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
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