Tuesday, September 28, 2010

50 lb Limit

Let's talk about what everyone forgets: your enormous amount of stuff.

That's right. So enormous it doesn't even fit on my blog.

While dorm room shopping is the most fun thing you'll do preparing to go to college (not hard, since it's up against things like bursar bills and application essays), it does leave you with a truckload of stuff. Which is fine! When Dad brings his truck to move you in.

But what about when you fly home for the summer with a carry-on, a personal item, and two free checked bags? (If you're flying Southwest! Nix the either the checked bags or the free with any other airline.) Without a big truck bed, you're going to need to find a place to put all of that stuff.

Here are your options:
1) Pack it all in bags and fly it home.
This will be difficult for the obvious reasons: most airlines have severe restrictions on baggage. All carry on bags must be under 25 pounds, and checked bags must be under 50 pounds unless you want to pay even more money. However, if you're going this route, stay tuned for the "how to pack stuff that shouldn't fit in small areas into small areas" post. I'm sure it's coming.

(Obviously, if you're driving you won't have to worry about this. You could just cram it all into your car.)

2) Pack it all in boxes and ship it home. Though shipping can be expensive, it's probably cheaper than paying for a checked bag if you're not flying on an airline that gives you your baggage free. On the downside, there's always the chance of cardboard getting wet or lost or fragile things being broken.

3) Store it. This probably makes the most sense. Invest in some plastic storage tubs at your local Target so that no mice decide your winter coat makes a nice summer cottage and google search for storage units in your area. If you have friends who are out of state as well, offer to split the cost and the unit with them. There's no way you need as much space as even the smallest storage area will give you, so try your best to befriend the other out of staters! Or at least make this deal with them. It benefits them as much as you.

3andahalf) If you haven't managed to befriend the out-of-state students, but have a bunch of friends who live within a few hours of campus, ask them if you can give them some (or all!) of your storage stuff. If you split it up between people, it won't be too much. But don't be too hopeful! Remember, they already have to find spaces for all of their extra-long twin bedding and posters. Their parents are probably envisioning this:
Of course, if you throw money at them they might be more inclined to take your junk.

Just never as inclined as the Goodwill!

No but really, here's option number almost4: at the end of the year you'll have bunches of stuff you don't need anymore. Moving into an apartment? Donate your XL twin sheets. Your mini-fridge. Your dear old roommate. College students don't often have the resources to make a difference! This will be one time you do: take advantage of it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Currency Exchange

An American dollar is always an American dollar, but an American tax is not always an American tax and an American price is not always an American price.

Well, alright, that sentence makes no sense (cents?), but you get the general idea.

Although staying within the country means that you don't have to deal with the comparative value of the dollar, there are still a few things to watch out for. The first is taxes: sales taxes vary (a lot!) in different states. In fact, some states don't even have sales taxes (Alaska, here I come!). Be sure to keep an eye on this when budgeting; it may be small, but it adds up.

Likewise, though less likely to influence the irresponsible college student, income tax rates also vary. But that of course implies we have income!

(No but really, watch out you part-time jobbers).

Lots of news stories will about the cost of living changing from state to state--pay attention to them. You may think, "oh, I'm just living in the dorms, it won't matter." A few things to consider on that note: first of all, you may not always be living in the dorms. Oftentimes going into an apartment will be cheaper (and generally less hassle), and so the local rent rates will be relevant to you.

Sidenote: I'm not advocating either dorms or apartments! That's completely dependent on your university, their housing, and whether or not you can find a good set of landlords/roommates. Though I will advise you to find roommates who clean when they're procrastinating.

Cost of living also affects the cost of food and of gas. Obviously, urban areas are going to be more expensive in general than more rural ones, and prices in general do vary from state to state. Places that produce their own oil (like Oklahoma and Texas) are going to have cheaper gas than places that have to pay through the nose to just get it to the area. Do a little research when you're preparing to move so that you and your bank account aren't too surprised.

And so that this:
doesn't become this:

More so than the tuition monster will already make it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Leaving on a jetplane vs. getting your kicks on route 66

The number 1 rule of traveling:
No matter how you're going, the soundtrack is the most important part.

Of course, the key question is whether that soundtrack will last for 3 hours or for 30, and whether you'll have to endure silence for takeoff and landing.

For the cross-country traveler(/ing student), whether to fly or to drive is a huge issue. So, as you need for any good decision-making, here's a little comparison for you.

Ah, the all-important question. Here's the deal: you can usually get pretty cheap flights if you plan right. Flying on days that aren't weekends or Fridays will definitely save you some money. If this means coming home a day earlier from break or missing your one 12:30-1:20 class on Fridays (depending on what it is! I'm not advocating class skipping), it's probably worth the money. By doing that, you'll shave about a hundred dollars off your airfare. The same goes for flying out of smaller airports to avoid airport fees (ie, Midway rather than O'Hare in Chicago) and packing light (baggage fees are crazy, and you can fit all your clothes in a carry-on sized suitcase. *Note: Southwest flies bags free! My personal favorite airline!) It's easy to see what your airfare cost is; for driving, remember to calculate food and hotel rooms as well as gas. On the whole, the cost will come out about even for 3 days of driving. There's no way for me to say for sure which will be cheaper for you because I don't know where you live, but there's are the things you should keep track of when looking into cost.

