Tips for a Long-Distance College Move-In Day

Avoiding Mailroom Snafus, Long Lines, and Surprises

Young man moving into dormitory on college campus
XiXinXing / Getty Images

Moving your child into her new home is tough enough when you're schlepping all of her worldly possessions in the family car. Add air travel or a cross-country road trip to the mix and it becomes even more challenging. Thankfully colleges and retailers get it: Nowadays it's becoming increasingly more common for kids to attend schools that are hundreds of miles from home, so you can ship belongings directly to campus, order supplies online for local pickup, or just wait until you get there to shop.

Follow these tips to avoid a few key mistakes.

Rent a Car

An hours-long drive across several states may be daunting, but if a one-way road trip is not too ghastly a concept, consider renting a car. Drive to the college with all the gear, move in, drop off the car at the airport, and fly back. You'll pay a premium for a one-way rental, but it may be worth it to avoid the hassle and expense of shipping large items.

And save money by following these tips from U.S. News & World Report:

  1. Don't buy insurance. Your insurance company may cover rental cars, so check before you travel. If not, many credit cards offer insurance for free if you use their card to pay for the car.
  2. Don't rent at the airport. Yes, you'll drop off the car at the airport, but that doesn't mean you need to rent at the airport. You'll be paying a drop-off fee anyway, so skip the high price of airport rentals.
  3. Shop around. Spending just a few minutes on the internet, you can book your car online—often at a discount.
  4. Don't pay extra for GPS. Use your smartphone for navigation.
  5. Take your time when inspecting the car. Any dings or dents you miss may be billed to you upon returning the car.
  6. Return the car on time. Many rental companies determine drop-off times according to the time of day you rented the car. So, check with the company before renting.

Use Storage Bins

If you are driving, it's much easier to pack a car (even a rental) with regularly shaped objects—boxes or large plastic bins—as opposed to plastic trash bags or grocery sacks. Plus boxes are much easier to lug up multiple flights of crowded dorm stairs once you get to the school, especially if the bins have handholds. Many dorms don't have elevators, and those that do will be crammed.

Once he's moved in, your child can use the bins for extra storage or to transport laundry to the laundry room, which is likely to be some distance away from his room.

Ship Items Ahead of Time 

Double check the college mailroom schedule. Some schools accept packages over the summer, and a few even deliver to the dorms. Other mailrooms, like the one at UC San Diego, don't open until several days after move-in day, a situation that may leave your child sleeping on borrowed towels until he can retrieve his bedding from the mailroom.

If you run into mailroom issues, make sure your child's luggage includes the absolute essentials she'll need during the first few days, including sheets, towels, toiletries, a light jacket, two pairs of shoes, and a couple of sets of clothes. Your child can create decorations, such as picture mobiles, as well as a laundry basket and even a nightstand, with easily obtainable (and inexpensive) materials. There's no need to buy and ship such items ahead of time.

If you have a friend, colleague, or relative who lives in the same area where your child will be attending school, have his belongings shipped there. And while you're packing, remember that your child won’t need his heavy woolens in August, so ship winter items later, or have him pick them up at Thanksgiving if he is planning to fly home for the holiday, as many students do.

Order Online

Some retailers, including Bed, Bath and Beyond, allow you to order gear online and pick it up in stores in another state. Just verify the location, print out a copy of your order paperwork, and allow extra time for pickup. Big box stores near college campuses are always clogged during move-in day, but since you've picked everything out ahead of time you'll be able to get in and out without a hitch.

Shop Once You Arrive

Depending on how your child's move-in and orientation schedules are structured, you might be there for one day or a weekend. If you have an extra day for dorm room shopping, take advantage of it. It takes an incredible amount of time, but trying to find the right stores and the right stuff in a college town on move-in day can be quite an arduous task. If move-in day is just that—a day—don't panic when you realize you've forgotten something because you will forget something. Locate the nearest big box stores before move-in day to save yourself some stress.

If you've rented a vehicle, consider keeping it for one extra day so you can drive your child to pick up those last-minute supplies. Many stores, like Walmart, allow you to order online and then pick up items that same day—you're items will often be ready for you. You'll only need a laptop, tablet computer, or smartphone to order, so consider packing one of those three electronic devices, regardless of what method you use to deliver the goods—and your child—as she begins her long-distance college career.