When it comes to traveling full-time, one of the biggest concerns is how to receive physical mail. Not only what address to use, but also how to receive it. It's an understandable concern since you're obviously not going to have a physical street address or mailbox to check! The good news is, it's not all that difficult with a little bit of planning, and there are several solutions available from which you can choose.
1- Friends and Family
The obvious first choice here might be to have all your mail sent to a stationary friend or family member back home. This is the most convenient option, but it also means you're going to be waiting a lot longer for your mail. The US Postal Service does not allow forwarding of packages or express mail without extra charges and this can add up quickly.
If this is the direction you are considering going, it can work well if you thoroughly trust the person. If it is someone you don't mind opening your mail, it can have many benefits. They can even run checks down to the bank and deposit them for you!
You may need to pay this person a small fee for their services, but I believe the overall goal here should be to try your best to minimize what their duties would be. This means doing things like canceling physical magazine subscriptions, sign up for paperless billing whenever available, and avoid packages being shipped to their address.
This person's duties would be pretty simple: receive your mail, let you know what came in, and ship it to you if necessary.
For the receiving part, you could choose to change your physical address to theirs so your mail gets delivered to their house, or you could use a private mailbox in town and provide them with access. Either way works fine. Using their address tends to be more convenient for them and getting a mailbox might give you more options in the event that you need to change the person who is responsible for your mail.
Once they receive the mail, they will need to look through it and make some judgment calls. There is always unwanted mail you will want them to simply toss, but you want to be able to trust them with the responsibility of deciding what is trash and what isn't. After they let you know what came in, you may need access to it.
Now for the "ship it to you" part. Some things may be able to be simply scanned and emailed to you in PDF format. For this reason, you may want to think about buying the person a scanner. After all, it's the least you can do! There may be physical items or important documents that have to be physically shipped to you. In that case, you will have to coordinate with your mail surrogate on timing the shipping. Preferably have them ship to you at a campground you just arrived at and will be for a week or more.
You will most likely need to work out payment for not only shipping costs but reimbursing the person for their time. After all, they are providing you a valuable service!
2- Virtual Mailbox Services
Having someone close to you handle your mail might be the first choice, but it may not be the best one for some people. Maybe there's no one you can trust with that level of responsibility, or maybe you simply have too much mail and feel guilty laying that responsibility on someone. Anyone in situations like that may feel at a loss, but not to worry! There are solutions!
What I'm referring to here are virtual mailbox services, sometimes called mail forwarders. These are similar to having a mailbox at PakMail or a UPS Store, but instead of just receiving your mail for you and sticking it in a box for you to pick up, mail forwarders actually manage your incoming mail for you.
Services these types of companies include may include disposing of junk mail, opening, scanning, and forwarding your regular mail in addition to providing assistance in establishing a legal domicile in a state more conducive to full-time RVing. Many even provide you with what looks like a physical street address that you can use as your permanent address.
2a- My RV Mail
One such service is My RV Mail. They are a very RV-focused service. They provide a mailing address in Florida, which is one of the most sought-after states for full-timers to keep their residency.
The biggest advantage to using My RV Mail for your mail service is for businesses. They are the most popular for full-time RVers who run businesses on the road because their business plan includes a business phone number you can forward to your cell phone, faxes, and customizable voicemail for your business.
They also offer check depositing, which is a big plus for folks who get checks by mail. You won't even have to have them sent to you. My RV Mail can simply deposit it for you.
If you have a business that requires a business phone line, or you receive physical checks often, I recommend you go with My RV Mail. If those two scenarios don't fit you, keep reading!
2b- Anytime Mailbox
A much more affordable service (and the one I personally use exclusively) is called Anytime Mailbox.
This service provides the most diverse options for address locations available. They have locations in almost every state so you have a wide variety of options to choose from according to what domicile you need. At last check, they have almost 1,200 locations from which to choose.
Anytime Mailbox partners with places like Mailboxes Ect., PakMail, Mailboxes and More, and other similar places to provide the actual mailbox for their service which makes it a very versatile solution with locations everywhere. They provide scanning, forwarding, sorting (getting rid of junk mail), and shredding of your mail.
One thing that makes their service unique is they also have the ability to offer local pickup. So if you plan to be visiting a particular location often, chances are good they have a location nearby which will save you in forwarding charges.
Truth is, with Anytime Mailbox your level of personal service will differ depending on the location you choose. If you want to be able to call and talk to someone, you'll want to pick a location that is in more of a rural area. I've found these places to be more likely to take the time to speak with you on the phone.
