Traveling to places around the world in search of shelling destinations for great treasure hunting are the best vacations ever. Nothing beats bringing home the most beautiful of all souvenirs to remember a fabulous trip to the beach… seashells. But then, how do you get breakable seashells, sea urchins and sand dollars home in your suitcase without them breaking?
Clark and I are now pros at packing our suitcases to and from our destination for our shelling trips. We pack our shells for safe traveling in all sorts of recycled containers like plastic nut jars, Pringles cans, plastic lunch meat containers, butter tubs, plastic Gatorade and water bottles. The real key to this? We take lots of containers with us so we know there will be room in our suitcases on the way back. Some times our containers are empty when we depart for our trip but if we travel to remote islands, we carry snacks, breakfast food and other goodies in those big containers so by the time we are ready to pack up to head home, they are empty and ready to be filled back up with shells. We use layers of paper towels (or plastic bags or other recycled material) to fill air space so they don’t move around at all.
We are addicted to Gatorade for long beach combing days so we always have it on hand. It keeps us hydrated but it also has a nice wide mouth opening so when it’s empty, we fill them with durable mini shells to stay safe and compact while out on the beach. Then after the shells and bottle is washed and rinsed, we fill it back up with clean treasures. It hardly takes up any room in our suitcase or back pack. When we get home, I empty out a few pieces from the top then cut the bottle with a knife to get everything else out safely. Do you see that long white bottle? On one of our shelling days at Guantanamo Bay, Susan found that very sturdy bottle washed up on the beach and asked me if I wanted it. Yes! That will be perfect for layering SEA URCHINS and other really fragile BEACH BLING. It worked! Not one URCHIN broke.
Clark was worried about our vintage Cuban Hatuey bottles we found in Gtmo so he packed each one in his shelling boots and packed other shells (like FLAMINGO TONGUES, WEST INDIAN TOPS and a CARIBBEAN VASE) in his snorkeling gloves. Perfect!
At home, we love to make Jungle Juice (aka an Arnold Palmer -Iced tea mixed with lemonade) made with Crystal Light. I NEVER throw away the containers the packets come in and always travel with at least two of them in my suitcase for fragile shells. It was a perfect fit for these RAZOR CLAMS, CHITON, EGG COCKLE, FLAME SCALLOP, FLAT SCALLOP, ANTILLIAN SCALLOP and whatever that TUBE WORM is we found in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I don’t know but it’s the fattest WORMIE I’ve ever found!
See how well it contains an ANGEL WING?
SAND DOLLARS are tricky but I love chicken salad/deli salad containers for these. If you pack these with paper towels (again, you can use anything for padding for layering- I’ve even heard people using slices of bread) so they don’t move around too much, they will probably make it home without breaking. Once the container is packed, I then wrap a tee shirt around it and find a nice space in the middle of the suitcase and build around it with other clothes so that nothing can crush it.
Believe it or not, it’s very rare that I ever travel with more than a roller bag and a backpack (we both have an OverBoard Waterproof Backpack – they go any where!). At times I’ll put the backpack inside a tote bag to have just a little more room for a jacket and things I need to get to easily but it is still considered only 2 carry-ons. We rarely check our bags and we travel to places that only require bathing suits, short and tee shirts so why pack so much? We wash our suits and shirts every night so they’ll dry the next day… so who cares if we wear the same thing 2 different days on vacation? We surely don’t! We’d rather have extra room for shells.
There are several more very important parts of the process of packing shells to get them home….
1 -We always make sure we never have a living being in the shells. We always look for them on the beach but some times those little hermit crabs get so deep in the shell, we don’t see them until the evening wash down. Then we have time to return them.
2- If we don’t have bleach or detergent to wash the shells, we make sure they are rinsed with fresh water and dried.
3- We never take what we won’t use. We always sort through our shells each day to only take the best ones. It happens every time… our first day is so exciting, we collect fragments of shells we have never found before. That’s why on each day while we are admiring our finds for the day and washing them down, we start a pile of the things that won’t be traveling with us. We either give away these shells to someone else (in my humble opinion, we even have fabulous discards- LOL). These were the shells we collected in Cat Island that we left at our room.
These are the shells that didnt make our cut on the last day of our trip to Thailand. The manager of our resort in Krabi, Thailand was pleased to have our rejects too!
I’m sure there are other really good ways to pack shells but this method works for us and it gets our shells back home safe and sound. The most important thing is to enjoy what you find and don’t fuss too much about taking everything you see. You will forever have beautiful memories being surrounded by your treasures from around the world.
PS-To see how we display a few of our shells, CLICK HERE.
I like to use prescription containers of all sizes for the really tiny mini’s and for exceptionally fragile finds. Also, I always bring two extra large foam meat trays (the kind that that you get from the supermarket) for things like starfish, sea whips, etc. Put the items in one tray, cover with crumpled up tissues to keep them from moving around and invert the other tray for the top. I use rubber bands to hold it together then wrap the whole shebang in a tee shirt or two. I’ve also gone the Pringles route for things like urchins, fig shells and other larger fragile things. :-)
I was curious – did you ever have any problem taking shells from Cuba? When they search your luggage, do they say anything about them?
Toilet paper, toilet paper and more toilet paper….Empty metallic ziplocs ranging from dog food sized to candy sized…and giant plastic pickle jars from Costoc…GOOD TIPS PAM!!!
