The chemist is traveling to South Africa on Thursday. I was there in November. Most of our family is there. Suitcases bulge with presents. It made me ponder some points about the etiquette of asking if someone could take an item with them on a journey. Most people understand that it is hard to be separated from one's near and dear, and the chance to send them something to let them know you are thinking of them and missing them is rare and special. Most people are only too happy to do someone a favor. Unfortuately, sometimes ignorance or a lack of common sense leaves the traveler feeling abused, and less willing to be helpful in the future.
In the interests of fostering happy travels I offer the following musings:
If you want to send an item with the traveler it should be
ABLE TO BE JETTISONED WITHOUT GUILT
ABLE TO BE DELIVERED EASILY
1. Space, space, space. If you don't travel a lot you may not think like a seasoned traveler. An international travel allowance is around 20 - 23 kg or 40 - 50 lbs. For a 2 week trip, this can get used up surprisingly fast. Someone once gave me around 15 kg of used children's clothing to give to someone in South Africa. I am not a charity. I am a traveler. I have my own luggage which I need to transport. If you wish to send a lot of things, or something very bulky, feel free to use FedEx.
2. Security. No one wants to end up in a small room with a man putting on a rubber glove in a meaningful way. Airlines have virtually no sense of humor about items which may constitute a threat. Anything you send needs to be unwrapped. However much you would like to cover your gift in ribbons and bows, the person who is transporting it needs to face stern TSA personnel and swear that they are familiar with everything in their luggage. Educate yourself as to what cannot be safely transported and don't send it!
3. Self-contained. No one wants their clothes to smell like your item, be covered in your item, or be colored by your item. Do not send those cinnamon pine cones, the scent of which penetrates your very skull. No Tennessee fire water. No home made jelly. If there is the slightest chance your item may cause issues, wrap it very well in clear plastic.
4. Delivery. The onus on making sure the item reaches its end goal is on you. Do not expect someone else to spend their vacation trying to connect with total strangers to deliver your gift.
5. Make it clear that should the item be lost or damaged, or should it prove impossible to deliver the item, you give full permission for it to be donated to someone else, or put in the trash with no hard feelings at all. Do not ask someone else to transport a priceless family heirloom.
6. Timing. Let the traveler know well in advance that you would be delighted if they would be kind enough to donate a corner of their luggage to you. Do not pitch up the night before they leave and begin showering them with items to fit in. Do not see them off at the airport and expect them to start squeezing things in for you.
All of these points also apply to people who are going home after a trip. It is terribly kind of you to want to give me a gift, but mainly I am delighted to see you, and would rather have a drink with you than be given a bottle of wine to take home.
Kudos to my extended family who give some of the most thoughtful small, light presents ever! Your compassion and ingenuity is much appreciated!