college commuter guide

College Commuter Survival Guide [2023 Updated]

If you live at home or on an off-campus apartment, you’re a college commuter. This college commuter survival guide is designed to make this tough situation a bit smoother.

It can be really frustrating to not have the luxury of being able to run back to your dorm room throughout the day. That being said, there are a lot of benefits to being a college commuter, the biggest being huge savings in living expenses.

When I was in college, I only lived on campus the first year. After that, I had my own apartment that was about 20 minutes away. Commuting was a bit of an adjustment, but it really felt like the right move for me. I learned a lot while living off campus, and I’m excited to share my college commuter survival guide with you — plus some real-world tips from being a post-grad for a while now.

Commuting doesn’t have to be a drag. Actually, I really prefer it, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Here’s my college commuter survival guide to give you some ideas for making commuting a breeze.

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What Are the Benefits of Commuting in College?

While the allure of dorm life and the convenience it offers can be tempting, there are undeniable advantages to opting for the commuter route. In this section, we will explore the often-overlooked benefits of commuting in college. Whether you’re already a commuter or considering this option, read on to discover how commuting can positively impact your college years.

Of course, these will be different if you stay at home vs. live at an off-campus apartment, but most still apply no matter where you call home.

  • Cost Savings: Being a commuter student often results in significant cost savings compared to living on campus. Students can avoid room and board fees, meal plans, and various campus-related expenses.
  • Flexibility: Commuting students often have more flexible schedules, as they don’t have to adhere to strict residence hall regulations or meal plan restrictions. My college dorm had a lot of rules about visiting hours and such.
  • Work Opportunities: Commuters may have easier access to part-time jobs or internships off campus.
  • Independence: Commuting students have the opportunity to develop greater independence while still having a home base to return to, striking a balance between self-sufficiency and family support.
  • Personalized Living Arrangements: Commuters can maintain their preferred living conditions, whether that’s living with family, roommates, or in a comfortable and familiar environment.
  • Access to Home Amenities: Commuting students can enjoy the comforts of home, including a private bedroom, a kitchen, and other amenities that might not be available in a dorm. (I’m looking at you, communal laundry room!)
  • Customized Lifestyle: Commuting allows students to create a college experience that aligns more closely with their unique lifestyle and preferences.

Ultimately, there are a lot of valid reasons to live off-campus as a college student. Now, let’s dive into the college commuter survival guide so you can make the most of your time off-campus.

Plan Your Schedule to Avoid Multiple Trips

First, you can actually optimize your schedule to fit your college commuter lifestyle. If you are commuting a really far distance, like over a half an hour each way, you might want to try to schedule all of your classes on two or three weekdays.

That way, you won’t nee to worry about making the drive every single day. Going back and forth several times a day can be draining, and you can quickly run up your gas bill. Personally, I’m a die hard Tuesday/Thursday scheduler. I base my class choices around fitting everything in on these days. Some semesters I’ve needed to settle for Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes, but Tuesday/Thursday is definitely the way to go if you love four day weekends.

However, you’ll need to consider whether you can handle having five or so classes on one day. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you’ve got the endurance I highly recommend it!

Helpful hint: try to schedule an hour or so in the middle of the day as a break for lunch 🥪

If you can’t arrange all of your classes on one or two days, try to arrange them back-to-back. Having large gaps of time between classes is even more frustrating as a commuter since the break usually isn’t worth driving home for. Try to have all of your classes in the morning or in the afternoon if you can, with few long breaks in between so you don’t have to wander around campus waiting long stretches of time.

Pack Your Own Lunch from Home

I have always been a lunch packer my entire academic career. I brought a PB&J sandwich legit EVERY DAY for the entirety of K-12. And you know what, sometimes I STILL pack the classic PB&J. I’m not ashamed!

Packing a lunch will help you avoid eating out all the time, which I definitely tend to do during gaps of time on campus. I pack snacks for class, as well as an actual lunch that I can each during my break. My student center has a microwave, so I always bring leftovers and heat them up so I can enjoy a hot meal while doing some reading.

I have a small lunchbox I can fit in my backpack for snacking between class, but I’ve even gone so far as to bring a mini cooler in my car. If you have a break during the day you can stop back at your car to get your lunch if you don’t want to carry it around all day. See these recommended lunch bins and coolers for ideas 🍕

I’d also suggest keeping snacks and water in your car at all times. A box of granola bars and a few water bottles will go a long way, and you’ll be glad you brought them when you start craving your campus bistro!

Here’s a short list of my favorite easy-to-pack snacks as a college commuter:

  • Fruit
  • Hummus and Pita Bread
  • Granola Bars
  • Leftovers
  • Nuts
  • Crackers

Bring Extra Clothes

I don’t care if you think you’ll never ever need them, please keep an extra pair of clothes in your car just in case! Once, I had to walk to campus in a torrential Florida downpour and I got SOAKED ⛈

I had a presentation that day which I had to give while completely drenched, and I also was super uncomfortable for the rest of the day. I ended up skipping my last class because I couldn’t focus anymore. If I had extra clothes in the car, this would have never been an issue!

I’d also recommend having some travel sized toiletries and makeup items that you use a lot. This can be handy if you get caught in the rain like I did and need to touch up your look, or if you need to wash your face or something. Bringing an extra set of clothes and some toiletries also helps if you decide last-minute to spend the night on campus in a friends room.

Again, here are my favorite organizers for keeping your essentials close and tidy 🎒

Be Prepared

Because you don’t have a dorm room to pop into while you’re spending long days on campus, it helps to be prepared. Here are some things I would recommend packing if you have the space:

  • Small first-aid kit: A first-aid kit keeps you feeling your best, and it saves you from embarrassing trips to the nurse/on-campus doctor.
  • Umbrella: Depending on where you live, an umbrella or rain jacket is a must. I like the ones that fold up tiny.
  • Blanket: If you’ve never taken a car nap between classes, don’t knock it till you try it!
  • Extra supplies: In case you run out of pens, paper, etc., keep some extras close.
  • Gym gear: If you have time before, during, or after class, consider swinging by your campus gym. Bringing a gym bag and a change of clothes makes this easy.
  • Layers: As someone who always runs cold, you know I always have a jacket in my car’s trunk.
  • Portable charger: Nobody wants to deal with a dreaded dead phone mid-day!
  • Headphones: You’d never want to listen to your thoughts (heaven forbid) when studying in the library!

Commuting in College Made Simple

The decision to commute in college is a deeply personal one, influenced by various factors such as finances, personal preferences, and family considerations.

What matters most is finding the path that aligns with your goals and values. Whether you choose to live on campus or commute, college is a time for growth, learning, and self-discovery. Embrace the journey, make the most of your opportunities.

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Hey, I'm Sam! I'm the blogger and full-time writer behind Samanthability. I blog about starting your own blog and rocking post-grad life. You can find me exploring Seattle, binge-drinking iced coffees, and reading spicy romance books. I'm glad you're here!