Flying to College: How to Save Money and Reduce Stress

If your high school senior is going to college far away, it’s time to plan for moving day. While loading up the family car and driving to school is a monumental task, flying to college requires the logistical precision of a marching band.

view from plane over NYC
Watching NYC fade into the distance.

Based on my experience of moving two daughters across the country for college, here is what worked best for our family.

11 Tips for Flying to College

1. Book Flights and Hotels

There will be a couple of specific dates: move-in and Family Weekend. Book flights and hotels as soon as possible. My husband emailed me the flight confirmation when we took our oldest to school for the first time. He had booked three round-trip tickets; I had to remind him that only two of us would be flying home!

Don’t be in such a hurry to book your student’s flights home for Thanksgiving or Winter Break. Academic and exam schedules are more fluid than you think. We spent more money on change fees than on flights freshman year.

2. Dorm Room Research

To the extent possible, find out from the school what items are included in the dorm room, such as a wastebasket, mirror, desk lamp, or chair, so that you do not purchase things provided. It is also very important to find out what is banned. Some schools also have dorm-by-dorm dimensions of the room, furniture, and under-bed space. Look on the residential life, Freshman Portal, or Admitted Students pages on the college website.

3. Target

If Target is your preferred store, they offer a program to buy purchases online that will be ready for pick up at the closest Target to the college town your teen will soon call home.

4. College Shipping Policy

Find out what the package shipping policy is for the school. For example, one of our daughter’s schools allowed us to ship boxes within a certain period before moving in. They were rigid in their labeling requirements and the dates they would receive packages. However, the boxes awaited us outside the dorm when we arrived for move-in!

The other daughter’s school did not offer such a program. In that case, we shipped boxes ahead to the hotel we stayed the night before moving in. Don’t forget to include the name of the reservation and hold for arrival on xx dates when labeling those boxes. It’s a good idea to keep an inventory of your shipped boxes and label them “1 of 3, 2 of 3, etc.”

5. Triage Your Stuff

Think about three categories: Ship, pack for airplane, and buy upon arrival.

Ship: Winter coat, bulky sweaters, boots, shoes, printer, sheets and towels (which have been pre-washed at home), tool kit (more on this later), bed decor, room decor

Take on the airplane: most clothing and personal items are needed until the day of departure. If parents and/or siblings are traveling with the student, use all the luggage allowance for the group. Parents will return with empty suitcases, leaving one for the student to use for school vacation. If possible, leave hanging clothes on hangers (albeit thin ones) wrapped in plastic for easy transfer to the closet.

Buy upon arrival: all items from Target pick up, toiletries, and school supplies

6. Rental Car

Make sure to reserve your rental car well in advance. It’s particularly helpful if you can rent a minivan, as it can hold an entire apartment’s worth of belongings. SUVs tend to be much more limiting.

7. Day of Arrival

You may decide to fetch your Bed, Bath and Beyond pick-up the day you arrive, which is fine. Remember that you will need room in the car for those items, your luggage, any boxes you may have shipped to your hotel, and your student! Also, remember that you will very likely need to make a return/exchange trip.

8. Tools

When flying to college, pack a tape measure in your tool kit and a hammer and screwdriver. Once you have the room organized, you can measure the distance underneath the bed and better determine the size and quantity of those plastic bins, which will be your student’s best furniture for four years.

9. Don’t Make the Bed (Yet)

As tempting as it may be to make the bed and arrange the blankets and pillows and such a pretty manner, do this last. That bed will be the only surface you have to unpack, throw boxes, wrappers, etc.

10. End of the Year Return Trip

Again, think of terms of three categories:

Store: plastic bins, school supplies, more oversized items such as wastebaskets, hamper, lamps, mattress pad, snow boots, and anything that won’t be needed at home over the summer. Tough call on the winter coat, which generally did come home to be cleaned before returning to school in the fall.

Take on the airplane: as much clothing as possible

Ship: linens, towels, whatever else doesn’t fit in luggage

11. Summer Storage

In terms of summer storage, there are usually a few options. There may be an on-campus, student-run storage service, UPS off-campus storage, and a rental storage unit that could be shared among kids. There are advantages and disadvantages to each one. Have your student investigate the options available at his/her school, consult with older students and get their recommendations.

We make a small compensation from purchases made through some of the links in this post. 

What You Might Also Want to Read:

Dorm Room Shopping: 50 Questions to Answer First 

College Move In Day – 12 Things That Will Save Your Life 

About Lisa Lichtenberg

Lisa Lichtenberg started her career as a bond trader in New York City and, later, became a SAHM to her two daughters, the youngest of whom graduates from college this spring. She helped both kids work out the logistics of their study abroad programs in Denmark and Australia and is grateful for their contributions to this post. She is also proud that they have grown and flown!

Read more posts by Lisa

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