7 Tips From Packing To Package

133° at 1300 hours (1:00 p.m. for us civilians) is precisely why you don’t send chocolate to Iraq and Afghanistan in the summer. It is one of seven tips that by themselves, would not be a very exciting post. However together, they comprise this absolutely thrilling list.

1. Chocolate Season is November to April

Early afternoon temperature in Iraq

A soldier sent me this picture from Iraq one summer afternoon.

2. Getting to know the Customs

The United States Postal Service Customs Form PS 2976-A comes with two pages of instructions (front and back.) Here are my highlights:

a. Most of its obvious, like your name.

b. Military addresses are mostly acronyms and numbers that identify division, unit, etc, and make little sense in English. I fill out the form the exact same way the address looks when I receive it. The areas I left empty don’t apply to me and probably won’t apply to you either. Some areas are for the Post Office to fill in.

USPS Customs Form example for shipping to APO/FPO

Form # can be found on bottom left.

c. There are only four lines to describe contents. If you need more lines, you have to fill out another form. FYI- The USPS does not want vague entries like: food.

d. I never fill out the weight and no one has asked me to. Maybe it’s because I always use flat-rate boxes. (It’s one price no matter how heavy it is.) The postal clerk fills it in.

e. If the box can’t be delivered for some reason, you have options for it to be returned, abandoned, or given to someone else. I check the last box and write in: Chaplain. This way at least someone who needs a morale boost will be sure to get it.

You get these forms at the Post Office. Or you can order them online at the USPS site. They also have online shipping options that I’ve never done. If you have, let me know if you like it.

3. Flat-out crazy with flat-rate boxes 

Besides putting the address on the outside of the box, I fully address the envelope with my letter on the inside as well. This way, if the top panel gets damaged, I have a second chance for it to get to the servicemember. Of course, since I trust nothing, I also put a piece of my clear packing tape over the address. This is to foil rain or a rogue coffee spill from smearing the address. I also tape up every box edge when I send to the desert so no sand gets in.

Again, with these boxes, you pay one shipping price no matter how much it weighs. You can get them for free at the post office or have them delivered to you.

4. Bubble-trouble

When I buy bubble-wrap I hide it. My daughter Sofia finds it and pops it. This reduces its effectiveness. So to save money (and aggravation) I recycle packing material from other things or that friends give me. I also use tissue paper from gifts we get. And I try pack items in a way that protect others. For example, if I’m shipping socks, I’ll strategically place them around things that need cushioning. Most things I ship are not fragile but I still don’t want the contents shifting around.

5. Bleach-flavored potato chips

If you pack food and hygiene items in the same box, you risk the food absorbing the strong cleaning scents and tasting like soap or perhaps a pine forest.

6. T is for Thank You

Holidays and seasons easily inspire care package ideas. Random days on the calendar can be big blank spaces that lay there inspiring nothing. Of course, you don’t need a theme at all. But it’s fun and can add a few extra smiles. So I figured I’d share my current random day idea.

I have a soldier named Thomas and I used his first initial to choose the contents. Every snack and toy begins with the letter “T.” Sofia signed the note, “love Sofia and Mommy (Gina).” I guess she added my name so he doesn’t mistakenly think it’s from his mom.

Initial-theme care package

There’s also a table-top football game (maybe the trophy will go to the winner.) The only things I had to pack carefully were the taxi cookie and the T lollipop.

If his name began with another letter, I’d just rewrite the line to reflect that. Even the thank-you line can be written differently. Examples: A –All our good wishes, B- Blessings, J- Just to say thank-you. For significant others of a K, you could add Kisses and hugs.

7. Never and Always

Some items that seem safe in everyday life can become dangerous if shaken or subjected to extreme temperature and pressure changes. The US Postal Service says never to send these items internationally:

  • Aerosols
  • Air bags
  • Alcoholic Beverages
  • Ammunition
  • Cigarettes
  • Dry Ice
  • Explosives
  • Fresh Fruits & Vegetables
  • Gasoline
  • Lithium batteries
  • Nail Polish
  • Perfumes containing alcohol
  • Poison
  • Pool Chemicals

I’m pretty sure most people don’t have a burning desire to ship air bags but, better safe than sorry. Also, for our troops in the Middle East you can add pork products to that list. However, no matter what items you put in the box, there is something you always send with every package. The care part. That’s what’s needed most and matters most. With or without chocolate.

© Gina left the mall, 2013

25 thoughts on “7 Tips From Packing To Package

  1. On my first tour to Afghanistan “we” were really worried about being seen as an “occupying force” like the soviets so there was a force cap, so severe that half my 6 man team got sent home after less than a week on the ground. Because of the really low # of bodies, and to combat boredom/homesickness (we didn’t have power in our hooch the majority of the time I was there, this was pre-MWR internet and phone cafes) we volunteered for a lot of extra assignments during our down time. One was “pitching mail”. When the cargo planes came in with the mail and delivered the pallets to the mail room it had to be sorted into piles for the various units. The mail unit that was there was significantly downsized and there was no way they could handle the volume of mail on their own. Shortly before we left a unit of national guard combat engineers arrived from Louisiana and it wasn’t but a couple weeks after that before mail started showing up for them. One day one of the mail clerks that was driving the fork lift from the flight line started yelling for the NCOIC to come outside. There was a box that was a piece of certified mail that he refused to bring into the building. Because it was certified it had to be signed for my the soldier. the box was decomposing, soaked from the inside out in a fluid and it was swarmed by flies and was giving off a noxious odor. Apparently the Russian pilots who’d been contracted to fly mail in were back at the flight line throwing up from the smell of it in their plane on the flight in. Turned out that someone had sent their soldier some form of chicken, not realizing how long it was going to take to arrive, and how many hot tarmacs it was going to sit on before it got there.

