When some people go on holiday they bring back magnets or postcards. I bring back booze. For a long time I was just bringing back beer to give as gifts or share with friends, but that eventually evolved to spirits as well. When I went to Scotland earlier this year my home whisky collection ended up getting a huge upgrade.
When you're travelling overseas you don't really have any other option except to put your booze in your checked luggage. If you've ever watched someone load suitcases onto the plane, then you know that your precious cargo is in peril from pretty much the second you drop it off for your flight.
There is a right and wrong way to pack it. Here's what I do using stuff I already have:
Wrap Each Bottle
I typically put each bottle first in a sock and then wrapped again with the thickest clothing I have. Think sweaters, sweatshirts, jeans… the thicker the better. The key here is to protect especially the neck of the bottle. In most cases, if the bottle is going to break, it's going to be because the neck broke. Pay extra special care to that part, while making sure you've covered the entire bottle. If you've got any bag lying around, tying your bottle up in those (either before or after you wrap, depending on its size) can help minimise damage if there happens to be a breakage.
Build a Wall
When you pack the suitcase, your goal is to make sure there's no way possible that your bottles can end up touching any side of your suitcase. I typically start by building a base on the bottom of my suitcase with a layer or shirts or other clothing I didn't use to wrap bottles. Then you want to build a protective wall around the sides of your suitcase. Shoes work great for this. If you don't have shoes, try rolled up shirts or pants. Anything you have that's going to put an extra layer of protection between your bottles and the sides of your suitcase.
Layer Your Bottles
Place your bottles in the center of your suitcase, with the top of a bottle posting the same way as the bottom of the next bottle. Separate each bottle with additional clothing you have on hand. You want to make it as hard as possible for your bottles to touch each other.
Top it Off
The top of your suitcase is just as important to protect as the bottom. Take all your remaining clothes and create a protective barrier for the top of the bag as well.
That's it. I've been travelling with wine, beer, and liquor in my bags for over a decade now and so far I haven't had any casualties.
Some pro tips: If you're shopping at a distillery or vineyard they can sometimes give you a box for your purchase or wrap it in bubble wrap for you. Take advantage of this. In Italy every wine shop I went to had bubble wrap sleeves for my purchases. In Scotland, there were boxes for each bottle of scotch. It does make things a tiny bit tighter come packing time, but it also makes them safer.
If you're travelling and plan on buying booze I also recommend picking up a collapsable duffle bag to use if for some reason your alcohol has displaced so much room in your suitcase all your stuff doesn't fit anymore. And next time you upgrade your suitcase pick a hard-sided one over a squishy one!
Finally, if you're *really* going for it when it comes to travelling with booze, you might want to consider buying a dedicated suitcase for it. I purchased #beercase as I affectionately call it at a local winery one day. It's essentially a 12-bottle styrofoam wine case with a suitcase built around it with wheels. The light material means it's be under the maximum weight for most airlines even when loaded with 12 bottles of wine.
It's huge and totally not practical for every trip you go on, but if you're going somewhere like Napa and plan on coming back with a ton of bottles, it makes packing a snap.
Mine is branded with the winery logo from where I bought it, but you can snag a generic one from Amazon as well.