Vases, glassware: Stuff bubble wrap inside hollow glass or ceramic objects before bundling them up.
Jewelry: Follow the advice of Charles Bieber, registrar of Sotheby's jewelry department: Put each piece in its own resealable plastic bag, then place in a box filled with tissue paper.
Porcelain dolls, china: Wrap each item in acid-free tissue paper (sold at art-supply stores), which won't cause discoloration, says Irving Chais, owner of the New York Doll Hospital, a 107-year-old doll-repair firm in New York City. Surround with bubble wrap.
Light fixtures: Remove bulbs and dangling parts, if possible; wrap with tissue paper. Protect entire fixture with bubble wrap.
How to Pack
Choose a sturdy container. The best choice is corrugated cardboard. Made with ridges of air cushions, it is stronger and absorbs shocks better than plain cardboard. Reusing a box is fine; just make sure that labels and printing are removed or thoroughly crossed out.
Make it cushy. Place several inches of loose fill, such as eco-friendly packing peanuts, around the gift once it's inside the shipping box. The material absorbs vibration and prevents shifting. For very delicate goods, FedEx suggests double-boxing: Tuck the cushioned gift snugly in a box, seal with tape, then place in a larger box surrounded by loose fill. Seal again. Now shake it. Is there anything moving? If so, add more fill.
How to Ship
Consider insurance. After the basic no-cost coverage (usually the first $100), the standard charge for insuring with UPS, FedEx, and DHL is 55 cents to $1.50 for every $100. Check your home owners' insurance policy and deductible to see if damage to an item in transit will be covered. And there's no reason to shy away from the U.S. Postal Service, says Bieber. "Everyone who touches a box that's registered and insured scans it," he says, meaning there's a chain of people who are accountable for the package.
2 of 3Annie Schlechter
Oversized or Oddly Shaped Items
How to Wrap
Stringed instruments: Send one in its own hard-shell case, with plenty of balled-up packing paper inside to add support. Loosen the strings to relieve any pressure on the neck.
Large mirrors: Apply masking tape in a grid pattern across the surface of the glass to guard against cracking before wrapping in bubble wrap or sheets of foam.
Snowboards and surfboards: Attach pieces of cardboard to the top and the bottom of the board. "Tape the cardboard to itself, not the board, or you could damage the surface," says Shawn Kelly of Burton Snowboards, in New York City. Then protect the gear with padding paper, which has a honeycomb texture.
How to Pack
Snag a box. Companies that ship large and unusually shaped items often sell custom-made boxes for those jobs. Inquire at a packing-supply store or a specialty retailer (like a music shop).
Load it up. Stuff any empty spaces in the box with loose fill, but keep in mind that packing peanuts aren't ideal for heavy gifts, because they won't prevent things from shifting to the bottom. According to UPS guidelines, it's better to use a "block and brace" approach, in which you surround objects on all sides with foam or corrugated cardboard to absorb shocks.
How to Ship
U.S. Postal Service processes boxes weighing up to 70 pounds.
UPS, FedEx, and DHL accept packages of up to 150 pounds; delivery restrictions and handling charges might apply.
Freight. Beyond 150 pounds or a combined length and girth of 165 inches, a package becomes freight, which means "shipping costs go up astronomically," says Matthew Chasen, chief executive officer of uShip (uship.com), an online shipping auction marketplace that lets movers and transport companies bid for your job. Shipping freight also requires packing the goods on a pallet or in a crate sturdy enough to be handled by a forklift.
3 of 3Annie Schlechter
How to Wrap
Cookies and cakes: Send your sturdiest specialties―not those paper-thin butter cookies. Nestle the goods in an airtight plastic container lined with wax paper; fill spaces with bubble wrap.
Meat or fish: Get a foam cooler that’s “thick enough (1 1/2 inches) to maintain a cool temperature,” says Chris Williams, director of operations for Lobster Gram (livelob.com), an online gourmet-food retailer.
Gingerbread houses: Ship small ones, which are less likely to break. Cover with plastic wrap, then place in a box lined with foam and filled with excelsior, a finely shredded wood material sold at packing-supply stores. Finally, double-box.
How to Pack
Prepare the box. Baked goods, such as cookies and gingerbread houses, will probably stay fresh on their own and only need to be surrounded by bubble wrap or excelsior. For perishables such as meat and fish, fill a cooler with dry ice (search for “dry ice” online or in the phone book to find local retailers). Don’t touch dry ice with bare hands, though, or you may get frostbite; wear oven mitts for protection. For items like cheese, which need to stay chilled, not frozen, use gel coolant packs.
Finish the job. Stuff any extra spaces in the cooler with loose fill, then pack the cooler inside a well-cushioned corrugated-cardboard box. Be sure the box can withstand being turned upside down and shaken without the contents moving much.
How to Ship
Waste no time. Overnight shipping is a boon. Send early in the week so the package won’t sit in a warehouse over a weekend, and check that someone will be home when your gift arrives, says Amy Sisti, manager of the mail-order department for Murray’s Cheese, in New York City.
Label accordingly. Write PERISHABLE on the box. This will alert carriers to take special care, but more important, “you want the recipient to open it right away,” says Williams. Funky Feta? Stinky salmon? No thank-you note for you.
Play it safe. If you don’t want to spring for rush shipping, or if you don’t know when Aunt Jenny will be home, consider stay-fresh fare, like coffee beans or candy.