How to get mail on the road is one of the top questions van lifers and RVers ask when first starting out with full-time travel.
When we began living in our sailboat and van, we stayed in the San Francisco Bay area. That meant a local PO Box was the easiest way to get our mail.
But once we started traveling full-time, we had to figure out how to get mail anywhere without a permanent address. That’s when we joined Traveling Mailbox, a mail forwarding service, which has so far worked like a dream.
In this article, we’ll talk more about how we get mail, receive packages and prescriptions on the road as an RVer or van lifer.
How to Get Mail on the Road with a Mail Forwarding Service
A mail forwarding service is a company that stores your physical mail and packages in its secure facility. They then scan the contents of each piece, send you an email notification every time something arrives to be picked up, and provide various ways for you to collect or exchange it from them.
Often, a mail forwarding company will scan the outside of each envelope so you can see what’s in your virtual mailbox. You can then choose to have the envelope opened and scanned to see the contents, forwarding to any address around the world, or shredded and deleted.
Why we Chose Traveling Mailbox to Get Mail and Packages while Traveling Full-Time
We’ve been using Traveling Mailbox for over two years and it continues to work wonderfully for us, whether we’re traveling in our van or on our sailboat.
I love that both of us can use the same address.
Customer service is top-notch and I’ve used their Chat service to quickly get answers to any questions I have.
Traveling Mailbox Features
- Free scanning of mail
- Online login and virtual mailbox with 24/hour customer service for help and support.
- Email notifications when your items arrive in your Traveling Mailbox, plus notifications when you choose to have mail opened and scanned
- Free shredding/deletion of unwanted mail
- Multiple users allowed to receive mail at one address
Here’s how it works:
Sign up with Traveling Mailbox and choose a plan that best suits your needs in terms of storage space and pickup frequency. They also have monthly plans if you just need temporary mail forwarding services to get through a short period away from a sticks ‘n bricks home.
You’ll have to fill out the USPS Form 1583 which authorizes Traveling Mailbox to accept your mail. Then, you’ll need to get this notarized before taking a photo and uploading it into your Traveling Mailbox account.
With Traveling Mailbox, you can choose a variety of states to use as your address. Some states cost more than others, so be sure to check out the pricing page before you choose an address.
Then, either get temporary or permanent forwarding from your previous address to your mail forwarding service.
I chose to shut my Sausalito Post Office box down and get mail forwarded permanently to Traveling Mailbox. I usually take care of all my mail online with a rare few items forwarded to an address – whether that’s a post office or a relative’s house.
It’s worked perfectly for our lifestyle so far.
Why I’m now switching to ChooseSD as my mail forwarding service
ChooseSD is a mail forwarding service specific to South Dakota, which is what I chose to be my new domicile state. Many full-time travelers “move” to a different state that’s friendlier to RVers and van lifers. I chose South Dakota due to no income tax, no vehicle inspections, and you only have to spend one night in a hotel or campground to become a resident, get a driver’s license and register to vote.
If you want to learn more about choosing a domicile state, check out this article by The Escapees: https://www.escapees.com/establishing-domicile-for-rvers/
Here are a few key features of ChooseSD, which are almost identical to Traveling Mailbox. ChooseSD only offers a physical address at their KOA campground in Spearfish, SD and contract with Anytime Mailbox to deal with mail.
- They provide a physical address you can use on your driver’s license, vehicle registration and voter registration
- Opening and scanning of mail
- Email notifications when your items arrive in your ChooseSD mailbox, plus notifications when you choose to have mail opened and scanned
- Free shredding/deletion of unwanted mail.
- Multiple users allowed to receive mail at one address.
- Great customer service
- KOA campground that you can use to stay one night in South Dakota
- Affordable pricing – and a bunch of plans to choose from
Other popular mail forwarding services to check out:
- Anytime Mailbox
- Escapees RV Club (addresses in Texas, South Dakota or Florida)
- Your Best Address (South Dakota)
- America’s Mailbox (South Dakota)
- St. Brendan’s Isle (Florida)
A Quick Note about Banking and Mail Forwarding Services
The U.S. Patriot Act requires you use a real physical address for your bank accounts. Mail fowarding services use what’s called a PMB, or Personal Mailbox. Most banks are aware that these addresses aren’t “real” physical addresses. I’ve heard of some RVers or sailors who were denied access to their accounts and had to call their banks or visit in person to clarify and get those accounts unfrozen.
