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How to Think Outside the (Half Way) Box – Decorated Box Deployment Care Package for Submariners

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There are so many amazing military care package ideas on the internet (one of my favorite blogs for inspiration is Jo, My Gosh!). The problem is, most of these ideas assume that the service member in your life is deployed on terra firma and can receive mail. While you can technically send mail to someone on a submarine, and they might even actually get it at some point before homecoming, it isn’t a sure thing. Packages can sit around for weeks or months waiting for a sub to pull into port, especially if the boat has a schedule change. If you want to make sure your submariner has something while on deployment, you have to send it with him. (Yes, I realize there are ladies on some submarines now, but the vast majority of the American sub force is still male, so please don’t take offense!)

This makes care packages and half way night boxes (packages meant to be opened on the approximate “half way point” of the deployment) for submariners a little bit tricky. You can’t bake up some biscotti and royal icing sugar cookies and mail them off a couple weeks in advance! I’m sorry to say it, but those home baked goods just aren’t going to last three or four months in a box, no matter how air conditioned a sub is. Plus, a lot of the posts detailing fantastic care package show USPS Large Flat Rate boxes. They’re 12×12 and a piece of lovely scrapbook paper fits right in the bottom. Space is tight on a submarine, so our FRG said no to large boxes and that half way boxes needed to be in a Medium Flat Rate box (or shoebox, but that nice flat rate box is free!). There go perishable goods and conveniently pre-cut patterned papers! So what’s a MilSo (or parent, sibling, friend, caring pen pal) to do for his/her submariner? Break out the wrapping paper, Mod Podge, and tape. =)

How to Decorate the Inside of a Medium Box + Submarine Care Package Ideas

If you’re not looking to make a deployment care package box, you can still keep reading. This same technique can be used decorate any box you need to mail or carry on a trip. College care packages, mailed birthday presents, hand carried house warming gifts – the list goes on!

Materials needed to make a “half way night” care package

  • Medium flat rate box
  • Wrapping paper
  • Scissors
  • Mod Podge
  • Flat paint brush (a 1/2″ brush is perfect!)
  • Ruler or quilting square
  • Clear packing tape
  • Stickers, markers, etc. to decorate as desired

materials for making a deocrating deployment care package

How to decorate the inside of a care package box

Before we get into the tutorial, please allow me to apologize for the pictures. I don’t have a photo of the paper application process because I don’t have four hands! It sure would be handy for crafting, though…

1. Take a look at your box.  You’ll notice it is held together with a tab that runs most of the box’s height along the inside. Carefully pry this loose and unfold the box.

find the tab holding the box together

pull the box apart

2. Lay the box flat on the floor or a table and then unroll the wrapping paper. The the paper so it is the correct length and width for your box, not including the tab. It doesn’t need to be papered! If you’re using a medium flat rate box, you’ll need a rectangle 14.5″ wide by 39″ long.

3. This is the trickiest step, but don’t panic! Just work carefully and everything will be fine. Get your Mod Podge, paintbrush, and ruler ready. You’re going to paint the Mod Podge onto the box a little at a time, then lay the paper down and press it flat by running the ruler along it. Start at one end and line the paper up with the box’s edges as closely as possible, then continue working a couple inches at a time until you reach the other end of the box. Use enough Mod Podge to keep the paper adhered to the box for a couple months, but don’t just slop it on there or you’ll end up with very warped paper.

medium flat rate box with wrapping paper inside

4. Once the entire box is papered, fold the box in half along a pre-exiting crease. Two of the creases will be folded and the other two flat. After a minute or two, shift the box so the previously-folded creases are flat and the creases that were flat before are now folded. Check out the photos below!

fold the box in half the other way

fold the box in half

Repeat this process a couple of times then allow the glue to dry for at least an hour or so. I recommend keeping the box folded in half during this time and pressing it under a light weight using a couple of books. I know this step seems a little silly, but if you allow the box to simply lay out flat while the Mod Podge dries, the paper is more likely to buckle with you refold the box.

