6 Ways to Brave Back to School Travel and Still Take Time To Relax!
“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey.” – Babs Hoffman
Within a short few weeks, the highways and byways of America (as well as airports) will be full of new and returning college students, along with their parents, embarking on the annual ritual of back to college travel. In fact, approximately 20 million students will attend American colleges and universities this year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). It can be a stressful and overwhelming time for all involved with many college students leaving home for the first time as they make sure to pack all the necessary belongings, while some parents face the looming prospect of empty nest syndrome. Fortunately, with a little advance planning, you can ease the stress associated with heading back to college and turn a potentially stressful experience into a summer vacation adventure. Here are six great ways to brave back to school travel and still take time to relax:
1 | Make Hotel Reservations Well in Advance | Since the closest hotels and resorts to the college or university will fill up quickly, be sure to make your hotel reservations at least a month or two in advance. Many hotels and resorts in university towns offer special discounts for college students and their families, so you should call ahead to get the best deal. Other hotel or resort discounts may apply that will lower your nightly room rate significantly such as for AAA members and military or government employees. Don’t forget to find out the dates for college family weekend (usually hosted by most colleges in September or October) and go ahead and book a room at your hotel while you’re there so you don’t have to worry about accommodations later. After you find a good hotel or resort near the university, join its hotel rewards program since you will most likely be back and forth several times during each school year. Hotel rewards programs offer such perks as ability to earn free nights, best-rate guarantees, complimentary WiFi, late checkout privileges, bar credits and more.
2 | Familiarize Yourself with School Policy | While it's tempting to just launch out into the campus frey, proginy in tow, it's always wise to consult your destination's campus rules and regulations before showing up. Before you start packing, be sure to consult your college or university’s official website to find a list of specific prohibited items at that school. Here is just a brief list of a few typical banned items that you should NOT plan to bring with you to your college dorm room:
- Weapons of Any Kind
- Unlawful Drugs & Alcohol
- Drug Paraphernalia
- String Lights
- Pets (some schools do allow fish in a small tank)
- Candles, Incense & Oil Lamps
- Space Heaters
- Street Signs
- Air Conditioner
- Flammable Liquids
- Any “Open Element” Appliances (like George Foreman Grills)
Some of these items might be pretty inocuous, while the restriction of others seems counterintuitive to the college lifestyle altogether. Bottom line, things have changed a bit in modern times with respect to what is and isn't allowed in a dorm room environment, so it pays to plan ahead - way ahead! That way you won't be left holding a credit card bill for space heaters and a grill that were never destined for an Animal House summer vacation weekend party to begin with! A word to the wise, it's cool to follow the college rules!
3 | Pack Wisely | Being organized when you help your college student pack will help minimize stress for all involved. First of all, use the generic packing checklist provided by the college as a general guide and secure everything you need to pack in advance such as cardboard boxes (make sure every box is labeled with your student’s name), packing tape and bubble wrap, moving blankets, and a hand truck or wagon. Remember that college dorm rooms are usually small, so only pack essentials and leave anything unnecessary at home. For example, your student only needs to pack a small percentage of his or her wardrobe since they most likely won’t have a lot of closet or drawer space. You may be able to order bulkier items such as pillows and comforters online and simply have them shipped directly to the college. If space becomes an issue, simply shop for such items as sheets, blankets, towels, groceries, toiletries and reusable water bottles, as well as posters and any other room decorations, when you arrive at your destination (don’t forget to ask about college student discounts when visiting area retailers). Keep in mind that your son or daughter will return home several times during the school year such as Thanksgiving, Winter Break and Spring Break, so they can bring back some seasonal clothes (especially bulky winter items) from home during those times. Don’t forget to remind your student to touch base with his or her roommate to determine who will bring shareable items such as TVs (although they can ditch the TV and just use your laptop if they primarily watch Netflix and YouTube), coffee makers, microwaves and mini refrigerators. Last but not least, don’t panic if you forget something – it can simply be mailed to your student, bought locally or ordered online (or better yet, they can simply pick it up during their next trip home).
4 | Prep Your Vehicle for the Journey | As you face potentially busy road conditions (according to the National Highway Safety Administration, “traffic flow and congestion” increase more than 25 percent from August to September), make sure your car is up for the trip by getting an oil change, and checking your tires and battery. Also, pack an emergency roadside safety kit with jumper cables, flares or triangle reflectors, coolant, tool kit, tire pressure gauge, flashlight and first-aid kit. Don’t forget to join a roadside assistance program before you embark on your college road trip if you haven’t already. Plan your route to the college or university carefully and note good spots to take a break and grab a bite to eat along the way. Also, keep track of the weather forecast both along the route and at your final destination and account for rush hour traffic as well. Remember that it is not necessary to bring the entire extended family along for the road trip. Not only will the car get cramped, but too many family members will only contribute to the chaos on move-in day. Plan on bringing the entire gang along to college family weekend during the fall instead.
