Travel Mistakes Unwrapped: Lessons I Learned when Traveling with Holiday Gifts


I am one of those rare birds who actually enjoys wrapping presents. There’s strange sense of satisfaction that comes from laying out all of the items on a (nearly) completed holiday shopping list, then heading to the basement to pull out waaaay too many bins of sparkly paper, ribbon and tags. With a little help from Russel Stover and Nat King Cole, I emerge hours later from an eggnog-fueled ‘binge wrapping’ session, pleased with my festive little creations and eager to hand-deliver them when I head back home for the holidays. Yet, for the past three years, I find I am kicking myself on Christmas Eve as I am either re-buying, re-wrapping or re-shipping at least one or more confiscated, smashed or lost gift. As a result, I felt compelled to put together a handy list of tips to help you arrive at your destination with your gifts - and your holiday cheer - still intact. 

1. Check out the TSA rules on wrapped presents.

While the TSA does not prohibit passengers from carrying on wrapped presents, if a gift, like that beautiful set of steak knives, triggers an alarm, an agent will have to unwrap the gift to open it. Rule of thumb: If you choose to wrap before you pack, make sure it’s something obviously harmless, like clothes, toys or books.

"We don't enjoy unwrapping presents that aren't for us, but if an anomaly is detected inside, we'll have to unwrap it in order to determine what it is so we can clear it for travel," wrote the TSA on their blog.

2. Know which gifts won't fly.

I found this one out when a bottle of champagne I wrapped for my sister was confiscated – cheers! Ugh. While wine, bourbon, or bubbly make lovely gifts for friends and family members, they are banned from carry-ons—and extremely difficult to pack in a checked bag. Also, beware of taking any meats, cheeses, or fresh produce with you if you are traveling abroad, as these items are often heavily regulated or banned. Gaming systems and other large electronics are permitted, as long as they are placed in a separate bin in security, according to TSA. Toys that resemble weapons must be in checked baggage, however.

3. ‘Almost wrap’ your gifts.

This is a practice I now have down to a science: To 'almost wrap' your gifts: chose your gift wrap and ribbon, cut the wrapping paper to size for your box. Wrap the package with the paper and press down on the corners of the box, creating creases in the paper. Then, don’t tape it! Grab your matching ribbon and wrap it about 3 times around the center of the box and cut. Now you have the perfect size of pre-cut wrapping paper and ribbon for your gifts and you can fold it down on your crease lines to fit in your checked suitcase, vs folding in half or quarters and creating a bunch of unsightly creases. The best part - it will make the actual wrapping process a snap!

You could always just buy gift wrap when you get there, but we both know it won’t look as nice. Plus, buying even more gift wrap when you already have enough to fill the plane’s cargo hold could be a nauseating prospect for some (points thumbs toward self)

4. Gift Bags, Baby.

If your tape and scissor game is not on par, you might want to head to the holiday gift bag aisle. There are endless sizes and designs to choose from and they can all be jazzed up with fun tissue fillers and baubles. Instead of wrapping, just pack the gifts bags and tissue paper  flat in your luggage. This way, you don’t risk TSA ripping your presents open, and when you get to your destination, you just bag them up and slide under the tree.

5. Send gifts before you get there.

If you don’t mind paying extra shipping and you have many gifts going to one city, you can skip the whole gift-traveling headache by packing their wrapped gifts up in one box and shipping ahead of time. Make sure to leave extra time for delivery given the busy season.

If you are an e-shopper, many online retailers, including Macy’s and Amazon, offer gift-wrapping services for a small fee. So if you are all thumbs when it comes to wrapping packages, or you just want the freedom of traveling light, check the box for gift-wrapping, and keep your holiday cheer.

These are just a few tips from my ‘gift gaffes’ along the way, if you have any holiday traveling tips that would save a headache or two, share them in the comments below.



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Arlene B.
I receive lots of bubble wrap with books that I order online. Save these up for extra padding for more delicate gifts.
geradette B.
That's why I love amazon prime no fuss, ship it ahead of time and put it in a gift bag. Gift bags are the best thing ever!
Luanna H.
What a fantastic article! Info I will definitely remember for the future!! Thank you!
enizete l.
good article
Kathy M.
Sending gifts ahead cost way too much. My ex once sent two Dollar Store dog blankets & a 2 pack dog balls equaling $3, and it cost $30 to ship! I would have rather given them a check!!! If its one of my kids, I'd send cash or equivalent and a list so they could buy & wrap the gifts . Some may think this would be a huge inconvenience, but my family is cool with it.
Dianne G.
I either ship it or buy gift cards.
Connie H.
I find it is much easier to travel gift free in case my luggage is lost. I purchase gift cards to be sent by internet to the person. Most often I use Amazon because they have such a large variety of gifts to choose from or I have the gift sent directly to each person. This makes for worry free travel.
George C.
Helpful info for those of use who travel frequently by airplane
bonnie j.
I am an e-shopper and have found that shipping gifts is the easiest way to get them there . Just make sure you buy and ship early so no is left out on the holidays.
Julie M.
I have the tendency to ship gifts beforehand, especially after an experience my daughter had where they went through her bag, damaged her stuff, lost some items, and broke the zipper on her suitcase. The airport replaced her suitcase, but not the items they damaged or lost.