The holidays will lose their cheer if your gifts arrive at their destination smashed, crushed, soggy, shattered, their gift wrap in tatters...

Share story

The holidays will lose their cheer if your gifts arrive at their destination smashed, crushed, soggy, shattered, their gift wrap in tatters. But with shipping advice from the big three carriers, you can see your treasures arrive intact and beautiful.

It’s not only the thought but the packing that counts.

Bubble wrap and foam peanuts are your best friends, says Ronda Carrington, manager of consumer affairs for the U.S. Postal Service in Phoenix. The post office’s machines don’t read the word “fragile” on the outside of a package, so you have to do the thinking.

“Packaging is critical,” she says.

Wrap each breakable item separately, says Lourdes Pena, media-relations representative for FedEx Kinko’s. Be sure to wrap packing materials around the entire item, not just the top and sides.

For extra protection, use the box-within-a-box method; put each item in a separate box inside the larger carton, and pack inside and out.

Wrap each item with an address label or business card in case items become separated from the outer carton. Material from your paper shredder also makes a good cushion. Be sure no items rattle inside the box.

Even nonbreakables should be secured, says Mark Malatesta, owner of a UPS franchise. “Overpack,” he says. That will also protect your gift wrap and ribbons.

To protect a bow, invert a small, clean plastic storage container over the top of the package and cover with packing material.

Mailing restrictions

Go to, or and search for restrictions or hazardous materials for limitations on what can be shipped. Consumers cannot mail liquor, jewelry or flammable materials, for instance. Some countries will not accept pork products; some will not accept any type of meat or fresh agricultural products. Check with your destination before sending off that Hickory Farms basket.

Liquids or perishables

If you’re shipping nonalcoholic liquids, wrap well and tuck inside a sealable plastic bag. Perishables? You’ll want to pack those in dry ice and ship overnight, which can be expensive. Dry ice is considered a hazardous material, so bring the dry ice carefully to a UPS store and they will pack it and your items for you. Otherwise, if you purchase a perishable item from a store, have them send it.

Go to for a good list of guidelines on how to pack and ship.


Insurance is inexpensive and vital. UPS charges nothing for the first $100 of value, Malatesta says, and various rates above that. If you purchase a gift for someone, keep the receipt, Carrington says, or be able to establish evidence of worth in case the item is lost or broken. “We’ve come a long way in our claims system,” she says. “That way we can help you.”

Outer packing

Use a sturdy cardboard box, never simply a gift box. If recycling, remove all old labels and stickers. Mark the address clearly and cover with transparent tape. Include your return address. Never wrap the carton in brown paper or string. These catch on automated machines and conveyor belts. Seal with good packing tape, such as tape with filament. Never use cellophane, masking or duct tape, Malatesta says. The first two don’t hold, while the latter can melt.

Packages can be marked “fragile” since human beings such as clerks, loaders and drivers will handle them, in addition to machines.