10 Tips To Make Flying with Holiday Gifts Easier

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close-up of feet at airport gate sitting on suitcase with santa hat hanging from one shoe, with airplane in the background
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HOLIDAY TRAVEL DONE RIGHT

Air travel is always stressful. But it's even worse during the holidays when clothing and gifts must compete for space in your bags and planes are jammed to capacity. We spoke to travel writer Zach Mack to get some tips on how to be a good gift-giver if you have to fly this December.

open carry-on suitcase with small gifts
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TRAVEL LIGHT

Bulky winter clothes and big gifts mean packing extra bags, which can lead to checked-bag fees and weight surcharges. In order to save money, Mack suggests flying only with a handful of presents that won't require checking an extra bag. "I opt for small but meaningful gifts like personalized mugs or T-shirts from my travels as gifts for my family," Mack says.

broken christmas cookies on tray on wooden surface
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SKIP THE PERISHABLES

Everyone loves food, which makes giving and receiving home-baked goods and local foodstuffs so much fun. But it's hard enough to get artisanal cookies home in your car, let alone across country in an airplane. And don't even think of schlepping flowers, fresh fruit, or veggies in a carry-on; they will get damaged. Period. Unless it’s something easy to pack, like a bag of coffee beans, these kinds of gifts are best purchased at your destination — or not at all. A nice bottle of wine or spirits is still a nice gift, but can be a nightmare to travel with. Even though you may have to make an extra stop of two at your destination, it's best to shop for booze after you arrive to avoid having to check bags and worrying about breakage.

view over someone's shoulder of netflix loading on tablet screen
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SEND A SUBSCRIPTION

A gift subscription to a beauty box service, a favorite magazine, or online media — anything that arrives on a regular basis throughout the year — is another option, Mack says.

Subscriptions doesn't take up any space in your luggage and they won't get broken in transit. You don't have to spend a lot, either. A three-month gift subscription to Audible, for example, is just $45.

close-up of sales clerk wrapping holiday present
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LET THE STORE WRAP AND SHIP IT

You may want to bring a present when you fly to surprise someone at the airport, but you won’t get past airport security with any kind of gift-wrapped box. Save yourself the hassle, Mack says. Most major retailers, including Amazon, Macy’s, Target, and others offer their online customers a gift-wrap option for purchases that can be sent straight to the recipient. Amazon, for example, charges just $4 to $6 extra to have your item wrapped in blue paper with a yellow bow.

amazon prime box sitting on sidewalk
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USE AMAZON PRIME

You can easily spend in shipping the cost of a Prime membership if you’re sending a large number of presents or oversized parcels in the mail. But for $119, Amazon Prime gives you free shipping and expedited service all year long. Another Amazon advantage: With a little advance planning, you can time the shipping so your gifts are delivered in time for your visit.

couple securing hardshell suitcase
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PACK CAREFULLY

If you do plan to bring a small gift with you, be sure to pack it with the same care you would if you were mailing it. Fragile or valuable items should go in your carry-on; sturdier items can go in checked luggage, provided they meet your carrier's guidelines.

person at checkout counter paying with gift card
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GIFT CARDS NEVER FOLD

If you're a member of Costco or Sam’s Club, you can buy gift cards for apparel, movies, groceries, and more at a 15 to 20 percent discount. They fit easily into a carry-on, and you can slip them into a card with a thoughtful handwritten note after you arrive. Gift certificates also travel well.

smiling couple in winter clothes at beach
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SHARE AN EXPERIENCE

When you're a kid, presents are the only thing about the holiday. But when you get older, meaningful gifts can take many forms. "Sometimes I will forgo a material gift and cook for my friends or family, or take them out to a concert," Mack says. "These experiences are often more memorable than a trinket anyway." And if you’re not feeling crafty yourself, consider gifting an AirBnB experience to your loved one.

airport duty-free shop with christmas decorations
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SHOP AT THE AIRPORT

In a pinch, the airport gift shops can be a good place to find gifts, especially for children, Mack says. You'll pay a premium over what you'd find at a Best Buy or your favorite mall, it’s true. But if convenience trumps cost, you can find some surprising airport gifts. At Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, for instance, you can stock up on everything from Texas BBQ sauce to the latest bestsellers to hippie-chic fashion.

person locking checked bag
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LOCK YOUR CHECKED BAGS

Sad but true, many items disappear from checked baggage during gift-giving seasons. Adding something to your bags that makes it that much harder to rifle through them can help. "I use zip ties to close the zippers as extra security measure on my checked bags, this small extra step deters people from stealing any valuable inside," Mack advises. Another option would be to use a TSA-approved luggage lock, in particular one that has a search indicator so you know if you’re bags have been searched.

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