How to Make the Best Military Care Packages, From a Wife Who's Done It for 20+ Years

tying a brown paper package with string
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True story: When my husband deployed shortly after we got married, I sent him a care package of homemade fudge. The recipe said the fudge would keep for up to two weeks at room temperature. Only, the package took over three weeks to reach his ship.

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My poor husband got his package and ate some fudge after standing watch one night. He thought it tasted a little ... off, but he didn't make anything of it. It was night and he was under red lights, so he did not see the green mold growing on the fudge until the next day. Yuck! Gross! Thankfully, he lived to tell the tale (and still tells that story years later). I learned an important lesson about care packages: Never, EVER send anything that won't keep for at least a month.

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So what makes a good care package for a military spouse? A little bit of home in a box. Your package should be personalized and one of a kind, but you can't go wrong with a balance of necessities, treats, and fun distractions. Before getting started, check to see whether his command has guidelines (beyond regular post office regulations) regarding size, weight, and contents. 

Of course, you'll want to ask for requests. But a basic list of necessities might include a couple rolls of toilet paper (yes, I'm serious), a small bottle of air freshener, travel sizes of deodorant, body wash, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, shampoo, shaving cream, disposable razors, toothpaste and a new toothbrush, mouthwash, lip balm, sunscreen, eye drops, over-the-counter pain relievers, baby powder, cotton socks, and gel insoles. Extra batteries for electronics are also welcome. Pack anything that might leak in its own zipper-lock plastic bag.

Once you have the necessities out of the way, it's time to pick the fun stuff. A new book by a favorite author or the first in a series, plus recent issues of magazines or graphic novels are always good choices. If he has a way to play them, include a few DVDs. Oldies are inexpensive, but a new release will be a treat.

Other fun (and distracting) stuff to send: Mad Libs; a deck of cards or a tabletop game that doesn't take up too much space (think Yahtzee or Dominoes); a notepad and pen to write letters home (don't forget a few pre-stamped envelopes); a sketchbook and colored pencils. Even if he isn't the artsy type, a coloring books for grown-ups might be a fun way for him to unwind. You can also include crossword puzzles and Sudoku books, catalogs, or a blank journal.

You probably email pictures all the time and he might have occasional access to your social media, but there is nothing like being able to hold a photo or tape it by the bed. So send a few recent snapshots. You could also make a small album and include prints of older photos from when you met, your wedding, or when your children were born. Be creative, but skip the glass picture frames and keep the heirloom photos at home.

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Even if you're craft-challenged like me, there is one easy and fun project that he will love and won't take up too much space. Have the kids decorate a pillowcase with fabric markers or use an iron-on photo transfer sheet with a picture of your family. Give it a spritz of your perfume and tuck it into a zipper-lock bag. He'll appreciate the art, and the scent will remind him of home every time he goes to bed.

By now, your care package is getting full, but maybe you can squeeze in a few sweet extras. Remember my fudge story? Yeah, don't send fudge. Try homemade cookies packed in an airtight container with a slice of sandwich bread. The bread absorbs excess moisture while the cookies stay soft. If baking isn't your thing, pack trail mix, hard candy, beef jerky, or any snack in a rigid package. Powdered drink mixes such as hot chocolate, instant coffee, and lemonade are always popular (and shared). Don't forget gum or mints. But hold the chocolate -- it'll melt.

If you're sending to an FPO or APO, the post office offers a mailing kit to help you out. Make sure you fill out the customs forms and address label neatly. It doesn't hurt to also tuck an address label and list of contents inside the box, in case it gets damaged in shipping. For that same reason, it's also wise to reinforce your box's seams. Packages can get pretty beaten up in transit to other parts of the world!

Keep in mind that he probably does't have a lot of space to store things. The largest USPS box is 12 x 12 x 5.5. If you're planning on sending more than one package, be sure to number them. That way, he'll know the order in which to open them if they arrive at the same time.

The very last thing to go in your care package should be a handwritten letter or card letting him know he is missed and loved. Now, your care package is ready!

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