- Bundle all your rods together, with string, rubber bands, bungee cords, whatever. You can wrap each individual rod in a cloth, if you want to be especially safe, but I don't know that doing so is absolutely necessary. Do wrap a cloth around all of them when you've lashed them together.
- Measure the diameter of your bundle-of-rods.
- Buy or mooch a PVC tube that's wide enough to fit all your rods. Make sure you get two end caps as well.
- Pack the rods into the PVC tube, and fill the empty space with a filler. Packing peanuts work best, but bubble wrap can be effective, as can crumpled up newspaper. The idea is that the rods should be packed snugly inside the tube, and if the tube gets dropped during shipment (which it will), the rods will not bang against the inside of the tube and break.
- Tape up the end caps when you've stuffed the inside with filler.
- Ship the rods via UPS ground or FedEx ground. As long as your tube is less than nine feet long, you won't have to take out a second mortgage (tubes nine feet long and longer get surcharged).
- Make sure to insure your package.
- You can ship the tube home the same way.
There are other, cheaper ways to pack rods (some guys use cardboard tubes, which are a lot cheaper than PVC), but don't skimp if you want your rods to remain unbroken. I've sent and received a lot of blanks and rods, and this is by far the safest way to send them. I can't tell you how many cardboard tubes I've received that were snapped in half, usually when the tube got caught on a conveyor belt in a shipping center.
For a 6-inch diameter PVC tube that's 8 feet long and weighs about 10 lbs., expect to pay about $30 each way to ship (check with FedEx and UPS; one might have a better rate than the other).
But if you can't bring your rods on the plane -- and these days, you almost certainly can't -- I'd pack them securely, and ship them back and forth. If you let the airline handle them, they're going to charge you a fortune in baggage fees, and they'll probably get broken. Paying UPS $60 to get them there and back might seem like a lot, but it'll be WAY less thpedddan the airline charges -- I've seen baggage charges as high as $300 (each way) to check fishing rods on an airplane.