Holiday happenings

Package those gifts properly

By Kim Frum

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Hello November!

This time of year, there are two kinds of people: those who have gotten all their holiday shopping done, and those who haven’t done a single holiday-related thing.

No matter what kind of holiday gift-giver you may be, for many of us, getting those gifts to their destination means sending items through the mail. Whether your packages are going across town, across the country or across the sea, there are ways to help ensure those special items arrive intact and ready to use.

The Postal Service has shipping tips to help you wrap and appropriately protect everything you’re sending this holiday season.

Can I send a box of firecrackers?

OK, while this is not a typical question, it has been asked before, and the answer is absolutely not. It doesn’t matter if someone has been begging and pleading and you are at risk of losing the favorite aunt, uncle, parent or grandparent status. The answer is still no.

In fact, there are lists of prohibited and restricted items you should likely review before packing up and mailing anything. The regulations on shipping hazardous, restricted, and perishable items safely through the mail can be found in Publication 52 Hazardous, Restricted and Perishable Mail.

Don’t let the “perishable” bit alarm you. You can still ship holiday candy and cookies without too much issue. But if you plan to send something that needs to maintain a particular temperature (think sending melty fudge to Arizona) or could easily spoil, check the guidelines. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Should I wrap the outside box?

We get this question every year. Despite what you may read in magazine articles or hear in news stories, Do not wrap the outside (shipping) box.

You absolutely should wrap the gifts inside the box if that is your thing. But never wrap the shipping box with any kind of paper, even heavy-duty brown craft paper. Paper can easily tear during the shipping process and get caught in the machinery. Also, any address information written on the paper could be destroyed and your package may never arrive at the intended destination, or may never be returned to you. The only thing that should be on the outside of the shipping box is the destination and return addresses — and the appropriate amount of postage.

The next tip may seem like a no-brainer, but never, ever secure the outside box with string. String is easily caught up in the machinery at processing facilities and could damage the equipment, along with the box and any gifts inside the box.

Once the box is packed, make sure the address is printed clearly on the outside. Include all address elements, such as apartment numbers, directional information (e.g.: 123 S Main St., Apt. 2B) and the ZIP Code. Don’t forget to include a return address. Also, place a card inside the package that contains the delivery and return addresses. This ensures the package can be delivered or returned should the mailing label become damaged or fall off.

Info graphic depicting a USPS Priority Mail shipping box on a light blue background, surrounded by snowflake shaped, multi-colored call-outs which contain shipping tips detailed in this article.
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With so many options to send your packages — including free Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express boxes — why would you risk paper and string anyway?

When it comes to how to wrap your gifts for shipping, there are a number of suggestions — and they are all simple, easy to do and take hardly any extra time. But really, if it’s worth sending, it’s worth the extra time to get it right. Right?

Leave space for extra cushioning inside the package and stuff glass and fragile, hollow items, such as vases, with newspaper or packing material to avoid damage. Mailing framed photographs? Take the glass out of the frame and wrap it separately. If you’re sending any battery-operated devices, make sure those items are turned off or package the batteries separately, preferably in the original manufacturer’s packaging.

Another good rule of thumb is don’t reuse boxes. They aren’t as sturdy as a new box, and can weaken, become damaged or break open in transit. But, if you do decide to reuse boxes, make sure any labels or markings are removed or completely covered over/crossed out, especially if the box you choose to reuse has labels or markings associated with hazardous, prohibited or restricted materials.

The Postal Service offers these tips, and many more, in our online “how to” guides. Each video is less than three minutes long and shows how to address packages, ship packages and pack a box so items arrive safely.

Sending gifts to another country, or to loved ones stationed overseas, mean different restrictions and requirements, including filling out customs forms. For information on sending packages internationally, visit the USPS International Shipping page. More information and specific restrictions for APO, FPO and DPO shipping can also be found on our website.

More information on all things holiday can be found in our Holiday Newsroom.

USPS Postmaster van illustration.