The College Care Package Your Mother Never Sent You
In 2012, 30.4 percent of Americans over 25 had at least a bachelor’s degree and 10.9 percent had a graduate degree. That’s a decent chunk of the population, but you wouldn’t know so many of us have been to university given the sort of suggestions floating around the internet about what to put into a care package for our recent high school grads who are heading off to get their degrees. It’s like we’ve completely forgotten what college life was like.
Some of these lists I found online couldn’t even bring themselves to use a common word like “pads,” choosing instead to use the sterile, blue-liquid version of the term: “sanitary napkins.” If a person sending a young adult off into the wild world of university can’t bring themselves to talk frankly about periods, you can bet they’re not about to give them much of a heads up about anything else.
Well, it’s a good thing you find yourselves here. Because stuff happens in college, and if a young adult doesn’t go in thinking about it, they don’t go in with a plan. And when someone doesn’t have a plan, the chances of tripping over the speed bumps life puts on the road to a degree grow exponentially.
Before we start, let’s get a few things out of the way. This young adult is not a child. They’re going to drink. They’re going to meet people. They are going to have sex. They’re probably already having sex. If you don’t want to accept this (highly likely) scenario, stop reading now. But if you want to make it so that this young adult is equipped to make the right kind of decisions as often as possible, come with me.
First things first. Campus life is so filled with booze, it’ll be amazing if the kid doesn’t come home pickled. To help them manage this aspect of life is Alcohoot ($99.99) a breathalizer that plugs into an Apple or Android smartphone through the headphone jack and tracks results in an app. There is nothing you can give a recent high school grad at the last moment to prepare them for the college party scene, but Alcohoot can help them understand the impact of alcohol on their body, learn their limits, and track their consumption trends with real data so that they can make better decisions in the future. The recommended calibration service for the breathalizer attachment, which should be done periodically, costs an additional $30 and includes shipping.
Drink Safe Tech is a company that provides tests to detect two common date rape drugs — GHB and Ketamine — right at a party with just a few drops of the drink. The simple tests can be bought as strips ($7.50 for 10) or customizable drink coasters (I’m not sure if putting a family photo there is weird or awesome). In any event — those tests don’t ascertain the presence of Rohypnol, another substance often used in drug-facilitated sexual assault, but the United Kingdom’s Drug Detective (around $35.00 for a pack of 12) does — along with a number of other drugs in the benzodiazepine family. That’s probably a better bet.
Circle of 6, which is available for iOS and Android phones, is a simple and free app that enables a user to pre-select six trusted people to enable fast contact in the event of an emergency. After installing the app and selecting six friends, a user is ready to quickly ping them at any time. Friends can be pinged with a request that they to call to check in, get on IM to provide input, or come pick the user up. The “come pick me up” request sends the recipient a map with the GPS coordinates of the sender.
Since people may not always be available, another great app for getting out of a situation is Lyft, which lets a user summon an approved driver from an app and watch their progress on their phone. The app is plugged in to a debit or credit card at set-up, so there is no need for cash — even tips can be factored in through the app. Check out the cities where Lyft operates to be sure this is an option.
It’s a lot more likely that someone will use condoms if they have access to condoms — even more so if they have identified a type that they really enjoy. This is equally true for a recent high school grad. The company Lucky Bloke provides samplers that include up to 24 different standard-sized and larger-fit condoms ($23.98 each) — your best bet is probably 12 packs of each ($13.98) or their Not Sure What Size sampler of 12 condoms ($14.98). A non-latex sampler is available for those with allergies. Oh, and don’t forget to throw in a lube sampler ($16.99) — putting lube inside the condom goes a long way in reducing breakage. Of course, if all this is too much to think about, go ahead and grab a gift card and leave it up to them.
Oral can be just as risky as vaginal or anal in terms of the possibility of transmission, so while you’re making it rain condoms on the recent grad, you might as well add dental dams, thin strips of latex meant to protect both parties during oral-to-genital contact. Glyde makes flavored dental dams that make them less of a drag to use — they even have licorice and vanilla ($0.99)! Another good bet is an assorted flavor ten-pack of Line One Labs dams ($10.97). Non-latex dams are available from GoodVibes.
And because there is absolutely nothing worse than trying to take an exam while one is stressing out about a condom breaking and needing to high-tail it to the nearest clinic as soon as possible, you might want to consider picking up a couple of Plan B One-Step over-the-counter emergency contraceptives and maybe a home pregnancy test. First Response offers a home kit that can be used as early as six days before an expected period. By the way — I’d include the emergency contraceptive, pregnancy test and condoms in a care package regardless of the gender of the student. It takes two to tango, you know.
Additionally, you should pick up a pack of these cards from Bedsider ($5.99) to drop into care packages like this one, to help young people you know find birth control methods that best work for them. A pack of 50 would last you until the end of days. Then again, if you decide to write it all down on a notecard instead, make sure you write in the link to these pointers about how to have a safer sex conversation with a potential partner and a link to this video about the emotional aspect of the safer sex conversation.
