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Mailing it home economically as you go

While shopping is low on our list, the enticement of a gem discovered in a local book shop or two or ten on our journey throughout the British Isles, a table cloth and a couple of wine glasses for picnics along the road as we car tour throughout France, Morano glass wine stoppers for each of our family of 6 couples, a beer stein and an accordion embraced in Germany or Vienna or Prague, journals filled and new ones acquired along the way, and a sweet simple treasure for each of our eleven grandchildren; how in the world can we economically mail these home to keep, share and cherish once they have fulfilled their immediate purpose on our 100 days journey?

Posted by
447 posts

We don’t travel to shop either. On the one occasion we found some special
( fragile) things, we bought a small, cheap, hard sided roller suitcase we found in a discount store. We then used that new suitcase as our carryon ( where we could protect the glassware) and checked our other bag.

Posted by
21960 posts

But the price will not be what I would call "economical".

There's a good chance it will be cheaper to pay excess baggage fees and take the items with you on your return flight.

Posted by
7994 posts

What acraven said. There's nothing "economical" about mailing items home from Europe.

Posted by
5926 posts

Yep, it's a real luxury (expensive) to mail things home.

Instead, we carefully manage our shopping, trying to do most of it at or near the end of the trip, to minimize lugging things (helps to have a rental car or not be moving frequently as the end nears).

Anticipating that we will buy stuff, we always bring a couple of collapsable duffel bags along - they're light and pack down to about the size of a softball. Once expanded, they're roughly carry-on size, and when we're ready to deal with things we've bought, we shuffle our belongings and we check a bag or two for the flight home, keeping fragile stuff in our carry-ons. This plan generally works out well. Only a few times have we had to buy an extra bag before re-packing for the trip home. On trips to Japan, we have tended to shop a lot (there's a wonderful "kitchen town" district in Tokyo, we're suckers for that neighborhood...). We have found a place that sells large, inexpensive duffel bags (not far from our usual Tokyo hotel). On more than one trip we've had to go there and buy a large bag for our excess stuff. Only problem is we have started to accumulate these large duffel bags (since we only bring them home - full - and never take them on the outbound). There are worse problems to have...

Posted by
13370 posts

There are times I do mail "souvenir" items home from Germany or England instead of adding that weight and occupying space in the luggage, such as brochures, paperback books, or small size hardbacks, extra postcards, fridge magnets, etc. especially when I am picking up such things for someone else, such as brochures in English translation. It all adds up.

Posted by
253 posts

So, no tricks for economically mailing home from London, Lyon, Venice, Prague and/or Paris?!?

Posted by
8837 posts

No, no tricks, no fairy godmother, no magic, just the pay it, lug it or leave it advice already given. :—((

Posted by
5697 posts

Do other postal systems have "book rate" ?? Might be less expensive for the heavier printed materials.

Posted by
3414 posts

No tricks because it's always expensive to send stuff back to the states. I know this won't help you mid-trip, but for future reference for all of us, especially on shorter trips, we need to leave space in our luggage for souvenirs and/or pack old clothes that we can throw away during our trip. If you only have carry-on luggage, you can pack an extra duffle bag and check it on the way home, placing souvenirs in the carry-on you keep with you. Clearly this is a situation where packing light is helpful.

Posted by
3594 posts

Mailing home from Europe and economically are mutually exclusive terms. And I learned the hard way not to buy anything too big or bulky to fit into a suitcase. Buying a cheap duffel or suitcase and paying for extra baggage (if you have already maxed out your baggage allowance) will still be cheaper than mail or delivery services. There was another thread along the same lines quite recently. You might find it by using the search function.

Please tell me you didn't really buy an accordion.

Posted by
253 posts

No. Have not gone yet. the accordion story is long, relevant, but long. I will spare all, with sincere appreciation for the guiding posts.

Posted by
11294 posts

Here's the recent thread people were referring to: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/france/shipping-from-paris-to-usa

I agree, if you're planning to buy souvenirs, just plan to check an extra bag on the way home. It's not only cheaper, but easier, more reliable, and you don't have to waste your trip time at a post office. Even if you have to buy a cheap suitcase and pay the very high fees for a second checked bag, it's still better.

If you think you'll be buying breakables (wine, glassware), consider bringing stuff from home to wrap them in. There are special "wine diapers" that prevent leakage even if the bottle breaks.

Posted by
21960 posts

To answer Laura's question, I do not believe you'll find a book rate available from Europe back to the US, but I can't say for sure. One would have to explore the website of the appropriate country's post office.

