Are Your Gifts Ship Shape?

Whether you're sending gifts near or far, here's the scoop to make sure they arrive safely.


+ enlarge image Make sure your Christmas countdown is complete with treats.

Nowadays, with families and friends spread across the country and around the world, most of us have to rely on someone else to get the goods where they need to go. The U.S. Postal Service offers these tips:

  • Type or neatly print the delivery address - don't skip locators such as "Ave." or "SW" or the ZIP Code.
  • Always include a return address on the same side of the box as the delivery address. (It's a good idea to include a mailing label inside the package too.)
  • Use a sturdy box and cushion your gifts with rolled-up newspaper, plain air-popped popcorn, Styrofoam peanuts, bubble wrap, or similar material.
  • Place the heaviest items on the bottom.
  • Stuff glass and fragile hollow items, such as vases or glasses, with packing material. When sending picture frames, remove the glass first and wrap the pane separately.
  • Remove batteries from toys. Wrap separately and place next to the toy.
  • Secure your box only with tape designed for shipping -- avoid using masking tape, cellophane tape, or string. Never use wrapping paper on the outside of the box.

When Shipping Food, Keep In Mind:

  • Firm baked goods, such as bar cookies, breads, and unfrosted cakes, hold up best. Separate moist from crisp goodies.
  • Let the food company handle perishable gifts. Make sure the company keeps the food cold with a gel-pack or dry ice and ships your order overnight. When it comes to shipping, the U.S. Postal Service typically is your cheapest but slowest option. Shipping prices vary, depending on where you live and other factors. Fortunately, you can compare rates and delivery times online:

Last Call

  • The USPS advises that for regular U.S. Mail, you should try to send packages by December 7. Of course, faster mail and shipping options are available to allow you to mail packages later.
  • For UPS ground, plan to have packages sent out three to five days before Christmas. Faster options are also available to allow you to send packages later. For Next-Day Air, you can ship on December 23. For real procrastinators, try the Sonic Air method -- UPS will pick up your package on Christmas and deliver it on the same day.

Personal Delivery?

  • You could, of course, deliver packages to friends and family yourself. But if you're flying, mail packages ahead. Though you can carry wrapped packages onboard, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration recommends that you don't. That's because you could be asked to unwrap them if you're pulled from line for a random security check or if the screener feels the packages need further investigation, agency spokeswoman Deirdre O'Sullivan says.

Packing and Mailing Cookies

  • Here are some tips for keeping your treats-by-post in good shape.
  • Crisp cookies arrive tasking fresher than moist ones. Slice-and-bake cookies and most drop and bar cookies are good travelers. Frosted and filled cookies are not good for shipping because they tend to stick to each other or to the wrappings. For cutout cookies, choose simple, compact shapes; cutouts with points or narrow areas break easily during shipping. Pack cookies when they're fresh, but be sure they're completely cooled.
  • Line a sturdy corrugated cardboard box with bubble wrap, and add a generous cushion of filler, such as additional bubble wrap, foam packing pieces, or crumpled tissue paper.
  • Wrap cookies with plastic singly, in back-to-back pairs, or stacked in a roll. Stacking works best with very flat cookies. Cut and wrap bars in large sections so there are fewer edges and corners to crumble; the recipient easily can cut the sections into serving-size pieces.
  • Pack the sturdiest cookies in the bottom of the box. Then add a layer of filler. Continue layering cookies and filler, ending with more filler so cookies won't shift and break. Insert a card with the recipient's address and your holiday wishes. Tape the box shut with strapping tape and mark the container "perishable."
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