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Thoughtful gifts for the homesick freshman

Empty nesters aren’t the only ones who have a hard time when kids go away to college: the kids themselves often get homesick. Freshmen in particular tend to miss everything from family members to their pets and favorite foods. No matter how independent they are, every college kid misses home at some point.

Keeping in touch is especially important during freshman year, and there’s no better way to remind a college student that home misses them too than with a surprise present. Here are our best ideas for sending the college freshman in your life some love from home.

Send cash … but make them work for it. Let’s be real. Ask any college freshman what they need most from their families, and if they’re honest, they’ll all say the same thing: money. College life is expensive — even after tuition — and sometimes it’s easier to send money than gifts. If you want to send a college freshman some money, but you want to do more than just a check in a greeting card, consider getting a money puzzle box. Money puzzle boxes are small toys that involve solving a puzzle, usually a maze, in order to unlock the box and reach the money inside. Ignore the age recommendations; money puzzle boxes are fun for all ages, and this gift is a good way to remind college kids that if you want money, you have to work for it.

Our pick: We love the Money Maze Puzzle Box because it’s small, cute, and moderately challenging.  

Make a custom digital photo album. Photos are great, but most millenials aren’t into bulky photo albums. Thankfully, you can still send pictures to remind your child of home with a digital picture frame. Digital picture frames are typically small-ish monitors (think 7 to 15 inches) with built-in storage and playback for your personal photos and videos. They’re made to take the place of standard picture frames while offering infinite flexibility — they accept memory cards that can hold thousands of pictures at once, and updating the images is as easy as swapping in a new memory card.

Our pick: The Nixplay Seed is a little pricey, but it includes some killer features that other frames can’t compete with. In addition to 8GB of onboard storage, the Seed also has built-in WiFi and a mobile app, so you can add new photos from the comfort of your smartphone. It’s also got support for Amazon’s Echo digital assistant services, a.k.a. Alexa, so you can operate it through simple voice commands if you already own an Echo device.  

Send them their favorite food. Every college freshman longs for their favorite foods from home, whether that’s Mom’s cooking or fare from the local pizza joint. While you’ll have to limit yourself to non-perishable items, it’s still a good idea to send them snacks — every college kid needs brain food. Don’t forget that care packages can be nutritious! If your freshman needs help eating healthy or has unique dietary needs, don’t send junk food. Many sites have care packages custom-made for people with allergies — or those who simply like to eat well.

Our pick: The Essential Hangry Kit lives up to its name: it includes 40 different snacks, ranging from granola bars to Laffy Taffy. There’s enough variety to please even the pickiest college kid, and the serving sizes are perfect for noshing between classes.  

Send them a cleaning kit. College kids aren’t the cleanest human beings in the world, so sometimes a little nudge from home can go a long way. Whether they need helping cleaning their dorm room or maintaining its sparkle, sending a box full of detergents, cleansers, and cleaning supplies guarantees they’ve got everything they need.

Our pick: The Dorm Room Multi-purpose Cleaning Kit from The Bare Necessities is perfect for freshman year. It’s got the basic cleansers and a solid set of supplies for using them. Send them this kit, and they’ll have no excuse for not keeping their dorm room clean.  

Get them a dedicated device for video calls. If you want to stay in better touch with your college student, consider buying a pair of Amazon Echo Shows. Echo Shows are smart speakers with Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, but they also include a seven-inch touchscreen. That means you can use Alexa’s internet video-conferencing services for quick chats whenever you want. All you have to do is ask Alexa to make the call.  

Jaime Vazquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

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