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8 Things Every Traveler Needs to Know Before Traveling with Gifts

Make sure your precious cargo gets to your final destination in one piece

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Protect your presents

If you’re heading home for the holidays, odds are your suitcases will be stuffed with presents, even if you haven’t bought them just yet. (Can’t figure out what to buy? Here are 100 Christmas gift ideas for people who are impossible to shop for.) But without taking the proper steps to protect them, you could be left with a pile of broken presents—or no presents at all—upon arrival. Follow these tips to ensure your gifts remain intact during your holiday air travel.

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Check that they meet TSA requirements

All the effort you’ll put into packing and lugging around bags of presents will be null if those presents get confiscated by TSA. Some common culprits around the holidays are snow globes (yes, that liquid needs to be 3.4 ounces or less, too), sporting equipment, toy guns or any toy that resembles a weapon, and cans of food that contain more than 3.4 ounces of liquid. While these are all allowed in checked luggage, you can’t keep them in your carry-on. While there is a way to get back items confiscated by TSA, it’ll be easier on everyone if you verify that your presents meet the TSA requirements.


Don’t wrap gifts

TSA agents may need to unwrap them if they spot something potentially suspicious during security checks. And no, it’s not because they’re Grinches or Scrooges; it’s their job. Your best bet is to pack extra wrapping paper and finish up the trimmings when you reach your destination. Also, make sure you avoid these 13 things most likely to get you flagged by TSA.


But if you still want to wrap them…

Put them in a checked bag. TSA is less likely to unwrap them that way. Follow these tips to fit everything you need into your suitcase, including heavy presents. One exception: Never pack glass or fragile items in your carry-on. You never know how your luggage could be tossed around once it leaves your side.


Pack them in the right suitcase

Regardless of what sort of gifts you’re bringing, using hard shell luggage automatically increases the odds of your presents staying in one piece. Use bubble wrap and your own clothes as padding. If you don’t have a hard shell suitcase, place heavy gifts on the bottom, put lightweight items on the top, and double up on the padding. And definitely don’t make these 11 common suitcase packing mistakes.

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Keep valuable gifts with you

You should already have these 11 things to always keep in your carry-on, but valuable and/or fragile gifts should also be in your bag. That way, you have complete control over what happens to them on the plane.


Be prepared to gate check

Air travel always spikes during the holidays, which means more people and luggage on a plane that doesn’t have much space to begin with. (Follow these 12 tips to stay comfortable on a crowded flight.) Other passengers will undoubtedly have the same idea as you and pack gifts in as much luggage as they can bring. That means your chances of finding overhead storage space are slim—another reason to keep valuables in a bag that can fit under the seat in front of you.


Bring extra bag for your own gifts

You know you’re not going to leave your holiday family gathering empty-handed, and there’s no guarantee that your suitcase will have enough space for your loot once everyone else’s presents are out. Pack a duffel bag that can be folded up on your way there and can be checked or carried-on as needed for your return flight.

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Ship gifts to your destination

If there’s any doubt your presents will meet TSA requirements or fit in your suitcase or arrive in one piece, ship them. This should be a given for online shoppers. Some sites, like Amazon, offer free shipping if your bill reaches a certain amount. (Check out these other little-known Amazon hacks for online shoppers.) Simply ship them to your destination—just let whoever’s address you use know they’re coming—wrap them when you get in town, and you’re done! Shipping through USPS or UPS may be costly, especially if you buy shipping insurance, but at least you avoid the hassle completely.