When Joe and I went to Germany (by way of 2 days in NYC and 2 days in Salzburg) this past December, our main goal was to visit as many Christmas markets as we could. For me, that meant mega shopping and I knew I was going to have to put all of my packing skills to the test.
So on top of the non-breakable stuff like T-shirts, chocolate and fridge magnets, I also managed to bring home 14 ceramic glühwein mugs, a half dozen glass Christmas balls, 2 ceramic Christmas bells, one 6″ thin glass Christmas tree and an 18″ tall 3D cardboard advent calendar that was modeled after the annual Christmas tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and (this is the important part) didn’t come with the original box.
I’m proud to say that not even one piece broke and the cardboard tree didn’t bend. This is how I did it (and how you can, too).
Planning: Do You Have Enough Room?
Half the battle of getting souvenirs home is to make sure you have enough room for them. Joe and I have 2 foldable duffel bags that we bought at Walmart 20 years ago. They stay in our suitcases until needed but if we unfold them, they’re like 30″ x 12″ x 12″ and are ready to hold a bunch of dirty clothes that we check on the way home, in order to have more room for fragile stuff.
Planning: Put It In Your Carry-On
The most important thing is, I don’t care how well you’ve packed it, unless it’s something you’re not allowed to put in your carry on, never, ever put fragile stuff in your checked luggage. The people handling your luggage will not be at all careful, so chances are very good that they’ll break your stuff, just like they did mine (Note: This wasn’t a case of, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Mine was a carry on bag and Delta insisted there was no more room in the overhead [spoiler: they lied] so they made me gate check it). But if it’s in your carry on luggage, as long as you pack it well and don’t inadvertently drop it, you should be good.
Packing: Fragile Stuff (Glass, Ceramic, etc.)
Anyway, if you have anything fragile, pull out those dirty jeans, trousers, etc., and roll the stuff up into the legs. You should be able to get 1 item per pants leg, although if the item(s) are small, you may even be able to roll 2 things per leg…one up to the knee and the other the rest of the way. If they’re larger items, you may want to use both pants legs for the same item and/or cushion it with shirts. And if they’re teeny tiny, wrap them in socks and put them in your shoes. Make sure that everything has enough padding around it so nothing touches, for fear of breakage.
Packing: Paper, Cardboard & Thin, Bendable Items
The 3D advent calendar came folded, but because it didn’t have its original box, I was still very concerned about bending; especially the star on top. Joe and I stopped off at Staples and bought a thick cardboard mailer box for it. Those boxes come flat, so I just slipped the folded tree into that and made sure it continued to be packed flat in my suitcase.
After You’ve Packed It All
You want to make sure that your carry on bag is packed enough so everything will stay in its place. Stuff that can move around is stuff that’s at risk for wiggling loose, slipping from top to bottom in your bag, etc. Make sure everything is snug and won’t move around.
If It Has To Go In Your Checked Luggage
Sometimes you have no choice but to put your newly purchased items into your checked luggage. Bottles and cans of wine or beer. Snowglobes. Click here for a link to help you decide about anything you’re not sure about.
Anyway, follow the same guidelines as above. Use clothing to wrap things. Keep them separated. Keep things snug. I would also recommend putting items that contain liquids into a ziptight plastic bag, if possible. It won’t help protect the item at all, but it may help some of your belongings from getting wet (and possibly stained from that red wine) if it breaks.
Speaking of breakage, unless they’re in their original boxes with original styrofoam packing, I REALLY don’t recommend snowglobes in a suitcase; they’re just entirely too easy to break. And frankly, the original packaging is usually too big to fit in a suitcase anyway, which brings us to:
When In Doubt, Ship It
If you want to bring something home and it’s just too big, shipping is always an option. I have a friend who bought a full-size lightsaber at WDW a couple of years ago and it was too big for his suitcase, so he brought it to the UPS Store and shipped it home. And in some cities (Willamette, OR comes to mind) there are places that are experts at shipping a case of wine or packing it up so you can check it on the plane.
It’ll cost more. But it’ll be safe. 😉
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary