Receiving Mail for Travelers

a mailbox, covered in graffiti, atop a mountain

Photograph by Monty VanderBilt

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Full-time travelers have no fixed address.

It’s kind of part of the game, right? Well yes, and not necessarily. Just because you’re actually moving around from place to every new place all the time, doesn’t mean you can’t have an address. While getting mail on the road is certainly not as easy as it is living in a house with a street address, you’re not completely without luck.

Let’s look at a few ways folks who make living on the road a habit get mail.

General Delivery

Did you know you can have mail sent to just about any town or city in the United States and just pick it up right from the post office? It’s true, and yes, it’s fabulous!

It’s called General Delivery, and we use it more than any other type of mailing service outlined here. There’s really not much to it, you just find where the main post office is in an area (in small towns, it’s typically the only post office around, in larger cities one particular USPS location, typically downtown) and use that as your address. So, say you wanted to have something shipped to Seattle. A quick Google search will tell you that the main location for General Delivery is 301 Union Street. Great, here’s your new address for the moment:

GENERAL DELIVERY
YOUR NAME
301 UNION STREET
SEATTLE, WA 98101

It’s as easy as that. They’ll hold packages and post for 30 days, so if you need something shipped, you can plan ahead if you know where you’ll generally be in the next couple of weeks. Note that this won’t work for UPS or Fedex, though, just USPS. The other two shipping companies may have something similar, but I’ve always just used USPS in these situations.

Online Mail Services

When I first hit the road several years ago, there were very few online mail services. Of the two or three choices out there, only one would allow me to see my mail online, and that was EarthClass Mail. I used them for over a year, with very mixed results.

Firstly, having such a service is great. You can have stuff mailed to you that can’t be handled online, and they’ll store it for you until you’re ready to have it shipped somewhere else (like a General Delivery USPS office). What’s not so great is you typically pay a fee for every envelope they receive, and more for anything they open. There’s a big ol’ process involved in getting the whole thing setup, since mail is handled by the Federal Government and it’s illegal for anyone to open your mail, unless you make them some type of legal agent to do so.

Finally, once you master digitizing your mail–which I’ll explain below but is quite simple–you’ll find that you don’t really need a service like this, given all of the other options. And you’ll end up paying for all of that craptastic junk mail everyone receives, like it or not, offering blowout discounts to stores you’re nowhere near or asking you to sign up for another credit card you’re pre-approved to never need.

Mail Forwarding Services

There are a plethora of mail forwarding services out there. Similar to the online mail service mentioned above, these companies are able to receive your mail for you, and then send it to you when and where you want it. The key difference is, there’s no online interface to see your mail, so you typically have to call them up to find out what you have, or just have it all sent and see what shows up.

We personally use Escapees, including their mail forwarding service. Our mail goes there, I shoot them an email to where they should send it every month or so, and we’re good to go.

With Escapees, you get a real address, which can even help you establish residency in Texas (which has its perks). You can call them up and ask them to read your mail (including opening it if you’d like) back to you, and they’ll accept everything from USPS letters to FedEx and UPS packages.

If you get a lot of mail, or just have some things that simply can’t be digitized, this may be a good route for you to explore.

Friends and Family

Another option we’ve taken advantage of for years is to simply use one of our parents’ addresses and have all of our mail go there. None of us get much mail, so it’s not a major burden to them to keep it all in a drawer or box somewhere and mail it to us once a month or so, but of course this method relies on you having a good relationship with someone you can trust to collect, keep and at some point send your mail to you.

Go Digital

The best way to handle mail on the road, though? Digitize everything. After junk mail, what’s the main type of mail you receive? Probably bills, and after that perhaps checks (if you run a business).

As for junk mail, good riddance. When it comes to paying and receiving bills, most utility companies, cell phone providers, etc. have some type of online bill delivery system, as well as online payments. For those that don’t, a good bank will have an online bill paying service that can quite literally send a check from your account to any person or company with an address.

As for receiving checks, lots of banks offer a “Check by Mail” service as well, where you provide your clients with a specific address to send checks directly to your bank, and they process them for you. I’ve used online bill pay and check by mail services reliably for years and years without a hitch.

Getting your mail digitized is the way to go for any full-time traveler. Less paper waste, no junk mail, and immediate delivery directly to your email inbox all make it a no brainer. end of article

Photograph by Monty VanderBilt