Traveler's how-to: Shipping souvenirs home from abroad

ByABC News
September 12, 2007, 4:34 AM

— -- For me, souvenir-collecting is an occupational hazard. An author of shoppers' guidebooks, I inevitably learn from my own mistakes. When it comes to bringing home the goods, I've made plenty of them.

In Mexico, I purchased an exquisite handmade textile too bulky for my suitcase. At the local post office, I paid eight dollars to ship it home in a boxno insurance, no tracking number.

Predictably, it never arrived.

Years after this disappointing experience, I still want to come home from an international trip with a meaningful memento. Here are a few tricks I have learned for getting treasureswhether Irish crystal, Indonesian woodcarving, or Icelandic sweatershome in one piece.

Plan ahead

Before you buy, consider how you will get it home. Even if you don't know yet what you will purchase, it pays to spend some pre-trip planning time on the websites of major international shippers like FedEx and UPS. You can estimate the time and cost of shipping a package, plus find in-country customer service numbers, drop-off locations, and country-specific restrictions.

Also peruse the U.S. Customs Service website for a list of prohibited items. You'd expect to find items such as alligator hides and raw beef on the list, but you may be surprised at others. Certain textiles and fine art, for example, may be subject to exorbitant duties. Customs also flags ceramics from specific regions and producers because of high lead content. Although customs allows a certain amount of wine and spirits, many shippers do not accept personal deliveries of alcoholic beverages.

Choose a carrier

Generally, I do not recommend using the national postal service of the country you're visiting, for the simple reason that if your goods do not arrive or arrive damaged, you will have little recourse to file and collect on a claim. Postal services vary wildly from country to country. The United Kingdom's Royal Mail Service, for example, carries a reputation for efficiency, while Italy's, well, does not. (When I lived near Milan, my postal carrier strapped loose mail pieces to the back of his moped with a frayed bungee cord, leaving a trail of exhaust fumes and fluttering envelopes.) If you stick to the major international shipping services, you'll pay more but get the most reliable service, plus you'll have clear recourse if something goes wrong.