Back in December last year, Fleur and I shipped about 50 small and big boxes of books for friends and brought back 14 boxes of books ourselves. When I had to take a last minute 3 day trip back to Taipei in March this year, I brought back 2 boxes of books that I packed without Fleur’s help. All of these books arrived in one piece and I think I finally had the packing down to a science.
In my few years of buying books through my book vendor and organizing my own group book buys, I heard a few horror stories and encountered a few issues with packing and shipping. Let me list the horror stories I’ve heard and encountered myself:
- Boxes of books shipped by sea, packed by relatives, lost forever. Each box of 20kg books probably cost someone around $250-$350 total. That’s a lot of money.
- Boxes of books shipped by sea, with corners bent or moisture issues, unable to be sold.
- Boxes of books purchased through a publisher, shipped by sea, arriving ripped open and books lost or books moldy.
- Box of book getting forwarded to USPS Lost and Found because mailing label fell off, and even though we know exactly which processing plant it went to, lost forever.
- People receiving shipment notice by USPS and USPS not finding the box when they go pick it up.
- For my March 3-day trip, I didn’t buy enough books to put them all in Post Office boxes so I had 2 carryon suitcase of books. A hardcover got gauged in the process by the tabs in the suitcase because I didn’t pad it well. So so sad.
Next time I go back to Taiwan, I will try to pack all my books in boxes rather than stuff them in my suitcase. If you’re carrying books back on the plane, it is best if you just use a box instead of packing them in your suitcase. Books are heavy. Often just a few of them will push them over your suitcase weight allowance. They like to come in square shapes. You can’t bend them to pack them in a suitcase tightly.
You Will Need to Buy or Have on Hand
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1. Travel Scale
I borrowed Fleur’s little teeny travel scale for our Gap Year Adventures, totally indispensable when you travel. All you will need is an additional valcro packing straps (#3 down the list) to weigh the books. The scale measures both kg and lb.
Make sure you buy it before you leave for Taiwan.
2. Taiwan Post Office Boxes.
Ask for 瓦楞箱子 (wa3 leng4 xiang zi5) when you go. Otherwise they may give you 便利箱, the express boxes. They come in three sizes and you just want the large one, which is $45 NT.
Of course, you don’t need a post office box because it will just get thrown 2-3 times when it gets on a plane. But, I give myself an ease of mind when I just use them even for plane trips.
Unlike a suitcase, if you pack them in a box, you don’t have to unpack them immediately when you get home because you need access to all the other
crap stuff like clothing.
If you don’t have 20kg worth of books and clothes, you don’t need to buy any post office boxes. The next size down is too small.
Estimating boxes: You’ve been buying books left and right and don’t know just how much more you can buy? If you have mostly thin picture books, about 60-70 fit into one box. If you have heavier 1st-2nd grade chapter books like Reading 123, you’re looking at closer to 40-50. If you have mostly heavy hardcover upper elementary books like Little House on the Prairie, go closer to 30. As an average, go for 50.
For example, when I counted my books in November, I had around 200. I know then that I had to start slowing down. By the end I had 259 books plus tons of curriculum worksheet type books (your Kang Xuans basically) and that required some serious dumping of other items to make it all fit into 6 boxes.
Check with your airline on your luggage weight limit. Eva and China were 23kg for economy class.
Post office boxes are very thick and stiff corrugated boxes. As we found out the hard way, corrugated boxes provided by bookstores and publishers may appear thick but they are not stiff. After they’re thrown a few times during shipment, they will get compressed. The post office boxes retain their shape better.
3. Valcro straps for checked luggage
During my last trip Fleur introduced me to valcro straps. They’re fantastic! Each is around $70 NT and totally worth the investment. You can buy them at:
- 光南大批發 – 台北市中正區羅斯福路四段114-116號 (公館 MRT Exit 1)
- 勝立百貨 – 台北市和平東路二段291號 （科技大樓 MRT)
When I flew back to the US with 8 boxes, I used a combo of strap and strings on each box. This allows you to heft the boxes into taxis and airport counters. When you pick up your boxes, it’s very easy to find them especially if you buy them all in the same color!
4. Red or yellow strings for sea shipping
For boxes shipped by TW Post, you can buy red strings at the above stationary stores. Or better yet, some post office offers these yellow straps that they can put on your box with a machine. Just tell them you want to 打包. Note some post offices may charge you a fee for the service.
5. Permanent Markers, Paper, Pen, scissors, scotch tape, Bubble Wrap or cardboard/newspapers/clothes, etc
Checked-luggage: You just need to find some permanent markers, paper, scotch tape, and scissors, pen. You may want to bring the scotch tape from the US. Scotch tape from Taiwan are very thin for some reason.
