sending heavy things to various places

This post is a guide to the various stuff-moving methods you will find in different countries, to try and help you (and me) avoid an airport fiasco like mine during Spring Break.

Good luck.

A Guide to Moving Things

If you like tempting the airline gods like I do and show up to airports way overweight on a regular basis, I have found a useful guide to baggage quotas on most international airlines. (Some budget airlines have more wiggle room; for instance, RyanAir and EasyJet usually look the other way for carry-on luggage.) The penalties for overweight or extra luggage can range from doable to “Oh my EFFING GOD” (like my Air France escapade in London). Depending on the country and on whether the flight’s full, you might be able to charm the check-in clerk enough to let one slip by, but don’t count on it.

Things to note about E.U. baggage restrictions:
– for flights within the E.U., you can’t have more than 20kg of check-in luggage with you.
– BUT if you have a connecting flight and your destination is outside of the E.U., most airlines apply their baggage requirements for your destination country.
For example, I’m flying from Paris to San Francisco with Aer Lingus. Since I’ve got a layover in Dublin it’s actually two flights: CDG to DUB and DUB to SFO. However, even if the first flight is within the E.U., it’s only the U.S. requirements that I need to worry about.

Things to note about U.S. baggage restrictions:
– They’re changing all the time, so check the U.S. Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) for the latest news.
But to be on the safe side…
Don’t bring sharp things (like nail clippers) or liquids over 3 oz. in your carry-on.
– Bring some extra quart-size ziploc bags in your carry-on. (You’re only allowed to put stuff in one, but other passengers often have need of them…)
– And, above all, don’t have any sketchy documents with you, like in the case of the unfortunate co-author of Freakonomics.

For intercontinental trains like the EuroStar, “you can bring as much as you can carry” seems to be their de facto baggage policy (probably because they’re not worried about fuel charges like planes and buses are). Their passport control is a little stricter, esp. with London to Paris trains, but at least no one said anything when I hauled my ton-of-bricks handbag and two huge suitcases (and my take-out lunch) onto the x-ray conveyor belt at Waterloo station.

There’s this distinctly Filipino thing called the balikbayan box (in Tagalog, balikbayan means “to return to the home country”), which overseas Filipino workers usually stuff with things like canned food and secondhand clothing and toys to ship back to their families in the Philippines. It takes a couple of months because it’s actually shipped on a ship, but I had to send two of those puppies (two boxes and each was able to fit me inside) from Japan to the U.S., and it only cost about $200.

There are usually no weight restrictions for this, so you can stuff as much as you can inside the cardboard box’s dimensions without penalty. However, access to a balikbayan box company depends on where you are– places with large Filipino communities (the northeastern U.S., California, Japan, United Arab Emirates) tend to have more of them, obviously. (Getting one that goes from France to the U.S. might be more of a problem.)

Using a country’s national postal service is usually a huge pain in the ass, although it may be worth the extra security and time savings if you’ve got the money (most of the CDs I shipped from Japan had broken cases by the time I got them. And Jesus it took two months). It also might be cheaper than the standard package deliverers like FedEx. According to the French national postal service, it costs about 200-300 euro to send a 30kg/66lb package from Paris to the U.S. For FedEx, it’s about $400-500.

From years of packing experience, I’ve gotten used to triple-taping my boxes at every edge and across, even at the corners. String is a pain and duct tape leaves a mess, so I use clear cellophane tape, and tons of it. The real way to go now is that automatic cellophane-wrapping kiosk they have at airports; for a few euro it mummy-wraps your bags and stuff in tight, clear plastic, and all you have to do is rip through it like a birthday present once you get back home. (Unfortunately, its impact on the environment is probably enormous.)

For luggage, my family no longer uses locks because American airport security will just rip through ’em. We don’t use hard-top luggage either because it’s difficult to lug around (plus I bruise easily). I have rectangular roller bags that fit nicely into each other, and either have a distinctive colored string tied to them or are an interesting color scheme. I also like the fact that their zippers are sturdy– good zippers are more important than you think.

One of the best things you can do for your luggage security-wise is to get big bags in an annoyingly memorable color or pattern. It helps the baggage handlers remember it (thus NOT lose it), and deters baggage-stealers because it’s just so painfully obvious if they nick it.

When you’re moving yourSELF, it goes without saying to dress comfortably for a journey of any length. But there’s more to that if you want to be comfortable through security checks and the temperature fluctuations of an airplane cabin.
Clothing – Unless you like freezing your ass off, don’t wear shorts or a miniskirt for a plane. Wear or carry at least one extra layer. It doesn’t have to be heavy, but it gets cold in the stratosphere, and those airplane blankets aren’t terribly warm.
Accessories – Keep them to a minimum. If you can’t take it all off in five seconds, don’t wear it all. Also, glasses and earrings usually don’t set off the metal detector, but buckles on your belt, boots or coat can cause problems.
ShoesEasily removable shoes are a must in U.S. airports. Keep them high-comfort and low-maintenance. Loosely tied/velcroed kicks (read: sturdy sneakers) or slip-ons work fine; stilettos with fancy buckle straps are a nightmare. I tend to use flip-flops for short-haul flights in the summer, though some people cringe at the thought of walking around barefoot in an airport. But please, no Crocs unless you’re in pajamas or scrubs– do you really want to get taken for a tourist THAT badly?

Have fun packing! The earlier the better, so don’t say I didn’t warn you…


In other news, I’ve been going to the local library a lot for Internet instead of savoring my last month in Paris, so you may be hearing a lot more from me soon…


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This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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