squeezing in family travel: college trips

Pratt Institute – Brooklyn, NY

Let me share some tips with you for making the all-important college trips memorable. I think I can predict some of your questions….and, then maybe you’ll indulge me while I share some pictures.

The day I moved my son into college, I’d been on the ground for only a few hours (arriving on a red eye from Thailand), but just because you travel for a living doesn’t mean you miss out on these important milestones. Fit them in and around your work obligations – and, make time to catch some local flavor. Travel in any capacity doesn’t have to be grueling …unless you let it be. Do you have questions about how to fit in these important trips? Here are my tips for making college visits practical – and, I’ll share a few pics, which I now cherish.

Did we visit a ton?

We only looked at 2 schools: Pratt Institute and University of North Texas. Pratt was very near my company headquarters in New Jersey – so, as a highschool junior trying on various curricula, I felt comfortable leaving him here for a few weeks, where I had a pretty robust network. Meanwhile, I just couldn’t fixate on the solo trips he’d make into the city late at night. Thank goodness for 21st Century tracking devices. So, this was an opportunity for BOTH of us to “try on” college. We checked out the campus during his Spring Break and then we dropped him off over 4th of July holiday for an extended trial period. Fortunately, each visit coincided perfectly with mandatory meetings at HQ so the trips didn’t add up to extra travel at all. I neatly tied up work while he ran around on his own and then we shifted to more convenient-to-school Airbnbs for our personal time.

Get into the community:

The trick to finding a good Airbnb was unlocked for me when I was an Airbnb-newby:

  • Look for spaces with good, recent reviews. And, not just 1.
    • If there are several people corroborating what the host has described for their space, you can be pretty confident.
    • A new space with no reviews could be anything – including a hoax.
  • Watch out for exorbitant cleaning fees.
  • Be practical about what you’re reading
    • I’ve certainly overlooked a few things in lieu of an amazing price and I almost always kick myself for doing so.
  • I look for verified hosts and prefer Super Hosts.
    • This gives me an even higher level of confidence.
  • I always restrict my searches to the entire space
    • I don’t ever want to accidentally end up in someone’s spare room.

“Oh, the places you’ll go!”

Dr. Suess

Now, time for transition

In the end, my son chose an in-state school for his undergraduate studies (my pocket-book was SO pleased). So, we immediately pulled down all the necessary calendars and started planning. Obviously, people who travel for a living live and die by their calendars – it can sometimes feel a bit like a Rube Goldberg Machine. With careful coordination, I haven’t missed any major events (e.g. orientation, move-in / move-out days) knock-wood. However, his latest move-out was tricky because not only was I headed out to Belgium on holiday, but he was headed to Italy for study abroad. As such, we had about 36 hours to accomplish all 3 things. It’s never easy, but it’s worth it.

University of North Texas – Denton, TX

The promised tips:

I have a few tips to share so that you make the most of this time together – they’re important milestones in your child’s life and in your life as a parent. Delegating it to someone else wasn’t an option for me. Here’s how I made it work:

  • Backwards plan from Move-In date
    • Collect packing materials/supplies and budget time in the weeks/months approaching that date.
    • Establish clear goals for each effort.
      • We sorted his belongings by: Keep home, Take with, Donate.
      • We divided our efforts by Closet, Dresser, Shelves, etc. in digestible increments.
        • Killing his enthusiasm the first weekend would’ve derailed our down-stream productivity.
  • Schedule travel plans to allow for delays
    • The thing about college calendars is that they coincide, sadly, with upticks in travel delays like summer storms and winter weather.
      • Don’t assume you’ll be on-time.
        • Make fall-back plans – Know nearby airports and friends/family who could get the ball rolling if needed
  • Book local services
    • Need a U-Haul truck or larger vehicle? Depending on your location, you might even need to rent a car for a few hours.
      • In Brooklyn, we used ZipCar to allow us to run to Target and get the things we didn’t ship – and, then again for move-in day.
    • Get local lodging; I like Airbnb – situated in the community and unique.
      • You get much more feel for where and how your child will be living.
    • Make local dinner and cultural reservations. Have FUN!
      • I searched top sights in the area, restaurants and even found a ghost tour in the town.
      • This tapped some of his interests and helped him be more enthusiastic about having a new “home town” for the next few years.
  • Rent a local storage unit
    • I wish I’d thought of this freshman year – this keeps a dormitory from exploding into your home over summer.
      • Store locally what you can, and bring home only what’s needed for a couple months.

Don’t lose this time together

He’s certainly been patient with me when travel delays meant we needed to rearrange personal plans. And, he’s had to take a seat at DisneyWorld (patiently) while I took an impromptu meeting….on vacation. This all goes with the territory. But, the college transition is one of the last times they really NEED you. Don’t miss out. As with anything, if you invest in up-front planning, once the mechanism starts and you’re on your way – you can sit back and enjoy the journey.

We’ve really come to love his new home away from home.

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