How to Pack Liquor in your Luggage
December 20, 2013
I travel an awful lot and most of the time I'm bringing packing at least one bottle of liquor with me. (My record was 7 full bottles.) You can read about how much liquor you can pack in your luggage here, which differs per airline.
I've never had a bottle of wine or spirits break in my luggage, and I'll chalk that up partially to good luck and partially to good packing.
How to Pack Wine or Spirits Bottles in your Luggage
Mini-bottles go in your shoes. Most people probably don't carry as many mini-bottles and flask-sized samples as I do, but if that's the case there is all that space inside your shoes just waiting to be filled.
Wrap your bottles in a plastic bag. I usually travel with extra-large Ziplock bags - they don't take up any space in your luggage. Even if I forget, I always carry several plastic grocery bags that I use to hold my dirty clothes and I'll use one of those. Or finally if I don't have one handy (or my clothes are so incredibly stinky that I won't let them roll around in my suitcase), I'll use the hotel's garbage bag or laundry bag hanging in the closet.
There are two reasons to use a plastic bag and to wrap the bottle tight. Bottle breaks are the obvious one, but a more common problem is leaks. Bottles with corks and even screwcaps quite often leak a little bit or a lot- especially when they go into the low-pressure cargo hold in an airplane.
One friend who frequently transports open bottles recommends using plumber's tape on all the caps to seal them.
Pack Your Suitcase Mostly Full. I am a proud over-packer so my suitcase is nearly always full. Even if you're not, you don't want bottles rolling around, shifting, or banging into each other. Don't pack it burstingly full, of course, because you need room for the bottles.
Suitcase not full? Then fill the extra space with bubble wrap that you'll use around your bottles on the way home.
Pad the Suitcase. If your bottles are right up against the side of your suitcase, they're more likely to break when it gets tossed around by luggage handlers up against hard and soft surfaces.
My suitcase has space in the top flap for hanging shirts (a built-in suit bag) so that side has built-in coverage. On the bottom of my suitcase right in the middle I'll put any books or magazines I've picked up or finished on the trip, followed by a layer of something soft if I have it. If I have a ton of paper literature I put the rest of it in the outside flap of the suitcase - it not only forms more padding there, but if my luggage is overweight I can throw out or carry-on those papers/books.
Wrap the bottles in pants or sweaters. I have always assumed that when bottles break in luggage it is at the neck, but a survey of my other booze-hauling friends suggests that it's usually the sides that break instead. Regardless, wrap your bottles in heavy material. I typically use jeans, start by wrapping one leg around the neck, then keep wrapping around the bottle. If I don't have any pants available I'll wrap the bottles in t-shirts instead. Or if I have plenty of clean stuff I'll do a t-shirt then a pair of jeans.
Put a barrier between bottles. You don't want them knocking into each other. Flip-flops are great if you have them since they're foam.
Pack around the sides. Fill in the rest of the space with your remaining items, making sure to put something at the top and bottom of the bottles. Most often I'll have my dirty clothes bag(s) on one side and shoes on the other. Then a lot of little stuff, toiletries, etc in all the corners.
Room for More. When I'm not sure if I'll run out of space in my luggage for bottles I'll find at my destination, I put a zipper-closed canvas bag in my luggage. That way if I bring home a ton of booze, I can put the extra dirty clothes and toiletries into the zipper bag and check it on the way home.
Consider the weight. A full 750 ml bottle of liquor weighs a little under 3 pounds (1400 grams). The weight limit on most checked luggage is 50 pounds.
Duty-Free Liquor. If you plan on buying your booze in duty-free, you may have to pack it into your luggage anyway. For example if you're flying into the US and transferring planes, you'll have to check the duty-free items into your luggage at the transfer airport. That can be a real hassle if you don't plan for it.
I prefer to buy my liquor at a store while I'm traveling instead of duty free just for this reason, and more often that not the sale price at duty-free isn't that good anyway. That said, you can get some cool collectors bottles not available anywhere else in duty-free.
So the best thing to do if you plan to shop duty-free and know you'll have to repack it is to pack your luggage as above with a big hole in the middle where you'll put your bottles. Fill that hole with bubble wrap and bags so they're easy to access when you have to repack your suitcase on the floor of the airport.
Bottle Transport Bags and Tools
Some commercial products are meant to take care of the padding and bagging part of this. Most have bubble wrap interior, though some have absorbent material like diaper material. Then most have an outer bag that seals so that even if the bottle leaks or breaks it will all be captured inside. One friend said he used a boating dry bag.
I have not tried the below brands/products, but a few brands available are:
- Wine Mummy
- Jet Bags
- Wine Diaper
- Wine Hug
- Oenophilia Inflatable Travel Sleeve
- True Fabrications Bottle Bubble Wine Traveler
- Wine Skin Wine Bag
- Safeguard Bottle Protector
If this post was useful, you might also want to read:
One of the upsides of always having a pair of cowboy boots is having somewhere to stash bottles on a return flight.
But yeah, cowboy boots + plumbers tape is a winner. It's a good idea to take a ounce or two's drink from each bottle too - not only to calm pre-flight nerves but if your bags are going in the cargo hold, not all planes pressurize their cargo holds - as air pressure decreases the pressure inside the bottle increases due to the liquor expanding because of vaporization via enthalpy. This can cause corked bottles to pop all over your clothes, soaking all your gear in overproof rum.
Posted by: Tom Egerton | December 20, 2013 at 07:40 PM
Bottles can break. http://cataclysmofscotch.blogspot.ca/2012/12/crying-over-spilled-scotch.html?m=1
Posted by: Richard Culver | December 23, 2013 at 04:03 PM
I was stopped at and Indian airport as I had a well sealed (but half empty) bottle of whiskey with me, I guess it's illegal to carry open bottles, period... I can see that it will counted as flammable materials..