Sea Shipping: In addition to permanent markers, paper, scissors, scotch tape, and pen, you may also want some bubble wrap or other things to pad the box. They’re called 氣泡紙 and come in various lengths and sizes. I find the 45cm ones work pretty well.
You get very spoiled when you get shipped books in bubble wrap. They come shipped so nice and un-blemished, you want all future books you ship to yourself or friends to be like that. So you spend hours watching Kdrama in the middle of the night to wrap them.
Sometimes I’m a little crazy and type-A.
How To Pack Books
1. Wrap the books in bubble wrap and pack them in the boxes.
Checked-Luggage: For the books we carried back on the plane, we started packing by padded the box with one big bubble wrap, pieces of cardboard so it’s double layered, or one big towel. What I learned is that for a plane trip, if you pack your books fairly tight in the box, you actually don’t need to worry too much about dented corners or damaged books.
So start with a little padding, then stuff any crevices with bubble wrap, clothes, or even newspapers. I find with the more trips I take, I tend to just pack books by themselves unless I have strange spaces I need to take up. It makes for easier unpacking.
Sea Shipping: However, for that trip through sea shipping, corners do get dented easily because they throw them. So bubble wraps and tightly packed boxes are better.
Fleur is better at the puzzle of fitting books into a box just perfectly. In fact, she packed most of my 6 boxes that I brought home. Everyone needs a Fleur when they travel. So I have no words of wisdom on how to pack optimally. But remember to mix hardbacks with paperbacks to fill your box, otherwise it will only get half full before it reaches its 23kg limit.
Other than, if you don’t need book packaging, save yourself some shipping and just throw them away. So many box book sets come in useless and heavy boxes, like Magic Treehouse, Reading 123, Ferris Wheel. Toss them.
2. Weigh the box
In the beginning, I was very conservative and stopped at 20kg. But once I started running out of luggage space, I pushed my boxes up to 22+kgs. Don’t forget tape and valcro straps will take up some weight and also airline counter scale can be different from the one at home.
3. Saw the boxes down
Sea Shipping: We were a little crazy and sawed the boxes down when necessary. Anything to save weight.
Checked-Luggage: For carrying items back by plane, I’m sure you can find things to stuff your big post office box. I padded mine with blankets and pillow and clothes.
3. Label the boxes.
For each box, I hand write addresses 3 times on the box, one on the bottom, two on the sides. Make sure to include your phone number.
Sea Shipping: Make sure you leave the top for shipping label. I also include a sheet of paper with same info and put it inside the box.
12345 Main St.
Anaheim, CA 91234
The actual shipping label is often torn and if you don’t have a way for USPS to contact you then the books are bound to be lost when boxes get broken for whatever reason.
4. Tape the boxes up
I actually researched how to tape boxes. Most of us usually tape along edges and once on top (taping two cover together). But my Blue Apron boxes are taped also across.
So 3 tapes across on top and bottom to seal box. Then along both edges as well. For my 50 boxes I also bought another type of tape and taped just the corners because they get dented so often. But yo udon’t need to do that for plane trips.
5. Fill out shipping label for sea shipping. Tie valcro straps for airplane ride.
Checked-Luggage: Tie two valcro straps for each box into a cross shape.
Sea Shipping: Remember to always put in all contents of the box. So for example, you buy magazines which have CDs in them you put:
magazines (26 pcs), CDs (26 pcs)
Boxes going to the US never get shipped to a second address due to non-delivery. They always get returned to sender.
Always always insure even for a little bit. Learned this from the vendor. We think that even with a little insurance it makes USPS not lose boxes as much.
Other Random Info
- If you’re shipping CDs and DVDs, they’re so light you can just pack them in the Post Office Express boxes 郵局便利箱 and ship them via Surface Airlifted Parcel 陸空.
- The difference between Surface air and Air parcels is where you live in the US. For the people on the coast and major cities, surface is only a little bit slower than air and much cheaper. For example, shipping CD/DVD by surface air took 5-7 days vs 2-3 days by air to the folks on the West Coast.
- Every post office in Taipei will tell you a something a little different when you ask them the same questions. So ask around when you’re not happy with the answer someone gives you. When we lived in 新店, I really liked the huge main post office close to the 新店區公所 MRT stop. They had the most up-to-date info and was big enough to have those yellow straps (打包). The people working there were also ultra nice compared with the two smaller ones.
And there you have it. If you have recs for how to pack boxes, please leave a comment!
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