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Commuter Student Survival Guide

Updated on July 10, 2014

Essential Tips, Tricks and Gear for Commuter Students

Are you a commuter student, feeling lost and alone? Perhaps you're entering college soon and looking for advice? You've come to the right place, because as a former commuter student myself, I have some great tips, tricks and essential gear for you!

There are lots of reasons why college students choose to commute to school rather than living on campus - availability of housing, cost of tuition, jobs and family obligations are just a few. Commuting to college can be a great option for people who are attending school part-time, are non-traditional students, or are going to a community college before transferring to a university. Commuting can give you the freedom to live at home or at an off-campus apartment, save money, keep your job, or care for your children or parents.

The downside of being a commuter student is that you may feel left out of on-campus events or clubs, you will have to plan your schedule more carefully and with less flexibility, you may have to deal with traffic or weather challenges on your way to school, and you must carry all that you need in a day on your person every day. These are all challenges that you can overcome if you keep a positive attitude and reach out for assistance when needed, so don't let them discourage you from being a commuter student!

First, tell us about yourself - Why are you a commuter student?

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Support For Commuter Students

Three Social Tips For Commuter Students

Avoid The Commuting Blues

1. Join your school's commuter student organization and meet other commuters like yourself! Talk to people a year or two ahead of you, and get their advice on the best places to hang out on campus, who has the best coffee, which parking lot fills up fastest, etc.

2. Make time to make friends. Ask a classmate if they want to get lunch and study, or grab some coffee before class. When you need to borrow some notes after a sick day, you'll already have someone you can ask, and a friend too.

3. Get involved with on campus activities like clubs, service organizations, honor societies or religious groups. You'll make friends and have something to put on your resume too.

The Commuter Student's Bag

An Absolute Essential!

A Good Bag Is An Essential For Commuter Students! - The Best Bag For Commuter Students

If you are a commuter student, you are going to be carrying a lot of things around with you all day and possibly all night. It is essential that you have a sturdy, well-made, comfortable bag. This is your "home away from home" while you are at school, so this is one area to really invest in something that will last.

The Timbuk2 Commute 2.0 Laptop Messenger Bag is widely considered the best bag for commuters out there, and I highly recommend it. They last forever, and you will not regret making this investment.

Timbuk2 Commute 2.0 Laptop Messenger Bag
Timbuk2 Commute 2.0 Laptop Messenger Bag

A serious upgrade of Timbuk2's beloved Commute bag, the Commute 2.0 combines the functionality of a laptop bag, the organization of a briefcase, and the versatility of a classic shoulder bag. The Commute 2.0 offers plenty of storage space, with a large main compartment; a plush, corduroy-lined computer compartment; and an internal organizer panel. The clever laptop compartment also unzips to lie flat, so you don't have to remove your laptop at airport security (the compartment is TSA compliant for maximum convenience). The Commute 2.0 even excels in nasty weather, with a waterproof TPU front flap to keep your stuff dry in a drizzle and a waterproof Hypalon rubberized bottom. Plus, the key fob is still there, so you'll never need to dig for your keys.


Alternatives To Timbuk2 - Backpacks, Bags and Cases for Commuters - Whatever bag you choose, make sure it is comfortable!

If the Timbuk2 isn't right for you, check out these other commuter bags and backpacks that may be more your style. Remember, whatever bag you choose, it should be sturdy, comfortable, and roomy.

Nuo Tech Chloe Dao Flip Tote For 15.6" Screen-Pattern: Abstract Floral
Nuo Tech Chloe Dao Flip Tote For 15.6" Screen-Pattern: Abstract Floral

From Project Runway winner Chloe Dao, experience the best of fashion and function with the Chloe Dao for Nuo Flip Tote. This modern messenger style laptop bag, features a comfortable 2" wide adjustable shoulder strap, plenty of interior pockets for your AC power adapter, phone/iPod, and all your personal accessories, and a fully padded laptop pocket. Includes a large rear pocket and front zipper pocket. Fits most 15.6" screen laptops. This designer print and bag stands out in a crowd! Laptop Pocket Dimensions: 2.0"H x 15.0"W x 11.2"D. Pattern: Abstract floral. Interior pockets for AC power adapter, pens, iPod/mp3.

SwissGear Computer Backpack (Black)
SwissGear Computer Backpack (Black)

This stylish backpack includes a mobile phone pocket, a computer compartment, an airflow back system, shoulder straps, a water bottle pocket, audio interface organizer pockets for business accessories, and a sunglasses holder. Fits up to 15-inch laptops.

SwissGear SA1591 Silver Grey and Dark Gray Laptop Bag fits up to 15.6" Laptops
SwissGear SA1591 Silver Grey and Dark Gray Laptop Bag fits up to 15.6" Laptops

* Organizer Pocket; Padded Shoulder Straps

* Airflow Backing System

* Water Bottle Pocket

* Eyeglass Holder

* Audio and Media Pocket; Equipment Safe


Poll For Students: How Do You Commute To School?

