Flying to College: How to Save Money and Reduce Stress

If your high school senior is going to college flying distance 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 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 dates that are certain: move-in and Family Weekend. Book flights and hotels as soon as possible. My husband emailed me the flight confirmation when we were taking our oldest for 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 we did 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 waste basket, mirror, desk lamp, or chair so that you do not purchase things that are 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 underbed space. Look on the college website in the Residential Life, Freshman Portal, or Admitted Students pages.

3. Bed, Bath and Beyond and Target

Bed, Bath and Beyond offers a program  that is ideal for students traveling far from home. With “Pack and Hold,” we walked around the store with a handheld device and scanned the labels of what my daughter wanted to buy. (You can also fill an actual shopping cart if you prefer.) When checking out, the items are uploaded to the destination store and held until it’s time for pick up.

Bed, Bath, and Beyond had our order ready at the store nearest campus, with no extra charge for the service. BTW, when selecting items in your home store, don’t worry about overbuying. Better to secure things before they sell out and simply remove them from your cart once you arrive at the destination store and determine what you really need.

If Target is your preferred store, they also 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 move in. They were quite rigid in their labelling requirements, as well as what dates they would receive packages. However, when we arrived for move in, the boxes were waiting for us right outside the dorm!

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

5. Triage Your Stuff

Think in terms of 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 airplane: most clothing, personal items needed until 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 behind 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 closet.

Buy upon arrival: all items from Bed Bath and Beyond 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 they 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 of your arrival, which is fine. Keep in mind, though, that you will need room in the car for those items, your luggage, any boxes that you may have shipped to your hotel, and your student! Also keep in mind 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, as well as a hammer and screwdriver. Once you have the room organized, you can measure the distance underneath the bed and will be better able to 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, larger items such as waste basket, hamper, lamps, mattress pad, snow boots, and generally 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 a group of kids. There are advantages and disadvantages with each one. Have your student investigate the options available at his/her own school, and consult with older students and get their recommendations.

We make a small amount of 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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