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Hand-carry vs Check-in: What's The Best Way to Handle Travel Souvenirs?

Avoid broken vintage finds and crumpled postcards with these expert tips

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Photography: Paolo Feliciano and Pexels (Main Photos)

One of the best things about traveling to a new place is exploring the shops—whether it’s a homegrown boutique, a posh retail district, or an under-the-radar shopping alley. We're sure you'll agree when we say that shopping can take almost a day and that it's easy to get caught up with buying a ton of items without figuring out how to take it home.

To avoid hassle, it pays to know which decor or souvenir is advisable to hand-carry or check-in. In some cases, such as when you had bought something early on in a multi-city journey and wouldn’t want to lug it around the rest of the trip, having it shipped home through a reliable logistics company could be the most practical option.

The Travel Security Agency has general guidelines you could refer to, but if you’re unsure, it would be better to check with your airline as restrictions on certain items may vary according to country or airline. Save for explicitly dangerous items (flammable, real or replica weapons), several items can be both checked and carried provided that they fit inside the overhead bin and underneath the seat space.

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Confused? Read through the tips below to make sure you’re only bringing home souvenirs and good stuff, not airport stress.

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Hand-carry: Artwork and breakables

Interior designer Wilmer Lopez of W. Lopez Designs says he always hand-carries sensitive items and pieces of value like art, lighting fixtures, light bulbs and intricate ceramics. “Sturdier items like compact vases, clocks (without batteries), or vintage finds I wrap in paper and bubble wrap, and place in boxes, stick in shoes or cover with shirts for extra padding.”

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Paintings are allowed in checked luggages, but unless it’s too big and bulky, you’re better off having it with you in the duration of the flight.

Check-in: Gel-type candles


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“A lot of people have made the mistake of bringing gel candles in their hand-carry. That is a no-no,” says architect Arlene Maslog. Unlike their solid wax counterpart, gel-type candles are not allowed on board due to its close to liquid consistency.

Hand-carry: Posters and prints


Arlene and her kids like to visit museum shops when they travel for tasteful paper products and other handy keepsakes, including posters and prints which they take with them as carry-on luggage.

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If you have more than one poster, neatly unroll and put one sheet on top of the other to save on space. Posters usually come in tube packaging to protect them—ask the shop where you’re buying from if they can provide. Tube length shouldn’t exceed your overhead bin allocation. Posters that don’t have tube packaging run the risk of getting deformed or torn if placed inside your luggage or as special baggage thus hand-carrying them is a safer option.

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Check-in: Soupy and spreadable food items

Like toiletries, packaged food items with more than 100 ml of liquid are not allowed in hand-carry. This may depend on the airline’s leniency but better stay on the safe side and prepare. Securely pack them in resealable containers or plastic bags before placing inside your checked luggage so you’re covered in case of spillage.

Hand-carry: Small potted plant and flowers


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Live plants may not appreciate being squished together with your clothes inside a dark luggage—plus, you may end up with a soil shower in your suitcase. Bouquets and cut flowers, in no more than 100ml water, should be with you in flight.

Keep in mind these extra tips:

1. Thinking of buying that brand of blender not available back home? You may put it inside your carry-on luggage provided that the blade is removed and properly wrapped. Same principle applies to other small kitchen appliances.

2. Snow globes are allowed on board as long as the water component is not more than 100 ml, and the entire thing must fit inside a quart-size resealable plastic bag.

3. Pots and pans are allowed for both carry-on and checked-in luggage. However, cast iron skillets in particular are not permitted for hand-carry.

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