Posted by: Nemy | January 10, 2016 at 09:37 AM
What about a "Hydro Flask" insulated stainless steel 64 oz. beer growler?
Posted by: Jody | January 14, 2016 at 05:31 PM
Well it's probably not okay to take beverages not in their original container in the first place. http://www.alcademics.com/2012/03/packing-booze-airline-liquor-regulations.html
Posted by: Camper English | January 15, 2016 at 01:22 PM
Could I take the bladder out of a box wine (about 4 bottles) and put it in checked luggage?
Posted by: Diane mendolia | March 05, 2016 at 08:21 AM
Well, technically packages must be in their "original packaging" which probably rules out just using the bladder, unless the bladder is somehow clearly still un-sealed to the eye of the inspectors. My guess is that it's technically not okay. You could either throw the whole box in there (leaving room for souvenirs on the way back), or take the risk if it's an inexpensive wine.
Posted by: Camper English | March 07, 2016 at 05:35 PM
May I take a Campari bottle 2,liters in my checked luggage?$
Posted by: Nilda comas | April 04, 2016 at 02:15 PM
Posted by: Camper English | April 05, 2016 at 04:21 PM
I always bring bubble paper with me when I travel. It comes in so handy and works well for giving bottles extra cushioning.
Posted by: Rebecca | August 15, 2016 at 11:04 AM
But how do you control the temperature. Even on short flight your wine will be on the tarmac after traveling from checkin, then baggage, then back on the tarmac. At least 2 hours. I'm trying to think of how I'd put an ice pack in the suitcase but don't know of TSA allows those. Or even a baggie with water frozen flat but I don't know if that's allowed because what looks like water could be seen as a banned chemical.
Posted by: robert berlo | August 19, 2017 at 02:38 PM
Good point - I typically think about spirits, which are far more resilient. While you can look up the contract of carriage for the airline and TSA, I don't recall that ice is prohibited (dry ice could be a different story). The TSA has the right to remove anything they want from your luggage, so even if it's allowed they could pull it out. What I do when I carry anything that looks odd is to label the heck out of it and hope for the best.
Posted by: Camper English | August 19, 2017 at 03:22 PM
I packed a bottle of whiskey in my bag, and I founnd out the bottle leaked after my 1 hour flight. Is the whiskey still safe to drink?
Posted by: Lib | May 06, 2018 at 08:13 AM
The stuff in the bottle should be fine. I'd not recommend drinking the spilled whiskey from the suitcase :)
Posted by: Camper English | May 06, 2018 at 01:55 PM
Thanks. I read a suggestion to put FRAGILE on the side. Wondering if that is looking for trouble at customs.
Posted by: Stuart | June 27, 2018 at 09:43 PM
is this really that serious
Posted by: ye ye kid | May 14, 2019 at 01:52 PM
I put vodka is a water bottle and put it in my packed luggage for a trip to Hong Kong. Has anyone else ever done that and did u have any issues with it expanding in the cargo area
Posted by: Mh | September 14, 2019 at 05:44 AM
I don't think it would be any different than travelling with water in that same bottle. Personally I'd still put it in a ziplock in case of leaks.
Posted by: Camper English | September 14, 2019 at 06:24 PM
My personal best record is 33 bottles of wine from South Africa......
NOTE you should declare - but with customs duty at only around 30c/liter they are not normally concerned HOWEVER they WILL check to see which state you live in - so at Miami Customs were not interested in charging any import duty but wanted to know if I was a Florida resident - for purposes of collecting Florida state taxes/duties. In my instance when I told them that I lived in tax free Delaware it was certainly not applicable...
However your experience may differ!
Planning is the key:
1. on outbound to SA 8 x 2 bottle neoprene wine sleeves
2. TWO suitcases, one of which fits into the other
3. TWO cardboard wine shipping boxes with polystyrene wine inserts - 6 bottle each in the inner suitcase with additional bubble wrap surrounding to as much an extent as possible
4. Carryon with all clothing etc.
5. Business class ticket allowing for 3 checked bags (or buy additional bag allowance)
6. In South Africa at wine farms buy 2 more wine shipping boxes
7. Sample wonderful wines and buy a decent variety (if you bring back 30 bottles of the same wine Customs might consider you to be an importer - and you really want to bring back a wide range of delicious wines anyway)
8. Pack both suitcase with 12 bottles each in the wine shipping cases (just within weight allowances for SA internal flights!)
9. Line top bottom and sides with clothing for added padding (and to provide space in carryon)
10 Put remaining bottles in the wine sleeves
11. Strap into carryon with as much padding from clothing and bubble wrap to prvenet any additional movements in flight...
12 Check all three bags back to US of A!
13 Enjoy and remember to share with friends
14 Bonus points if you get a bottle of Bains Cape Mountain Whisky to share with Scotch drinking friends at duty free in SA on your way out! (trust me you will be very surprised - as will your friends!0
Posted by: WineDrinker | November 15, 2019 at 06:43 AM
PS: Yes I do go to South Africa at least once a year - and yes as a South African I am totally biased in my wine drinking preferences. HOWEVER just go to Cape Town, and sample the wines as well as the great natural beauty.
And yes I do have spare wine shipping boxes (with the polystyrene bottle inserts) available! Obviously I can check two suitcases with all of the wine boxes in them on the way to South Africa, but it is a hassle dealing with two cases and a carryon (and laptop bag)
Posted by: WineDrinker | November 15, 2019 at 06:50 AM
Posted by: WineDrinker | November 15, 2019 at 06:54 AM
We have a winner! Very impressive.
Posted by: Camper English | November 15, 2019 at 09:33 AM