How to Ship a Package: a Complete Guide

8 min read

Sending a package is something we will all encounter at some point; you might want to send a gift to a friend, return an order, or send off a product to a paying client.  Knowing how to ship a package is a key skill to getting by in an increasingly global world.  I always imagine shipping to be much more of a hassle than it ever is.  I put it off until the last possible moment because I imagine much more is going to go into it, or I’ll mess something up, resulting in a lost package.  If you’re unsure, you can always go in for guidance on how to ship a package at the post office, where you’ll receive lots of support. Shipping centers will also take care of all the packing and measuring for you, but to get the best prices, you can take care of the whole process yourself. The process is fairly consistent, and not nearly as difficult as you’d think, so I’ve compiled a complete guide to help you figure out how to ship a package from home.

Pick a Box, Envelope, or Poly Bag

It might be tempting to reuse a box from your most recent Amazon order, but keep in mind that you don’t want any rips, tears, or other visible damage to your container.

You can reuse old boxes, just make sure all the previous barcodes and labels have been removed or blacked out with a permanent marker so that your carrier does not get confused. You don’t want your shipment to go to an old address by mistake!

Aim to get it close to the size of the package contents, without having the box directly pressed against the shipped items. Direct contact with the box can increase the chance of damage, as there’s no room for a buffer to any external jostling. The post office provides free flat rate boxes and may be a more cost effective way to ship if your item is heavy. Do compare shipping costs as flat rate shipping is not always cheaper.

You can also ship items in padded envelopes and poly bags instead of a box.

Pack Box

This is where bubble wrap really shines - it isn’t just used to amuse small children (and adults like me).  Use bubble wrap or bunched up newspaper to cradle the contents of your package and provide a buffer from the box. This will ensure everything arrives in the same condition as you packed it. There are many other options for void fill. Pick something light so that it doesn’t add extra costs to your shipping.

As you tape up the box, be sure to use wider and more secure tape, like packing tape.  Scotch tape won’t cut it, and duct tape is actually a poor choice since it doesn’t stick well to paper. When duct tape falls off, it gets caught up and gums the machinery. If you find yourself shipping a lot, you might want to invest in gummed reinforced tape like you see many Amazon boxes secured with.

Weigh and Measure Your Parcel

While you can certainly weigh and measure your package from home, it can be tricky, especially if you lack the correct supplies.  In a perfect world, you’d have a scale and a ruler available.  If you are regularly sending shipments from your home, this might be a wise investment.

If these items are not available, it will require you to get a bit more creative.  If you don’t have a ruler, you can try using a tape measure, a measurement app on your phone, or a printable ruler.  If you decide to print your ruler, be sure to deselect the “fit to page,” option, or it may affect the measurements.

You’ll want to wait until the parcel is entirely packed and sealed before taking the weight and dimensions, to get the most accurate reading.

When you’re taking the measurements of your package, you’ll want to get the length width, height, and depth for the shipping calculators. If the package you are shipping is particularly large, you’ll want to also get the girth measurement. Carriers will define maximum package sizes to include length plus girth. To measure your package to ensure it doesn’t exceed the maximum sizes you can follow these steps:

  1. Determine the package length.  Measure the longest side of your package, rounding up to the nearest inch.
  2. Next you’ll want to determine the width of the package, rounding to the nearest inch.
  3. You’ll also measure the height of the package. Also round up to the nearest inch.
  4. To get the girth, you’ll want to the Height multiplied by 2 and the Width multiplied by two. Add up the two results to get girth.
  5. The formula for maximum sizes for most carriers like USPS, UPS, and FedEx is: Length + 2x Width + 2x Height
    1. For UPS: Packages can be up to 165 inches in length and girth combined.
    2. For USPS: Pieces going to a domestic location may not measure more than 108 inches in length and girth combined.
    3. For Fedex: With FedEx Express U.S. services, you can ship up to 119 inches in length and 165inches in length and girth.

If you’re shipping an irregularly shaped package, it can be quite the headache doing it yourself.  It helps to try and measure the package as if it were a regular rectangular box; measure the length, width, and height of the package from its most extreme points.

When taking the weight of your package, you can default to alternative scales in your home.  Maybe that looks like the bathroom scale, or a kitchen scale.  If your package is too small to weigh on a bathroom scale, you might want to take your own weight and then take it again with the package in your hands, before subtracting the difference. If your package weight isn’t exact, don’t worry! Default to rounding up as a safety measure so no additional charges are imposed down the line due to under-weighing.

Address Your Package

It shouldn’t have to be said, but ‘Mom,’ in San Diego as a label simply won’t cut it.  Double and triple-check your address details before releasing your package into the system. Postal codes and apartment numbers are vital bits of information you’ll need in addressing your package to get your items where they need to go. Be sure to include a return address in case the package isn’t able to reach its final destination.

Choose a Mail Service

Depending on your needs, there are a few different shipping options that you can explore.  You can utilize private services like UPS, FedEx, or DHL, or public ones like USPS.  Their pricing models may differ, so you’ll want to use an online pricing calculator to determine rates and any additional fees.

While there’s a lot that goes into determining your final price, there are some primary differences between carriers.  DHL is an international company, so they’re often used for international shipments, rather than domestic packages.

FedEx and UPS are private American companies, and are excellent options for domestic or international shipping. They historically will offer quicker shipping times for a higher cost.  When shipping internationally, these companies will manage the delivery from start to finish, including handling customs issues, ensuring quicker delivery times.

The United States Postal Service (USPS), is a public institution, so it will feature the lowest prices.  If you’re shipping internationally with USPS, the responsibility will be transferred to the postal service of the country, making tracking more difficult.  Additionally, many shipping companies will impose a fuel  surcharge on top of the standard shipping costs, but not USPS! This also lends to their more affordable prices. USPS’ Express service will be the most reliable for international shipping. Priority and First-Class packages may take weeks as they don’t have a guaranteed delivery time and you are relying on the destination country’s mail carrier who may be less reliable than USPS.

Calculate and Apply Postage

When working through how to send a package, this is where people will most often get stuck.  You want to be sure you’re getting the postage right, but you’re also looking for the best shipping prices for the services you require.  It doesn’t have to be a headache, and you don’t necessarily need to go directly to the postage service to get your pricing.  Using the Online Shipping Calculator, you can input the exact specifications of your package and see a detailed breakdown of costs across carriers.  The calculator pulls retail pricing and discount rates for USPS, UPS, and FedEx.  It also illustrates a breakdown of different services, like ground, priority, or next-day delivery.  It’ll show you how long each option will take, the discount available, and your final savings.  When you find a price that suits your needs, you can print the label using, and you’re ready to ship right from your home!

Ship & Track Your PackageAnd with that, you’re ready to send your package! You can deliver the parcel at a post office or carrier store, arrange for home pick-up, or find a nearby dropbox. Once you send off your mail, you can utilize tracking software to see the status of your shipment and confirm when it arrives at your destination.  Some services will offer higher quality tracking details than others, so if you’re sending something very high-value, or you’re a business owner with a reputation to protect, it might be worth investing in a higher quality tracking service.