For us OFWs, sending a balikbayan box is like a rite of passage. You could not call yourself a legitimate OFW if you haven’t sent your first balikbayan box. You might think sending one is a no brainer and you don’t need to read a blog post about it (or that I don’t have any business writing about it either) but if you feel overwhelmed thinking about it, I’m here to help (also, writing about it is easy and I need to come up with a 1,000 words article during my nine days holiday which is hard especially when Netflix and my bed kept calling me. And yes, I wrote it on the very last day).
Before I impart my wisdom to you on how you could send your first balikbayan box without spending a lot of money, I need you to get in the right mindset first. Why are you planning to send one? Is it more of a chore? A responsibility? Do you need to get rid of your old things? Or you genuinely want to spread some cheers to your family, friends, neighbors and long lost relatives? Trust me, it would show into the assortment of goods your sending if you are really happy while preparing the box or if you are grumbling and complaining the whole time.
Ask for a trustworthy forwarder
Before you start buying, first ask around for a trusty forwarder. We all know the dilemma of some fellow OFWs whose love ones did not receive the box they sent. Or the box is open and some of the content is missing. Or the box is obviously mishandled and some of the bottles exploded and or the jars smashed. Do your research and ask your friends, colleagues and some of the OFWs you know which forwarder they trust for their box. Word of mouth is still the best recommendation since you would be sure that the service is up to par. Otherwise your friends would not recommend it. Once you already have the contact details of the forwarder, ask if they would provide you with the box, the price for the box is sometimes included in the shipping fee. If they do not provide the box, LBC sells these boxes or you could also buy from stores that sell Filipino products (trust me, they know how marketable these balikbayan boxes are).
Buy packaging tapes, lots of it (and bubble wrap)
Now that you have your box, make sure that its sturdy by wrapping packaging tape all over it. Not just once. Wrap it several times until you are sure that it would be able to contain all the goods that you would be sending back to the Philippines. Buy rolls of bubble wrap too for all the fragile and breakable. Wrap the bottles in bubble wrap, put them in a plastic (in case the inevitable happened at least the debris is contained) and if you are sending clothes, rugs, carpet, etc. make sure that the fragile items are inside these garments and textiles as added cushion. Always keep in mind that the boxes would be tossed around no matter how many fragile stickers you put outside it so take extra precaution on breakables.
Don’t fill your box a month before you’re supposed to send it
If you want your family to receive it in December for Christmas, don’t start buying in November. Start in August or even earlier or during sales so you would not feel overwhelmed. Every month when you do your grocery shopping, look for products that are on sale. Start with non-perishable things such as shampoos, soaps, detergents. Then as the month when you need to send your box draws near, buy chocolates, canned goods and other perishables. Check the expiration date also especially those you bought during sale. Another tip, if you are sending your box for Christmas, ask the forwarder when you need to send it since it is going to be a busy season they might ask that you send your box well in advance to reach home in time for Christmas.
Save the plastics and paper bags
If you buy lotions that come with the pumps, tape it so there would be no chances of accidental spills. After, place these bottles separately on plastics. Same goes with shampoo bottles. Tape the lid first. These plastics and paper bags will also come in handy when you start giving away pasalubongs.
Buy chocolates in shareable packs
Chocolates are very handy when you forgot to buy something for someone. So, make sure you buy in “shareable” pack. It would also be easier for you to hand them out or you could repack these chocolates so everyone would have a taste of everything. Another tip: chocolates are also well appreciated by carolers.
Put a name for the gifts
If you would not be in the Philippines when your family receives the box, put a name on each gift to avoid any fights and misunderstandings. The perfume you bought for your little sis should have her name on it or else someone would take it for them and your little sis would think you did not send her anything. If your father and brother wears the same shoe size, indicate which is for which. Otherwise, you’d see your father wearing Adidas Yeezy and your brother wearing an all ever present frown.
Don’t put a lot of expensive items
Speaking of expensive shoes, make sure that you don’t put a lot of expensive and valuable items in the box. We could never be sure with the fate of these boxes and there is no 100% guarantee that they would reach our love ones unscathed. Think twice about putting electronics such as cellphones and or laptops. These pasalubongs are better hand carried and given to your family and love ones in person.
List all the items you put in the box
Make an inventory of the things you put in your box in case something goes missing and you could ask the forwarder. Or and this is a true story, you forgot that you put some bottles of shampoo and conditioner inside the box of teflon pots and pans that you argued with your mother about it. I kept on pestering my mom about it insisting I sent her the bottle of shampoo and conditioner that she loves. It took me three months to realize that in order to save space, I stashed them in the box of pots and pans that my mom thought it would be better to just display instead of using and getting rid of our black sooted pans.
When you are preparing to send your first balikbayan box, you’d truly feel that it is better to give than to receive. The feeling of being able to share your blessings to your love ones is rewarding even if you spend money, effort and time filling your box to the brim.