5. Cut away the extra paper between the box’s flaps.

cut the paper so the box can fold

6. Use your packing tape to seal all the box’s edges. Adhere half the tape’s width to one side of the open edge, then fold it over the edge and onto the other side. This is really important if you want the paper to stay put instead of peeling off!

tape along the box flap edges

7. Reassemble your box. Start by taping the opened-up side back together, but tape the tab on the outside of the box (instead of the inside, where it was). Assemble the rest of the box as usual.

tape the box back together

8. Now you’re ready to decorate! I used lots of 3D Hawaiian stickers, but stickers, markers, and even paint can work. Don’t forget about the outside of the box, too! If you use 3D stickers like I did, make sure they’re on the areas where they won’t get squished by the other flaps once you tape the box up. I placed stickers all along the shorter flaps, but just along the middle of the longer flaps.

decorating care box ideas

9. Your box is all decorated and all you need to do now is pack the loot!

Ideas for what to include in a half way night care package

What you put in your care package is really up to you, but here are some things that I heard other wives say they were including or that I included myself.

  • Girl Scout cookies (I personally didn’t do this – I gave him his cookies ahead of time! But I know many of the guys do have cookies in their boxes)
  • Page protectors (one wife said she heard that they got to be ‘like gold’ further into the deployment)
  • Photos/photo albums
  • New pens or ink refills for favorite pens

care package ideas

  • Books/magazines
  • Games (new deck of cards, dominoes, cribbage, etc)
  • Random small personal care items like ChapStick, nail files/clippers, floss, etc.
  • Fun little items or toys, like small Legos or this sticky notes, luggage tags, a lanyard, etc. featuring a favorite character.

care package ideas 3

  • DVDs or video games
  • Stationary/cards with stamps. When the boat gets a ‘mail drop,’ they can actually send mail back off, as long as it’s stamped and ready to go. They can also send mail during port visits.

care package ideas 4

  • Coffee, tea, or other relatively non-perishable, non-breakable treats.
  • Fun socks, t-shirt, etc. that will make him smile
  • CDs or DVDs of photos

Things to not pack in a half way night box/care package

  • Anything pressurized (like a can of shaving cream)
  • Perishable snacks
  • Breakable items
  • Flash drives or memory cards (these may be allowed on a surface vessel, but we were informed we couldn’t send any to our submariners)
  • Dangerous/hazardous materials (of course!)

Other things to consider when packing

Make sure to package the items in a way that minimizes shifting around so your beautiful decorating job doesn’t get ruined! You also want to make sure a box of dominoes doesn’t crush the Girl Scout cookies, for example. I packed in layers, making sure to put something non-breakable (coffee) as a barrier between the game and other items.

pack the deployment care package

Consider how to keep any cards, photos, letters, etc from being crumpled. I placed a layer of items on the bottom, then used a t-shirt to separate the paper goods from the assortment of objects below. There’s actually a second shirt in his box, too, that’s also weightlifting-themed. I went on a mini shopping spree at Life as RX because they have some of the coolest shirts around.

care package ideas 2

If you’re packing a box for someone on a submarine, remember that plastic trash is a problem for them. They try to minimize plastic waste, so consider removing extra packaging from items before packing them in the box.


And there you have it – my best suggestions for how to create decorated care packages for submariners!

What types of items do you send in care packages and how do you help the contents stay fresh and undamaged until the box is opened?


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{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Natalie October 28, 2015, 16:32

    Thanks ladies…I’m going to start working on it hopefully this weekend before I start my next class…It never ceases to amaze me how the mail system in the military works…lol I’m going to write some letters too. It’s for 6 months, but not a hundred percent when or where since he hasn’t switched commands yet. You do etsy stuff? What kind of stuff do you sell? Thanks again ladies!!! Will share the finish product. 🙂

    • Natashalh October 28, 2015, 18:25

      Not totally sure when or where sounds completely normal! My Etsy store has everything from costal/Hawaiian Christmas stockings to weightlifting wrist wraps and all sorts of things in between. =)

  • Natalie October 9, 2015, 16:14

    Thanks for the tips!! I will have to check that website out!! And I’m hoping with me being so busy it’ll make it go by faster. I’m glad I’m not alone with that.lol It’s frustrating bc I don’t see him much now with him switching commands,getting ready for deployment, and moving,which sucks but I’m trying to see it as a warm up.lol He said if we can get through this, we can get through anything.lol. Do you guys think I should wait to give him a package or give it with the mini scrapbook? Thanks again!!!