Airports=more fun alone; driving=more fun with friends/family. Roadtripping with people you like/want to get to know is always fun. If you have friends who live in interesting (or even uninteresting!) places on the way home, offer to drive them! This will save you money and sanity on those long boring roads. On the flipside, airports can be fun if you like exploring little coffeeshops and people watching! If you have no layovers and have no specific airplane love though (it exists; you'll know if you have it), your trip will simply be lots of reading/sleeping/jamming to your ipod.

What you Own
What are you planning to bring home? This will make a difference (especially if you're a musician!). For the summers, you'll probably want to bring more. Weigh the issue of driving and having room in your trunk for those suitcases against the cost of luggage fees (and the hassle of getting your bags under 50 pounds apiece). For shorter breaks (Thanksgiving, spring break, maybe even Christmas), you can probably swing a carry-on bag.

Of course, all of this depends upon whether you have a car to bring to school, whether you will need to have a car on campus (look up your public transportation; if you're going from city to rural or vice versa it will change), and whether it's conceivable for your parents to drive you out to school and then drive back alone.

Go forth and seek yourself a long and winding road/airway!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Happier Holidays?

This semester, I started working in the Communications Center on campus, which is a fancy name for calling prospective students and telling them to come to OU. This past week, I was talking to a high school senior from South Dakota who was less than enthusiastic about my sales pitch (I mean...my information about applying!). Since I'm from far away, I was trying to give him some insight on how being in a new place can be exciting.

"I don't know," he said. "Aren't you kind of stuck there for holidays and stuff?"

All of a sudden, I had a montage-worthy flashback to my own decision process a few years ago, with this very question at the forefront. I think it's fair to say that most people considering school far away have this question cross their mind (and look just like Macauley Culkin when they think about it). If you're more than a day's drive away, or if you have no car, there's not a super-cheap way to get home.

Here's the deal: you won't be back for the Labor Day barbecue, and unless your spring break is really conveniently times, you probably won't be hunting for Easter Eggs with your little sister. But if you want, it is feasible to get home for Thanksgiving, and of course Christmas. That long winter break is a great season for playing pranks on your neighbors from your own home.

There are ways to get cheap flights for Thanksgiving, particularly if you fly out on a Tuesday. I'll go into more detail about this when I do a post on travel. Also, if your issue is transportation more than distance, then by that point in the year you'll probably know someone who will be going near your house on their drive back. Offer to split gas or serenade them (loudly) the whole way. Trust me, people love road trip buddies.

The problem with the fall semester, of course, is that the only real break comes near the end. Spring semester has a lovely vacation smack in the middle, but the first part of the year (especially when it's your first year) can drag on. If you're lucky enough to get a fall break, take advantage of it. Even for the sake of your sanity away from schoolwork.

As for flying home for spring break and Christmas, both are completely doable. So much so that I will just tell you not to worry about them--if you want to be home, you'll be home. There are some travel tricks that I'll let you all know about soon, but neither of these has ever been a problem for me.

Of course, there are alternatives you might want to consider. Lots of people use the Christmas intersession to study abroad, or do their own Spring Break trip (be safe, kiddies). My suggestion to the newer students is this: go home for winter break at least. Even if you're not a huge fan of your family or the people back home, and they make you feel like this crazy dude. (2 points to anyone who knows who it is). It's interesting, at the very least, to see how you and the people you know have changed with a full season of being different people apart from each other. And besides, reconnecting with people, hearing their stories and sharing yours, and reliving the glory days of diapers and learner's permits is more fun than you might imagine. There's something to be said for years of memories, even mediocre ones.

What's the fun of your new lame jokes if you can't tell them to a fresh audience?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

110° in the Shade

Yes, the weather will be different.
And no, it doesn't really matter where you go. If you're going anywhere that qualifies as "far away" (which, to me at least, means a solid 12 hours of driving), then everything you know about being outside is going to change at least a little bit.
(And no, for anyone who got the reference in the title, it won't be cool enough to merit its own musical).

Since that's unavoidable, the question, then, is how does this affect being at school? In the sense of keeping you from studying or going to class, not that much. Now you may say to yourself, "Self, what about snow days?" But here's the news for you. If you are moving from the south to the north, you get the glory of snow without the glory of snow days because we hardbitten yankees are used to dealing with it. You're a sissy if you can't get your driveway cleared in time to get off to where you need to go.

If you're moving from north to south....well, admittedly, I was given a snow day last January at OU (Oklahoma) for about 2 inches of snow and some nasty ice. But here's my view on the matter: having a sissy southern state without the infrastructure to handle a little bitty snowfall (call me a nasty New Englander!) does make for a nice class cancellation and a game of snow football. That can never outweigh the general lack of snow though! The stuff you see in the picture below was gone within 2 days.

But I digress. Especially if you don't like snow at all.

Living in a different climate boils (particularly in the hot south) down to this: you might have to change your wardrobe, and you will have to change your mindset. The hot can be hotter, the cold can be colder, the dry can be dryer, and the rainy can be rainier. Oklahoma, for example, forced me into several pairs of shorts, some sundresses, and a pair of rainboots. It also forced me into better balance on my bike, because the wind really does "come sweeping down the plain!"

Anyone on two wheels is free range for a vicious gust.

Things you never expected to notice might matter. For example, the seasons smell different depending on where you are. The "sounds of summer" might drive you absolutely insane, making you wish for winter even if you can survive the heat. The cozy fireside winter you expected might turn into a long season of blankets and cabin fever. So I suggest this: find the fun in wherever you are. Learn to make a snowman, or revel in the joys of wearing shorts in December. Make hot chocolate. Drink iced coffee. Jump in leaves or in puddles. And look forward to going back to your own weather over breaks! More on that in my next post!