Brighten the day of any student in your life with a fabulous care package.

By Kristina McGuirk
June 26, 2020
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Big or small, filled with homemade treats or thoughtfully purchased items, all care packages come from the heart. Deep into campus academic and social life, students appreciate the thoughtfulness of friends and family—whether it’s their first exam of undergrad or the last semester of teaching in a Ph.D. program. Here are our best tips on when to send care packages, shipping advice from the United States Postal Service, and care package ideas for all types of students.

Credit: Halfpoint/Getty Images

When to Send a Care Package

Holidays and birthdays are already common excuses to send a little love through the post. During school, big events like finals, mid-terms, and exams are also customary reasons to let someone know you’re thinking of them. Accomplishments, like an art showing, securing an internship, joining a fraternity, or having a stellar intramural game, are great opportunities to celebrate from afar. Although these may be harder to recognize from a distance, transition periods like breakups, homesickness, and adjusting to autonomy and roommates (hello, first-year students!) are impactful times to hear from those you love. And, of course, don’t forget that sending homemade cookies or a thoughtful self-care package “just because” is always a welcome surprise.

Shipping Care Packages

What, when, and where are all key factors in shipping. Kim Frum, senior public relations representative at the United States Postal Service, shares advice to help you get packages wherever they need to go—on time and intact! While it’s ultimately unique to each situation, keep these tips in mind when preparing, packaging, and planning to ship.

Don’t pack the box too tightly when shipping fragile things—leave a little space for cushioning. “Stuff glass and fragile, hollow items, like vases, with newspaper or packing material to avoid damage,” Frum says. When mailing framed photographs, take the glass out of the frame and wrap it separately.

Remember you have to declare perishable items when shipping, but as long as they won’t turn to goop in the box, they’re OK to send. Pick food that will hold up well in the mail, not crumble into pieces or get weird if not refrigerated (we’re looking at you, cream cheese frosting). If you want to send perishable homemade snacks, choose things that are good for longer than three days in an airtight container. Though it ruins a surprise, let the recipient know so they can look out for it.

Don’t ship an electronic device with the batteries inside. “Wrap and place them next to the items in the mailing box,” Frum says. It’s even better to send new batteries in unopened, original packaging. Note that there are some battery shipping restrictions, especially for international shipping.

In addition to a return address, include the recipients a full name and all address elements, such as apartment numbers and directional information. “Never guess at the ZIP Code,” Frum says. “If there is any doubt, look it up on our website.”

For those concerned about the current pandemic, or who can’t get to the local Post Office during open hours, Frum recommends Click-N-Ship. It allows customers to order free priority mail boxes, print shipping labels, purchase postage, and even request free next-day package pickup from home (pending availability, shipping details).

Priority mail boxes are golden tickets for those sending care packages: stuff everything you can into one box (up to 70 lbs) and ship it for one fee, anywhere in the US. “Priority mail includes delivery between one to three days,” Frum says. “It also comes with tracking and up to $50 of insurance with most shipments.”

Care Package Ideas

Variety is the spice of life—and care packages. Send an old beloved t-shirt wrapped around a new coffee mug. Instead of newspaper and packaging, slip a pair of knitted socks for cushioning. Of course, a personal note, money, school supplies, and food are always welcome—your creativity is the only limit for sharing these thoughtful gifts. We’ll help you get started.

For the student that’s missing some of the familiarity of home, put together a package with a few of their favorite things. And we don’t mean just your best chocolate chip cookies. Add in a postcard from a local cafe, a gift card to their favorite restaurant they can look forward to using once they return home, a pennant from a local sports team, and family photos.

Sometimes, you want to send something quick and easy. A care package doesn’t have to be physical to have an impact. Electronic gift cards or top-ups on student spending cards offer some spending freedom, but don’t forget video messages from family gatherings, email updates, and e-cards. Collect it all into one big digital gift, or dole them out over time.

This one is great for a pal going to grad school somewhere far from their established social network, where it’s a challenge to balance the academic and professional workload and social life. To help them feel connected back home, divide the calendar up for the first year of school, assigning one friend to check in each month. Whether a personalized card or bookends for an ever-growing collection of scholastic reading materials, it will mean the world to them just knowing you had to get stamps.

Some schools are altering schedules to limit travel during the semester, and this means some students are staying on campus for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Holiday decorations, garland, a mini tree, festive paper napkins, and tasty treats are just some of the things you can whip together in one quick trip to a dollar store. Just try to make sure whatever you send is not restricted in on-campus housing (string lights are a fairly common listing).

Dorm and apartment living, roommates, and new schedules can be disruptive. Smooth the transition with a care package that includes things like earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, and a sleep mask. A fun pillow cover of a pet at home can bring a smile and ease homesickness. A water filter can help with adjusting to new city tastes—and a bonus, you can fill it with packaged snacks. Sharable snacks, board games, and other group-worthy goods will make inroads with the new community.

Help build their collection of school pride: think koozies, t-shirts, stocking caps, pennants, coffee mugs, as well as jelly beans and other candy in the school colors. It’s perfect in anticipation of a big game or another school event, but it might be especially appreciated by students unable to return to school.

First aid kits, detergent pods, lint roller, floss, and soap. It’s maybe not exciting, but these kinds of care packages are always a winner—especially with undergrad students who aren’t used to planning for this stuff yet. Have fun with it by replacing run-of-the-mill soap with something a little sassier, or shipping laundry quarters in a fun coin purse.

International Care Packages

Studying abroad? These can get a little trickier—there are customs guidelines and documents when shipping international—but they mean so much!

Leave plenty of time if shipping to another country. Depending on where you’re sending, customs can cause delays and added expense. To avoid this, look up rules—usually, gifts under a certain amount avoid customs fees, and very gift-like things should get through without issue (hint: socks are going to get through easier than a bottle of vitamins).

Instead, try finding something local for an extra special delivery. Fortnum and Mason, for example, has numerous gift ideas to let someone know you’re thinking of them, and a variety of shipping options that include the UK and Europe.

Shipping to some destinations can be extremely delayed (or in some cases, stopped altogether). And remember, don’t send anything too big—students probably will have a hard enough time packing everything back up to come home.

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