Get paid as a travel mule

Ever wonder what to do with your extra baggage allowance that comes with elite status? I know that when there was a butter shortage in Norway around Christmas a couple years ago I did some quick math on what the margins would be on importing and reselling 200 pounds of the stuff after paying for a weekend jaunt. I also seriously considered reselling a few iPhones in Istanbul when I had a weekend trip already booked for the same week one of the new models came out in the USA (they were fetching a $100-200 premium in Turkey according to some reports). But I never did it. Mostly because in both of those cases the I didn’t want to risk having the goods confiscated by Customs officials and I didn’t really want to put in the effort to set up my own black market deals.


The Customs issues may still remain, but now there’s a website to help out with arranging the deals and managing the payments via an escrow system. Welcome to Backpack. The company plays middleman, lining up buyers and sellers and offering quick links to help facilitate the buy-side of the transaction (with a nice affiliate kicker from Amazon or eBay, naturally; hey, they need to make money, too!) and setting up an escrow system to handle the financial side of things. That means currency conversions and sketchy back-alley cash deals are off the table, which is probably good for everyone involved.

Yes, you have to front the cash to buy the goods. And you have to deal with actually carrying the stuff to the destination and getting your “gift for a friend” past the Customs officers. And there’s still the slightly sketchy bit about meeting a random stranger and delivering goods to them. But, on the plus side, you’re not carrying an unidentified container (you make the purchase yourself; they don’t give you a box full of “stuff” to carry) so slightly lower risk there. Then again, if you’re importing something which is restricted in the destination country that could be an issue. And I’d still recommend against carrying a whole lot of things such that the dollar value of your collection exceeds the duty-free allowance of the destination. And I’m not so sure that Backpack pays any attention to that aspect, provides any guidance or even links to help you research the issue.

Don’t get me wrong: I still think it is all pretty sketchy. But this just might be enough – especially the escrow bit which I need to read more about – to get from “no effing way” to “may as well check to see if there’s anything easy on this trip” and pay back a bit of my travels. I’m not expecting to pay off my mortgage with this, but a bit of spending money at each destination wouldn’t suck, right??

If nothing else, their flexibility for gender in the sign-up page deserves a bit of love.


Oh, and everything is handled from the home office in Bangladesh, including their affiliate referral link scheme. And the referral kicker is a decent sum; the 1500 BDT you earn for a friend playing mule is ~USD $20 while the friend gets a BDT 500 (~$7) credit for a future shopping effort. Not too shabby.

There’s no way to search for destinations where people want stuff (at least not that I can see) so I don’t know that I could play the “I’ll go anywhere this weekend so long as someone is buying when I get there” game (is that even a game!??!) but the general gist of the site is reasonable enough.

Also, if you’re inviting people via email do them one at a time, not all at once. Otherwise everyone will get CC’d on each email sent out. Yeah, the tech on that aspect of the site isn’t so great right now. Oopsie.

h/t Hans for the share originally.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. WTH, i’ll sign up. Better than the drugs I was transporting before. [warning, i may be pimping out my referral link once i try out the service.]

  2. Back in the day you used to be able to fly for free as an air courier for a number of quite reliable companies. They used your baggage allowance (and extra bags — I think I once had 30 with me) to transport documents and other overnight packages, and you would carry a manifest and meet their receiver at customs so he could take over the bags and clear them (your job was done).
    Quite safe and I made many free flights this way, including one on the Concorde.
    This doesn’t sound quite as safe.

    1. Yes, I did the courier option several times before 9/11, which basically killed it as an option. I did the JFK-MEX flight with World Courier, even got SkyPesos for it! Then, after I turned over the baggage to World’s rep, I’d take the overnight bus to Acapulco to start my vacation! Cheap vacation, back then!

  3. Wouldn’t it be easier just to sign up to be an air courier? Getting paid for transportation and the miles?

  4. Why is it unsafe ? Meet in a public place like a food court. I like the concept and just signed up.

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