Tips and Tricks on shipping your belongings while you travel
When you’re on the road for an long time it can be difficult to strike a balance between being prepared for any eventuality and breaking your back hauling your gear. After being on the road for over a year we’ve figured out the best ways to pack light but every once in a while we still need to ship something.
When we started this trip I had this vision of rolling up to the crag on our tandem bike with our climbing gear strapped to the trailer. That idea quickly faded once we realized how impractical that was. Our climbing gear weighs 15kg and our bike and cycling gear weighs 55kg. So before you even add your clothes and peripherals you’re already over the checked bag limit for two people on most airlines.
A Little Help from Your Friends
The simplest and easiest way to get your gear in exotic destinations is to have your friends visit and haul some stuff for you. This might seem impossible but we saw family and friends on 5 separate occasions internationally in the past year. Each time we had them deliver stuff to us and take things home for us. Sometimes planting the seed of suggestion is enough to motivate people to come visit, you’d be surprised.
The most obvious but potentially most costly option is shipping things using DHL, FedEx, UPS etc. The great thing about this option is that it is easy to find a local office and get a quote online. The bad thing is that all of the major carriers have stopped offering sea freight to private customers and putting 100lbs of your stuff on a plane is very expensive.
International Moving Companies
There are many international movers who specialize in moving large quantities of belongings, furniture, etc. around the world. The majority of these companies cater to wealthy business people relocating for work and fees are usually quite high.
One exception that we found is Seven Seas. They operate in many countries around the world and seem to be much cheaper than anyone else. We have never used their service ourselves but had them recommended to us by some friends that used them to ship from the Netherlands to Australia.
Seven Seas uses sea freight and deliveries typically take 2 months. You can get quotes by the size and weight of your package as well as quotes for other items like bicycles, snowboards, skis, etc. We would definitely have used them to ship our bike but unfortunately they don’t serve Romania.
Our Experience Shipping the Bike from Romania
When we looked into shipping our Bike Friday Family Tandem to California from Romania after our Danube tour we worked hard to find the cheapest means possible. Freight shipping can be affordable if you can find someone at the company who will talk to you.
We found that sending emails to companies will rarely lead to a reply. You really need to get someone on the phone to describe what it is you want to do. After many frustrating calls we learned that most companies don’t even work with individuals that aren’t doing commercial business.
By random luck we met a Hungarian businessman in Constanta who works with importing and exporting. He gave us a personal business contact at DB Shenker and with this clout behind us we were well taken care of. While unfortunately this will not work for everyone, we did learn quite a few lessons in the process.
One lesson is that each shipment requires heaps of paperwork. We had to itemize contents of both suitcases and state each one’s value. We also had to include the receipt for the bike to prove that it was made and purchased in the US to avoid the import taxes.
We dropped the bike off at the DB Schenker office at the airport in Bucharest and had a family member pick it up at the airport in the Los Angeles. Doing this delivery work ourselves saved us $300 in door to door delivery cost.
In the end we were charged 5.60 Euro per kilogram for a total of 308 Euro. Adding the $100 US customs fee on arrival in the States we got the bike and our cycling gear back for about $500 USD. When you compare that to the DHL estimate of $1,300 USD, we got quite a deal.
What if you don’t have an address?
If you don’t have a shipping address you can still mail yourself packages to care of the local post office in the United States. If you are using FedEx, UPS, or other global shipping companies they will usually receive packages for you at their offices if you can pick them up within 48 hours.
It was easy enough to get our climbing gear sent to us with FedEx by having it shipped to the local FedEx office in Constanta, Romania. It was only after it arrived that we realized there wasn’t really an office in Constanta, just a warehouse and one delivery man.
As we learned FedEx uses local couriers to deliver all their packages. So we got a call from the delivery guy and went to meet him at the McDonalds in Constanta to pick up our package. If you decide to go this route call ahead to ensure you will be able to receive your package. Having a local number is definitely a plus in this situation.
Worst case scenario talk to the hostel or hotel to see if you can receive a package there. Depending on the business this can work very well. We were in and out of Bangkok and we persuaded an airport hotel to store our climbing gear for 2 months free of charge. It helped that we had booked another room there so they knew when we would be back to pick it up. You’ll never know unless you ask.
If you are shipping internationally you will need to fill out customs forms and possibly pay a duty on your shipment. Usually the big shippers take care of the customs but be prepared to do a little legwork to make sure you won’t get charged for them.
Usually describing your package as “used personal goods returned” or as a “gift” will be good enough to avoid paying a duty. Be sure to check the customs websites to determine what can be sent to the country you will be traveling.
We had a lot of trouble getting our new trailer axle shipped to Serbia because it turns out that it’s difficult to ship anything to Serbia.
Through all of our experience hauling our gear around the world the best piece of advice I can give is still to pack light.
If you have any other experience shipping yourself gear around the world share your tips in the comments.