We have heard plenty about on-campus life. Well, what about off-campus life? Or, consider perhaps being stuck in a place somewhere in-between. For students who arrived at college not as well-traveled as others (growing up in a world where trips to Disney or Grandma’s in Nebraska every few years just wasn’t a thing), handling breaks and campus leaves on one’s own can be a little bit overwhelming.
After completing one term at a college across the state from my hometown residence (eight hours by drive, one hour by flight), I reflect humorously on not knowing what I was in for beforehand. Stomping on a pile of clothes to fit in my carry-on, knowing the do’s and don’ts of airport stays, and learning to handle small mistakes while traveling were struggles I never saw coming. Before Columbia, I never really got far from my ol’ brick house. My very first flights and real long drives took place during my senior year when I was attending pre-college scholarship events and visiting schools. Since I had my mom and grandma to help me pack up from home initially, I never really paid attention to their example.
When it came time to visit home from Columbia, I looked at the same set of clothes and toiletries and wondered what laws of physics and TSA regulations would need to be violated in order to get my luggage and travel plans together. Having now experienced trips from college-to-home, college-to-abroad, and college-to-break, I’d like to post some tips for newbies of the traveling world in light of a shiny new semester and admissions decisions coming up soon. If any readers haven’t been in the following situations just yet, hopefully some anecdotal information I provide can ease some anxiety.
Quick, Honest Tips for Suitcases/Luggage
- Do not fold your clothes as though you’re putting them in a drawer. Rollthem! Roll them as tightly as you can! You’ll have to do some ironing later, but it is worth saving the room.
- Look, you really do not need that many clothes for winter break. Leave some stuff at home to begin with and settle for maybe three nice outfits and some throw-on clothes. This will lessen your initial load by at least a third.
- In your big luggage, separate any liquids/foods/toiletries from your clothes. Different compartments are key. You never know if something might spill or blow up!
- Are you really desperate for room or putting that last-minute thing in your bag? Zip up your luggage, kick it over to one of its sides so that everything is leaning on the end without the zipper. Now, open the bag up a bit on the side facing you and you’ll see some empty space just because everything is squished over on the other side. You’re creating a bit of a mess here, but you’ll get the object in. Don’t bother opening it fully and reorganizing.
Quick, Honest Tips for the Airport
- Do not bother trying to bring a bottle of water through security. It won’t work.
- Do not bother trying to bring your huge bottle of Listerine through security. It won’t work. (Travel packs only!)
- Bring non-gooey or non-liquidy snack foods or gum through security. That will work.
- Charge your phone and your computer; outlets are hiding everywhere.
- The good part of airports (shops, food, lounges) are always past the security.
- Don’t fear telling a flight attendant it’s your first time flying, if it is. Everyone will think it’s cute that you don’t fly much and will be much more prone to check in on you anyway.
Quick, Honest Tips for Rides from Airport/Taxis/Buses
- Never, ever take rides from seemingly well-meaning folks who approach you and ask if you need a ride. Though individual services might be safe and legitimate, many approach you so that they can charge you a lot more money than what is fair. Go for cabs/bus services offered by the airport.
- Get acquainted with valid payment methods for the transportation routes you’re planning on utilizing. They differ depending on location!New York taxis take credit cards, but ones in small-town Texas probably don’t. Did you know that New York MTA buses don’t take dollar bills?!
- If you can manage it, it’s really nice of you to tip your taxi drivers, especially if they help with your bags. Tipping isn’t just for restaurants.
- If you’re easily queasy, it’s safe to stock up on motion sickness pills when dealing with unfamiliar drivers. Lightning-fast taxis and buses in New York, for me, are nothing to play around with.
Oops! What do I do if…?
Okay, so things aren’t always so smooth. A few scenarios:
1. I’m scared that they’ll lose my luggage at the airport! This one is something that you unfortunately cannot prevent if it happens to you. However, there are some preventative and helpful things you can do to tone down the situation. If your bag’s been lost already and you see no hope in sight, immediately take action with the airport staff: they’ll understand. Whatever you do, do not leave the airport without filing a claim in-person with your receipts and ID at hand: your lost items will be significantly easier to claim and process faster than if you angrily bail and then call complaining later. For all you know, it could have just been temporarily misplaced. One simple and fun preventative measure includes adorning your luggage with wild and crazy personal tags with your info on them so that you can distinguish your luggage from other bags: this is to assure nobody else in your boat finds reason to accidentally snag your bag (remember that most bags look pretty much the same). If you are flying home or abroad for a conference or special commitment, it is wise to make room in your carry-on for a backup outfit or two. It’s a good idea in any case, but you especially don’t want to be left at some high-profile destination in the same jeans for days while waiting for the airline to mail you your luggage.
2. They delayed my flight! If you’re lucky enough to have a smartphone or reliable laptop, try to install some apps or subscribe to sites that give detailed information on flight statuses. You can check things out well before your flight and prepare accordingly with books, homework, and entertainment for your wait. Taxis and buses are a different story, but if friends or family are dropping you off at the airport, finding out about a delaybefore they drive away is a great idea. Once, my family ended up driving away right before I found out that my flight was five hours late, and it made for quite the lonely journey. Company, if you can manage it, works well to pass time during a delay. Though the wait stinks, even if you’re fortunate enough to find out about a delay before you go to the airport, it is best to schedule your airport arrival around your original flight time anyway! Something may change for the better, your sources regarding delay might be inconsistent, and there might be a specific commotion or circumstance at the airport you need to keep updated on. This tip isn’t so much about finding an excuse to go to the airport later as it is just preparing for a wait — better safe than sorry.
3. I live alone/my roommate is away, and I left something hot/cold/with an alarm in my dorm room. Okay, so this actually happened to me. See, I was headed home for a five-day fall break. I arrived to my hometown from the airport on a late Thursday night, ready to get some rest and family time in. The next morning, however, my conscience was nagged. I had left my alarm clock plugged in and on! How annoying for my floormates, and what a waste of energy! I knew that the thing would go offforever if I let it. Not wanting to be inconsiderate, I called Columbia’s Hospitality Desk (an extension of Housing) and asked to my chagrin if they could help me out. The secretary took my information and kindly said it would be taken care of, to my surprise. Sure enough five days later, I returned to school and alarm clock was unplugged just as I’d asked. No big deal! So, if you’ve left something “running” in your room that could cause a danger, risk for facilities damage or public nuisance, call your school’s Housing department or hospitality desk. Someone who works for the school will unlock your door and take care of the errand for you if it is of genuine concern. While an alarm clock gone wild is only a mild annoyance for your community, this tip should be taken very seriously if you are dealing with a space heater, curling iron, etc. that is left on. Even if you are holding an item in your room that is banned and you’re afraid of getting in trouble, remember that you’re better off risking a scolding than starting a fire or breaking an expensive appliance.
Being the singular adult or near-adult who hasn’t ever experienced airports, luggage and solo transportation is tough. Yet it’s doable and often rewarding to become a frequent traveler. Remember, you’ve earned this! Enjoy the novelty and freedom.
–-by Breanna Leslie-Skye, Quest Scholar, Columbia ’17