    • Jules October 9, 2015, 16:29

      I know what you mean, mine lives in a different state right now and prepping for all of that stuff too. He’s leaving next week. Is yours going to Hawaii too? How long is his deployment? I know different subs have different deployments, I know mine will be gone about 6ish but apparently some aren’t that long so that’s a plus if your boyfriend is on one of those. 🙂 I feel the same way about not being alone in this, I’m glad I found Natasha’s blog!

      I would say give it to him now, I don’t know how reliable mail is on subs, or you can wait. I gave mine early so he can decide what to actually take on the sub versus leave at home.

      Natasha – I love your new Etsy stuff, I think I found my next box idea with one of the Anchor Christmas stockings 🙂 I know you said mail isn’t too reliable, how do you know what address to send it to?

      • Natashalh October 9, 2015, 17:31

        Jules – The address is boat specific, and on my husband’s boat they actually assigned a “box number” to each guy for this deployment. If you can get in touch with the Ombudsman or someone like that, they should be able to give you your ship’s address. =)

    • Natashalh October 9, 2015, 17:33

      That is a lot to deal with, but I agree that if you can deal with that, you can deal with anything!

      Personally, I’d give him the box when you have the chance. Sometimes they get mail quickly, but sometimes they don’t. I had things I mailed in mid April not reach my husband until late July.

  • Natalie October 3, 2015, 15:14

    Thanks for the cute idea. I too am about to undertake my first deployment with my boyfriend…plus I’m working full time and go to nursing school, so this should be interesting.lol I know he told me space is very limited so I was thinking of making a mini scrapbook with pics of us and his family and cat…along with inserting cards for the different holidays he will be gone for.(someone told me I could go to a card store and tell them my situation and they could work with me to get certain holiday cards early?). Anywho I want to give it to him before he leaves so he will have something to look at. Do you guys think this is feasible? Any suggestions would be great!! Thanks!! 🙂

    • Natashalh October 4, 2015, 07:30

      For our first deployment I went to a local card store and asked to see the “out of season” cards. I explained what was happening and they ultimately actually gave me the cards! I can’t speak for every store, but I know a lot of card stores actually keep their extra stock in drawers under the shelves and put out unused cards from “last year” when the holiday comes around again, so they still have those cards on hand. A mini scrap book sounds very cute!

      Also during his first deployment, I was working full time and a full time graduate student. It kind of made it go faster, in a way, because I was so busy! Just don’t stress schedule changes you have no control over and know he will eventually be back home. =)

    • Jules October 5, 2015, 04:21

      I just gave mine to him the other day, he doesn’t technically leave for another week but it was the last time I will see him before he gets on the boat. He appreciated it but he said to save space he might only take a few and take a picture of the rest of the cards so he can look at them later. I was terrible with the mod podge so I used a photobox instead. I included mason jars with candy, coffee, and hot cocoa but I also put in plastic ziploc bags so he can take them out of the mason jars so he doesn’t have to take them on the boat with him. I also had a box of five hour energy in there lol

      I went to a few stores to ask about the greeting cards, they tried to help me best they could but some of them I couldn’t find so I went to http://www.greetingcarduniverse.com/. There are some cute ones on there and you can customize the inside. If you have the time, have them mail it to you, if not Target also prints them.

      • Natashalh October 5, 2015, 07:05

        The mason jar sounds so cute! And it was a good idea to include an alternative that takes less space.

        Thanks for the tip about printing greeting cards! That’s a good idea. I’ve also used some really genetic ones in the past. Actually, I’ve been meaning to post about the cards I sent along this time for months but have somehow never gotten around to it!

  • Jules September 6, 2015, 05:54

    I love this! Thanks for the great ideas…I’m getting ready to deal with my boyfriend’s first deployment so I’ve been gathering ideas for his deployment care package. I would love to pick your brain about all of it…seems like a lot to prep for. Random question, do they have access to a microwave on the sub? I found a dry mix that I want to include, it just requires water and a microwave.

    • Natashalh September 6, 2015, 19:36

      Sorry to be kind of unhelpful, but asking him would probably be the best way to find out if he has access to a microwave (if you can do it without being too obvious about why you’re asking!). There are different types of subs and some have more space than others. Things like that might affect whether or not he has access to a microwave. I know my husband can always get hot water and has made cup of noodle type things, but doesn’t really have ready access to a microwave. He’s on an older/smaller boat, though.

