15 Tips for Avoiding Common Care Package Disasters

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I am being compensated for this post as part of the Operation In Touch Brand Ambassador Program via MSB New Media. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

It’s no secret: I love care packages. At last count, I think I have more than 50 posts about care packages on Jo, My Gosh! (Can you say obsessive?) But really, care packages are probably the most fun part about deployment. I’ve received emails from all kinds of military spouses from all walks of life, and usually they’ll comment on two things: 1) how they began thinking about care packages when they found out about deployment and 2) how they really liked making them.

It doesn’t matter if you make packages worth of placement in a museum or if you put items in a box and call it a day. It’s about the connection between you and your loved one– and that seems to make everyone on both sides of the deployment feel much closer and much better.

Easy mistakes to avoid (and some I hadn't thought of)! Avoid care package disasters, milspouse, deployment

So when it dawned on me that I had never written about what could possibly go wrong and ruin your care package, I knew I had to write right away. Many of these tips spring from my experiences learning how to get it right through deployment, a few come from situations readers have emailed me about, and the remaining come from my overactive (but actually logical) imagination.


When it comes to customs forms, fill them out fully. Better documentation means less chance that your box will get opened and rifled through by customs.

Avoid the booze and other contraband

It’s really tempting to send the things that the post office and the military explicitly tell you not to send. Double-check on what is permissible to ship– it might be different depending on where your loved one is.

Separate edibles and chemicals

There’s no easier way to ruin the entire contents of a care package then to send cookies right next to scented candles or cleaning products. Those smells will leach into food. (Trust me– been there, done that.) To be safe, ship foods in one box and send another with all of the smelly stuff.

Send ahead

Depending on where your loved one is influences how long it will take the mail to get there. If you’re able (sometimes it’s different for different circumstances), send a test package to see how long it takes to get there. This is really helpful when it comes to getting care packages to their destination on or before a special date or holiday.

Pay attention around Christmas

Around November ever year, the USPS posts a chart of dates to demistify sending mail over the holidays for APO/FPO addresses. Holiday mail volume means that the mail might be delayed, so playing by the USPS’s mail-by chart is especially helpful. Keep an eye out for it on the USPS’ website as November approaches.

Package appropriately

Some boxes sent to APO/FPOs have a very, very long trip ahead of them. Make sure that you’ve packed your care package well. Close the box up, give it a shake. If you hear things sliding around, fit a little more packaging material in. Shredded paper, newspapers/magazines, and plastic bags work well (and are cheap filler!).

Protect the cookies!

Send cookies and other easily crushable items safely. I did this three main ways– vacuum sealing, packing them in empty cereal boxes, or leaving no room for movement inside the box. Other people swear by using empty Pringles tubes. When it comes down to it, your loved one (and their friends) will still still eat the smashed, tiny bits that get to them.

Think about the temperature

If you’re sending in the summer or to a hot place, avoid shipping chocolate. If you want to send sweets, go with ones with higher melting points.

Send Priority

If you’re shipping to an APO/FPO, for the love of your wallet, ship Priority mail. It is much cheaper because there isn’t a weight limit and there’s a discount to the shipping price when you send to a military address.

Save time

And while you’re at it, the USPS will also send you Priority packaging materials, allow you to fill out customs forms online, and will pick up your scheduled Priority packages. If you’ve got a ton to do and don’t want to forget about your loved one, this is a perfect way to save some time. (And avoid grumpy lines of people at the post office.)

Rethink those boudoir photos

Packages sometimes get lost or end up rerouted by accident. (One of my letters to John took six months to get to him… and it went to bases he’s never even been to.) My advice? Don’t send any photos (physical or digital) you wouldn’t want in someone else’s hands. Besides, in some places, there are regulations against sending those kinds of photos and it could end up as trouble for your recipient.

Label clearly

If you’re sending repackaged items or had to remove some packaging to get it all to fit in the box, make sure that you take the time to tape (or Sharpie) labels clearly on the packages.

Take precautions with iffy materials

I might be the only person in the world who is hyper vigilant about this one. When I sent John care packages, I was always very, very, super careful not to send anything that could be mistake for something else. For example, I had a pretty healthy aversion to sending anything that was white and powdered (like baby powder). In the nightmare scenario in my head, the bottle splits open, the baby powder starts leaking  through the cracks of the package, and the box gets torn apart for possible anthrax.

