Back to school: Packing tips for college students flying back to campus

It’s that time of year again – school has almost started and anxious first-year college students are trying to figure out how to pack their lives into suitcases and move into dorms.

For students who live farther away from school, the move can be stressful. Many students just fill a car with their belongings and take a road trip. But, for those who live too far to drive or are moving from Alaska or Hawaii, the move can be daunting.

Luckily, dorms already have furniture and all you need to do is bring the essentials. Packing the “essentials” into two airline-approved suitcases may seem impossible, but here are five tips and tricks to make moving via air easier.

Familiarize yourself with policy

Are you flying with Alaska Airlines? Customers on Alaska flights are entitled to bring one carry-on bag and one personal item that can fit under the seat in front of you. Checked bags cost an additional $25 for the first two and $75 for the third. For more information on the baggage policies, sizes or fees click here.

Fountain on her latest trip to Monte Albán, Mexico on Alaska Airlines

“Make sure you weigh your suitcase and pack it well,” says Alyssa Fountain, a student at Pacific Lutheran University. “The worst thing that can happen is to have to repack your suitcases in the middle of the airport or find that you can’t bring something that’s important.”

Fountain has been a world traveler since she was 7 years old and her family moved from the United States to Uganda. “I flew back to the U.S. for college, which was a very interesting experience since I had to fit everything I owned into a 50-pound suitcase.”

Make a list

Having to fit your whole life into a couple of bags is hard, so focus on the essentials. The easiest way to know what your essentials are is to keep a running list of everything you use for several days. Then, cross off all the toiletries, dishes and linens. You should be left with clothes, shoes, electronics and other random favorites.

You aren’t moving to the Sahara Desert: chances are your college town will have a Target or Bed Bath and Beyond, so don’t pack towels and shampoo. Save the space for something you can’t buy when you get there.

With all the stress over what you’ll need, don’t forget about getting through the airport. Read: Travel like a pro: Fly through airport security with TSA PreCheck.


Packing 1

Packing the essentials is step one. Then pack your favorite one-of-a-kind items. Don’t go crazy, but putting a few pictures or favorite posters in your luggage is OK. Anything you cannot buy at a store is fair game to bring along with you, but note: if it’s between underwear and a poster? Take the underwear.

Once you’ve got everything down to a minimum, don’t buy too much. You’re at school, keep your life simple – especially since you’ll continue to move around for a couple years. Fountain, even as a senior in college now, keeps her possessions to a minimum. It helps when she has to move.

“At this point, I think I could still pack up and move with only two 50-pound suitcases,” she says.

Need help saving space when you’re packing? There tons of tips and tricks out there. Here are just a few: CosmopolitanWiki HowWho What Wear and Travel Hacker.

You don’t need it all at once

Keep in mind you’ll probably go back home at least once – if not twice – during the school year. You’ll have Thanksgiving and winter breaks to go back home and grab clothes for the next season.

When those long breaks come around, pack up the clothes you’re done using and switch them out for the next season’s clothes when you get home. It’ll prevent you from collecting clothes in your dorm and stressing when summer comes and you need to move out.

If you find yourself needing something and you can’t head home for a break, have your parents mail you things throughout the year (don’t forget to say “please!”). Plus, getting packages from home will feel like opening a present every time.

Don’t make yourself do it again

When the year is over, don’t pack up and try to get everything back home. Instead, rent a storage locker for any posters or furniture you bought through the year and just take clothes and essentials home with you.

You can save money by renting a storage locker with friends or using your friend’s parents’ garage who live in a nearby city. Local families want to help students who travel – take them up on it!

Remember: your parents have shampoo, conditioner, soap and toothpaste. There’s no need to pack the “essentials” like you’re going on a safari. You’re going home so ditch the extra weight.

Can you imagine flying to school in a plane with your university’s colors? Check out Alaska’s fleet of university themed planes and see if you can spot your colors.