Mailing stuff in a normal envelope

I need to mail a few things to someone internationally. Namely about 10 photos and a CD. If I just put them in a greeting card in an envelope, do they have any chance of survival? Or do I need to put them in a padded package?

Umm, spend another buck and buy a padded mailer. You can even do it at the post office.

My concern is that I want to be able to send it airmail, instead of some surface delivery that will take 4-6 weeks. I figured airmail had to be a proper letter, but now I’m not sure since I can’t find anything on the USPS website other than per ounce prices.

A padded envelope is still an envelope. You may be paying the 2- or 3-ounce rate, but it can still go airmail.

Yep. No problem. Done it many a time myself.

Nope, you can ship padded envelopes and boxes airmail as well.

If you want, you can decorate the padded envelope’s edges with blue and red Sharpie to get the cool air mail envelope look.

The Post Office also has a flat-rate envelope. It’s called “Global Priority” and it’ll go anywhere in the world for $9.00 or so. You can stuff as much as you want in the envelope–the weight doesn’t matter. I use it to ship books all the time.

iirc, you get a lower rate for internation mail that is not letters as well, so the padded mailer can be cheaper than an airmailed letter (at least that was the case when I used to send stuff to australia about 8 years ago).


Ahem Postal worker checking in here…

Do they have a chance of survival? Well yes. A chance. Is that what you want, or would you rather spend a dollar or two extra and get the thing there in one piece?

The only things that should ever go in standard envelopes are letters and greeting cards (and maybe a very small number of photos). Anything else stands a good chance of being mangled by one of the machines (and it will visit multiple machines in its journey). The main culprits are pens, keys, keyrings, popsicle sticks, wads of photographs, and CDs, but pretty much anything that is too rigid, too soft, or too thick.

The letters are carried from the OCR scanning heads to the destination trays by long belts pinched between rollers. They follow quite tortuous paths, and do 180 degree turns with a radius of only 10" or so at about 15mph (this means the letters are briefly forcibly bent and then straightened out again - not good for CDs). They pass through narrow channels where things which are thicker than should be in an envelope will jam. The machine will keep running for a second until it realises there’s a jam, and the belts’ momentum will usually manage to drive the letter about halfway into the gap, smashing its contents, and often destroying the envelope to the point that we are unable to forward the remains. Take a CD and smash it up with a hammer, then put the shards in an envelope and fold it up into an accordion pattern with a crease every half inch. Unfold it, then rip off the front. That’s what it’ll look like.

On the other hand, a little padded parcel will be removed from the letter stream by the very first employee who sees it. It will then be sorted with all the other parcels all the way to its destination, and will be treated much better. Just specify ‘airmail’ when you talk to the postal clerk, and make sure you pick up a little blue airmail sticker for it. Also don’t forget the customs declaration form - letters with objects in them and no form tend to get delayed (and ripped open for inspection at the port of arrival).

You should be able to buy disk-mailer boxes at the post office. These are designed for just the job you want (there’s generally room for a few photos and things in them too).

Thanks all! I got a padded mailer that fits everything just fine.

TheLoadedDog, that was an amazing description of how bad an idea this was! And thanks especially for the advice on a customs form. I’ve only sent cards by airmail before and wouldn’t have thought about that.

TheLoadedDog – Fascinating. Given that, I have to wonder about Netflix. (For those of us not in the know, Netflix’s a DVD rental service that does it through the mail, and their DVDs are mailed out in flimsy envelopes with only a fiberglass interior pouch to theoretically stop them getting scratched) Do you know if the USPS handles those red and white envelopes differently or not? I can’t imagine that Netflix would stay in business long if the envelopes were getting smashed to bits in the regular sorting system that you described on a routine basis. Or am I wrong and they miraculously make it through OK, or netflix can eat the cost of replacing the losses?

I have had quite a lot of discs send to me by Netflix. I have not had one get lost. I have had one shipped to me that was broken. Netflix would not be in business if a large percentage of the disks were damaged. I for one would give up on them if about 10% of the time the disk I was waiting for were damaged. They do eat the cost of the damaged disks, without complaint or comment that I have seen.

