How To Plan The Perfect College Road Trip

It’s the time of year when many of us are sending our kids off to college, and while this year is definitely different for much of the country, there are still parents (I am one of them) who are figuring out how to get their college kid back to campus. While it’s always a challenge to get a kid, their stuff and sometimes their car across the country for school, this year we have the added bonus level of a pandemic and travel restrictions to keep things extra interesting.


Plane tickets are always an option — either one way or with the return for over Thanksgiving. Airlines are doing their best to keep air travel as safe as it can be in the current medical crisis. There’s only so much that can be done with recycled air, but wearing masks and limiting the number of seats sold on each flight has made airline travel a viable option for many. If you can afford to purchase seats in a less congested area of the plane like a bulkhead row or first class, now would be an optimal time to use those frequent flier miles to do so. If you have a layover, try to avoid congested areas of the airport and keep your mask on. Wash your hands frequently, and it never hurts to load up on Airborne or EmergenC.

college road trip

Preparing for Your College Road Trip

If you opt to drive like we will, pack the car full of your child’s belongings and maximize all the space you can to avoid having to ship items later. Check out our guide for everything your child might need. If you’re renting a car (for instance, if you’ll be dropping them off and flying back), make sure you rent from a large nationwide agency so that you will have roadside support anywhere you may have an issue. It’s best to rent something spacious so you can stretch out and pack it full for your college road trip. 

COVID-19 Safety Tips

Do we really need to mention this — don’t travel at all if you have symptoms, have been exposed or are waiting for test results!! Ok, now that that’s out of the way…

To minimize unnecessary contact, use Apple Pay or mobile apps to pay for gas and food when possible. The Exxon Mobil app is super convenient as it lets you authorize the pump from your phone — no need to go inside or touch the pump controls other than the handle. Shell and Chevron stations usually accept Apple Pay, and the newer renovated stations often accept ApplePay right at the pumps. Keep a cooler in the car for snacks, fresh fruit and bottled water or drinks. That way you’ll make fewer stops and can eat healthier or shop at outdoor farmers markets. When you do stop, always wash your hands and wear a mask. Choose to eat outside when possible and try to support small, local businesses because they really need the economic love right now.

perfect road trip

A college road trip means driving a long distance each day and can be more exhausting than you expect. I’ve driven cross-country many times and I love seeing the country, but it’s tiring. Take breaks to get out and stretch, and take short walks and do a little “roadside yoga”. It sounds silly, but you’ll pay for it if you don’t stretch your legs and back regularly. Consider even packing one of those stretching bands like this one that you can use once you reach the hotel in the evening to really stretch out your back and legs. And take turns driving if your teen is licensed, especially on open uncongested roads.

perfect road trip

I never know how my stamina will be from day to day, plus you cannot account for weather or traffic delays (especially right now), so I don’t make motel or hotel reservations in advance. I wait until the day of and see how we feel. As we start to realize how the day is shaping up, I’ll make estimates of where we will most likely need to stop for the night and search for deals on my phone. I look for accommodations that offer free self-serve breakfasts, easy check in (mobile if possible), and safe parking. Large name brand chains are usually a good bet — then, I reserve over my phone and often find a deal using my AAA card or a rewards program. But not more than a few hours ahead of time, because I never want to get caught driving when I’m over tired just because I have a reservation somewhere. 

Make the Best of It

All that being said, this is likely the last alone time you’ll have with your kiddo for quite some time and it’s emotionally charged. Make sure to have fun. Sing along loudly to the radio. Listen to podcasts or audiobooks and talk about them with your child (no politics or anything up for debate). Stop at fun roadside attractions and check them out (world’s largest ball of string, heck yeah!). Take pictures! Be silly, tell stories, play road trip bingo, play the license plate game. Ask them questions about what they’re expecting, what they’re nervous about, tell them what you’re nervous about.


How are you planning your child’s college road trip? Let us know in the comments below!

For More From Travel, You Should Read:

A Flight Attendant Shares How To Satisfy Your Travel Bug During COVID

8 Crucial Points Of Advice For Your College Bound Freshman

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