You can avoid running into this problem by using your mail forwarding services as your MAILING address and using a family member’s address as your PHYSICAL address. They won’t get any mail; this will just keep your bank happy.
Depositing Checks with a Mail Forwarding Service
Another thing to think about when choosing the best mail forwarding service to get mail on the road is whether you need checks deposited.
Some mail forwarding services will deposit your checks for an additional fee, and some will not.
For example, Traveling Mailbox does deposit my checks (about $13 per check), but ChooseSD does not offer this service.
Asking Friends and Family to Use Their Address to Receive Mail and Packages
Another way van lifers and RVers receive mail on the road is to ask a friend or family member to use their address. I’ve never been comfortable with this method because I don’t want to burden anyone when it comes to my mail. I only do this when it’s just one or two pieces of mail and I’m in town to pick things up quickly.
However, if you’re traveling for just a short time or if you really need to save money you could get temporary forwarding to a friend or family member’s house. They’d have to collect your mail and then send it to you wherever you are on the road, usually using the U.S Postal Service’s General Delivery option.
Make sure your friend or family member is reliable before choosing this as the best way to receive mail on the road. They’ll also need to spend plenty of time at home in order to be around to collect mail or packages.
If you do choose to use the friend and family member option, you’ll want to be sure your mailing address is correct. Here’s an example
C/O YOUR FRIEND’S NAME
CITY, STATE, ZIP CODE
If you forget to put the C/O or Care Of option, the mail carrier may not recognize your name and return the item to sender.
USPS General Delivery for Getting Mail on the Road
General Delivery using the United States Postal Service is another way to get mail while traveling full-time in your campervan or RV. In the past, I’ve had Traveling Mailbox forward my mail to the nearest post office.
To find out if a post office accepts general delivery letters and packages, I downloaded the USPS Mobile App. With the app, you can search for post offices near you and check their list of services for the line item General Delivery.
Keep in mind that USPS General Delivery ONLY accepts USPS packages, not anything shipped via FedEx or UPS.
Here’s how you’ll address an envelope or package for general delivery service:
CITY, STATE ZIP
There’s no need to write the address of the Post Office for general delivery mail; USPS will send your mail to the main post office in town.
If you’re trying to receive an important piece of mail via USPS on the road, Traveling Mailbox offers tracking so you can see exactly when your letter arrives at the post office. I’ve used this once before, but typically just forward via regular mail, which costs around $3 each time.
Keep in mind that a post office will usually hold General Delivery for 30 days, but some only hold it for 10 to 15 days. Call the post office to see how long they’ll hold your mail if you can’t pick it up promptly.
General Delivery Pros
- Free of charge aside from fees from your mail forwarding service
- Pickup without appointment made in advance
General Delivery Cons
- Pickup is not 24/hour and may only be during the hours of operation.
- You may not know exactly when your mail arrives unless you paid more for a tracking number
- Some towns have several post offices, and your General Delivery mail will go to the main one in town. This can lead to some confusion, so make sure to call ahead before heading to a post office to grab your mail
How to Collect Mail with General Delivery at the Post Office
To collect mail from a post office using general delivery, you need your ID (like a driver’s license) for proof of identification. The USPS says “You must show your ID (driver’s license, passport or other). Then, you just walk up to the counter and ask for general delivery mail under your name. You can also call ahead to make sure your mail is there.
It’s generally been really easy for us to get our mail so far. I love that most post offices around the country offer this service.
Amazon Lockers as a Way to Get Packages on the Road
Another way to get packages while traveling is by using Amazon Lockers. While we were in Southern California with our sailboat and campervan, we often shipped packages to the nearby Rite Aid or Whole Foods.
It’s very easy to use Amazon Lockers for RVers and van lifers because you can find them in so many locations around the country, including airports.
Amazon will show if there are lockers available near your location – just go into the website or app and select the locker near you to use as your address.
