Think back to a previous vacation: You’re in Italy, and you’ve just bought a case of hand-blown Venetian wine glasses for your kitchen set. Maybe you’re on a flight back from Hawaii, and you’ve got a carved tiki statue that would make a perfect gift for dad. Or maybe it’s a just simple “I heart Paris” mug that you want to remind you of your visit to the Eiffel Tower.
But how do you get them all home safely? At some point in your jet-setting life, regardless of what the item is, you are going to be asking yourself this question. Long-haul (or even short-haul) flights can be hard on your fragile items. So that’s why we’ve written this comprehensive guide on how to pack fragile items in your checked luggage. No doubt it will be helpful for your future travel plans. As frequent travelers, we’ve successfully packed wine bottles, fragile glassware, and several dainty souvenirs in my checked luggage without ending up with broken items. Just follow the steps below and you’ll be packing your luggage as confidently as we do in no time!
How to Pack Fragile Items in Checked Luggage
- First, pack your most valuable and fragile things in your carry-on. You can control how your hand luggage is treated, but with checked luggage, it’s a shot in the dark. Just think of all the videos of badly handled luggage that have been circling online recently. Don’t take chances if it isn’t completely necessary.
- If the fragile object has an empty inside pocket, like in glasses or mugs, make sure to stuff it with soft items, like socks, underwear, bubble wrap, paper, or t-shirts.
- Before packing your fragile items, make sure to wrap them in a soft material. It helps if the material is elastic and that the layer is at least one inch thick. Some great choices include bubble wrap, synthetic clothes, and paper. You shouldn’t wrap your items too tightly, as this will increase the likelihood of the item breaking.
- If it’s a really fragile item, like a wine glass, make sure that it’s either in the original packaging or packed in some hard container, like cardboard, plastic, or a wooden box.
- Make sure to pack the fragile items at least two inches apart from each other and other hard objects.
- Pack your items as far as possible from the walls of your suitcase. I’d suggest at least five inches away from the sides.
- The suitcase should be packed densely, but not too dense. It should be full enough that nothing moves when your bag is tossed around by the luggage handlers. However, overpacking will only result in more pressure on your items and will increase the risk of your items breaking or becoming damaged.
- Avoid using packing cubes. They’re a great way to organize your clothing but are mostly useless for packing fragile items. You need to use your clothes to wrap your items and strategically placing them between other hard objects.
- When finished, hit the suitcase with your hands from all sides. Look for any suspicious sounds, such as glass hitting other items. If you hear any, determine the source and re-pack until you feel safe throwing your suitcase from at least five feet above the ground.
Tip: Choose a hardside suitcase, because they give additional protection for fragile items! Here’s a good hardside polycarbonate suitcase, which will provide plenty of protection: Samsonite Omni PC (Full review over here)
Read Next: 80 Packing Tips For International Travel
Packing Alcohol (Beer, Champagne, Stronger Beverages, and Wine) in Your Suitcase
This applies to all liquids, alcohol included: You may carry liquids in a maximum allowed 3.4 oz bottles in your carry-on. It does not apply to your checked luggage so you’re free to pack your wine bottles there. However, if you purchase bottles of alcohol in duty-free zones after you’ve gone through security, you can still take it on the plane, no matter the size of the container.
Another thing that you should note is that alcoholic beverages that are over 70% alcohol are not allowed either in checked or hand luggage. Also, if you’re packing drinks that are between 24% and 70% alcohol, note that each person can bring only a maximum of five liters. If the alcohol is below 24%, like beer, champagne, and wine, you’re good to go. Keep in mind that you should still check your destination counties’ rules for importing alcohol. Usually, there’s a country-specific limit.
Furthermore, you can only pack unopened bottles of alcohol in their original containers, both on the flight and checked. If you plan on buying a bottle after the security check and opening it during the flight, we’ve got some bad news for you. On the plane, you can only drink alcoholic beverages served by the flight crew. Finally, keep in mind that when it comes to packing, you should always pack your bottles in a sealable plastic bag such as Ziploc. You don’t want to receive your luggage with its contents soaked in alcohol!
Another safe way to pack alcohol bottles for traveling is to use Wineskin, which basically are sealable bubble wrap bags just in the right size to be used for wine bottles.