Double and triple bag it

You’re not supposed to send liquids. You’re really not supposed to send liquids. But people do– I did too. When I sent John this root beer pong package, I sent him six bottles of root beer. I was careful to tape down the caps, bag them all separately twice in gallon Ziploc bags. While I’ve never done this, I have heard of people lining the box with diapers when sending anything containing liquid so that the diapers soak up as much as they can in case of a leak. Kind of a brilliant idea, if you ask me.

Think it through

Especially if you’re loved one is in a place with few resources, make sure that you think about all of the things they might need to consume or use what you’re sending. For example, when I sent John birthday brownies and boxed icing, I also sent a few knives, forks, and napkins. If you’re sending electronics, make sure you’re also sending the right batteries or charging cords.

What precautions do you take to avoid a care package disaster?

A handguide/book written for military spouses, by military spouses.


Photo credit: U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza/Released, modified by Jo, My Gosh!

22 Responses

  1. Great tips as always Jo! :)

    I have made the chemicals and food mistake! :( I double and triple bagged everything… and the food still tasted like laundry dryer sheets! :( Bummer! LOL.

    One Christmas I sent my husband some different specialty salami… and I didn’t even think twice that some of them may be pork and that it wouldn’t be okay to send it to some Middle Eastern countries. It was actually the post office clerk who pointed it out. It made it to him, but I suppose something to think about for future deployments :P

  2. Great tips! My mother-in-law sent beef jerky overseas. When he received it, it was green. Heat and humidity while shipping is DEFINITELY something to keep in mind. Note: the cheaper the jerky, the better it’ll probably ship ;-)

  3. These tips are sooo helpful to a “care package beginner”. When I sent my sailor his birthday box, I used the things I was sending him to help package it. I wanted to send him the cake in a jar for his birthday. So I wrapped the jar in bubble wrap, then in a ziploc, then in a shirt I was sending him so it (hopefully) doesn’t break. It’s still en route to him, so hopefully it works!

  4. If you need to get an item shipped quickly, I found out that you can use the free Amazon Prime shipping to APOs. It takes longer than two days, but it’s free and fairly fast. I always send a full care package, but my family loves it because they can mail things to my husband without having to go to the post office or having to figure out customs forms.

    1. That’s a great tip! We did that a few times with John– can’t believe I forgot about the all-knowing, all-seeing Amazon! :-)

  5. Love these tips! I got the free medium-sized priority packages in the mail and I went ahead and wrote my return address in sharpie on ALL of them right away. It is a small thing but it is one less thing to worry about later. I do NOT write in his address in advance knowing that he could be relocated. I also grabbed a few customs forms so I can fill them out ahead of time.

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  7. Do you happen to know of a list of deployment bases that allow/don’t allow certain items?

    1. It’s mostly pork, porn and alcohol you have to worry about. It’s illegal to ship alcohol through the US postal system so that’s out anywhere. Porn and pork are banned in Muslim countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. There are also postal regulations against mailing flammable materials, aerosol cans, etc.

      1. I just sent a care package stuffed with tons of snacks and I didn’t stop to think of salami being banned. Will the box not get shipped to my fiancé? Do these get shipped back or do they toss the entire box??

    1. Presumably you have a friend or loved one deployed and have been given his or her APO address. If you don’t personally know anyone deployed but want to support the troops by sending a care package, there are some organizations that link you up with service members. One reputable organization I know of is Adopt a US Soldier (

  8. This is a small thing but I tape all sides of the flaps down, not just the center of the box. The tape helps keep out the sand, dirt and grit that can otherwise seep into care packages. It actually makes a big difference.

  9. I just sent a care package stuffed with tons of snacks and I didn’t stop to think of salami being banned. Will the box not get shipped to my fiancé? Do these get shipped back or do they toss the entire box??

    1. While I cannot say with 100% certainty on what will happen to your box I would personally say your fiance will still receive it. I send salami quite often (from Olympia Provisions) and personally vacuum seal it and have not had any problems. I would just steer clear in the future of sending any salami that is clearly labeled with ‘pork’ on the packaging :)

  10. This is my sons first long deployment. My first time to send a care package. Thank you so much for all this helpful information!!! It’s fabulous and I can’t help but be so grateful to you for all the things you have learned the hard way and put out there for people like me!!! First timers!!! I’m so excited I found your website!!!

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