Travel, Travel Tips

Helpful Hints on How To Pack Souvenirs

If you remember from last week’s post 9 Ideas for Food Travel Souvenirs, our haul from Italy was quite large – 12 bottles of wine, 3 half wheels of cheese, 3 bottles of grappa, and 1 bottle of lemoncello.  Bringing all of those items home plus an acquired t-shirt and sweatshirt was not easy.  Heck, with airline luggage checking fees, overweight baggage penalties, high shipping costs, customs restrictions, and theft risks, bringing home any souvenir can be quite difficult.

Below are some helpful tips how to pack souvenirs for the journey home from foreign lands.

Food Travel Souvenirs from Italy

Souvenirs From Italy – Now That’s a Heck of a Party!

Check Customs

However you plan to transport your souvenirs, be sure to check with Customs first to make sure you can actually bring that item home with you.  This in particular applies to food, alcohol, and agricultural products.  Yes, we brought back cheese from Italy, but it was a hard cheese that was vacuum sealed.  Soft, runny cheeses are not permitted.

Buy It Airport Duty Free

If wine, beer, or liquor is what you chose to bring home, consider buying it at airport duty free shops.  They may not carry the most obscure choices, but the selections often include items you can’t find back home.  Buying from airport duty free allows you the flexibility to carry the item onto the plane as a separate carry-on.  A word of caution, if you have a connecting flight once you return to the United States, you will need to place anything liquid in your checked luggage once you pass through Customs.

Ask if the Winery Has a United States Distributor

A lot of you are wondering how we transported a case of wine from Italy back to the United States.  That is obviously more than I could carry on the plane and the cost of shipping would be more than the wine is worth.  The agriturismo we stayed at sat on a winery.  The owner was also an exporter of both his wines and other wineries from Italy.  He had a deal worked out so that we could purchase wines from his portfolio through a distributor in the United States at a 20% discount.  Shipping was a flat rate of $30 as opposed to anywhere from $150-$300 for shipping directly from Italy.  See if a favorite winery might have the same option.  If not, buy the wine at home.  Most wineries you visit export to the United States.  If you plan to buy it at home, double check that the product is sold in your state.

Ship Your Items

This may be the most expensive option, but sometimes there is value to shipping the item.  Items to consider the following when shipping:

  • Perform a Cost Analysis – How much does it cost to ship the item versus checking a piece of luggage to transport it back.  If it’s cheaper to ship, then shipping may be the option for you.
  • Check for Shipping Insurance – If you are purchasing a high value item that might be breakable, see if shipping insurance is available. Yes, this will cost you more money, but it also shifts the risk of the item breaking to the carrier.  If the item breaks in transit, you may have lost a prized piece, but at least you aren’t out the money.  If it breaks in your carry-on, you are minus the item and the money.
  • Request a Tracking Number – Do not ship an item without first obtaining a tracking number. If the store you are purchasing the item from offers shipping without a tracking number, take the item to the local FedEx or UPS outlet for shipment.
How to Pack Vacation Souvenirs

Packing Your Carry-on Suitcase with Souvenirs (I know the boxing gloves don’t make sense, but this is the only photo I have!)

Pack the Item in Your Checked Luggage

This is the method I normally chose as I typically check luggage if I am travelling for a week or longer.  I realize this goes against most frequent traveler conventions, but I like being comfortable.  (For more on how I pack, check out this post).  However, there are several items to consider if this is the method that you chose.

  • Don’t Pack Expensive Souvenirs in Your Suitcase. Contrary to popular believe, your items are not safe in the hands of the airline.  We were robbed while our luggage was in the hands of US Airways on the way to Cancun.  US Airways did compensate us without argument, but some of the stolen items had sentimental value.  Never pack valuables in your suitcase, souvenirs included!
  • Don’t be Overweight. If you think the fee to check a suitcase is high, try checking an overweight suitcase!  I pack a scale to measure the weight before heading to the airport.  Here’s one I particularly like and own from TravelOn.
  • Pack Throw Away Clothes. So you’re overweight.  Don’t panic.  On your packing inventory, include a few articles of clothing that were on the way to Goodwill anyway.  Leave those items behind forthe maids who exist on below living wages or find a local charity to donate them to.
  • Makes space with Compression Bags.  We condense our clothes into Compression Bags leaving plenty of room for souvenirs.  For the price, you shouldn’t leave home without them.  They also protect your clothes should something liquid leak (like a bottle of wine).
  • Prevent a Bottle of Wine or Liquor from Leaking.  If you are planning to bring back a bottle of wine, pack a few gallon size zip lock bags to seal the wine bottles in.
  • Prevent the Bottle from Breaking.  I could easily add an affiliate link here to some expensive, fancy shmancy bottle secure device (they do exist).  But I wouldn’t buy one and neither should you.  Use spare clothing to wrap around your bottle that is already sealed in a zip lock bag.  Then, place that item in the center of your suitcase.  The rest of the clothes will act as a cushion.
  • Packing Other Breakable Items.  You’ll have to use some common sense here.  If the item is extremely fragile, place it in your carry-on or ship it.  If it can be wrapped in like I describe above, go ahead and pack it in your checked luggage.

Pack the Item in Your Carry-on

I recommend packing an item in your carry-on if it is anywhere near fragile or is valuable as you are in more control.  Many of the hints, suggestions, and packing techniques in the above section apply to carry-ons.  In addition, here are a few other words of wisdom.

  • Be Sure the Item is Permitted through Airport Security. Check TSA’s prohibited items before assuming any item can go in your carry-on luggage.  I am still amazed at the number of people who still don’t know liquids can’t be packed in a carry-on.
  • Place the Item Under the Seat in Front of You. I know you want the legroom.  But as soon as you place your fragile item in the overhead, it’s out of your control.  I once had an item smashed when another passenger aggressively muscled his backpack into the overhead space.  I wanted to get angry, but then remembered that he had just as much right to that space as I did.
  • What to do if Your Carry on Is Full. You have two options here.  Either bring a collapsible duffle for any spillover you acquire along the way or buy a cheap suitcase in your vacation destination to check at the airport.  Place your dirty clothes in the checked item and your fragile souvenir in your carry-on for safekeeping.

What tips can you add to this list for packing souvenirs?