      My deployment posts kind of got derailed by life happens, but I do have a couple more posts planned about things like letters/cards I include and the like. Hopefully those posts can help you out, too! (Spoiler: I started sending a card a month along with him and dating them. I’ve learned the “Open when…” cards are cute seeming, but are more likely to be opened too soon or not at all.)

      I hope deployment goes well for you. It’s tough, but there are up sides and it doesn’t last forever!

      Oh, and if they have port calls you’re able to visit, do it. It’s totally worthwhile!

      • Jules September 9, 2015, 04:45

        Thank you! I started the open when cards, but you’re right he’s probably going to forget to open then lol but I’ll give it a shot but I will probably still try to send some in addition to the deployment package.

        Port calls seem fun, I would love to go visit, I love traveling. He was telling me there was no telling how long they would be, I’m such a planner but I’m starting to learn, I can’t plan too much because things will probably change. 🙂

        • Natashalh September 9, 2015, 04:53

          Yeah…the only thing that remains the same is the constant change! You definitely have to be a bit flexible. Whenever possible, I just try to show up a couple days early and stay a couple days late. I wasn’t able to do that for our last port call together. Their dates changed last minute and then were were only together for three days! But I’ll take what I can get. =)

          I send along a card for every month, I just date it. Last deployment I sent a few cards, and one was an “open when…” he literally never opened it! I think it’s still unopened in a drawer at home.

  • Malia May 31, 2015, 20:16

    Your halfway box is awesome! I’m still gathering ideas for mine and hoping to find that big creative spark soon. Love all the touches you put!!

    • Natashalh June 1, 2015, 06:24

      Thank you! Honestly, mine just kind of grew and grew. I think every time I went to the store I got more stickers! Best of luck planning your own half way box, and remember that he’ll be super excited to open it no matter what the inside looks like. =)

  • Paige May 8, 2015, 03:29

    This is so thoughtful! I love that you took the extra step of adding the paper, because that really does make it more exciting to look at.

    • Natashalh May 8, 2015, 14:32

      The inside of that box just isn’t very pretty without something! This same technique works well for mailing gifts, in general.

  • Lana May 8, 2015, 03:08

    Oh my goodness!!! You did it again! Love to see your husband face when he will open this box 🙂 That wrapping paper is so fun and cheerful and made with love, he will cry :)!!!

    • Natashalh May 8, 2015, 14:31

      He might! Hopefully in a good way, though. I am really excited for when he gets to open this box! I’m sure he won’t open it early, though, so there is still a bit of time before he will open it.

  • Duni May 7, 2015, 21:34

    I can see how much thought and care you put into this sweet package! The Hawaii-themed paper is so cute 🙂

    • Natashalh May 8, 2015, 14:28

      I love this paper! It’s on Amazon, but for about 4x as much as I can get it in stores here. I will have to stock up before we move!

  • Edi May 7, 2015, 15:41

    You have one lucky submariner there 🙂 He’s going to know you put so much thought and work into this package!
    I love the idea of putting wrapping paper on the inside to jazz it up! And smart thinking about removing extra waste before sending.

    • Natashalh May 8, 2015, 14:29

      He is really awesome – I got two emails telling me how much he appreciated the time I put into a different gift I sent with him! Knowing he will appreciate the effort I put into items sent along makes me even happier to put together packages for him. =)

  • Judy Nolan May 7, 2015, 08:26

    Even though this post was written with a submariner in mind, the decorated box and waste-removal suggestions are applicable to a care box for anyone in the military, a college student, or anyone who lives far away from you! The decorated box, in a nutshell, says “I care about you.” Lovely! Besides the usual snacks or nice T-shirt, I like to tuck in a DVD or specialty magazine when I send a care box. And for someone who is NOT on a submarine, maybe a gift card to StarBucks, a bookstore, or an electronics store like Best Buy.

    • Natashalh May 7, 2015, 09:31

      He would be so happy with a Starbucks gift card, if only he had a place to redeem it! I know some people think gift cards are a cop-out, but I personally enjoy them because they combine the fun of going shopping with the treat of a present. =)

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