best and most affordable option when you add up the cost of hotels, food, gas and time. Book early to get the cheapest tickets. Plan to ship some items later and/or buy once you get to campus. Stores like Bed, Bath & Beyond allow you to order at your local store and pick up at one near the college. (This service also works well for families with small cars.)

Storage devices That roof box you’ve attached to the top of your car for family vacations will come in handy on this trip, too. If it will take you more than a day to get to campus, I suggest a hard roof box with a lock to protect your belongings overnight.

Soft cargo bags or rooftop carrier baskets work well when traveling only a few hours, or all in one day.

Or consider the hitch-mounted cargo basket that goes on the back of your vehicle. Much smaller than a trailer, with no wheels, it holds bulky items like luggage, plastic bins and boxes.

How to pack Start by planning. Prioritize what must go with your teen from day one: clothes, computer (unless you’re picking it up on campus), prescription medications, retainers, contact lenses/glasses, video game console (if the roommate isn’t bringing one), personal items from home like pictures, a favorite stuffed animal, baseball mitt, etc. I also include towels and sheets on this list unless you want to help your freshman do laundry on move-in day.

Everything else, including most of the items on my packing lists, can be bought when you get there.

Instead of suitcases, put clothes in large garbage bags, which are crushable, stackable and less bulky. Bags of clothes also make good cushions when packing the car.

Remember that Parents Weekend usually occurs in October, so you can bring along winter clothes and other seasonable items then.

Before hitting the road, your teen should check in with his roommate(s) to review who’s bringing what to avoid doubles, especially on larger items, like the mini frig, microwave and television. These three can almost always be rented through the college, saving valuable packing space.

Go online to find out which stores are near campus so you know what you will and won’t be able to buy when you arrive. Then plan to ship what can’t fit (lightest and smallest items will be cheapest).

Get to know your vehicle intimately—flip down available backseats, find hidden storage pockets, etc.

Don’t skimp on safety Get your car serviced before the big trip. The last thing you need is a breakdown with a full carload.

Make sure all drivers are comfortable with the rear view. Rearrange some items if necessary.

If you’ll need more than one day to get to campus be smart: park under a light at the hotel, use blankets to hide the contents in your car and bring expensive or irreplaceable items like the computer, television, etc. into your hotel room. You don’t need to pack and repack your whole car at the hotel, but use common sense.

And off you go Enjoy the trip into the next phase of your lives.

Share your advice about getting your freshman off to college in the comments section below.

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2 Responses to Tips on Transporting Your Freshman to College

  1. Vicki Nelson says:

    This is such good advice, Anne. Planning the physical trip is one of the few things that parents have control of at this point. It’s great to think about how to take advantage of that and make things go as smoothly as possible. My advice – based on taking 3 girls off to school – ask your student (especially girls) to think about what they need – and then cut it down by 1/3!

    • Thanks, Vicki. Yes, you’re right. Kids, especially girls, tend to overpack. I like your one-third rule, otherwise that will be the amount parents will be reloading back in the car to bring home.

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