Carrying souvenirs with you during your trip and packing them in your suitcase can be annoying, but it might be a better option than shipping them home. Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether to save suitcase space for gifts and souvenirs or ship them home.
Type and Value
If you purchase fragile or high-value items such as glassware, jewelry, or artwork during your travels, you will need to carefully consider how you will get them home. If your souvenirs are small enough to fit, properly wrapped, into your carry-on bag, that is probably your safest and cheapest option. If your items are larger, you'll need to decide whether it will be safer to ship them home or pack them in your checked bag.
Bringing an empty bag for souvenirs is no longer the affordable option it used to be. Today, many airlines charge for each checked or overweight bag, and cruise lines and tour operators limit the number of bags you can bring. Check your airline, cruise line, or tour operator's website to find out which baggage policies apply to your particular trip. Next, research shipping costs for the types of souvenirs you plan to buy. In addition to the local post office, you may want to consider private companies, such as DHL, FedEx, UPS, or Airborne Express. In some countries, private shipping companies offer reliable service and English-speaking staff; Spain's Offex is an example of this type of company.
Be sure to look at your itinerary and determine whether you'll have free time and transportation available to go to a post office or shipping office during your trip.
Shipping policies vary from country to country. In the US, boxes used for mailing need only be sealed with the proper tape, but you cannot ship items in boxes previously used to hold alcoholic beverages unless you obscure all references to those beverages. In India, items must be packaged in cloth. Other countries require that all packages be wrapped in brown paper. You can bring the appropriate shipping items with you, packed flat in your checked bag, to save money; you may also be able to find a shipping service office that can sell you those supplies and even wrap your package properly.
If you plan to carry your souvenirs with you, you still may need packing supplies, such as bubble wrap, self-sealing bags for liquid items, or even a box. Flatten boxes and place them in the bottom of your suitcase. Bring a couple of plastic grocery bags and use them and your clothing to wrap fragile items.
Customs Duty and Taxes
Customs duty rates and taxes vary from country to country. If you plan to buy a few expensive items or many low-cost souvenirs, you may want to familiarize yourself with your country's duty-free exemption and customs duty requirements before you leave home. If you ship your souvenirs home, you may still be liable for customs duty and taxes on newly-purchased items, and personal exemption amounts may be different for mailed items and hand-carried items.
If you think you might want to ship your souvenirs home rather than pack them in your suitcase, take some time to review postal regulations in your destination country. Find out how your package should be wrapped and taped and take a look at the different types of international shipping available. You may even want to learn some mail-related vocabulary in the local language so that you can ask for the forms and services you will need.
Reliability of Postal Service/Shipping Company
While you are doing your pre-travel research, take a look at any available information about the postal service and private shipping companies in your destination country. Sadly, not all mail systems are efficient, and, in some countries, valuable items sent through the mail never make it to their intended recipients. In this situation, you might be better off using a private shipping company, such as DHL, or carrying your souvenirs home in your suitcase. Travel forums and travel guidebooks often include information about delivery times and the possibility of theft in a specific country's postal system. Choosing a shipping method that registers your package and provides a unique tracking number can sometimes – but not always – keep your package safe.
The Bottom Line
No packing or shipping method is foolproof. You may decide to keep your souvenirs with you, only to have them stolen from your checked baggage or carry-on bag at the airport. Or, you may decide to mail them, then learn that your package fell off a forklift and was destroyed. You can avoid many problems by thinking the pack-or-mail issue through before your departure date. Planning ahead and doing research will help you find the best way to get your souvenirs home.