Tag Archives: Packing tips

Travel Tips: How to Safely Pack Mezcal, Pottery for the Trip Home

It’s been some years since I wrote about how I pack mezcal bottles, pottery and other fragile artisan crafts to take back to the USA after my stay in Oaxaca. For the most part, I can claim 99.5% success that all will arrive undamaged. Only once, did a plate arrive broken! Basically, what I do is consider my largest piece of luggage to be a shipping container. You CANNOT carry-on mezcal bottles. They have to be transported in checked bags!

Over the years, I have carried three to four bottles of mezcal back to the US with each return visit. I declare three bottles. Each customs officer will be different and may or may not ask you if you are bringing any liquor with you. I always offer that I’m bringing back three bottles, even if they don’t ask specifically. My packing success has included Uriarte Talavera dinnerware from Puebla, ceramic face planters by Don Jose Garcia Antonio from Ocotlan, black pottery from San Bartolo Coyotepec, carved wood and painted figures (alebrijes) from Jacobo and Maria Angeles. Of course, I don’t worry about textiles or palm baskets.

How To SAFELY Pack Mezcal and Pottery, and other Fragile Crafts:

  • Bring or find bubble wrap and packing tape. Bubble wrap is called burbuja de plastico or plastic bubbles! You can buy this at any DHL, FedEx or UPS shop in downtown Oaxaca. Office Depot, Walmart, and Soriana also stock this. There is a comprehensive shipping supplies store at the corner of Independencia and Pino Suarez.
  • Buy at least TWO reed-woven, rigid waste baskets from any mercado. I prefer those with straight sides. These are carrizo (river reed) woven when green in the village of San Juan Guelavia. You can easily find these at the Sunday Tlacolula market, and in and around the Benito Juarez market, or the Sanchez Pascuas or La Merced markets in downtown Oaxaca. Next, find a woven flat tray that fits the opening diameter of the wastebasket. This will serve as your cover. I can fit three mezcal bottles in one of these wastebaskets. The other, I pack with pottery.
  • Of course, each bottle and fragile item must be encased in bubble wrap! When an item has arms, legs, necks, tails, remove what you can and wrap separately. Be sure to fill in any gaps/open spaces with crumbled newspaper or tissue. For the mezcal bottle necks, I wrap this several times to be certain it is the same thickness as the bottle body.
  • Using a permanent market, write what’s inside on the packing tape in case you forget!
  • Fit your bottles into the basket. If there are any gaps, stuff them with socks, underwear, clothing. Put the top on. Tape the top to the basket, wrapping the tape around several times so it is secure. Nothing inside the basket can move. The fit has to be tight! I also keep on hand, empty water bottles and paper boxes. I crush the bottles and cut the boxes, put them inside the basket to ensure a tight fit.
  • Position the basket(s) inside your luggage and surround it with clothes, shoes, chocolate, coffee, and other unbreakables. Everything must be a tight fit. Nothing can move or you risk breakage.
  • Don’t be in a hurry to unwrap the packages after you get home. Fragile is as fragile does.

Note: It’s cheaper to pay for an extra piece of luggage to go on the airplane than it is to send a package via DHL, FedEx or UPS. NEVER use Estafeta, Castores, or other Mexican shippers. Boxes are inspected (more like, dismantled) at the border for customs purposes resulting in loss and broken pieces. Mostly because they unwrap everything to inspect and don’t repack well. I’ve had this experience and won’t repeat it.

There you have it.

I’m returning to the USA from Oaxaca in a few days. Before I get to Taos, I’m traveling first to Nashville to visit my goddaughter Kathryn, who just moved there from Durham to take a job at Vanderbilt. I’m excited to see her. Then, in early April, back to Albuquerque to visit with hijo and nuera for a few days before returning to Northern New Mexico. Along the way, I won’t touch what is inside the shipping container aka large piece of luggage. Everything I need to get to will be in the second, smaller bag.

Happy to answer any questions you have! Write me here.

When you get home and unload, these baskets are useful for containing yarn, thread, knitting, weaving, and sewing supplies; pantry storage for potatoes and onions; wastebaskets; holding hand weights; linen closet storage for wash cloths, sundries and toiletries. Plus, they are made from natural materials, so can be completely recycled.

Travel Packing Tips 101: Using Cubes & Baskets

This afternoon I’m boarding an international flight for the Adriatic Coast of Europe, where I’ll be traveling with Hettie on a tour for two weeks — my first tour ever! (We shall see how it goes.)

In my move toward minimalism, I’m attempting to pack lighter (for me) and that means taking one medium sized 26″ suitcase. Yes, it will be checked.

A friend suggested that I share my packing tips with you. I welcome your additions to the suggestions offered below.