Lizardling, you have to wonder about many companies that are actually in the business of mail order, yet don’t seem to have the foggiest of basic packing requirements. One of the technicians at my workplace (he actually fixes these machines) said he used to run an electrical business and thought nothing of mailing small parts loose in envelopes - he freaked when he saw how mail is processed.

The thing that might save the likes of Netflix is that they lodge mail in bulk, and the postal employees would treat their envelopes as parcels from the start - the two are processed quite differently until they get to the destination office. If an individual did that, the clerk might chew him out for not posting regulation parcels, but large volume customers tend to get away with anything they like.

The USPS operates very similar machines to Australia Post. In fact some of ours are American - made by Lockheed Martin. There are only a handful of companies making them (AEG, Hitachi, and Toshiba are some others), so postal administrations the world over tend to buy the same stuff off the shelf.

There are some basic rules for parcels too, and some simple mistakes you see made over and over. The golden rule is: if it can’t survive being dropped from six feet onto concrete, don’t post it. Writing FRAGILE will not help, and don’t even think about THIS WAY UP. Parcels can be treated moderately roughly. We don’t play football with the things, but there is no time to treat each one with kid gloves. They are thrown into mailbags (up to eight feet away). Your 3oz parcel might go in first, and a heavy box containing car parts might land on top of it. Then there is just the general movement of trucks and aircraft, which can make them move around. Padded bags are great for some things, but they do not offer rigidity. Rigid heavy items with sharp corners (large hardcover books, bundles of documents) need reinforcement at the corners - people wonder why the single sheet of brown paper burst in transit when it had 500 A4 documents inside it. You can’t go past a sturdy box with popcorn as padding, and a couple of turns of duct tape around each axis. They don’t need to be pretty.

I don’t think you understand what netflix does. It is a rental business they mail us the dvds we watch them and mail them back in the same envelopes.

Yes, I know. We have similar operations here. What I’m saying is that the spotty 16yo wouldn’t be sent to the Post Office with just your DVD. They’d get dumped at the loading dock.

This doesn’t explain how your lone one makes its way back in one piece. Maybe it doesn’t . A lot of stuff gets smashed. In case y’all think I’m exaggerating, a lot of stuff DOESN’T get smashed too. You could break all the rules and you might get your item to its destination nine times out of ten. Maybe its cheaper for Netflix to take the gamble than to use expensive packaging. It’s just that personally, I would not take those odds.

Mail sorters do try to pull parcels out of the letter stream, but we can’t catch them all - it’s like high speed factory picking work. you can be lucky. Or not.

Gah! Thanks for the list of rules – those should be written up and stuck to the wall in all post offices. :eek:

I didn’t know that about the writing of FRAGILE or THIS SIDE UP – I guess people want to think the PO won’t break their Waterford crystal or plasma TV.

I was watching the clerk at the local Sip’n’Ship box up a copy of Office for Mac (this is important since it comes in a nice tin as opposed to the bog standard box that the US version comes in) – and at the time I thought it was a bit of overkill. They’d stuffed the lot into a box full of peanuts and done it up with packing tape all around. Given what you’ve just recommended, I’m gonna have to remember that for next time I ship something.

I don’t mean to diss the postal system too much. It does an amazing job, and frankly I’m still surprised that you can send something around the globe door-to-door for the price of a beer. But you get what you pay for, and it’s a pretty no-frills service. For your Waterford crystal etc, there’s private couriers (expensive), or taking it there yourself (utterly expensive). Ye olde regular mail is still good for basic stuff though.

Oh, just one thing… Keep the popcorn, nuts etc for domestic mailings, otherwise you might come afoul of foreign quarantine laws regarding foodstuffs and organic matter.

No aspersions cast at USPS, but anything other than plain Jane mail, I stick in a padded envelope and pony up a few bucks more to ship via FedEx. Unless a plane goes down and your CDs become Tom Hanks’ property, they will get there just fine with less folding, spindling, and mutliation. :smiley:

FedEx and others tend to have the same technology as the postal service. The only difference is that their disgruntled employees are less heavily-armed. :smiley: