How to Access Your Snail Mail When Traveling
People who RV for weeks or months at a time understand that figuring out a good way to handle mail is extremely important.
They need to make sure that none of it gets lost or stolen, that they can access it if necessary, and that they won't miss important and/or time sensitive items.
Achieving all of these goals is more difficult than it sounds, and much depends on where people will be going and how long their trips will be.
Travel Mail Issues
There are four methods people who travel can use with regards to dealing with their mail.
They can either
- have a trustworthy friend, relative, or neighbor pick it up daily and hold it for them,
- put a hold on it at the US Post Office,
- forward it to the home of a trusted friend, neighbor, or relative or
- pay a mail forwarding service to handle it for them so that they can access it easily as they go.
You should be very careful about which option you choose because each one has limitations, and some are better than others depending on your particular situation.
Short Term Help From Trusted Individuals
If you have a close relationship with a friend, neighbor, or relative who lives close by, you can ask if they would be willing to stop by your mailbox daily, get your mail, and hold it for you until you return home from your trip.
This works well if you will only be gone for a few days or a week, but beyond that, it becomes a burden for your helper because asking this type of favor is a huge imposition, although it may not seem so to you.
This is because the responsible person must change his own daily schedule a bit in order to pick up your mail, and if he gets sick, needs to leave home for an emergency, or wants to take a quick trip himself, he won't be able to go.
You run a bit of a risk using this method because mail is confidential. Do you really want anybody else to know that you are dealing with a certain bank, receiving mail from people they don't approve of, or are getting medical bills from certain types of doctors?
People can learn information like this simply by looking at a return address, so make sure you don't care if they know your business before you entrust them with your mail.
A Better Option
If you will be away for a long time, another option is to have the Post Office forward your mail to someone.
This way, they won't have to be inconvenienced other than having to find a way to safely store it.
Mail can be forwarded for up to six months per year, and the forward can be increased to 12 months if necessary.
While doing this is easier on your helper, it still has its problems.
When someone holds another person's mail for a long time, they feel obligated to look it over and let them know if something important has arrived. If so, they'll have to take the time to put it in an envelope and send it on.
This can get expensive, but more importantly, it's time consuming. Not many people would want to do this, no matter how much they like you!
On the other hand, if you will be staying at a set address for the time you will be away, you can forward the mail to yourself and then cancel the forward once you get back home.
However, if you will be moving around quite a bit, you'll have to use another option or combination of methods to achieve your goals.
Use Mail Hold
If you will be away for less than one month, you can eliminate the need to ask for help with your mail.
Simply apply for a mail hold by filling out a form at your local post office and/or calling their national toll free phone number, 800-275-8777 to make your arrangements.
I always do it for the entire month because I know I can cancel it whenever I get home and not have to worry about having to renew it during my trip.
Mail holds are great, but you cannot renew them beyond the 30 day period. However, within reason, you can use them several times each year if you have the need to do so.
You can either pick your batch up at your local Post Office or have them deliver it.
Use a Mail Forwarding Service
If you will be traveling for months at a time, your best and easiest bet is to use a mail forwarding service.
These are companies that offer people a way to receive hard copy mail wherever they may be and will hold and/or send it at their request.
This can be done either on a temporary basis for those taking extended trips, or permanently for people who do not keep a home address and constantly travel, such as RV owners.
Usually these companies offer a variety of plans from which to choose, but even the least expensive and most basic will get the job done for you.
Depending on their menu of options, you can either ask this type of service to get rid of junk mail and magazines for you in order to save money, or request special services such as asking them to read certain pieces of mail to you over the phone.
Each option you choose, of course, costs more money. Basically, you pay a monthly fee in addition to the cost of postage.
Most services require a three month minimum commitment that can cost almost $100 to cover startup fees, application costs, and an initial postage deposit. Beyond that, you can expect to pay upwards of $20 per month plus whatever it costs to have them forward your mail to you.
Can You Use a Mail Service as a Legal Address?
Many who use mail forwarding services travel for long periods of time and do not have (or want) other people to have access to their mail. Full Time RVers love them because they can travel from place to place whenever they like and always be able to access their mail easily.
For many, they serve an equally important need, which is to provide a legal address.
However, these people need to tread carefully because some states, such as Michigan, have stopped allowing people to use forwarding service addresses in place of brick and mortar ones.
Each state has its own requirements, so it pays to do some research before finalizing any decisions.
Since some states (Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington State, and Wyoming) do not have income taxes and may also have lower vehicle licensing fees, people also use these services as a way of saving money on taxes.
It's important to note that to use a service as a permanent address, you must also have a Drivers License that shows the same address. This means you either must actually reside in a state or, at the very least, travel to it to get and maintain your license.
How to Get Started
Opening an account is as simple as making a phone call, although I strongly advise doing some comparison shopping before you pick up the phone.
Once you decide on a company, you send them a deposit and then notify your post office via a formal change of address or mail forwarding form to send all of your mail to the new address (which will be a PO Box).
(The Post Office will forward your mail for a maximum of six months.)
Don’t worry about losing your mail in the interim because you either will get your mail at your current address, or it will be sent directly to your service where it will be held for you.
If you move before everything is set up, mail will be returned to the Post Office and then forwarded on to your service, which eventually sends it on to you.
You can use any company in any location in the United States and do not have to be physically living in a state to do so.
- If you want to use the service as your permanent address, you will need to obtain a Driver's License for that state with the service address listed as your permanent one and make sure that the state's laws allow you to do so.
- If you only will be using the service on a temporary basis, you do not have to change anything because your location information will remain as is.
A Little Advice
Here is some advice to consider:
- Before you sign up for any service, make sure it is the one that meets your needs.
- Choose a company that is located in a low tax state so that, for example, you won’t have to pay state income taxes and will also pay less for vehicle licenses.
- If you plan to travel great distances for long periods of time, choose a company that is centrally located in the United States, rather than at one end of the country or the other. This way you will receive your mail faster and special mailings (bulky packages, etc.) will cost less.
- Many companies will not send mail to PO Boxes, so understand that if you use a service, you will not be able to order items from Ebay, Amazon, and the like.
- Make sure that you actually need these types of services before you sign up. It may be that a close relative or friend will be willing to handle your mail for you. If so, make sure you pay them to do this as it will require continual trips to the Post Office for them.
Do You Really Need These Things?
The good news is that in this age of tech devices, communicating while traveling is easier than ever.
The bad news is that there still are pieces of mail that must come to you in hard copy form such as original insurance policies and legal documents.
So, in spite of the internet, cell phones and the like, you still need mail and will need to find a way to deal with it when you are traveling.
Keep Mail From Becoming a Problem
As you can see, taking care of your mail while you are traveling is an issue that needs to be addressed carefully.
The method you choose depends on your situation, so make sure you employ the one that will give you the best results.
Mail will never be a problem if you do!
Were you aware before reading this article that there was such a thing as a Mail Forwarding Service?
Questions & Answers
© 2016 Sondra Rochelle