    • LOL and WOW. You paint quite a picture and make an excellent case for putting Cajun Chicken on the postal danger list! 🙂 I know soldiers often share what they get from home, but usually “noxious” and “flies” are not part of the package. Thanks so much for reading and and sharing this story!

  2. Pingback: What Keeps Me Reading (Blogs) | The L. Palmer Chronicles

  3. I was wondering about mail. This is my first experience with sending notes to a soldier….is it regular postage or do I have to add additional?

  4. How do you package cookies? I mean more than one. Someone told me you couldn’t put them in cookie tins anymore. can you put them in a small cardboard box inside your bigger shipping box? or do they have to be in sealed baggies? if so how do I keep them from getting smashed?

    • Hi Samantha,
      I have a general answer and a cookie answer 🙂

      General: I haven’t heard about tin containers but, I’ve used plastic containers when sending fragile items. I’ve also used a small flat-rate box inside the larger one.

      Cookie: For cookie tips, I turn to my fellow blogger Wendy at The Monday Box. She has great recipes and creates some specifically to withstand the rigors of shipping to troops. She also adds packing tips. For example, for this week’s beautiful pb&j cookies she writes: “Packing tips: Double wrap pairs of cookies (with bottoms together) in plastic wrap, then place in an airtight container or zip lock bag.” This is the link for that post:


      I’m not sure if she does anything different for bigger batches of cookies. I will ask her to respond here (in case anyone else has the same question)

      • Samantha,
        There is a document on the Soldiers’ Angels Bakers (the most experienced baking and mailing experts I know) that shows their suggestion for packing
        ( https://www.facebook.com/groups/293200792508/ ) . I will be posting it on my blog soon because a picture is worth 1000 words. For freshness, airtight or as airtight as possible is key. Vacuum sealers are the best but plastic wrap and zip lock are reported to be effective. For arriving intact (as opposed to in crumbs), no movement in the box is key (no movement of the cookies AND no movement of any other goodies in the box). If you are sending something heavier than the cookies (like a can of fruit, for example) enclosing the wrapped cookies in a sturdy container (cookie tin, plastic ware, smaller box) is a good idea. A solid (not delicate) cookie or a brownie/blondie bar travels best. Please feel free to email me with any specific questions. If I can’t answer them, I can ask the Soldiers’ Angels Bakers (thanks to Gina introducing me to them!!). My email is wendysmondaybox [at] gmail [dot] com. I hope this helps. 🙂

        • Thank you guys so much!!! All of your advice and information is greatly appreciated!!! I have an awesome molasses cookie recipe that is kitchen counter tested not to go stale for up to 2 weeks open air and they hold their shape and don’t tend to crumble. It’s also REALLY easy to make tons of them. I’m hoping they’ll be a good one to use. I’m planning to send a small batch the first time and if they make it okay I’ll send more in larger quantities. Plus they taste like fall!!!! If it works I’ll share the recipe if you like!

          • Your molasses cookie sounds like a care package winner, Samantha! I would love the recipe if you would be kind enough to share it! Gina is under the misconception that she can’t bake. 🙂 Maybe these will change her mind. If not, I’ll bake some and send her a care package. 🙂

            • Well I haven’t had a chance to test them yet, but I’ll gladly share the recipe!

              Ingredients: (Makes roughly 3-4 dozen cookies.)
              3 cups All-Purpose Flour
              1 1/3 cups Sugar
              1 tsp. Baking Soda
              1 tsp. Baking Powder
              1 tsp. Cinnamon
              1/2 tsp. Nutmeg
              1/4 tsp. Ground Cloves
              1/8 tsp. Allspice
              1 cup Butter or Margarine (softened)
              1/4 cup Sweet Molasses
              2 Large Eggs

              Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl mix all of the dry ingredients thoroughly. Add all of the wet ingredients to the dry mix. Stir until everything is well blended (the cookie dough will have a slightly grainy texture). Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack or a large flat plate to cool.

              – I prefer to use a metal tablespoon rather than a plastic one. The dough comes out smoother and more consistently shaped.
              – I’ve found that a good, sharp snap of the wrist above the cookie sheet works better than tapping the spoon on it.
              – As with all baking times it really depends on the oven. I’m each of you knows your oven’s “personality”. Mine is old and temperamental. I practically have to sit on it so nothing burns. 😉

  5. i am going to try baking and mailing those dry dipping cookies Italians love, biscotti, they will be highly unlikely to spoil; they are twice baked and super dry, as you know if you’ve eaten them dipped into coffee or hot chocolate. good website with good tips…i have sent three food care packages over to my nephew stationed in Afganistan (2013), following suggestions from a lot of web sites like this. i included pack of cigarettes in the last two, and hope that your restricted list is not one fully enforced…i read some quote along the lines of “while the US Military discourages the use of tobacco products…” etc, implying that it’s not as much of a no-no as pork or nude photos…i hope not, as i would not want rest of my package to be tossed. i’m not crazy about his smoking, but he does, so i’m not against sending a pack here and there

    • Keith,
      Sorry for the delayed reply. I think biscotti always sounds like a good idea! (I’m pretty sure Wendy has a recipe for that at her site The Monday Box.) I’m sure your nephew is enjoying the care packages you have been sending. All of my troops tell me that receiving them is like Christmas morning! As for tobacco, I’ve sent cigars but only a few. I think if you send small amounts for clearly personal use, it’s okay. I also don’t think it’s in the same league with the nude photos or pork so… I think you’re safe. And I’m a non-smoker too but hey, if it makes them happy… Please thank your nephew for me for her is service and I appreciate all that your family does as well.

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