How to Move your Kids Across Country for College
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Just yesterday you were sending them off on their first day of kindergarten, and now they’re heading to college—across the country, to boot. Whether you’ve been counting down the days till the move or are dreading their departure, your kids moving away to college is an exciting time full of anticipation, change, and maybe even some tears for everyone involved.
Regardless of how far away they are going, moving across the country for college always involves a lot of planning. Between arranging flights, renting cars, booking hotels, shipping items, packing up, and getting them settled, the college moving to-do list can seem like an insurmountable mountain of tasks. As soon as you cross one thing off the list, you remember another—not to mention the uphill battle of getting your teenager to take care of their moving tasks.
To help you plan the process and stay organized throughout the move, we’ve created a college moving guide specially for parents of children going to college across the country. So let’s hit the (metaphorical) books and start planning.
Phase 1: Planning
Start the planning process by sitting down with your child and making a list of everything that needs to get done before the move. Decide who will be responsible for what task, and set deadlines to keep everything moving and avoid any last-minute complications.
This is your child’s first foray into the world on their own, so you may need to help them out with some of the tasks they are responsible for. Draw on your own experiences in college and from other moves you’ve undertaken to advise them throughout the process, but resist the urge to take care of it all yourself, even if you foresee major complications down the road. Your kid is learning to be an adult, and part of that lesson comes from taking responsibility for their own choices and dealing with the consequences of their actions (or lack thereof).
Phase 2: Packing
Before you start shopping and packing for the big move, check out our dorm checklist and off-campus checklist (LINK) to find out what to buy before you leave and what’s easier to purchase after you arrive if your kids are going to college across the country.
College packing tips
Once you know what you need—and what you don’t need—keep packing with our college packing tips:
- Encourage your teenager to connect with their roommates and find out what they are bringing. If their roommate is local, it will be easier for them to supply any large or bulky items like furniture.
- If you’re shipping stuff separately, don’t ship anything your child will need right away. Pack any essentials into your checked luggage if you’re flying, or into your personal vehicle if you’re driving, in case there are any delays with the shipment.
Shipping your kid’s stuff to college across the country
If your child is going to college across the country, you can ship some of their belongings separately ahead of their actual moving day so they arrive just before or shortly after they move in.
Shipping is ideal for pre-packed boxes and any furniture they may need if they plan to live off campus. FedEx, UPS, and USPS will all ship boxes, but depending on how many boxes you’re sending, and whether you’re shipping furniture as well, you may be better off shipping your child’s stuff using consolidated freight services.
What is consolidated freight?
When you ship something via consolidated freight, your cargo shares space on the truck with other shipments travelling in the same direction. You only pay for the space your goods take up on the truck, which saves you money and reduces your carbon footprint.
Before you schedule a shipment, consider:
- What actually needs to be shipped. You don’t need to ship everything, no matter what your kid says. Look at their shopping and packing lists and decide together what to pack, what should be shipped, and what is easier to purchase after you arrive. Chances are, it’ll be more economical to buy a new couch or mattress and have it delivered by the retailer than it is to ship your old one across the country.
- Confirm how delivery works at their college before you schedule a shipment. Some dorms won’t accept deliveries till after move-in day. If their dorm won’t accept deliveries at all or your child is living off campus, see if you can ship any boxes and other belongings to any friends or family you might have in the area.
Phase 3: Getting there
You have three main transportation options when your child is moving across the country for college:
- Drive your own car
- Rent a car, van, or moving truck
The option that works best for you will depend on how much time you have, your moving budget, and how much stuff your kid is taking with them.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these options:
1. Drive your own car
If you’re looking for an excuse for a road trip or just can’t resist the opportunity to spend those last few days together, packing their belongings into your car and driving them to college might be a viable option, especially if you have a larger vehicle. You can even turn it into a family vacation if you have time to add a few extra days to explore your kid’s new locale after move-in day or make your way home on a more relaxed timeline.
Driving their own car is also a great option for students who have a car they’ll be taking with them to college.
If you or your child have a smaller vehicle, you may wish to consider shipping some of their bulkier belongings separately using consolidated freight services.
2. Rent a car, van, or moving truck
If you’re up for the road trip and your budget can handle it, you can also rent a car, van, or moving truck to transport their belongings across the country.
Leaving the vehicle in a different town will cost you—many rental companies will add extra surcharges for one-way trips—but it will leave you free to fly home instead of undertaking a solo cross-country drive, and you can avoid putting thousands of miles on your car while still fitting in those last few days of quality family time.
Flying your child to college (with or without you) means you won’t need to spend days in your car or thousands of dollars on a rental vehicle. However, you’ll be limited to your carry-on and checked baggage, so you may need to seriously consider shipping other items separately (especially if your child will be living off campus), or stocking up on any bulky or heavy items once you arrive.
|COLLEGE MOVING TIP: Book your flights as far in advance as possible. These dates book up quick.|
If you decide to fly, you may wish to consider renting a car for a day or two in their new town so you can get to and from the airport easily, as well as find your way around town to pick up any items you decided to purchase after you arrive.
Phase 4: Settling in
Plan to arrive a day or two before your child’s official move-in day so you can get settled and shop for any last-minute items you opted to buy once you arrive, such as bedding, furniture, and other household items.
If you have shopping to do after you arrive, find out where the nearest big-box stores are ahead of time to make your shopping trip a little easier. Some stores, including Bed Bath and Beyond, let you order items online, then pay for them when you pick them up at the location of your choice. That means you can shop from the comfort of your home on the west coast and pick up whatever you chose to buy at a store near your child’s east coast college. Some colleges also offer shuttles for new students so they can pick up any items they might still need.
When moving day arrives, don’t be surprised if your child hops out of the car, hardly to be seen again before you head back home. Don’t take it personally! It may sting, but it’s normal, and it’s a good sign that your kid is excited to start the next chapter of their lives.
Going across the country to college is a big deal for new students and their parents. Both of you are in the middle of a huge change, and it’s easy to let planning and preparation fall by the wayside when you’re trying to cram in a few more happy memories before the semester starts.
Streamline your child’s college move by breaking it down into four phases:
- Planning: Who will be responsible for what task?
- Packing: What should you pack, what should you ship, and what should you buy when you arrive?
- Getting there: Will you drive your own car, rent a truck, or fly?
- Settling in: How will move-in day work?
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