The almost tear-free guide to collegiate packing anxiety

This weekend, just like parents around the continent, we were caught up in the back to school rush.

After the year that shall not be named, there was a lot of excitement about what this school year would look like.

In our house, it was heightened because our oldest got caught up in the cohort of kids whose senior years were completely unravelled. No proms. No graduation ceremonies. No heading to campus to start first year.

This year, things are different.

As a fully vaccinated kid, our guy was given the green light to return to campus this year, which meant all of the planning and prepping we skipped last year (he did his first year from our basement) came crashing down this summer.

Where would he live? What does he need? And how the heck are we going to get it there?

Packing for an independent Start

I keep telling myself it isn’t the end but there is definitely something that feels final about dropping your kid to university for the first time. The whole family got involved and we all found the experience, exciting and exhausting. It’s truly bittersweet to watch your kid start the part of their life you know will need you less than ever. There is pride and joy but also a bit of nostalgia. In an effort to hold the tears at bay I focused on our battle plan and turned to the trusted source that has never let me down…parents on Facebook!

They did not disappoint and you can find some of the items they suggested on the list at the bottom of this post. But this isn’t meant to be a complete list. Every kid’s needs are different. You’ll have to weigh your child’s personality, the type of accommodation they’ll be in and your/their budget to land on the right combination of things to get them started. You also need to remember that you aren’t setting them up for a year, you’re offering them a start for the first few weeks so that they have time to figure out key things like how to buy laundry detergent or why best before dates exist.

Getting there is half the battle (Packing is the other half)

And once you have it all, you’ll be facing another dilemma. How to get it where it’s going. One option is to order your items to a location that is in the city where your child is studying. That way, if you have a smaller car, you can pick up everything you need when you get there. But we knew that we:

a. wouldn’t have time to dash around Ottawa picking up things, and

b. wanted the security of knowing we had everything we needed before we hit the road

So we did the next best thing, we borrowed a vehicle.

And now we have a new problem – I want a new car.

The All-New, All-Hybrid 2021 Toyota Sienna

I’ve worked with Toyota Canada a few times over the years and been a fan for longer. My personal vehicle is a 2013 RAV 4 that I love and when I realized we wouldn’t be able to fit everything for the 5-hour drive in my own car without crushing the kids in the back (its frowned upon apparently), we opted for a loaner. The moment we drove it into the driveway, the neighbours expressed interest. It’s a pretty slick ride and it is not your grandmother’s mini-van.

Head over to our instagram stories @byheathergd for a full tour.

Our loaner is a 7-passenger option.

Seating for 7 passengers! ( Or a family of four who likes their space.)

That third row folds in easily (I’m talking one-hand) and then you have more packing space than you can imagine.

And when the seats are up the depth of the trunk made it easy to carry things like the pull cart we would use to carry all his boxes up in less trips when we arrived.

All models are offered in FWD and AWD (It’s apparently the only hybrid minivan in Canada available with AWD.) We’re talking 245 total horsepower, and 6.5L/100km furel consumption for FWD (AWD has 6.7L/100km).

But aside from the drive-ability, it was the comfort that I loved most. From the lumbar support in the seats to the mirror options that allowed me to stay safe and see behind us even when the boys had the screen down playing video games on route. And the power in the car had me swooning: Plugs for laptops and video games. USB and USB-C plugs. Wireless charging and more cup holders than we had cups. I also liked that the folks in the back aren’t forgotten.

If I had this for another road trip, I’d totally camp out in the third row with my laptop and coffee and leave the boys up front. It has all the makings of a perfect, portable office.

And did I mention the moon roof?!?!

Handing the keys back may be one of the toughest things I have to do. Seriously, who doesn’t want luxury, power and space?

Alas – given that I just dropped off one of my two children – the size isn’t practical for me. Still, the luxurious interior has me questioning why I’ve chosen to live in the technological past. I’m ready for an upgrade!

On-Campus Packing List

But, back to the task at hand. You’ve got some packing to do!

Depending on whether your child is in a traditional dorm residence (shared bedroom/twin bed/shared bathroom) or a newer style (single room/shared kitchen) your needs may be different. Here are some of the things that we got – as well as some of the things my Facebook army recommended you consider for your campus bound student. Copy and tailor it to your own needs and if I’ve missed something, let me know!

Cleaning Supplies *

*Because you’re an eternal optimist

  • Cleaning supplies for toilet, shower and sink including sponges/cloths and gloves
  • Broom/Swiffer/Handheld Vacumn


  • shower curtain
  • Towels/wash cloth
  • toilet paper
  • Kleenex
  • bath soap/hand washing soap
  • bath mat
  • toothbrush holder, toothpaste, mouth wash, floss
  • face wash, face cream
  • body cream
  • nail clipper
  • hair care: brush, comb, shampoo, conditioner, etc.
  • Garbage can 
  • shower caddy
  • shower shoes


  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • T-shirts
  • Hoodies
  • Long sleeves
  • Jeans
  • Track pants
  • Shorts
  • Sneakers
  • Dressier shoes (what if he gets invited to the Dean’s place for dinner?)
  • Slides
  • Sweaters
  • Hats/caps
  • work out clothes/swimsuit
  • pyjamas (they have roommates now)/robe
  • Iron/board  


  • Plates: big and small
  • Bowl
  • Cutlery
  • Mugs
  • Cups
  • Sharp knife – paring and chopping
  • Cooking utensils
  • Pots – fry pan, sauce pan, larger pot
  • colander/pasta drainer
  • Small dishes/Ziploc bags for storing leftover or taking lunch/snacks to school
  • foil/Saran Wrap/beeswax paper
  • bigger bowl for salad/chips
  • Chopping board
  • Garbage bags/ compost bags
  • Dish care: sponge, towels, rack
  • Kettle
  • Toaster/toaster oven
  • Baking dish (small and large)
  • can opener
  • small measuring cup


  • Mattress pad     (Several people recommended IKEA; double check the size of the dorm bed)
  • Plastic mattress cover
  • Over the door mirror 
  • Small portable drawers might be useful but check size of room first
  • Double sheet set
  • Pillows
  • Comforter
  • Floor mat
  • School supplies
  • Computer/laptop (and all the chargers and plugs!)
  • power bar
  • Under bed storage
  • Hangers
  • clock
  • Wall hooks that can be easily removed later  
  • Laundry bag 
  • Labels (for all your stuff in the common rooms)
  • Printer, ink, paper 

First aid kit

  • Thermometer
  • Vicks vaporub
  • Tylenol
  • Hot pack
  • Ice pack
  • Pepto Bismol
  • Band aids
  • Cough medicine
  • Allergy relief
  • Polysporin
  • Masks
  • Hand sanitizer


  • Small fridge
  • Laundry soap/dryer sheets 
  • clothes drying rack
  • chip clips (or big binder clips!)
  • Mini-safe 
  • Air freshener
  • Fan/ heater
  • Batteries 
  • Tape, scissors 
  • Dishwasher / dish soap

This post is sponsored by Toyota Canada and I have received financial compensation. All opinions and experiences are my own.