Packing Music Instruments in Your Suitcase
If you’re a musician, traveling with a musical instrument can be a real struggle. Especially if you’re traveling with the larger ones, like the cello, a guitar, or a contrabass. Smaller instruments like flutes, ukuleles, violins tend to be easier. You should begin by checking in with the airline for any specific rules, as each airline can have different directives. Most commonly, smaller instruments that fit the size restrictions of a carry-on can be taken with you onto the plane. On the other hand, larger instruments have to be either checked-in or you can purchase a separate airline seat for them. I’d advise you to always call the airline before buying tickets and inquire about specific musical instruments; they’ll usually help you to find the best solution.
When it comes to packing your musical instruments, you should follow these tips:
- Always purchase insurance for your checked musical instruments, as most professional-grade instruments are extremely expensive, and the last thing you want to do is pay to replace them. As with many things, the cost of insurance is minimal compared to the price of replacement.
- If you plan on checking in the larger instruments, make sure to pack them in a hard case, as this dramatically increases the chances of your instrument surviving the flight.
- If your musical instrument fits in a suitcase, make sure to pack it really well. That means stuffing the hollow parts with clothes, like socks and t-shirts, and wrap them in a thick layer of soft clothes to avoid any damage.
- Always detune string instruments before packing as the pressure changes could snap some strings.
- For guitars, violins, cellos, and similar instruments, consider packing a case humidifier to avoid any damage.
Packing Crockery and Glassware: Plates, Glass Bottles, Mugs, Wine Glasses, and Ceramics
Ideally, you want to transport glassware only in its original packaging as it’s already designed for shipping. If you have the original packaging, just pack some soft clothes around the box, and you’re good to go. However, if you don’t, then you should follow the steps below.
Plates. They break when you apply uneven pressure to them. To avoid this, you should find a suitable cardboard box to store them in. The box should be slightly larger than the diameter of the plates. Store each plate in the box by carefully wrapping it in several layers of paper such as newspaper. You can pack several dishes in the box and later store the box in your luggage, making sure to leave some space from walls and other hard objects.
Glass bottles, mugs, and ceramics. As with all glassware, paper works best for wrapping your fragile items. Try to fill the mug, bottle, or carafe with some paper and wrap it in three to five layers of paper from the outside. A box isn’t needed! Just pack some clothes around the item, try to leave at least two inches of distance between them, and you should be good to go.
Wine glasses. If you don’t have the original packaging, wine glasses can be tough to transport home safely. Don’t fear though, because it’s still possible; you just need to find a lot of wrapping paper or newspapers and a suitable box.
- First, start by sourcing a cardboard box that’s slightly larger than the glasses. The box should be able to fit all glasses with at least one inch of distance between them and two inches from the walls of the box.
- Start by covering the bottom and the sides of the box with two inches of wrinkled paper.
- Next, wrinkle some wrapping paper around the stems of the glasses, and in the inside of the glasses, too. When finished, your wine glass should look like a cylinder.
- Wrap the cylinder-shaped glass in several layers of paper and store your glasses in the box.
- When finished, close the cardboard box and store it in the suitcase with at least three inches of clothes packed around it.
Packing Sunglasses in Your Suitcase Without a Case
We’ve found the best way of packing sunglasses in your suitcase without a case is to put them in a clean sock. The thicker the better. Everyone has a spare clean sock, so it’s easily accessible, and it will protect your sunglasses from getting scratched. Just make sure to avoid putting them near something hard that could damage them or near the walls of the suitcase.
Do Fragile Stickers Help?
In my opinion, fragile stickers don’t do much. Of course, it’s better than nothing, but we think that your efforts would be better spent carefully packaging your items and purchasing insurance for your fragile items. For instance, a baggage handler could miss the sticker or might ignore it completely.
Rather than just sharing my own thoughts, here’s what an airport security staff member has to say about fragile stickers:
“Applying fragile stickers will improve awareness but not guarantee the safety of your property. Additional insurance is very recommended should the case, or valued contents are damaged in transit.”
The Best Materials for Packing Fragile Items
When it comes to packing materials, it really depends on the situation. When traveling, most of the time you’re limited on the materials that you can choose, so you have to be creative about what you choose. If the material is soft and flexible, you should be good to go.