Back in the 1970s and early 1980s I sometimes took advantage of a printed-matter rate to mail back things like local maps and brochures. By surface mail it was quite inexpensive. At that time there was also a "small-packet" rate for items weighing no more than either 1 kg. or 0.5 kg. (I don't remember which). That was more costly than the printed-matter rate, but still not bad. Unfortunately, those special deals seem to have disappeared. Going in the other direction, from the US to Europe, surface mail isn't even offered anymore, so you have to pay for air shipment even if you're in no hurry. I don't know whether the European posts have also eliminated the surface option, because I haven't sought to mail anything home in decades.

Posted by
3493 posts

My former employer used to allow me to use their FedEx account to mail packages back from Europe. Would either pay them what it cost (they were a large international company and got great rates so it never was that much) or depending on my boss's mood they would write it off. Did have to use the least expensive option which usually meant it took a couple weeks to get where I shipped it. You might check with your employer to see if they are willing to allow this for you.

Posted by
1272 posts

I always stop and think when I'm buying bulky souvenirs, can I buy this online? For most things, the answer is yes. I tend to buy the heavier and bulkier things towards the end of my trip.

I have to discipline myself, especially at museum gift shops. But, at least I can take out my phone and see if the item is available to order online. I'm not a carry on only person, but I'm well aware that heavy art books can start to weigh down the suitcase quickly and it's often easier to buy it online and have it shipped.

Posted by
8647 posts

In both Switzerland (Murren) and France (Chamonix) in 2006 & 2008 the post office had various size boxes that you paid a set price for and it included postage to mail to US no matter the weight. I paid $20-$30 for a decent sized box (6x a shoe box?) that I crammed full and mailed home. We were on 3 mo trips, moving around every 4-7 days with one RS 22” carry-on bag each and mailing that one box each trip worked well for us. Don’t know if post offices still do that.
I’ve also mailed back tubes of posters many times and it wasn’t expensive.
More often though I’ve done as others, either brought a large duffel or bought a bag in Paris and just brought it home on the plane w/o having to pay extra baggage fee but that works better if we’re not moving around a lot.

Posted by
21960 posts

2008 was ten years ago. International postage rates may have (probably have) changed massively since then. Someone posted recently on this forum that rates from France jumped sharply early in 2016.

I just checked rates from the US to France. Rates going the other way will be different but probably not hugely so. An example for one of the USPS-supplied boxes: 11" x 8.5" x 5.5".... $69. That's the size of a piece of paper, 5.5" deep, so not a large box. And a good bit of the space would need to be taken up with packing material unless all the contents were undamageable. The weight of that particular box cannot exceed 20 lb., and I don't believe that rate includes any insurance coverage (I might be wrong about that).

Posted by
8647 posts

acraven, darn that that’s not possible anymore.

Posted by
5697 posts

Too bad about the postal changes --when my daughter spent a year in northern Finland I used the flat-price boxes frequently.

Posted by
4535 posts

Do other postal systems have "book rate" ?? Might be less expensive
for the heavier printed materials.

In the past at least, "book rates" only applied to books and printed materials. Nothing else could be added to the box in order to get such a rate. And of course because of the weight, books are massively expensive to ship (I know from experience).

If you buy larger or more fragile items in a store, they may offer shipping for you. That can be a relatively good deal. You avoid paying VAT, which can be almost a wash with the shipping costs. They ship for you and you avoid the hassle of carrying things around.

While the advice to carry souvenirs in an extra bag is valid, that doesn't always work if the items are fragile, large or just accumulate. And they have a 100 day journey to multiple destinations. The local post office will always be the cheapest shipping, and some sell boxes and even pack it for you (not necessarily all). If it is something more valuable or fragile, I suggest using FedEx where they will properly box and ship it for you (using the slowest routing) with insurance. But that can add up for anything of any weight and/or size. Larger, heavier boxes (anything more than you can easily carry in one hand) have cost me hundreds of dollars to ship.

Posted by
28786 posts

but to ship an accordion all price consideration goes out the window...

it is bad enough with a Shruti Box.

Posted by
253 posts

Well, after all is said and done, I might have to take photos of the book gems and let go of the accordion (Inspite of the fact that my grandmother was a concert level pianist and traveled throughout Europe and beyond entertaining with the Wiere Brothers, our house as her home base along with her Steinway grand in our living room, my mom answered the door to the accordion salesman when I was 7 years old. And thus, voila, I played the accordion in a 60’s rock band, a Di Vinci 120 base white pearlescent marvel. So now you know the truth of it.
Thank you for this extensive discussion and valueable offerings. I am certain we have enlightened others through the process.
Wishing all good travel adventures.