We saved egg cartons and other containers from our stay, and our condo had an air-pop popcorn popper, so I filled around the shells with popcorn, and just composted it when we got home. (Made sure we didn’t toss any shells, though!)
Clever idea with the popcorn!
Empty clamshell containers from salad or lettuce work great.
thanks for the ideas i’ll make sure I have lots of containers when we come down thanx for the info sincerely R.G.STEIN
When we travel to Sanibel and then back to Connecticut I always have one of those big empty cat litter bins in my suitcase. On the way down, it’s full of shampoos, empty containers, personal items that I’ll use during the vacation. On the way back, it’s full of shells in ziplock containers, deli salad containers, crystal lite containers… anything that fits. The little containers fitting inside the large plastic container provides even more protection. I think I have had one sand dollar break in the last 4 trips… Thanks for all the good tips and all the wonderful shell photos and trivia you’ve provided us all! Keeps me sane when I can’t be there in person…
For the medium to small sized shells, i love the compartment storage boxes you can get in the bead/ jewelry making section of a craft store or home improvement store. They fit in my carryon too so there’s a must bring when i travel to Sanibel!
Where did you get those blue containers that your shells are in those shadow boxes? They make a great background to showcase your shells!
I agree Lindsay. It was a perfect pop of color to show off those shells. I think they’re in a display table? Do tell, Pam.
thanks for asking! I just adding the information in my post about my display table and the aqua display inside as well but I did a post on it a while back… here it is…. http://www.iloveshelling.com/blog/2014/01/31/seashell-display-table-ideas/
Thank you for the tips! I really like your beachcombing philosophy, and how it aligns with a fundamental lesson of “good living” in general: “the important thing is to enjoy what you find and don’t fuss too much about taking everything you see” :)
My husband & I use food containers too – then get a large box from the post office in Sanibel and ship our shells back home (it’s around $15 or so to ship). We use up the newspapers we read from our stay, & pack extra t-shirts, socks, etc for cushioning in the box. We lighten our carry on bags for the trip home & keep our shells safe!
great tips! and perfect timing as we’ll be in Sanibel at the Island Inn in 28 days!!! thanks once again Pam for a great post.
What I do is pack my most precious shells (these are mostly tiny), and the most fragile shells, in very small zip locks (with locality data) and then in plastic food containers which stack and go in my carry-on. Shells that are more rugged and less rare are in larger freezer-quality zip locks with data slips. These larger zip locks are then packed together into good quality box, the kind that is like a super-strong shoe box covered in fabric. Any left-over space in the box is filled with small clothing items. The box then goes into my checked bag surrounded by clothing. The checked bag is then safe to be hurled around in transit. I have never had more than a maximum of one or two shells break, and that is without using any kind of wrapping for the shells at all. When the box is in my luggage coming to my destination, it is filed with food supplies.
I always declare my shells when coming through customs back into the USA and have never had a problem bringing them in to the country as I don’t have any CITES species.
Leaving the country I am visiting I always make sure I have the relevant collecting permit so that my shells cannot be seized at the airport, as can sometimes happen.
Pam-I got my Nook fixed! Yeh pictures. I use 2 rubber maid shoebox size boxes, some craft boxes ,yogurt containers and lots of zip lock bags. I usually send some home-but only the sturdy shells like murex and fighting conch. The more fragile ones go in my carryon with plenty of tissue and paper towels. If I have extra shells, I’ve sometimes have taken them to the shell museum-they give shells to the children. Love your pictures. Pat
Funnily enough, I saw this post yesterday while I was packing… And I’m in the airport today, and will be shortly on my way to Sanibel. Loved this post! Thanks for all your hard work, Pam!
What are you going to create with all of the shells you found
I’m creating…. A beautiful website with information about lots of different shells and bling to find around the world to let other folks enjoy the sport of shelling and hopefully help them identify the beach treasures they find.
Pam, My husband wants some shoes like these for our trip in November. Can you please tell me who they are made by? :) Thanks
I tried to find them online to link them in the post but I didn’t find the exact ones… but the are Patagonia dive boots. I hope you find them- Clark loves them!
Just got back from Turks & Caicos and we also travel to the Bahamas each year. Like you, I have become an expert shell packer to get my treasures home safely. I always bring at least one bag of cotton balls (although you can usually purchase them) as well as Pringles and other snacks in hardy packaging (for ex., peanut butter filled pretzels in a large screwtop container). Urchins are packed with one to three cotton balls inserted into the skeleton and then wrapped in toilet paper. I’ve brought back sea fans simply wrapped in t.p. and placed between magazines in my luggage. Shoe boxes are good for packing foodstuffs on the way and shells on the way home. Also bring rubber bands to strap around your containers to add to their staying closed and not popping open. Great ideas, everyone!
Hello everyone! When my friend and I go to Sanibel each year, we ship the sturdy shells home in a USPS box – the one-price-regardless-of-weight boxes. We don’t wrap the shells, just layer in the box, shake to settle, layer more, shake/settle. You can get lots in the box. Horse conchs great to ship this way (I don’t need any more of these but can’t resist!) Then, at top, pack in wads of paper -tightly – so no rattling can be heard when box is shaken. I’ve only had 2 broken horse conchs in 3 years.
What kind of container would you recommend while collecting while beachcombing & collecting seashells? By the time I get them back to my room the more fragile ones are broken. :(