How to Get Mail on the Road

Stoke Loaf Van

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How to Get Mail on the Roadstokeloafvan

When we first broke the news that we were going to be hitting the road, one of the first questions our parents asked was “How are you going to get mail?”. Personally, this is something that we weren’t too concerned about. Legit, I think we only checked our mailbox when we were expecting packages. We pay most of our bills online and all of our accounts are set to paperless billing so we didn’t think there was a huge need for a way to get physical mail. Turns out, after being out on the road for a while, we have found there are a handful of things that do require a real mailing address; voting ballots, car insurance, etc. Thankfully, there are a few options for getting mail and packages while on the road. Check out the list below to see which option we went with and why,

1. PO BOX

This is the first option that we looked into. It’s the most common method used to get mail, other than getting mail delivered to your house/apartment. A PO BOX is a small personal mailbox that you rent at a US Post Office location. The costs of PO boxes varies greatly depending on location $3-$100/month. You can also choose between several different sizes of box depending on your needs. The smallest boxes will only hold a few letters and the largest can probably hold a typical package.

With this method, your mail will be held at the post office and you can come get it as needed/when you are in town. This option would work great if you stay close to the same city.

Drawbacks:

  1. They will NOT forward your mail to other locations though.
  2. There are some cases where a PO Box address can’t be used such as car/health insurance and voter registration.

2. Forward to Friend/Family

This is the mail method we used for the first year that we were on the road. To set up mail forwarding through the US Postal Service, you need to fill out a form on the USPS website. Pick someone you trust to send your mail to. We asked both of our parents if they would be willing to collect our mail and thankfully they were. They would let us know if anything important came and we would have them open the envelopes we were concerned about and send us pictures of the content. If needed they could forward things to us via General Delivery (see below). If you are considering this method, its good to know that this is a free service from USPS.

Drawbacks:

  1. It’s not really meant to be a long term solution. The USPS will only do this for 12 months. If you’re planning on being on the road for longer than that it’s probably not the best solution for the full time you are on the road.
  2. The other issue is that the USPS will notify other organizations (businesses,insurance, voter registration…etc) of your “new” address. We struggled with this for the first year we were on the road. There were several occasions where we had to set the record straight, when people thought was had moved to the address we were having our mail forwarded to.
  3. Not everything got forwarded. Thankfully, the renters at our home would return the mail to the USPS and it eventually got to us - but not all new tenants of where you used to live will be so kind. Also, it is important to note that Vote-By-Mail Ballots do not get forwarded.

3. USPS General Delivery

This isn’t a long term option but it’s a great tool for a one-off piece of mail or packages while you’re on the road. We’ve had good luck using this method to order things online from just about any website, including Amazon. Almost every US Post Office offers “General Delivery” service, but it is good to check on that locations website (or call) to verify they do. General Delivery means you can have mail sent directly to the post office and they will hold it for you behind the counter. When you go to pick up the package, they will ask to see your ID before handing over the package. The only tricky part with this is making sure the address is filled out correctly. For the address, you use the address of the post office build, your name, and add “General Delivery” to the first line:

General Delivery

Stokeloafvan

742 Evergreen Terrace

Springfield, IL 58008

(bonus points for anyone that recognizes this address)

Drawbacks:

  1. Some USPS locations got salty if we had shipped a UPS package for them to hold as General Delivery. We’ve had a few locations try to charge us shipping and handling when we picked up the package because essentially we had never paid the USPS to do anything with the package. We have succeeded at talking our way out of this one every time though.
  2. Post office hours. Alot of locations aren’t even open a whole 8 hours and they are rarely open on weekends. We always check ahead and pick a USPS location with longer hours and that are open on Saturday when possible.

4. Mail Scanning Service

There are a handful of third party mail services where you pay to have your mail sent to them. Once they received the mail they open and scan it, then email you a digital copy. At face value this sounds perfect for vanlife, but honestly we were a little on edge about having someone else open our mail. We have heard good things from other digital nomads that use these services but we decided against it, so we can’t really comment on it.

5. UPS Store Mailbox

UPS offers boxes, which is super similar to a USPS PO Box, but with some added benefits! Not all UPS Store locations offer this so you will need to check with your chosen location to see if they offer boxes and which sizes they have available. For a fee you rent a mailbox at the UPS Store for 3, 6 or 12 months. There are usually several different sizes available depending on your needs. We decided to go with the smallest box, which was also the cheapest option, because our location holds any overflow mail behind the desk. So there was really no need to pay up for a larger box.

The address system the UPS store uses works the same as an apartment address. It’s just the address of the UPS store plus a unit number, which is the box you rent. Since it looks like a real address, it can be used in the instances we mentioned above that do not accept PO boxes.

Another bonus is that the UPS Store will forward the contents of your mail box to another address if you’d like for a fee. The forwarding fee itself is only $5 but what they don’t mention in their pamphlet is that on top of that $5 is also the cost of shipping. Since the cost is a bit high to forward mail we try not to do this too often. If its been a while, we call the store and have them check the box for us and they will tell us who the envelopes are from. If alot of mail has accumulated or there is something important we will have them forward it to another UPS store or UPS Access Point near us.

Drawbacks:

  • More expensive. In our area the rent price for the box was more than the USPS. It may not be like this in all regions
  • UPS shipping is not cheap. Anytime we forward mail/packages it is $12 minimum and then the $5 forwarded fee.

6. Amazon

There are so many options for getting Amazon packages while on the road. The most common option is the Amazon Hub Locker pickup locations. The lockers are commonly located in Whole Foods, GNC Wellness and 7-Eleven stores and these locations will hold your package in the locker for about 3 days. The hold time is dependent on the demand of the area. If you don’t get your package in time it gets returned to amazon and your card will be refunded.

A similar option to the lockers are UPS Access Points, which seem to be just about all Advance Auto Parts, Michael’s and CVS Pharmacy locations. These are a newer offering and it is free to have packages shipped to these locations. We always call ahead to verify the ship-to address and to see how long they will hold the package for. We have found the Access Point to be a great option if we are ordering an item further ahead because of longer shipping times so we don’t have to worry about the 3 day locker limit.

You can also use USPS General Delivery for amazon packages. With so many options, it’s super easy to get Amazon packages while on the road. It might take a few extra minutes to determine which method will work for the location you’re currently in, but we’ve used them all without issue during our time on the road.

Drawbacks:

  1. Not all items are eligible to be shipped to amazon locker. If the item is larger there likely will not be a big enough locker to hold it.

Don’t Sweat it!

With so many different ways to get mail and packages on the road you don’t need to worry!

You might need to spend a little time planning ahead a city or two so you know where to ship or forward things to, but you will absolutely be able to get mail and packages on the road!

For more info on all things vanlife related check out our blog: Stokeloafvan

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We are KJ & James. We have been traveling around the US and Canada for the last 2+ years in our self converted camper van. On our blog, we share articles about Van Lifestyle, Van Build tutorials, and troubleshooting!

Salt Lake City, UT
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