Baked goods, of course, go into the care packages and I choose the ones they like that will ship well. But I didn't want to send just brownies or bar cookies. I wanted to also send fun stuff or useful stuff or both. What makes a care package "useful" for a college student might be different than a care package sent to a non-student. For one thing, if they live in the dorms, you know space is a premium so you can't send really big stuff that'll take up space. You also have to be mindful if they have a microwave or a small refrigerator in their room or not as that affects food choices. And college students tend to move every year so you don't want to send them something fragile, cumbersome or what they'll never use.
So what can you send? I had to think back to my own college days to try and remember what I would've liked at their age. I also tapped my friends' knowledge and experience and they helped me come up with a great list of ideas, some of which I've implemented and some of which I'm holding back for future packages. One thing I had to update is my knowledge of how far technology has come since my college days. Quarters for laundry? No need - now they just swipe their student IDs in the washing machines and dryers to pay for washing and drying each load. Film for cameras? In this day and age of cell phone cameras and digital cameras, forget it.
The key factors in my mind are the items had to be consumable, would get daily or near-daily use, be something they actually needed but didn't already have, and/or be something fun. There's no one-size-fits-all list for everyone since the whole fun of a care package is to tailor it to the specific recipient's needs and wants. I know a lot of my nieces' likes and dislikes so I had a lot to work with. For their first one, I included:
- a stapler, staple remover and staples set
- packets of green ginger tea (they love tea)
- individual packets of Crystal Light (for something cold to drink since it was summer when I sent it)
- movie pack of Skittles (a favorite candy of theirs plus I didn't have to worry about it melting in summer temps like I would have with chocolate)
- 8 GB flash drive (for saving files from their laptop and plugging into a computer lab computer to print if they don't have a printer in their room)
In subsequent "follow ups", I also gave them each a mini LED flashlight they can keep in their purses and have handy if they're ever on campus at night, packs of microwave kettle corn, crackers and other dorm food-type snacks for when they're studying or else have to eat on the run on their way to class. I also like to package food items in individual-sized portions so that they can share with their friends. College and dorms are about communal living and making new friends. Nothing like sharing treats to cement new friendships.
Other suggestions people gave me but which my nieces already had so I didn't include:
- post-it notes
- Command hooks for hanging stuff in their dorms
- Nail polish, nail polish remover, and other nail care items
- Shower caddy for carting their shower essentials from their room to the communal bathroom
- combination lock
I'll save the rest for future care packages - I don't want to ruin all of the surprise.
Same packing tips apply as with all packages: pack carefully so that the items don't move around a lot or at all. I used medium flat rate boxes so I didn't have to worry about weight. Time when you send a package. If it has something perishable in it, try sending on a Saturday or Monday so it arrives early in the week. If you send mid-week and chance a Saturday arrival, if the dorms don't handle mail on the weekends, your package will sit there a couple of extra days until they deliver again on Monday. I've also discovered that what I sent to one of my nieces took an extra day to be processed through campus mail. A package I sent across the country arrived a day earlier than a package I sent to my niece in-state because of that extra processing day so now I have to plan accordingly.
Oh, and most importantly, include a handwritten card telling them how much you love them and how proud you are of them for being where they are and making the most of their opportunities. And if your handwriting sucks like mine, cash in the same envelope is good too :).