When I first started out on my military spouse journey, I had zero idea what I was doing. Ranks, abbreviations and care packages were all a foreign concept to me. In fact, sometimes it felt like people were speaking another language! But I spent a lot of time listening and learning, sometimes through trial and error. That steep learning curve is what led me to blogging in the first place – I wanted to share my knowledge, especially when it came to care packages.
Some people may have you believe that putting together care packages is super complicated, but it really boils down to five easy steps.
Five Steps to a Perfect Care Package
Step 1: pick a box
I will always recommend USPS flat rate shipping boxes (either the large or medium ones) for care packages. They ship to any US address (including FPO and APO) for a flat fee, no matter how heavy they are! You can pack so much stuff into each box and their size makes decorating easy. Flat rate boxes can be found at any post office or shipping store. You can also request them online.
Step 2: pick a theme and decorate
I’m a little biased because I love decorating care packages, but I think this is one of the most important steps! While you don’t have to decorate your care package, it makes it way more fun for your loved one to open. Holidays, hobbies and favorite things (food or sports teams) are great starting points for design themes. Need care package ideas? I’m giving away 165+ ideas (plus what to put in them) here.
When you start decorating, make it as low-stress as possible! Buying pre-decorated scrapbook paper and stickers from the craft store can make the process easier, especially if you’re not into freehand drawing. Letting little ones create drawings or paintings can also help take decorating the care package off your list. Of course, you could always purchase pre-made flaps so all you need to do is attach them to the box!
Step 3: fill the box
Once your box is decorated, it’s time to go shopping! I have some tips for shopping in bulk for care packages, but my biggest tip is to have a list any time you go shopping! If you start randomly shopping, you may overbuy or purchase things your loved one won’t actually want or use.
I love sending things that fit the theme of my care package. For example, you could send a nut-themed box and include all nut products. But most importantly, I try to only send items my husband actually likes or needs. Sometimes they don’t fit the theme perfectly, but at least he’s enjoying the contents.
Not all of your contents need to be food, but make sure that you’re following USPS shipping rules as well as the rules of the country your loved one is in. Sending things like alcohol is illegal and can get you and your loved one in a lot of trouble. It’s just not worth it!
Step 4: fill out the customs form
The customs form can be the scariest part of the entire care package process and it does seem intimidating at first, but it’s really not! Following a tutorial can help you get through your first form, but most people are concerned with the address and they really shouldn’t be!
As long as you have all the elements of the address on there (rank, name, unit, zip code and the random letters/numbers that take the place of the street address), it doesn’t matter so much which of the little boxes on the form you put them in. For example, if you add the “APO AE” to the “street” address instead of the city/country section, don’t worry about it. The elements are on there and they’re on the sticky address label. The post office uses both documents to get your box where it needs to go.
Step 5: get it in the mail
Shipping times vary based on weather, time of the year and location, but on average, care packages can take anywhere from 7 days to 4 weeks to make it to your loved one. This becomes important for two reasons. Long shipping times can cause some food to spoil, melt or go stale so be mindful of the shipping time when selecting the items you send. Additionally, if your box is for a holiday or special occasion, you’ll want to give it enough time to arrive.
Even though I had no idea what I was doing when I first started, over the course of the past few years, I’ve developed a bit of a checklist for myself when I’m working on a care package. If you need more help putting together your perfect care package, then you’re in luck! I’m actually sharing my care package checklist to will help you put together your care package. You see a sneak peek above, but you can get the full checklist here.