Back to School Time – Flying the Kid to College or Other Long Distance Moves

Sure, your child could have gone to college in-state but that would have been too easy! Trust me, I know. Anyway, it’s back to school time, or to school time for you parents of freshmen, which means it’s time to make plans:

How to transport kid + stuff some distance.

Driving vs. Flying

Many parents drive their kids because you can stuff a lot in the old mini-van, but if your child’s university is across the country, that may not be feasible; just add the cost of your time plus gas and hotel bills and decide for yourself.

How to Get Belongings from Point A to Point B

Just a couple of years ago, my advice was simple: one parent flies with the kid, and each person brings two fully loaded suitcases (and the parent is allowed just a thimbleful of space). But that was back when the airlines gave you two bags for free!

The landscape has changed – and so has my advice.

Fly an Airline with Free Bags if Possible

This is the best way to do it, but there sure aren’t many freebies available these days, as a glance at any airline bag fee chart will show. But here are some exceptions:

  • Southwest allows you two free bags, so each of you can take a couple – and each of you should bring a carryon. But do not overpack: bags over 50 pounds will cost you an extra $50 each way.
  • JetBlue allows you one free checked-bag; a second will cost you $30, but at least you’ll save on the first. Overweight bags are an additional $50 each-way, which bumps up to $100 for bags over 70 pounds
  • Look for airline bag specials: Frontier Airlines, for example has a sale now underway in which their bags fly free; keep your eye out for similar discounting

Don’t forget to pack your common sense, too. If a flight with free bags costs $600 and the flight that includes bag fees is $200 – well, do the math.

Bonus Tip: The kid can hang on to two of the suitcases, while the parent goes home with the other two – but if possible, parent should grab two that are slightly different sizes, so one can fit inside the other. That way, if the flight home includes bag fees, Mom or Dad will only have to pay for one bag, not two.

Or Try Shipping via Ground Transportation

Contact your favorite shipper for the cheapest way to send boxes (hint: the UPS website has a handy time & cost calculator on its homepage – plus they have these new suitcase boxes you might want to try)

School Yourself on What NOT to Bring to College

There are some things it’s best not to bring from home if you’re flying; items that take up a lot of space and/or weight. Weight = money, and what with out-of-state tuition, that’s the last thing you want to waste.

What to Buy on Arrival in Your School’s City

Instead, arrive in time for a big box store shopping trip – a K-Mart or Target, maybe – to stock up on things your kid will need in the dorm, such as:

  • Bed linens/Pillow/Towels
  • Toiletries
  • Computer/Copier supplies
  • Pens/Notebooks (wait – do kids still use that stuff?)
  • Water bottles/Snacks
  • Microwave and/or Dorm fridge
  • Desk lamp
  • Fan

Notice, I mention a fan. For some inexplicable reason, the day you move the kid into the dorm is usually a 100 degree day and there will be no air-conditioning. Can almost guarantee it.

Schools Out – What to Do with All the Stuff

Okay, so it’s May and school’s out: do you have to haul all the kid’s stuff home, and bring it back again in September? No.

Here’s an idea: rent a storage locker. The kid’s friends can help put the stuff in there, and haul it back again in the fall.


Updated: February 15, 2016