Move in Day - Car Packing Question

Newbie here. College decision made, 3 hours away. Trying to determine if it’s realistic that we can fit all the college stuff in one car for move in day with the 3 of us (my daughter, husb and myself.) We have a hatch back that is just a bit smaller than a station wagon. I tried to rent a mini van or SUV but too late, no availability. I feel funny having to ask a friend to borrow theirs when we’ll have this issue twice a year. The other option is bringing both of our cars but I’m not a fan of long distance driving by myself. I’ll also order on line the comforter and maybe some bigger items. Ikea bags purchased. So, do you think we can manage in one car? Thanks for any advice or any other space saving tricks!

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I’ll give you my son’s mantra. Put everything your kid thinks they need to take to college in one room. Then take half of it. They probably still won’t use half of what they take.

That being said…we easily moved DS using a very small minivan…two parents and the kid.

We moved DD across the country using four suitcases which easily fit into our rental car. Big stuff was purchased at BBB for pick up nearby, or at Target once we were there.

The art of packing light is a life skill. Dorm rooms aren’t all that big.

Suggestions…don’t send the whole winter wardrobe…let the kid get that at Thanksgiving.


Second this. As someone who crossed the pond for 8 years with 2 checked suitcase and a carry-on, the notion of a car jam packed with crap is a bit of an anathema. But I will grant that IME, males do a better job editing down


Space bags!!!


We did 1st year move in, 4 hour drive, with two adults and the 1st year student in a Nissan Rogue, with mini fridge, several plastic storage bins, clothes, posters, sports equipment. Fit fine. Agree with the advice to cut in half, then half again! Closets and dressers are almost always snug so there’s not a lot of point in bringing all the clothes. Beds can usually be lifted/semi-lofted to put several large storage bins underneath. Things my kid never used: second set of sheets, second blanket, printer. Things that were essential: multiple fans, pop up mesh laundry basket that is easily carried up and down stairs, multiple power strips.

There are lots of good threads here about essentials – have fun reading them!


It’s definitely possible. We had two small/full size cars with older S, but he kept his at school. And we had 4 people going and lots of extra room. With younger S we rented a mini van, but we had tons of extra space. And both kids brought more than they needed. Older S had 26 pairs of shoes sophomore year!!! I don’t own half that many. With it being 3 hours away, worst case you can leave most of the winter stuff home and get it during a break.

But you really don’t HAVE to have that much. My over packing older S spent a cold weather semester at St Andrew’s. He managed with two suitcases and a backpack that semester.

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Also, Amazon is your friend. If you are buying on line anyway, wait and just have it shipped to the school.

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We never used more than one car (and three people) for move in. I totally agree about taking 1/2 of what you think you’ll need.

Definitely have your child pack seasonally since you are close enough for them to come home during breaks. Also coordinate with the roommate so you aren’t duplicating items. The bulkiest things for us were the bedding but it’s easy to cram into open spaces.

Full disclosure that I had stuff crammed under my legs on our drive down first year and had to sit cross legged the whole ride. ; ).


I’d go in one car and if you have to make a trip down at a later date (or drive her back to campus after a break) with some heavier winter clothing you can do that. I agree that compression bags can help with some bulky things.


Most of the longer distance OOS families in our college town purchase online from Target, Wal-Mart and BBB and pick up at the local store move-in weekend, everything from storage shelves to futons to bedding. They share climate control storage units over the summer, so they don’t have to bring it all home. Resist the urge to pack everything you think they may need; they’ll probably never use it. Even at a rural school, there’s little that can’t be sent via Amazon or Instacart later if needed.


OP- if it won’t fit in the car you describe, it won’t fit in the dorm room and you’ll be hauling it back home after move in!!!