After extensive research, I ordered a set of Diniwell packing cubes. A Great way to organize your stuff. These have industrial strength zippers and are deeper than most. The mesh top allows you to see what’s inside.

(Note: For years, I have used clear plastic zipper bags recycled for this purpose after buying sheets, pillows, mattress covers sold in them. Over time, they have torn and are no longer useful. I always liked how I could see what I packed, so I wanted to replace this system with something similar.)

I take a sturdy Oaxaca handwoven basket and stuff it with boots, shoes or toiletries. I use it on the return trip to protect anything fragile I might buy. (On this trip, I intend to discard one pair of shoes at the end.) The bubble wrap and packing tape are in the outside zipper pouch of my TravelPro suitcase, which is now 10+ years old and still durable.

Handwritten packing list — I need to get this on a spreadsheet!

My carry on for this trip will not be a rollaboard. And, I’m not taking a computer, opting for an iPad with keyboard instead. I’ve decided on using my favorite Oaxaca woven shopping bag as carry-on container, along with my Topo duffle-style backpack and my Picuadro cross-body travel bag — it’s tough and sturdy. The money will be in a pouch tucked under my shirt. I have used the backpack comfortably throughout Mexico, India, Spain and Japan.

Cross-body bag will tuck inside woven bag for boarding = 2 carry-ons

Packing List: Clothing and Shoes

  • 1 pair blue jeans (Raleigh Denim is my preferred brand)
  • 1 pair Raleigh Denim bermuda shorts
  • 1 jean jacket (bought from Target)
  • 1 dress (my Zayzelle design made with breathable Japanese cotton)
  • 4 cotton/linen shirts
  • 4 pair underpants
  • 1 bra to pack, 1 to wear — one black, one white
  • 1 nightgown
  • 5 pairs socks, 1 wool and 4 cotton
  • 3 scarves to vary the look
  • bathing suit
  • sun hat
  • boots for urban hiking (Caterpillar brand), sandals (Wolky), flip flops, black flats (Alegria) — foot comfort is essential
Packing cubes stack neatly, making it easy to organize and see what you need

To Wear and Carry on Board

  • Comfy cotton Japanese loose-fitting worker pants
  • Short-sleeve cotton t-shirt and long-sleeve cotton t-shirt for sleeping
  • Linen long-sleeve jacket
  • REI long-sleeve polypropylene zipper jacket in case it gets cold
  • Wool quechquemitl (short poncho)
  • Wool socks
  • Cotton or wool scarf
  • Jewelry pouch — NO BLING

To Carry on for Overnight Travel

  • Neck support pillow (Cozzy brand) — I researched extensively, ordered and returned others, and found this one to be the most comfortable
  • Toiletries/make-up, toothbrush and toothpaste, face wipes
  • Essential medications
  • Ear plugs and eye mask
  • Snacks — power bars, 2 packages Ramen noodles, ginger candy
  • Printed itinerary with record locators, flights, lodging contacts
  • Passport and copies
  • Small travel notebook (Moleskine) and pens
Nylon hanging toiletries bag to lighten load!

Technology: Be sure everything is fully charged before you leave home

  • Fitbit battery
  • iPad and charger
  • Auxiliary power pack and charger
  • iPhone and charger
  • Earbuds
  • Adapter to use in-country
  • USB plugs
  • Power strip, small

Miscellaneous to Pack

  • Umbrella
  • Laundry soap, Tide stick, sewing kit
  • Scissors, nail clips, emory board
  • Shampoo, rinse, creams, lotions
  • Q-tips
  • 2 clothespins for drapes that don’t shut
  • Sunscreen
  • Moleskin padding
  • Hand-sanitizer
The contraption is a hanging clothes dryer — from Japan, of course!

Other ideas

  • Jenny says: Bring clear plastic zipper bags
  • Joan says: Never check a bag — bring wash and wear
  • Helene says: leave plenty of time to get through security to avoid stress
  • Madelyn says: Bring bubble wrap and tape
  • Sandi says: Cut a water bottle in 2 pieces, 1/3 and 2/3; wrap your treasure in toilet paper, insert inside bottle, push both pieces together; great for protecting breakables
  • Becky says: Write a packing advice article

What are your tips? For those of you who can travel for 2 to 3 weeks with a carry-on, please share how you do it!

Please add your suggestions to the Comments!

Dubrovnik, Croatia, coastline

Travel and Time, Time Travel and Packing for Oaxaca

This is my travel to Oaxaca day!

It’s 6:45 a.m. in Pittsboro, North Carolina, and I have the luxury of an 11:15 a.m. flight from RDU to IAH, then a 5 hour layover until a 6 p.m. flight that will deposit me in my beloved Oaxaca at 8:22 p.m. tonight. During the layover, I have my appointment with the federal government to complete the process for my Global Entry application to streamline reentry to the U.S. for international travel.  I’ll write more about that after the fact.

