Receiving Mail + Packages On The Road
One of the most complicated parts of full-time van travel is not having a shipping address. When we hit the road full-time, we had a lot of unanswered questions:
Where do we send packages to and how to we get them?
What if our mail gets returned? Where does it go?
What about important documents sent in the mail, like bank cards and ballots?
As with nearly all aspects of van travel, there are many ways to go about crafting a mobile lifestyle. Fortunately, when it comes to mail and packages, we've tried a wide variety of methods. So in this blog post, you get to read about all of them, including when and how to use these methods and our overall experience with them. As always, if you have any questions please drop us a line in the comments or reach out through our Contact page.
Method #1: Use a temporary address.
If you have a friend or family member in the area, it's always nice to see if they're alright with allowing you to receive a package at their place. But in lieu of having a trusted party to accept mail at a residential address (as is often the case), you can have your mail sent to a couple of places for pick up.
PRO TIP: It's important to know that a package's destination depends greatly on the carrier. A package sent via USPS, for example, cannot be delivered to a FedEx Office. If you try to do this the package will not be delivered-- so know how the sender will be sending the package before giving them a shipping address, or give them a couple of options so they can decide how they want to send it later.
You can search online for the address of the local Post Office in the town you're staying and use this as your "General Delivery" address. This is how the address will look:
c/o FULL NAME
City, State Zip Code
PROs: To pick up the package, you'll need to visit the Post Office and have your ID ready, but that's about it. There is no charge to pick up your mail there through General Delivery. The Post Office will hold your mail for up to 30 days, which gives some nice wiggle room. Additionally, if you end up needing to move locations before your mail arrives, no need to sweat it. Just call the Post Office you were expecting the mail to get to and, if they have it, give them a new General Delivery address to send it to. They typically do it at no charge so long as it's a small piece of regular mail or USPS Priority Mail of any size.
CONs: In our experience, USPS has a very poor track record for getting mail to us on time or to the address it was intended to be shipped to. In other words: I try to avoid them at all costs. That said, USPS is sometimes a necessary component and we just learn to be patient and expect the unexpected when we use them.
FedEx/UPS Delivery Centers
Just like USPS, you can have packages sent to FedEx and UPS for pick up if they are being sent through either of those carriers. FedEx calls this "hold at location" and UPS calls this "hold for pickup" but it's all the same thing!
To receive your package at one of these stores, find the FedEx or UPS closest to where you'll be and simply send your contact that address. It'll look like this:
FedEx / UPS
c/o FULL NAME
City, State Zip Code
PROs: Like USPS, there is no charge for pick-up at these locations and all you need to provide is ID. Additionally, the tracking features and quality of service exceed that of USPS, so in our experience we've had mail get to where it's supposed to more often when using these carriers.
CONs: Because our mail has arrived on time to these locations, we haven't had to forward mail to another distribution service before, so if you ever need to do this you may encounter redirect fees. Additionally, both FedEx and UPS will only hold your package at their facility for 5 business days, so it's important to be prompt with picking up your items.
Overall, getting mail into your hands will ultimately come down to using a temporary address of some kind, so we strongly recommend trying with a test piece of mail first to understand how everything will work best for you and your travel style.
Method #2: Use a Mail Service.
There are a handful of mail services out there that will hold, scan, shred, and ship your packages for you at a subscription-based cost. After a few missed packages, we decided to try out a mail service to see what it would be like to have a single shipping address for others to send packages and mail to. From our research, we chose US Global Mail for a handful of reasons:
Trustworthy - Since a mail forwarding service manages (sometimes) crucial and personal information, it's important to use one that's trustworthy. US Global Mail has been accredited with the Better Business Bureau for nearly 15 years and holds an 'A' grade. In addition, we also found a wealth of positive online reviews for their service.
Shipping Address - One downside to using the majority of mail services is that the address you use can read in the way a PO Box does, which means it's not easily to use for things like insurance and banking. Because of the way US Global Mail structures its customer addresses, we have something that looks like a typical street address with an apartment number.
Reasonable Rates - You can have a mail box set up for as low as $10/month (paid as an annual sum), but even their monthly rates are in the same ballpark. As entrepreneurs, we also appreciate their Business Mailbox program so we can keep things rolling along with us!
Excellent Customer Service - From seamless set-up assistance to timely, thorough customer service, the USGM team is a delight. And when you're in the middle of nowhere wondering where USPS has sent your package to, you'll be glad you get to speak with these folks for some help. Even after Hurricane Harvey, their team was up and running within 3 days.
To get started with US Global Mail, you can visit their website and shop around. If you like what you see, you can get 1-month free with our referral!
PROs: This is an extremely reliable, single point of contact for anyone to deliver mail and packages to. You can have things scanned, mailed, shredded, and shipped to wherever you need it to be without placing the hassle on whoever is going to send you something. Many mail services like US Global Mail will even re-package multiple items into 1 box and send it to you, which is handy.
CONs: For anyone on an extremely tight budget, having a mail service does come at an added cost. I would also make the case that there is an emotional cost to worrying about your mail getting lost or missing something important, but if you have an adequate network of friends and family in your travel path then the cost might not seem worth it. Also, at the end of the day you still need to ship your packages from your mailing service to a temporary address and have them shipped to a Post Office, FedEx, or UPS near you, so using a mailing service doesn't circumvent this.
Overall, we feel much better off having a shipping and return address we can trust, so the cost is completely worth it to us!
What questions and tips do you have for receiving mail? We'd love to hear about it in the comments!
Editor's Note: Just to be clear, this is not a sponsored post for US Global Mail or any other services mentioned here. We are using the referral program that every customer of US Global Mail is able to take part in and are not paid to write this review, either financially or in-kind.