I don't know about you, but my newsfeed is full of folks bringing or returning their college students to their respective universities. Sometimes the kids themselves just hop in an overloaded car and move back to wherever they arrived from in May, but quite a lot of students, especially the new ones, are moved in with a parent or two in tow. This means planes, trains, roadtrips and hotels. Sounds like travel to me!
Over the last few years, we've had a couple of college students ourselves and I'm embarrassed to admit how much we've spent on travel expenses to tour colleges and move our students in and out of their schools. Add the expense of attending homecoming weekends, and it adds up! I thought having students within driving distance would save me money on airfare, but I've been astounded by how much it costs for lodging because we can't make the round trip in a day. Recently, several parents on a college parents Facebook page were discussing ways to cut these costs. Between their advice and my own (expensive) experience; here are some some questions to ask yourself to help keep lodging costs down!
1- Do you have any relatives, or friends in the area? If you offer your own guest room in exchange when they might need it, you might find friends on social media in your destination who have a spare bed and can put you up for the night or two you'll need to get your student moved in or out. A cousin of mine used a college move in trip as an opportunity to visit with seldom seen in laws.
2- Do you have to go? If you must go, and the dates are set in stone, there's no reason to book a fully refundable hotel room. Book the non refundable, pre-pay rate. Unlike off peak times, hotels won't be getting cheaper for popular move in or graduation weeks! Using blind services like Hotwire or Priceline can be a good way to score a room cheaply, especially if you aren't fussy about exact locations and you are treating it like a "business" trip and not a vacation.
3-Can you manage with just a room? Or maybe bring the whole family and extend the trip into a vacation? AIRBNB is another option. Lots of folks rent out rooms or homes through this website, and if you just need a bed for the night, it can be more affordable than hotels. If you want to make your college trip into a family vacation, renting a whole house is often cheaper than several hotel rooms.
4- Can you camp? Are you willing to go back live in the dorm again? If you already own the gear, or RV, some schools have parking areas set aside for campers, and schools located in more remote areas may have plenty of campgrounds nearby, and many Walmarts have a liberal camping policy in their parking lots as long as you check in at the service desk. At orientation at one of our student's schools, dorms were available for parents for a modest sum. Staying in a private room with a shared hall bath reminded one friend of his own college days, albeit much tamer and grayer!
5- Can you visit your student during a time other than popular homecoming weekends? Certain events are scheduled to attract alumni and family. This will raise prices of hotels all over town. We are skipping our daughter's homecoming weekend in a very expensive New England city, and plan to visit when none of the schools are holding special events. We were able to get a suite and include her grandmother on the trip for the price of a regular hotel room during the homecoming weekend. The destination is already so popular with tourists, that we won't lack for things to do around campus even without the homecoming events!
6- Can you redeem airline or bank free hotel nights from your business travel? Sometimes we've been able to use our points earned on business travel to get free nights for personal travel. These days, airline miles are difficult to use, and often come with hefty fees to redeem. Using those points for hotels could be a better strategy!
7- Can you stay out of town? Sometimes the college town is completely booked up during peak student event weeks. Usually there are rings of surge priced accommodations. The further out from the center (campus or tourist area) you go, the better prices might be. During one expensive parent weekend, we planned one night in the college town and the other night in a destination halfway between our home and the college, where no special events were planned to inflate hotel room prices.
With a little thought and advance planning, college travel doesn't have to cost more than the budget for first semester! For more help planning college visits, see our post here about college admissions travels, including a travel agent that specializes in college admission tours.