Best and worst countries for mailing souvenirs back to the US?

Does anyone have any input on the best and worst countries for mailing stuff back home to the States? Some better than others? We'll be in England, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. I've already researched this using Google to search the RS helpline archive and one thing is for sure... don't use Italian post!!! (Horror stories are legion). I was hoping to travel light and mail a box home from each city. Is FedEx or UPS cheaper? (or should I just use their sites and do some "test cases?") Is there a "rule of thumb" that's well-understood or does it change from city to city (as I would guess)? We're "railing" it over 30 days (13 train legs) and prefer not to have each traveler carrying TWO pieces of luggage (one for clothes... one solely for souvenirs). Why in the world is it SO EXPENSIVE to mail stuff home? Folks lament that the postal fees are higher than the value of the stuff they're mailing home! We'll probably pack a foldable/collapsible el-cheapo suitcase in each carry on and utilize as needed as checked luggage for free on way home. I've encourage my wife to buy most of the stuff near end of trip but what if she starts buying a lot of stuff early? So, are some countries cheaper than others? We could "dump" the stuff in those countries to off-load by posting it home. Reliability is important... no point in buying stuff if it's just going to be pillaged by postal workers. Is UPS, Fed-Ex, and DHL immune to the pilfering? Pete

Posted by Steve
Richmond, Virginia, USA
342 posts

I have mailed boxes home from: Salzburg (Austrian Post), Munich (DHL), Brugge (Belguim Post), and had no problems at all. Since most European countries privatized their postal system (like we did, sort of), postal rates soared. It's supposed to reflect the actual cost of doing business, rather than relying on government subsidies.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7209 posts

The only cheap option I've found is mailing from an APO (an overseas military post office) but you need a military connection for that. The rate is the same as if you mailed inside the US, still not dirt cheap but far from the outrageous prices you will see. Even with extra baggage fees, you're usually better off carrying the extra stuff home with you than mailing it.

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts sure do put a lot of time into thinking through every possible element of your upcoming trip, don't you? UPS, FedEx, and DHL are so expensive, because your parcel is being flown fast to the US. You can have the merchant ship your purchase home for you...I just did this recently...charge was 10% of purchase price. You can mail it through regular mail if it's a small item...I went to the post office in small town Switzerland to mail a Swiss army knife home...they put it in a bubble envelope and charged just a couple of bucks. I don't know if it went by ship or air, but it arrived after I returned. As Brad already said, since you'll be on your way home, packing light isn't such an issue. Carry the stuff on if you can. Otherwise, unless you're worried about theft or have expensive or otherwise important souvenirs, you may be better off buying a cheapo piece of luggage at ASDA (or equivalent) and paying the checked bag fee (if it's free, kind of a no-brainer, especially if you're bringing another bag anyway as you said). BTW, if you ship stuff home, you may want to have it shipped to a neighbor, friend, or family member & pick it up from them when you return if you're going to gone for 30 days. You don't want UPS to leave a parcel on your porch and have it sitting there unattended for 2 or 3 weeks (or less when somebody takes it). Of course, you could just buy less or no crap and not have to worry about it at all. You may want to stop thinking so much about your trip and just go.

Posted by Arn
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
215 posts

We have shipped several times from London, Prague, Vienna, Cairo, jerusalem and Krakow with no problems. If you use merchant ship it is much, much cheaper than air but takes a lot longer.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2386 posts

Shipping boxes home is expensive - period! There is no cheap way to do it. But to answer a few of your questions: If a merchant offers to shipping, use it. You might be able to save the VAT, the cost is less and they will make sure it is packed properly. Whatever they charge, it will likely be less than trying to ship it on your own. Use a credit card to protect yourself. There are MailboxesEtc in most cities. Look one up and ship from there for the best reliability. I forget if they use UPS or FedEx, but the packages will be insured, they pack it all for you and they speak pretty good English. But even choosing the slowest, cheapest shipping method will be pricey ($100-300 depending on size and weight). Northern European post offices will be pretty reliable. More so than Italy or other southern Europe (theft or loss happens but is pretty rare). But postal staff often don't speak English or not as well. So the chance of mis-communication is higher. They may not pack it for you. The post office will be the least expensive option. Bring as many items home as you can. But that goes counter to traveling light.

Posted by Cynthia
Gig Harbor, Washington, USA
1202 posts

If you are buying a quality item (i.e. nice piece of pottery or similar), do as others have advised and have the merchant ship it for you............For the inexpensive souvenirs, I would suggest visiting a Cost Plus or similar before you leave, just to be familiar with what they sell. Then you won't load up on stuff in Europe that you can get just as cheaply here when you return.....Last bit of unsolicited advice: have each family member choose only one type of lightweight souvenir - i.e. key chains, magnets, toothpick holders, tea towels, etc. - and buy only that item each place they shop. You will save on weight and the collection will look better (at least less hodge-podgey) when you return home.....And have a lovely time.