Since all the other care packages I’ve seen online seem to include cuteness factors, go ahead and throw in a plush toy now. Giant Microbes actually offers their original venereals set, which includes syphilis, chlamydia, herpes and gonorrhea, for $36.95. Alas, HPV, trich and crabs are sold separately. Nothing like a reminder about safety that sits right on top of their beds, AMIRITE?!
And having gotten all that out of the way, go ahead and throw in something to relieve the embarrassment this kid might feel when they realize you’ve been thinking about the fact that they might have sex. Blue Q’s funny hand sanitizers (with names such as Maybe You Touched Your Genitals) would probably do. Oh, fine, just throw in a deck and a couple of expansion packs of Cards Against Humanity.
Trust me, they’ll get over it the moment any of these things come in handy. And they will — if not for them, for a roommate or a friend.
When a person goes away from home for the first time, they need to start thinking about their personal safety in a way they’ve never thought of it before. While there is nothing we can do to ensure those we love are always safe, we can give them tools to make potential dangers easier to manage.
Key-chain pepper spray is great for both house and car keys, since they’re usually close at hand when we’re heading out of a building. Police Magnum O ($10.25) packs a big punch in a small container, which aside from capsicum contains dye visible under UV light, which can help police later identify a perpetrator. Mace Security offers another type of pepper spray in a pen ($15.31), which makes it more discreet to carry.
Additionally, Vipertek produces a combination tactical flashlight and stun gun in a compact design ($18.98) — which is useful in a number of situations.
Home security is a little tricky when a living space is being shared with others, but this door alarm from Sabre ($6.99) can keep a bedroom secure in an apartment full of people. Additionally, it can secure a dorm room once everyone is inside and accounted for. Another great dorm security item is the window alarm ($8.79), especially for students on the ground floor.
There’s little space for anything in a dorm room, especially something as bulky as a paper shredder. A pair of scissors and a chunk of time will do, but an ID guard stamp ($9.99) can do away with personally identifying information even faster by masking it under a heavy grid of permanent ink. Easy enough to do right away — a smart move for dorm rooms that get a lot of foot traffic.
Electronics are hot items, so it’s smart to play it safe — especially since there will be times a student will be out on the town until late or not come home that night at all. Some options include the laptop safe ($56.96), the tablet lock-up kit ($34.90) and the electronic anchor system ($41.75), which lets one chain down anything from a television to a gaming console.
Certain valuables and documents need an extra layer of protection, and SentrySafe provides just the thing with a fireproof, lockable, watertight chest ($53.83). Other kinds of safe spaces for a dorm include the combination lock hollow dictionary ($22.71), the clock stash ($22.59), the surge protector stash ($26.19), the Ajax can stash ($15.70), and the hanging closet stash ($9.99). Keep in mind that not all of these lock. But they certainly do enable one to put away things here and there.
Other Ways to Help
Additional useful items for college students include prepaid debit cards, for those expenses impossible to predict and hard to justify breaking the bank over (but often so smart in retrospect, like taking a $70 cab ride home instead of crashing on a stranger’s couch when a designated driver flakes out). There are a number of resources that list the better options, such as iGrad or the Simple Dollar. Prepaid cards geared toward teens are best if you are interested in keeping an eye on what the card is being used for. And you can always offer to foot a grad’s monthly phone bill — with any additional charges becoming their responsibility.
Another brilliant addition is a mini pharmacy that includes over-the-counter things like antihistamines for allergies, a thermometer, pain-reliever and fever-reducer, decongestant, cough syrup, expectorant, cough drops, antacid, an anti-diarrheal, a mild laxative, light antibacterial cream for wounds, self-adhesive bandages of varying sizes, analgesic heat rub for sore muscles, hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion for bug bites and rashes, insect repellent, sunscreen (SPF 15 or above), sunscreen lip balm, aloe, and lubricating eye drops. You can skip the rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide and include instead a gentle, antibacterial soap. A cold compress and heating pad might be very helpful, too. Not entirely related, but also very useful: tweezers and nail clippers.
Last but not least: the tasty foodstuffs, which are always welcome. Zingerman’s is a favorite, especially their Almost as Good As Grandma’s Gift Basket (starts at $75). For the charcuterie and cheese lover, Petrossian is sure to delight, and present itself to any student as a well-earned treat far beyond what they can usually afford. Of course, if you’re the baking sort, absolutely nothing compares to the taste of homemade baked goods.
A simpler but nevertheless excellent choice here is a prepaid Starbucks card — or you can help this young adult learn how to start saving big by setting them up with a grinder, electric kettle, French press and a six-month coffee subscription. College is all about doing it yourself, after all.
Header image by Daniel C. Dental dams image by D. Robert Wolcheck. All other images, courtesy of the products described in the text.