5 | Adhere to Check-In Rules | Moving into a college dorm room is simply controlled chaos, but following college or university guidelines can make things a whole lot easier. In order to avoid a mad influx of students all at once during move-in day, colleges and universities have developed strict procedures when it comes to move-in days concerning strict arrival slots, check-in procedures and specific vehicle unloading zones (most schools will provide you with a temporary parking pass upon arrival). Make sure your student remembers to have his or her student ID handy (usually required to get the room key) and to stick to the schedule. Plan to move in only during your designated time to help ensure that move-in day goes smoothly for everyone. Don’t forget to wear casual clothing and comfortable shoes, as well as bring plenty of cold drinks and snacks along so you can stay hydrated and energized during move-in day. Also, bring along some cleaning supplies to freshen up the dorm room. After everything has been moved in, make sure to remind your student to take a photo of their schedule and tour the campus to find out the general location of his or her classes before the first day of college. According to Certified Life Coach Helene Tragos Stelian, in the HuffPost, parents should let students take the lead during move-in day: “Your teens should make introductions, take charge of the unpacking and handle issues as they come up. They may not need for you to stay until ever last item is unpacked – let them decide.”
6 | Turn the Trip into a Mini Vacation | Last but not least, perhaps the best part of back to college travel can be the potential to turn the road trip into a travel adventure (even if it’s only for a long weekend). Take some time to relax and unwind either before or after college move-in day. Search online for a list of attractions near the college or university and mark off a couple that would be fun to visit such as theme parks, water parks, museums, historic sites, state parks and nature preserves. Or you may simply wish to lounge on a white-sand beach or at a lakeside retreat for a couple of days. Here are a few examples of possible mini vacation ideas that you can consider when dropping students at colleges and universities that lie near premier tourist destinations:
- Arizona State University (Championship Golf Courses, Whitewater Rafting)
- Coastal Carolina University (Myrtle Beach, Family Kingdom Amusement Park)
- College of the Ozarks (Branson Strip, Table Rock Lake, Silver Dollar City)
- University of Central Florida (Orlando Theme Parks, Cocoa Beach, Daytona Beach)
- University of Miami (South Beach, Florida Keys, Everglades National Park)
- University of Nevada Las Vegas (World-Famous Las Vegas Strip, Red Rock Canyon)
- University of Tennessee (Gatlinburg, Great Smoky Mountains National Park)
- Weber State University (Park City Skiing, Mountain Biking, Hiking and other Park City Summer activities)
- Western Carolina University (Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg)
- William & Mary (Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens Williamsburg)
And this list is by no means comprehensive! If you're fortunate enough to by traveling in states like Florida, then your destination might wind up being a prime candidate for a beach vacation, or might even drop you in the heart of Disney Orlando proper! If you do choose to extend your family 'business' for leisure purposes, make sure you plan ahead with your hotel - there's no shortage of Orlando hotels, with loads of places to source Disney tickets cheap,... just make sure if you're traveling with a large party to look into booking a suite near Disney World and the theme park area.
Final Thoughts On Back To School Travel
Let's face it, for many soon-to-be empty nesters out there, back-to-school travel is a bittersweet prospect. It's a time to say goodbye to young ones for a bit, and also say hello to lots of empty time, and sometimes a fair bit of empty-heart, as the days are a little less cluttered, and little more quiet, and the house feels a bit emptier than it should. That's okay. Life is filled with big steps forward, and these back to school travel trips mark these milestones along the way. Fortunately, you can look on the bright side and start planning your next vacation or staycation instead of bumping around the house and watching re-runs of something that was pretty cool in te 90's (and probably still is)... ;). With over 28 themed resort destinations, Westgate Resorts is here to help banish your back to school travel blues, and get you going again on the road to a new lifestyle, filled with inspirational travel and infinite possibilities! Grab your friends and check out all there is to offer!
Other tagged pages of interest: things to do in Park City Utah, things to do in NYC, things to do in Cocoa Beach, things to do in Myrtle Beach, non touristy things to do in the smoky mountains, south florida day trips, resort hotels, staycations