Bubble wrap. From my own experience, this is the best material for packaging wine, beer, champagne, and other alcoholic beverages. We like to use it as an extra precaution because we don’t want the drink to spill all over my baggage. When we know I’ll be returning with a few bottles of wine, we usually bring a sheet of bubble wrap. If you forget to bring some with you, it’s readily available to find in bookstores, DIY stores, stores like Home Depot.
Clothes. They’re the next best thing after bubble wrap and don’t result in extra space and weight. Usually, synthetics work better as they’re elastic and soft by nature.
Containers and boxes. For really fragile items, like wine glasses, dishes, and plates, a cardboard or wooden box works excellent. Usually, they’re available in bookstores, DIY stores, and local post offices.
Ziploc bags. If you’re packing liquids, a Ziploc bag is a must to protect against any spillages.
Paper. This works best for packing wine glasses, mugs, dishes, other glassware, and ceramics.
Are Mugs, Mirrors, Glass Items, and Other Fragile Items Allowed in Carry-Ons?
You might find that you’ve run out of room in your luggage and want to bring some smaller items in your carry-on. TSA has covered which items you’re allowed to bring on a plane here. They’ve made it even easier to find your specific item by including a search bar! Coffee mugs, mirrors, glass items, and other similarly fragile items are allowed onto the airplane. However, you have to make sure that things like coffee thermoses, glass vases, and other items are completely empty before putting them into your bag. Previously opened items that contain liquids are still not allowed on planes and won’t be permitted for the foreseeable future!
Where to Pack Fragile Items: Carry-On or Checked Luggage?
As a rule of thumb, you should always pack your valuables and fragile items in your carry-on. Usually, airlines have it included in their policies that they don’t cover the damages or theft of valuables in checked luggage. So, for your fragile items, it’s best to pack your perfumes, crystal statues, porcelain sets, and expensive crystal glassware in your carry-on. Even if the item isn’t that valuable, the airlines have the right to confiscate your possessions without any reimbursements if it’s fragile and could potentially be a hazard. Furthermore, you can’t bring any liquids in bottles that are larger than 3.4 oz and sharp objects in your carry-on. If your item does not fit the carry-on size requirements and is valuable, it’s best to check it in and purchase insurance or transport it via other mailing services, like DHL.
To sum up, here are the most popular fragile items sorted by how you should transport them:
- Valuable, fragile items within the carry-on size limit.
- Small, delicate things that you don’t want to break.
- Small musical instruments.
- Mini liquor bottles (Nips.)
- Wine, beer, champagne, and other alcoholic beverage bottles.
- Inexpensive fragile items, like mugs, glassware, wine glasses, dishes, ceramics (should be carefully packaged.)
- Large music instruments in hard-shell cases (should be insured.)
- Large valuable, fragile items (should be insured.)
Let’s take a moment to summarize what we’ve learned!
When it comes to packing fragile items:
- Always put your valuable, most fragile items in your carry-on!
- Keep them wrapped in soft materials and stuffed with things like socks, underwear, or bubble wrap.
- All items should be at least two inches apart from each other and five inches from the sides of your luggage.
- Don’t overpack and avoid packing cubes!
- Try jiggling your suitcase, hitting the sides with your hands to ensure your fragile items aren’t hitting other items.
Consider putting your liquor in your luggage rather than your carry-on. It’s easier to just get your drinks from the flight crew on the plane. If you do have to bring your liquor in your carry-on, make sure you’re following the rules and regulations.
If you’re packing musical instruments:
- Buy insurance for your checked musical instruments.
- Always use the case that your instrument comes in as it’s the best way to keep it safe.
- Detune your string instruments and use a case humidifier!
If you’re planning on packing crockery and glassware:
- Try to use the original packaging.
- Fill hollow things like glasses and wrap them in five layers of paper.
- Stuff your wine glasses and wrap them, creating a cylinder-like shape.
- Keep three inches of space around your box inside of your suitcase and fill the empty space with clothes.
Keep in mind that using things like fragile stickers is pretty useless so don’t fret over purchasing them for your items. Always use the best materials that you can get your hands on when packing. Bubble wrap, newspaper, clothes, boxes, and Ziplock bags are your best options! Following tips like these will ensure that you have a problem-free flight and arrive with your fragile items still intact.