Friday Flight: 12 Tips For Taking The Long Way Back To School

Well, maybe not this long a way back to school.
Well, maybe not this long a way back to school. But taking a side trip through a national park is never a bad idea. (Photo credit: Matthew Clark via Unsplash.)

By Cole Timm and Kit Kiefer

So suppose you’re like Jeni in our office who is sending a child off to college for the first time. And then suppose you’re not like Jeni in our office in the sense that while you’re sending a child off to college for the first time, you’re sending them to college way across the country.

What could possibly make this cross-country trek semi-bearable?

We talked to a few friends who have actually done this themselves, with their parents, children, siblings, friends, soon-to-be roommates (and future sworn enemies), miscellaneous relatives, and total strangers, and here’s what they recommend.

  1. Time of year matters. Well, yes; of course. It doesn’t look right when it’s November and you’re just getting around to taking your student back to college after summer vacation. People will talk. But beyond that, if you drive your student off to college in the fall, you might not be able to drive them back in the winter because it’s winter. And then what? A dirty-laundry logjam that could shut down the entire Pacific Northwest, that’s what. Drive while you can, especially in the late-summer daylight. Driving in the dark is not for everyone, and it’s much easier for anyone to get tired driving at night.
  2. It’s best to have two or more drivers so that you can take turns sleeping and/or driving. However, it’s best not to repeat the dialogue we participated in on a long drive several years ago: [Driver]: I’m getting sleepy. [Passenger]: Me too. So why don’t I take a nap now so I can be awake later? [Driver]: But I’m sleepy now! We don’t remember how it ended, but we’re pretty sure that in the construction of that dialogue no drivers or passengers were killed. Only badly hurt.
  3. Get on the road early in the morning, but if you’re going through a big city, try to avoid rush hour. We followed this advice to a T on a trek back to Wisconsin from Knoxville, Tenn., after a summer internship. The only problem: We snapped a universal joint getting on the highway in Knoxville. At 4:30 a.m. So the caveat to this hint is: Go early, but make sure your car works even earlier.
  4. Go to as many national parks as you can fit into your route. They’re always worth it, even if it’s just a short visit. The same thing applies to national monuments, national forests, and many state parks. If this sounds sweet to you, buy an annual pass to the national parks. It costs $80 ($10 if you’re over 62), but if you like your parks it’s a screaming bargain.
  5. You can always book a hotel the night of or night before if you get dangerously tired and don’t reach your destination. Hotel Tonight can help with this unless you’re in Nowheresville, Iowa, in which case you just knock on the office door, pay your $20, pick up a key, and park your car by the fake Dutch windmill.
  6. Try and get hotels with continental breakfast, have a snack for lunch and then have dinner at your destination. On the other hand, the bakery opens really early in Nowheresville, Iowa, and there’s nothing like a fresh cruller from a small-town Iowa bakery.

Now, if you’re flying your student to college a different set of rules apply. Among the tips we’ve found to be particularly helpful are:

  1. Mail yourself stuff in flat-rate boxes. According to the Postal Service, the biggest flat-rate boxes cost $17.90, are roughly a foot square and half a foot deep and can hold up to 70 pounds. You can send at least three of those for the price of a checked bag, and they can hold a surprising amount. Without getting too deep into packing tips, let’s just say this: You know the Ziploc Space Bags – the ones where you suck out the air with a vacuum cleaner? They really work. Smash a couple of the smaller ones into a flat-rate box and you’ve pretty much packed your clothes for fall. (Fall, winter and spring, if you’re a guy.) Except for, you know, the dirty laundry.
  2. Pack everything else in one big suitcase and the biggest carry-on allowable. And say a little prayer of thanks the new rules for carry-on bags haven’t yet taken effect.
  3. Buy really big stuff at your destination. That’s why God made Target. And Ikea.
  4. Make friends out there, and store stuff with them. A college student from Anguilla befriended us, and in between every semester we would hang onto her fridge, microwave, mirrors, and miscellaneous big stuff while she went back home. Of course, this only works if you make friends with more space than you have.
  5. Get a credit card that builds airline miles. Hey, you’re going to be flying far distances at least twice a year, and you either want to get a lot of credit for those trips or earn miles for those trips. Not sure which card to get? The Points Guy (@PointsGuy) and our contributors Ariana Arghandewal (@PointChaser) and Kendra Collins (@pixie_points) are experts.
  6. Buy travel insurance that includes luggage protection. Because if the airlines lose your bag with all your college stuff in it, you should get paid for it. Naturally, we recommend AirCare and ExactCare from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection. Both pay luggage claims super-fast, which gives struggling college students one less thing to struggle over.

Cole Timm and Kit Kiefer are members of the marketing team at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.

Author: Kit Kiefer

As content engineer for Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, I have one of the world's great jobs. Not only do I get to write about travel, but I get to edit the work of fantastically talented contributors from around the world. Plus I get all the maple syrup I can drink.