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Commuter Gadgets and Gear

Comfort and safety items away from home

Commuter Student Lockers
Commuter Student Lockers

Comfort and Security While Commuting

Commuter Student Safety Tips

As a commuter student, you will have two main challenges as compared with residential students.

First, you have to carry everything with you while you are commuting, as you don't have a nearby dorm room to run to. This is where the commuter student bag, backpack or briefcase is crucial, but it is not always enough. If your school offers lockers for rent for commuter students, definitely take advantage of that opportunity. Having a locker will allow you to stash books, snacks, an extra sweaters or personal toiletries at school, instead of having to drag them with you every day. This is particularly crucial for students using public transportation.

Second, as a commuter you may encounter some safety and security issues that your friends on campus will avoid. For example, your car may break down, or you may be stuck in bad weather on the road. For commuters who drive, it is especially important to have an emergency kit in your car. You should have one anyway!

First Aid and Emergency Kit For Commuters

Hopefully, you will get through school without any major emergencies. However, everyone gets a paper cut or a headache once in a while, so a small emergency kit is a great item to keep in your locker at school or in your car. This kit is designed by the American Red Cross and includes everything you might need in an emergency.

First Aid Only American Red Cross Emergency Preparedness W/first Aid Kit, Soft Case (Pack of 2)
First Aid Only American Red Cross Emergency Preparedness W/first Aid Kit, Soft Case (Pack of 2)

This innovative American Red Cross 67pc. emergency preparedness kit comes in a convenient, all-inclusive package. Zippered pocketbook design provides easy access to contents and the smaller size makes it versatile enough for travel, home, office, school or car. Kit includes: first aid guide, call 9-1-1 banner, vinyl gloves, ample bandages and gauze pads, blister prevention, first aid tape, antiseptics, hand sanitizer, ointments, light stick, emergency blanket, emergency poncho, face mask, whistle with neck cord and germicidal wipes.


More Comfort and Security For Commuters

In addition to a basic first aid kit, you may want to add in things for your own personal situation and needs. For example, if you get hungry between classes, stick a box of granola bars in your locker. If you can't live without your coffee, keep a travel mug with you at school. Other things to stash in your locker or in a bag in the trunk of your car might be an extra sweatshirt, an umbrella, extra socks, a comb, or toiletries. I've chosen a few things that I would want below, but pick your own items based on your own desires.

Thermos Stainless King 16-Ounce Travel Tumbler, Midnight Blue
Thermos Stainless King 16-Ounce Travel Tumbler, Midnight Blue

You can't go wrong with a travel mug! Fill it up in the cafeteria and you are good to go all class long!

Features on this mug -

- Ultra-durable travel mug for hot and cold beverages; 16-ounce capacity

- Unbreakable stainless steel interior and exterior

- Leak-proof Drinklock sealing lid

- Stays cool to the touch with hot liquids and is condensation-free with cold

Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars, Peanut Butter, 12-Count Boxes (Pack of 6)
Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars, Peanut Butter, 12-Count Boxes (Pack of 6)

These granola bars are a favorite of mine. They are great for when you forget to eat breakfast or are running late after class. A little something to tide you over while on the go is an absolute necessity.

This is a case of 12 boxes of 6 each - save by buying in bulk.


A small travel toiletries kit like this one is a lifesaver for commuters. Being able to brush your teeth after a meal or put on some deodorant is a great comfort.


Poll For Graduates: Were You A Commuter Student?

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Share your advice and tips for commuter students!

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Being a commuter isn't bad until there's downtime in between classes, everyone else has somewhere to go or someone to hang out with, as a commuter, it feels like there is nothing to do for downtime, my recommendation, try to schedule classes as close together as possible

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Commuting absolutely sucks, one of the disadvantages of going to an on-campus school I suppose.

    • kburns421 lm profile image

      kburns421 lm 

      6 years ago

      I went to one university for two years and lived in a dorm. Now I'm living at home, but the campus I need to go to is an hour away. It's a pretty miserable drive, and it's definitely inconvenient having to bring all my books, electronics, food, etc. with me for the whole day. I did that for two semesters and will again next semester, but for now I'm taking classes online. This is a wonderful lens though.

    • eskecime profile image


      6 years ago

      On my country, everyone is a commuter student. Colleges don't have campuses just don't exist. However I wish they existed. I would certainly move there.

      I really liked this lens! Thanks.

    • Phillyfreeze profile image

      Ronald Tucker 

      7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      I did'nt know much about commuter students but I do now!...when I read that Chicago school kids had missed school once in a twelve year period because of inclimate wheather I was amazed.

      In my community, 2 or 3 inches of snow is enough to call school off...every year. The reason, school buses can not navigate the streets that lead to subdivisions and apartment complexes. Great lens for students and anyone that commutes to school or work.

    • petermurray profile image

      Peter Murray 

      7 years ago from Izmir, Turkey

      To beat the boredom while commuting, check out my lens about the Top 5 things to do while commuting

    • JenOfChicago LM profile imageAUTHOR

      JenOfChicago LM 

      7 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks Tipi!

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 

      7 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Now my daughter is living off campus and has to face some of these challenges. Thanks for sharing these tips!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens Jen. Blessed!


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