In the past six years of my life, I have been shipping care packages overseas — a lot of them. Between two deployments, being stationed overseas, a few adopted soldiers and a school supply project in Iraq, I have shipped well over 400 boxes. I have never had a box lost or horribly damaged. That’s a blessing.
When I ship boxes, I pack them myself and I use a system I’ve developed over the years. It’s not rocket science. You also learn with time to choose items you can easily fit into flat rate boxes. I’ve never even used a mail store, such as a UPS Store, until recently.
Packing care packages and other types of boxes is just a matter of planning and organizing.
My grandson, who lives in Germany, had his first birthday on August 2. Being a doting grandma, I bought him the coolest gift ever and mailed it three weeks before the big day. I paid nearly $20 in shipping at a shipping store, and let them package the wrapped present for me. It was oddly shaped and would not fit into a flat-rate box. I walked away feeling glad for not having to figure out the weird-shaped box for the gift.
My mistake. It didn’t make it until nearly six weeks later!
Apparently, the man who helped me put my box in the wrong pile at the store, and my priority package had regular postage put on it. I got a reimbursement and an apology, but my grandson didn’t get his box for his birthday.
Get to Packing!
Packing care packages and other types of boxes is just a matter of planning and organizing. The more planning you do, the smoother it goes and the more you reduce the chance of errors.
Tips on Shipping Overseas
The USPS offers free mailing supplies for those shipping to APO/FPO addresses. You can order this Military Pak by calling 1-800-610-8734. This kit will include flat rate boxes (a couple of different sizes), tape, labels and customs forms. You can also go to your local post office and pick up boxes as you need them.
Free boxes from the USPS are for flat-rate shipping only. This means no matter how light or how heavy your box is, the postage remains the same. When I shipped multiple boxes I would ship the heaviest in flat rate, but if I was shipping something really light (like potato chips for example) I would fill a regular box. When in doubt go the post office with an unsealed box and ask which is cheaper. If flat rate is a lot more, then be prepared to repack your contents into a regular box at the Post Office.
Keep a basket with items like regular shipping tape (the tape that comes in the USPS Pack is Priority only), return address labels, bubble wrap, newspaper, scissors, pens for filling out customs forms and pre-printed shipping labels (again, USPS labels are priority ail only).
Avoid pack-and-mail places. They can be very costly and you do not see what your package looks like when it leaves their facility.
Keep a copy of all of your customs forms. I personally do not pay to track boxes because once the package hits the coast and is loaded into a military vessel, the shipping information stops. You can only track to the coast. However, a customs form can be tracked and it doesn’t cost extra to do it.
If you are mailing something with a value over $100 always get it insured. Keep all of your receipts. I recommend even taking a picture of the contents of the box. Keep all of this until your box arrives safely.
Keep a small stash of disposable plastic containers and zip lock bags in your shipping kit. These are wonderful for packaging food items, but also items you may be afraid will leak.
Have your customs forms all filled out and ready to go when you get to the post office in order to avoid delays.
If you are shipping several boxes you can ask to borrow a cart or rolling bin from your post office in order to bring your boxes into the store.
When in doubt just ask the post office. I know some post offices are run better than others. I would drive a little out of my way to go to a store where I know the workers were really nice and very helpful.
Shipping boxes is an act of love for military families. It’s one way we overcome the barrier of distance to send items that will help and comfort our loved ones when they are deployed or stationed overseas. Pack your boxes with TLC and seal it with a kiss (and a prayer or two doesn’t hurt).
Adrienne May is a military spouse. Her husband is an Army soldier and now is serving in the Army National Guard. Together they have three children from preschool to pre-teen. Adrienne has a Bachelors Degree in Sociology & Non-Profit Management, and is actively involved in family readiness and disaster preparedness on the state level. She spends her free time advocating for military family programs, homecoming transition programs and adequate veterans benefits.
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Adrienne May maintains Military Family Central for Veterans United Home Loans, the nation's leading VA-approved lender. As a mom of three, from toddler to teenager, and wife to a National Guard solider, Adrienne has built up a massive library of resources, tips, articles and contributors for military families of all shapes, sizes and branches!