There are many other services like these out there to choose from. These are the two I feel are most reliable and don't require any kind of membership to join. Feel free to do your own research!
Now that you have the job of receiving your mail worked out, it's time we discuss packages and other things to make mail on the road easier. All of the previous solutions solved the problem with "flat" mail... but what about packages? Sure your friend or any of the mail forwarding services can receive packages and forward them to you, but that's extra money. You have to pay the shipping costs to have the package shipped to the receiver, then you have to pay to have the package shipped to you.
Why not try to save that money?
We save money on shipping costs by having the packages shipped directly to us (duh!). Of course, this in and of itself comes with its own set of challenges.
There are a few considerations you need to take into account before having a package delivered to you.
- How long will you stay at your current location?
- Are you going to be there long enough to receive the package? Don't make the mistake of thinking "we're going to be there Wednesday and Thursday, so I can have it mailed Monday and I'll be fine." Things happen. Don't ship anywhere you're not going to be for very long. It will only create stress.
- What shipping options does the vendor provide?
- If you're going to be somewhere for a week, you're probably ok ordering Amazon Prime, but do you really want to order a custom-made item that ships Priority Mail? Probably not. Make sure that you're staying in a location for twice the delivery time just in case.
- Can deliveries be made to the park?
- Some parks don't allow deliveries at all. Reasons for this vary such as security, or they could simply want to avoid the hassle. Either way, you want to verify with the park that deliveries are allowed before having anything shipped to you. If deliveries cannot be made to the park, there may be other options. We will cover that in just a bit.
- Is there a charge? Some parks we have stayed in charge you a $5 charge for picking up a package that was delivered. This can add up quickly.
- Do packages get delivered to the office or to the site?
- This is an important consideration, and not for the reasons you may think. If packages are delivered to the office, you have to consider what hours they are open for pickup. Some parks are very strict with mail. They may only provide it during certain hours and may even require ID to pick up. Make sure you understand the process and are able to work within their rules.
- So it's better to be in a place where delivery drivers make deliveries directly to the site, right? Not really. Many times, delivery drivers don't understand the way campground site numbers work and will deliver to the wrong site. Other times, they may deliver to your site, but some package pirate snags it before you can claim it. Either way, if you are in a park that allows site delivery, you want to ensure you are home during delivery hours to make sure you actually receive your package.
There will inevitably be times when delivering to the campground is not an option at all. Don't worry. There are other options, although they may not fit all situations.
One solution might be to use the US Post Office "general delivery". This basically means you have it delivered to the local Post Office and they hold it for pickup. You would use the address:
City, State Zipcode
However, before using this service you want to call the actual location (not the 800 number) and ask them several questions:
- Does your location accept General Delivery? (ask this even if the website says they do!)
- When and where can I pick up General Delivery mail?
- Are there extra fees associated with the service
- Are there any size or quantity restrictions on General Delivery?
- Does your Post Office General Delivery accept packages from UPS/FedEx/etc.?
Asking these questions will help you better understand the process for the local area. You may have to pick up your package at a location that is simply not worth the hassle. You may encounter extra fees. The location may not offer the service at all. Asking these questions will avoid surprises and help you decide whether to have the package shipped or to hold off until your next destination.
Another great option for receiving packages on the road is to use Amazon Lockers.
These are usually big yellow boxes with many doors (lockers) of various sizes. Each one locks separately and is controlled through a touch screen panel. Amazon will provide you with both a PIN and a bar code to claim the package. You can usually use either method (PIN or bar code) at the touch screen and the doors containing your packages will automatically open.
Of course, sometimes these "lockers" are simply hole-in-the-wall locally owned pharmacies in questionable locations that you show your code to a person at the counter to receive the package (ask me how I know).
Lockers are a great option to be able to securely receive packages, but you'll want to be familiar with where and what the locker is before you have your package sent there.
The main drawback to this method is it only applies to Amazon purchases. You can't have your mail forwarder ship packages to your local Amazon Locker. They do come in handy though as most purchases are made via Amazon anyway!
The other drawback may be location. While locker availability is expanding, if you are way out in a rural area, there may not be one available for you.
There is no doubt that receiving physical mail on the road can present unique challenges, but with a little forethought and planning the process is very manageable!
The combination of services and solutions laid out here may sound overwhelming, but once you're out on the road for a while, it's second nature. Heck, I wouldn't know how to act if I only had one address listed on my Amazon account!
Got any questions or concerns about how mail works on the road? Drop a comment below!
Jason has been involved in online business since 2008. He currently travels full time with his wife, two sons, and a dog named Dixie.