Receiving Mail and Packages on the Road
Words by Laura Hughes
Receiving mail on the road can be tough to understand if you’re used to having a standard mailing address. But whether it’s keeping up on unexpected toll fees from bridges in unfamiliar states, knowing about vehicle recalls, or receiving care packages and physical paychecks, knowing how you’re going to get your mail is an important part of making your longer travels feel sustainable and less stressful.
Online research on the topic will often lead to a variety of answers because every traveler has a different set of circumstances. That’s why we put together a comprehensive guide to thinking through what options will work best for you when traveling.
How to Receive Mail and Packages on the Road
The first thing you need to know about receiving mail and packages on the road is that there is more than one way to do it! Here are three common options for receiving mail and packages when you don’t have a consistent shipping address:
Use a friend or family member’s address, and have them tend your mail
It’s ideal in many ways to have someone you trust take care of your mail for you, so if you have a really generous friend or family member who is willing to help out, consider yourself incredibly fortunate!
One of the benefits of doing this type of mail management is that initially you don’t need to do anything besides filing a formal change of address with the US Postal Service (USPS), which you will likely still need to do when you hit the road. While you’re traveling, you’ll want to keep your friend or family member in the loop on when you expect mail or packages that need to be sent to you in a timely manner, which we’ll address in the next section.
Pro Tip: If you want to show your mail and package helper some big gratitude for their help, make sure you reimburse them for any fees they pay to have mail and packages shipped to you, plus consider doing something nice for them (like sending a gift card or postcards, or buying them some fun souvenirs for when you return!) to let them know you appreciate all their effort.
Something to still be aware of is that if you claim this friend or family member’s address as your “residential” address, it could impact your voter registration, insurance rates, taxes, health care, etc. With this in mind, it’s far easier to find a friend or family member within the state you’re already registered in. Insurance, registration, and other similar logistics are an entirely different topic, but when it comes to mail and claiming an address this is something we wanted to bring to light as you think through your options!
Using a friend or family member’s address might be a good option for you if:
You have a supportive person in your home state who wants to manage your mail.
You don’t receive a lot of mail.
You don’t have extra income or savings to spend on other mail management services.
Using a friend or family member’s address might not be the best option for you if:
You don’t have someone to take care of your mail, or the only people you trust are out of state from where you are registered.
It’s a long trip, like multi-months, as that can be a big ask to make of a personal contact.
You receive a lot of packages or mail that require a timely response, as this could be an inconvenience to your friend.
Use public mail centers
Public mail centers are where mail and other packages are shipped or sent out from. This includes places like a local Post Office, FedEx, UPS, or Amazon Locker. This option is, of the three, the most independently-managed and likely the most affordable.
The biggest key to using public mail centers only is that you coordinate with the sender on the specific address they will be sending the mail or package to, in addition to the carrier they are using, and to know that you will be in that area at the time it’s expected to arrive. We will explain all of this in further detail in the next section.
One other option with using public mail centers is finding a town you often travel through and getting a temporary PO Box there so that when you’re in the area, you can pick up your mail and packages without worry. This only applies to standard mail and shipments delivered via USPS, but if that’s the majority of your mail and you have a central “passing through” point, then it could be worth your time and the small fee associated with a PO Box!
Using public mail centers might be a good option for you if:
Your mail needs aren’t often urgent.
You have a flexible schedule in case you need to wait for your mail.
You don’t have a friend or family member to tend your mail.
You need your paper mail or you have a lot of physical packages
Using public mail centers might not be the best option for you if:
You don’t want to spend time coordinating with senders about how they’re going to deliver packages to you.
You can’t commit to staying in one place long enough to wait for mail or a package.
You don’t want your physical paper mail but would still like to read it.
Use a virtual mailbox service
Virtual mail services are businesses whose sole responsibility is to manage your mail for you while you travel! On its face, this type of service sounds expensive (and a little too-good-to-be-true), but with the advance of technology and location-independent careers and lifestyles, it’s becoming more of a viable option than ever before to hire a company to manage your mail and packages for you.
It takes some research and effort to set up a virtual mailbox service, so don’t expect the process to happen all in one day. The people who will be managing your mail are likely folks you’ve never met, so you want to feel confident in both the company you’ll be working with to receive your mail and packages as well as get your paperwork in order to make it official.
What makes a good virtual virtual mailbox service?
There are a handful of different offerings and qualities to consider when deciding on the right remote mailbox service for you, but here are a few questions you may want to consider asking in the process:
Will you receive an actual street address for your mailbox, and not a PO Box?
What are this service’s ratings with the Better Business Bureau and platforms like Yelp or Google?
How do their shipping rates for mail forwarding and packages compare to other services?
Will this service scan your mail and send it to you?
How many days will this service hold your mail for?
Will this service consolidate mail and packages into one box for shipment to you?
Using a remote mailbox service might be a good option for you if:
You need your mail often and urgently at times.
You would like extra support with receiving packages.
You have the extra income or savings to spend on a monthly mail service.
You want the option of receiving your mail in digital form.
You don’t have a friend or family member to tend your mail.
Using a remote mailbox service might not be the best option for you if:
You don’t have the income or savings to spend on a monthly mail service.
Your mail needs aren’t that extensive or urgent.
You have a trusted friend or family member who offered to tend your mail.
No matter what kind of method you use to manage your mail initially, it’s still likely that at some point during your travels, you will need something physically sent to you. Whether the sender is a friend, family member, client, or a hired mail service, here’s what you need to know about how to successfully have mail sent to you while you’re on the road.
The number one principle of receiving mail on the road is that the shipping address you provide to your sender depends crucially on how the mail or package is being shipped.
If your mail or package is being sent via USPS: it needs to be sent to a US Post Office. You can always have mail sent to a “general delivery” address, which looks like this:
Attn: [ Your Name ]
Post Office Address
City, State, Zip Code
Mail that is sent to General Delivery at a Post Office will be held there for up to 30 days. Typically, showing a form of ID is all you need to pick up your mail.
If your mail or package is sent via FedEx or UPS: it needs to be sent to FedEx or UPS shipping locations. While an internet search will tell you that you can have a shipment sent to any FedEx or UPS store, experience has shown that it’s not always the case. For peace of mind, we recommend calling the FexEx or UPS store you’re planning on having a package sent to and confirm with an employee who works there that they will accept a package there and hold it until pick up. FedEx will hold packages for 7 days, and UPS will hold packages for 5 days, so you will need to plan appropriately to make sure you get to your shipment in time. There is no fee to pick up your packages at either location, but a valid form of ID is required.
If your package is sent to an Amazon Locker: you can go to thousands of Amazon Lockers around the US, so while it’s always best to buy local when you can, sometimes you have easier access to items you need (or better prices on items you purchase often) through Amazon. You get to choose your locker location and the pick up process is pretty straightforward, but there is a 3-day maximum on how long your package will stay in an Amazon Locker, so timeliness is important to ensure you don’t miss it!