Posted by Ceidleh
Boston, MA, United States
1176 posts

Not commenting on the prices, but we get packages mailed to us in the US from family scattered all over Europe, and that includes Italy, on a fairly regular basis and we've never had any problems with boxes being pilfered or taking an excessively long time to reach us. Your choices are to suck it up and pay the international shipping fees (which would hopefully make you weigh whether it's even worth buying the item in the first place), lug around an extra 2 suitcases if you have a wife who can't curb her purchases of large items (if that's the case, I'd make her carry those bags all over Europe and tell her "You buy it, you carry it!"), or agree you'll only buy very small lightweight items as souvenirs. Frankly, I don't get why anyone really wants to buy something overseas where they generally end up paying more anyways because of the exchange rate. There are plenty of one of a kind items that take up little to no space at all. I spent a year backpacking around the world with 1 pack & came home with 1 small packing cube filled with jewelry and fridge magnets as my souvenirs of where I had been. Don't stress yourself out about every possible situation you may encounter on this trip. It's a vacation...

Posted by Toni
Long Beach, CA, USA
356 posts

in general shipping/mailing from Europe is SLOW
anybody who complains about the US Post Office has never mailed things from Europe

Posted by Heather
Seattle, WA, USA
30 posts

This topic really interests me as we'll be nearly 6 weeks by rail, carrying everything ourselves. I've told my kids they can only purchase postcards, pins, silver charms (for a bracelet) or patches, and that if they insist on buying something larger, they carry it (along with all their other things). Oh, and if I hear complaints about their bag being too heavy, the souvenirs will be the first items to be left behind at the train station for some other lucky kid to adopt! Hopefully that will keep things under control for us. My big fear is how I will restrain myself when I encounter all those gorgeous wool sweaters in Norway. I think I will have to do the "merchant ship" option like other posters suggested. Since it will be summer it's not likely I'll be wanting to wear them every day! Bon Voyage!

Posted by PeterLuv5Terre
Wesley Chapel, NC, US
167 posts

Thanks everyone and the idea of merchant shipping is very appealing. I wonder how they can send cheaper than we can??? I did read one horror story (here on RS?) of a lady purchasing expensive Murrano glass and it never arrived and couldn't get help from merchant and/or credit card. I guess I'll have to review that option. I know I bug people here on RS by asking too many questions, but I'll be out of my element for one month and I have to at least try to make everything go as smoothly as possible. Pete

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2899 posts

@PeterLuv5Terre - you said "I wonder how they can send cheaper than we can???" They can't ... but often if you buy above a certain amount at a tourist shop or a department store and have it shipped outside of the EU, they can deduct the VAT. So the net price to you including shipping might not be that much more. VAT can be up to 25% of the price, depending on the country.

Posted by Rosalyn
1007 posts

One thing you should look into is the guarantee some credit cards offer. My Amex has it. I've never needed to use it, so I can't testify as to how much "fine print" there is; but it seems to say that if any purchase is unsatisfactory, they'll refund the price. I would think that a purchase including shipping that didn't arrive would be ├╝nsatisfactory", you would be in line for a refund. Of course, you still wouldn't have your souvenirs.
BTW, I would never mail anything from the Italian Post Office. If in Rome, use the Vatican.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8756 posts

I notice that you have asked some questions over the last few weeks - but that's what we're here for. I personally find it fun to see the questions change as the planning goes forward. Some posters wind me up with questions for which I think the Helpline is not the best place for answers. I don't ever remember that with yours. Keep asking away... ... and I concur about the Italian Post Office. Still waiting for 3 postcards mailed in Florence 6 years ago to reach their respective destinations.

Posted by Elaine
Mission Viejo, Calif., USA
783 posts

I would never send anything from anywhere in Italy. Switzerland and England are fine though.

Posted by Zoe
653 posts

If you must send something home from Italy, use the Vatican Post Office in Rome, or a private carrier (DHL, etc.). If you are thinking of buying souvenirs rather than large items, I suggest you think about finding things that are small and easy to pack (scarves, gloves, cds, jewelry is always good) and just haul it along with you.

Posted by Monte
Genesee, ID
1376 posts

We have sent packages by post from Scotland, Germany, Romania, and Ukraine with not a problem. We go to the post office, buy a box, tape, and bubble wrap, go bake to the hotel and pack the stuff up, cushion it well and tape it good, go back to the post office and stand in line until our turn, fill out the customs form, pay, and that's it. Of course it is relatively expensive but you have to weigh the cost with the other variables such as packing light, transporting the stuff for the entire vacation, etc. We paid the equivalent of twenty bucks or so to send three antique decorated plates from Kolimiya, Ukraine. That was in interesting process. The plates arrived in perfect condition. We have always packed our own packages.