The “lists” that stores provide about “Dorm Essentials”- don’t even bother. Cute lounge chairs, oodles of throw pillows, boxes of single use appliances? My kids were in a wide range of dorm rooms but there was one commonality, from the tiniest to the largest, from the cruddiest to the most luxurious- no horizontal spaces to put things. Bed- all purpose structure for sleeping, socializing, watching TV, snacking. Desk- place to stash books and the laptop when not in use on the bed. In our day there used to be bureaus- my kids had them some years, not others. Kids store clothing under their beds, in plastic bins in their closet.

Show up with the basics (two towels, enough clothes for the first month, toiletries) and wait to see the dorm room before going crazy on Amazon or Target. You can have whatever your kid needs immediately shipped in a day or two, and the amount of money you’ll save by not outfitting the “perfect” dorm room is immense.

BedBath took back EVERYTHING— seriously, it still had the stickers on the stuff- Matching comforter/sheets, cute patterned towels, kitchen stuff, lounge chair- it all went back. I thought it would be different with a daughter but no. And by then I learned- kids take the old stuff in my linen closet to college, Mom treats herself to new sheets and towels! I was apparently the only person in the family who cared…

And the “must haves”- plastic trash can? Hammer, nails, masking tape, cute first aid kit- each dorm room had a waste basket, RA’s had everything else.

Save your money but for sure you can all fit in one car!


Thanks everyone for the helpful replies and suggestions! Some more questions – if you order at Target, Walmart, BBB, etc ahead of time can you set the date to when you want to pick up near the school? I am assuming this is how it works?

This may be college specific, but can the colleges manage the large influx of Amazon etc packages coming around move in day without them getting lost?

Also for those of you who rented mini vans how far in advance did you have to do this? I contacted Enterprise and they did not have one mini van or SUV in our entire state!! Is it easier to rent for the move out date in May?

I am kind of surprised by the amount of TVs I see posted. My daughter even at home primarily watches shows on her laptop or cell phone. Hoping to avoid a TV. Hopefully her roommate feels the same.

Ok, you all have me determined we will do this in one car!!

The rental car issue is likely because most of the companies sold off their fleets because of Covid. They are tough to get and expensive in many places. Being a specialized vehicle doesn’t help maters.

Thanks. That is unfortunate but makes sense!

We never rented a minivan, because we owned one.

But for our two hour away kid…we used the minivan freshman year to move him in…and out. All the crap we moved out sat in our living room until it was time to move him back for sophomore year. When that time came, he only took about half the stuff with him, but it just meant we had a lot of extra space in the van.

Junior year, we moved him back in a Volvo sedan with three people and all the stuff he needed. This kid was a musician, and the backseat was crammed with six instruments and his concert clothes. Everything else was in the trunk. Move out…only one of us went to get him.

Senior year, he took even less.

The across the country daughter luckily just stored her crap off campus during the first summer…the perk of having a kid far away. No junk in the living room! When it came time to move her home at graduation, we had six suitcases and that was her limit. She fit everything she needed in them…and shipped only one box…her books.

Really it can be done. As noted, you live close enough that your daughter can come home during fall break and Thanksgiving. She can pick up anything she left behind and needs at that time.

All I can say is that your son is not my daughter… Lol…

My son did study abroad in France for a semester then flew to Israel for 2 months for an internship. Whatever clothes he brought were plenty (yes bedding etc was provided.

So your kids need clothes, their computer, and personal items and yes towels /bedding.

Now, We packed our suv to the hilt. My daughter needed her plants and like all her clothes (designer background). She needed her extra pillows and other stuff…

My son could live in a cardboard box but just needs his computer… Lol.

Know thy child!

The Targets /Walmarts know what you need and they have it… BBB etc also.

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My daughter actually took less than my son did!

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Well she’s not my daughter… Lol.

I had to laugh hard when you said you left everything out in the living room for the next semester /year… Yep… Whenever anyone came over and saw the pile they would say “been there, done that” :rofl:

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Best perk ever was having the daughter far away. We never saw her stuff at all between college years because it was stored. She flew home with a carryon. No “stuff” piled up.

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