How to Bring Back Every Kind of Souvenir From a Trip

From wine to salami to an eight-foot armoire, here’s your packing plan for the trickiest types of travel mementos.

Amelia Mularz
Airbnb Magazine
7 min readFeb 28, 2019

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Illustrations by Lydia Ortiz

“I’m just going to warn you, there’s a giant salami in there.” I figured I’d tell the TSA agent I had meat in my carry-on mostly because the chunk of pork sculpted into the shape of a pig and resting in a wooden crate was pretty conspicuous. What she wouldn’t know about, as she let us pass, were the six bottles of wine I had rolled into T-shirts in my checked bag, or the happy dance I’d later do at baggage claim when I confirmed everything had made it unscathed. Between the swine and the Sauv Blanc, I had played a dangerous game of suitcase roulette, and though I won, I vowed then to investigate the proper way to pack every awkward souvenir.

I tapped all kinds of experts — interior designers who source furniture and antiques from their travels, wine specialists, a perfume purveyor, and a fourth-generation salumist — for their best transporting tips. Here’s the how-to on hauling your trickiest finds home.

Furniture

When a memento takes the shape of an eight-foot armoire, you’ve got your work cut out for you — but as Sheena Murphy, founder of interior design studio Nune, will tell you, furniture makes for the most exciting travel find. “I was just in Lisbon at a local flea market and saw a chair for 100 euros that was very similar to a vintage piece we bought for a project in New York for over $1,000,” she says. Larger, more established vendors can typically arrange shipping for you, she says; smaller dealers might not offer international shipping, but they should be able to point you in the direction of a pro who can help. Caitlin Rutkay of C.R. Interior Designs occasionally asks vendors abroad to hold her purchases until someone else buys pieces to ship back to the U.S., then has them grouped together to share the cost. You may have to wait a little longer to get your goods, she says, but ultimately you’ll save.

Antiques

For fragile finds, like a vase from a Parisian flea market or a chandelier from an antiques shop in New Orleans, outsourcing the task is worthwhile, says Rutkey, who goes with the pros not only because they’ll know the best way to pack items, but also because they’ll insure them. Her go-to is Gander & White, a company with offices in eight cities around the world (including New York, London, and Paris) that ships for galleries and auction houses in addition to individuals.

Art

When it comes to artwork (that isn’t exactly fine art), you may be able to carry it on the plane in a mailing tube. Tamara Kaye-Honey, an interior designer at House of Honey, says she did exactly that with a piece of art she bought at the Havana Biennial. “It was a very large-scale, mixed-media piece on canvas. I had it taken off the stretcher, found the largest poster tubes I could, and combined three of them. Then I made a little handle and carried it on the plane.” Fine art requires a pro shipper, who will help with documentation. (Proof of sale may be required to leave the country, especially for works by well-known artists.)

Wine

A little planning goes a long way, says Mika Bulmash, founder and CEO of Wine for the World, so if you’re headed to a wine region (we’re looking at you, Sonoma, Mendoza, Bordeaux), throw a few single-bottle protective bags in your suitcase. (Bulmash likes the ones from WineSkin and JetBag.) “They have light padding and a zip top or closure, so you get protection and assurance from spillage. Plus, they lie flat when not in use.” If you’re a hardcore oenophile, consider investing in a suitcase designed to transport up to 12 bottles, like the Wine Check design Bulmash uses.

If you do fall for a Pinot when unprepared (haven’t we all?), your best bet is to pack the wines in the middle of the suitcase and cushion them all around with bulky clothing, says Liz Caskey, who designs made-to-measure culinary and wine journeys in South America. “First, though, you need to roll each bottle separately in some clothing so they don’t clink together. Most breakage happens from horizontal impact.” Another insider tip: Hold off on popping the cork once you make it home. “Just as we get jet lag and our bodies need to recover from travel, so too does wine,” says Bulmash. “I let my wines rest for at least one week, and sometimes up to three.”

Spirits

As with wine, you’ll want to protect your bottle of booze by positioning it in the middle of the suitcase, says Emily Gosling, global brand ambassador for Goslings Rum. Her go-to packing method is bubble wrap, though she’ll use a sweater or beach towel in a pinch. “The key is to secure the bottle so it doesn’t roll around in the bag. I always place it on top of a layer of clothes and then cover it with another layer.”

Gosling also advises being aware of the amount of liquor you’re allowed to bring in your suitcases — and that depends on the alcohol content. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) limits each traveler to five liters of unopened spirits if the content is between 24 and 70 percent, and there’s no limit on liquids with a content that’s below 24 percent, such as wine. Anything with 70 percent alcohol content or higher is considered hazardous and not allowed on flights. TSA’s carry-on rule is space-based: as many mini bottles (each 3.4 ounces or less) that fit comfortably in a single, quart-size zipper bag.

Cured Meat

Bringing meat into the U.S. from abroad is generally not allowed, even if it’s cooked or cured, but it’s fair game for domestic trips — though there are some tricks to bringing it back in good condition. “Salami is shelf stable,” says Pete Seghesio, owner of Sonoma County’s Journeyman Meat Co. (where my meat mentioned previously came from). “Per the USDA, it can be kept without refrigeration for up to two years.” That said, salami will continue to dry and age, so the cooler you keep it while traveling, the better. And you should always pop it in the fridge as soon as you get home. “If it can be cryovaced prior to travel, that’s the best way to stop moisture loss,” Seghesio adds. “If your product is in natural casing, wrap it tightly in paper, then when you get home, dust it with rice flour and rewrap it in fresh paper for storage.”

Spices

Saffron from Spain or za’atar from Israel is an authentic memento, but pungent spices like these can taint an entire trip’s worth of clothing if you don’t pack them with care, says Caskey. “I once tossed a Ziploc bag of merken — Chile’s signature spice made from smoked ground chili and cilantro seeds — into my suitcase, and I had to wash everything when I arrived because all of my clothes smelled like a barbecue.” A better approach: Pack each spice in a plastic container with a lid that seals tight.

Cheese

Packing advice varies according to the type of cheese you’re bringing back, says Caskey. Soft ones, like Brie, Crottin, and Camembert, are a must to carry on because they’re highly squishable. Harder cheeses, like Parmesan, could go in your checked luggage, but it’s still best to bring anything perishable with you on the plane because there can be big temperature fluctuations in the hold of the plane. Cheese should be kept cool as long as possible, so it’s helpful to pack it in a cooler or thermal bag with blue ice, suggests Caskey. If your cheese is particularly stinky, do your seatmates a favor: Wrap it it in butcher paper and a zippered baggie before putting it in the cooling sack to contain the odor.

About the author: Amelia Mularz is an LA-based writer and editor who has worked for Vogue, New York magazine, The Knot, and HGTV Magazine and written for Travel + Leisure, National Geographic Traveler, Harper’s Bazaar, Refinery29, Los Angeles Magazine, Coveteur, and Fathom. She covers wellness and travel, almost always checks a bag, and never misses the beverage cart. Follow her on Instagram.

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