Whether you want to bring mementos home from your trip, you’re bringing a special bottle with you to drink at your destination, or you foolishly booked your vacation in a dry county (or country!), at one point or another you’re going to travel with booze. Here’s how to do so like a pro.
While the easiest way to travel with wine that includes the least restrictions — besides actually drinking it — is driving, the time we’re most concerned about carrying wine along for the journey is when we’re flying. We all know the feeling: stuck in our airplane seats, flying at hundreds of miles an hour 30,000 feet high in the sky, hoping that the bags we checked are actually in the hull below our feet. A lot can happen to your wine while it’s separated from you, and thanks to travel regulations on liquid, checking it is the only way you can take it with you, so it’s best to be prepared.
Because you’re going to have to check your bags, the first thing you’ll need to contend with is the airport’s friendly baggage handlers. Since the priority never seems to be handling your baggage with the utmost care, when you have a bottle made of glass inside your luggage, you want to make sure the bottles are well-padded to handle any impacts your bag may encounter. If you travel with wine or other alcohol a fair amount, it would be a good idea to invest in a hard suitcase like this one to minimize the effects of impact. We’ve found from experience that canvas suitcases are a risky option. Even small jostling such as the drop onto the baggage carousel when you finally reach your destination can cause a bottle to be damaged in a canvas suitcase, so going with a hard-sided model will definitely help prevent disappointment when your bags finally arrive.
No matter which type of luggage you use, you’ll want to make sure your bottles are as padded as possible. Don’t pack the bottles near the sides of the suitcase; instead, try to line the bag with soft clothing, to serve as padding, and then place your wine in the center. This is especially important if you’re dealing with that canvas suitcase we discussed above; that layer of clothing along the sides is the only real line of defense standing between your bottle and any hard surfaces the bag may happen to bang against.
Once you have thoroughly lined the suitcase, the easiest thing to do is simply to wrap each bottle in a good amount of clothes and place each one in the bag. While we’ve used this model countless times before and it’s great in a pinch, we don’t really recommend it if you have time to plan ahead. That’s because if the bottles do break, their contents are going to wind up all over your clothes — we’ll never forget the time a nice bottle of sherry ruined an equally nice summer suit. That’s why we always throw a couple of Wine Skins or Jet Bags in our luggage when traveling. Both not only pad the bottles we may happen to pick up, but if the bottles do break, they prevent the wine from getting all over our clothes. After placing our bottles inside these protective sleeves, we place them in the center of the bag just as we would bottles wrapped in clothes. While these sleeves are helpful, they don’t make your wine bulletproof, so you should still take the above precautions.
TSA & Customs Tips
Now that you’re ready to pack your wine away, just make sure you adhere to the TSA and U.S. Customs guidelines. There’s a lot of information flying around out there — pun intended — about what you can and can’t do in regards to traveling with alcohol, so we went straight to the sources. According to the TSA — remember they only handle airport security and the regulation of continental travel — you can travel with an unlimited amount of alcohol in your checked bag as long as each bottle is under 24% alcohol by volume, which has wine covered, and fits within the airline’s weight regulations.
If you’re bringing wine into the U.S. from an international location, the same TSA guidelines hold, but on top of this, you have to deal with U.S. Customs. According to U.S. Customs, while you can bring an unlimited amount of wine that’s under 24% alcohol by volume into the U.S., for personal use, you only get one liter of that wine duty free. Any alcohol on top of a liter is subject to a 3% tax, but we’ve rarely seen them enforce this rule, and 3% is still very low. Think about it: if you bring back $1,000 worth of wine, you only have to pay a duty of $30. We think that’s worth it, especially if it’s a wine you cannot find here in the U.S.
While these rules have you covered for travel to and around the U.S., it’s important to also check the rules for leaving your departure country. Even though the United States allows you to come back with an unlimited amount of wine if it’s for personal use, departure countries may restrict what you can leave with, from only a few bottles to just a case. Ask your hotel or call your airline.
Follow these guidelines and while we still can’t promise a 100% stress free travel experience — because let’s face it you still have to travel via a U.S. airport — at least you can rest easy in regards to the wine in your bag.