Packing Tip: Use a rigid basket for protection

It is said that time was invented by the Mayans.  Their “cousins” the Zapotecs have their own observatory on the top of Monte Alban — now an archeological site — dedicated to the calculation of time.  I have had a discussion this week with our B&B hosts in Teotitlan del Valle about whether our workshop schedule will be in “Oaxaca time” or “puebla time.”  Oaxaca city, 30 minutes away, goes on verano (daylight savings time).  Time in the village never changes. Thus, one hour separates the village from the city, and we enter into a constant zone of confusion during the summer months — what time is it?  And if one is late, this becomes a perfect reason.

As I travel through time and space today, I have packed in preparation for my return trip.  I have taken photos of my packing method so you can see for yourself.  This is the perfect way to keep fragile items from breaking.

1.   I bought the BIG suitcase in 1994 for my trip to China.  I use it as my personal shipping container!

The REALLY BIG suitcase

2.  Inside is a large, rigid bamboo basket and a bag of packing materials that I will use to protect anything fragile that I may buy and bring home.

3.  I’ve got my big sun hat — you’ll see that I have stuff packing material into the crown so it won’t get squished.

4.  Shoes, gifts, and special orders from friends make-up most of the rest of what’s in here along with materials for our upcoming photo workshop.

5.  I’m in at just under 50 lbs.  — 49.4 to be exact!

Suitcase as packing crate!

The big deal is that when I pack this way and have the rigid basket, I don’t have to worry about buying shipping materials or paying $100+ for shipping costs.  I’ve only had one broken item in all the years I’ve been going back and forth!

Buen viaje a todos!

Oaxaca Summer Packing List

Alert: Rainy Season!  We’re getting lots of rain in Oaxaca now.  Great for planting season but inconvenient for hot-footing it around town, unless you duck in for an afternoon mezcal, beer or coffee mocha 🙂  Come prepared.

A grueling travel day is coming to a close. As much as I plan ahead and start way in advance on the packing ordeal, somehow, I can’t seem to complete it before the 11th hour, and that’s exactly when we went to bed (you notice I didn’t say “to sleep”). The alarm was set for 2 a.m. so we could leave the house at 3 a.m. to arrive at the airport by 4 a.m. to be there with enough breathing space for the 2-hour requirement to show up for the international flight. All in all, everything came off without a hitch, including primo space in the park’n ride lot. Continental does not charge for baggage as of this writing. I took the largest suitcase I own and crammed it full of recycled good clothing to give to villagers, as well as the essentials for a Oaxaca Summer Vacation. It’s 84 degrees, clear skies with great pillows of cumulus clouds, breezy and hot. Definitely high desert sunglasses and sunscreen weather — good for dressing light and comfortable. Evenings definitely cool down to high 50’s-low 60’s; a sweater and shawl are definitely needed.

Here’s what’s inside the luggage:

1 pair black rayon slacks, washable and matching black tank top (great for dressier evenings)

1 black cotton jacket, washable

1 sweater (or sweatshirt)

1 pair microfiber hiking pants

1 linen spaghetti strap dress

2 linen skirts with matching long sleeve jackets (for sun protection)

3 tank tops

Hiking boots and 4 pairs of hiking socks

Black mary janes with funky socks (3 pairs)

Straw hat with 4 inch brim

Underwear for 4 days

Nylon raincoat with hood (weighing no more than 6 ounces)

We’re not going to the beach this trip, so I didn’t pack a bathing suit.

Sundries and Toiletries: Tylenol, Purell (to carry at all times), travel size shampoo, lip gloss, sunscreen (SPF 55), deodorant, echineacea, sunglasses, toothbrush, toothpaste, moleskin, cortisone cream, bandaids, antibiotic topical gel (you never know when you might need this), and prescription medication (be sure to get these filled several days in advance).

Tip: Call your cell phone service provider to get extended coverage for Mexico. It’s well worth being able to stay in touch with spouse or traveling companions should you decide to split up and meet later! Calls are costing us 65 cents per minute, so we’re careful.

I pack heavy because I cram in lots of good used clothing (careful not to exceed the 50 lb. limit) that I bring to give away to families in need, and then that frees up space for the trip home when I have room for any special purchases. I also pack plenty of bubble wrap (saves expense on this end) and a roll of packing tape. I usually will purchase a large handwoven basket at the local market, put it inside my suitcase, and then put the bubble-wrapped fragile piece of art inside it for extra protection. For the cover, I use a woven round tray. Everything I have packed this way in the past has arrived home in one piece without the expense of paying for special packing and shipping.