Once you’re notified that your item has arrived, head to that location to pick it up. Some Amazon Lockers are locked boxes that require you to scan a barcode to open your locker. Others are at store counters where you’ll need to ask the clerk for your Amazon shipment.
We found that using Amazon Prime is really helpful to get packages on the road. Most packages are delivered within 2 days – perfect if you don’t want to hang out around a particular area waiting for your packages to arrive.
Amazon Lockers Pros:
- You can find a package-sized Amazon Locker in so many locations – airports, retail stores and more
- Amazon Lockers are free to use
Amazon Lockers Cons:
- You’ll have a limited amount of time (usually a few days) to collect your package before it’s returned to Amazon
- Sometimes Amazon Lockers in your area will be full and not accept more packages. In this case, you’ll have to wait to try again, or select a different location
Boxes aren’t available in more rural parts of the U.S.
UPS and FedEx Options for Getting Mail on the Road
Yet another way to get mail while traveling fulltime is by using a service like UPS or FedEx. Both services offer options for pickup and delivery that you’ll need to search out yourself, but they both have online tools for tracking your packages.
If you order a package from UPS or FedEx, you can ask that the company hold it at the nearest facility for pickup. You’ll probably want to call ahead and see how long that location will hold your package to make sure you can pick it up on time.
We recently did this with a huge box for a van build we ordered from Flarespace. They were going to ship an 80 pound, 5′ tall box to my Mom’s address in Oregon, but I used the FedEx app to divert the package to the nearest FedEx facility so I could deal with it on my own time.
It’s also super easy to ship a package to a UPS store when traveling full-time. Here’s a quick overview of the process:
- Log in or sign up for a UPS My Choice account
- Use the UPS Store Locator to find a store near you to ship to
- You can enter your email address or phone number to get real-time delivery alerts, then pick up your package when you want
You can also ship to a UPS Access Point, which are package pickup points like lockers, neighborhood retailers, convenience stores and dry cleaners. Click here to learn more about how to ship packages to a UPS location while on the road fulltime: https://www.ups.com/us/en/services/knowledge-center/article.page?kid=art1710cdbea8b
With UPS stores and FedEx locations across the U.S., this is a pretty easy way to get packages on the road.
Receiving Mail on the Road at an RV Park or Campground
Certain RV Parks and campgrounds will accept mail for full-time RVers and van lifers. Just ask management beforehand for any instructions and how to address your letter or package. Be aware that not all RV parks or campgrounds will accept mail, so it’s best to call and ask beforehand.
If the RV Park or campground does accept packages, one trick is to put “Hold for Arrival” on your mailing address, so management knows to hold the package for you.
While we haven’t done this while traveling in our van, we have had items shipped to a marina office while living on our sailboat.
Choose Pickup in Store to Get Packages while Traveling FullTime
You can select the “No Shipping Needed” option on your online store order, which will allow you to pick it up from a retail location such as Target or Walmart.
We often do this with REI orders. We pick up at the REI nearest our current location in our campervan or sailboat. This is a great way to cut costs on shipping a package via USPS, UPS or FedEx.
A variety of retailers offer the pick-up in-store option, so be sure to check that out before you ship.
How to Get Prescriptions on the Road while RVing
If you have a prescription, it’s really important to refill your prescriptions before traveling full-time in an RV or campervan. Ask your doctor for a 90-day supply at a time so you don’t have to worry about getting refills as often.
Here are some options for getting refills while on the road:
- Ask your doctor to call in your prescription to the pharmacy nearest you. Usually, doctors can call into nationwide chain-type pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS or WalMart
- Ask your doctor if you can get additional refills before you leave your area for a longer trip (ask for 90-days, or as big of an amount as they can give you)
- Use an online prescription company like GoodRX or or MedsbyMail (for VA patients). Your doctor will need to call your prescription into those companies for you to use the service
- Contact your insurance company to see where and if you can pick up prescriptions outside your domicile state. Some insurance companies may not cover the cost of prescriptions picked up in other states, so be sure to call and check
- Request UPS or FedEx delivery and pick up at your location of choice
- Ship your medications via General Delivery to the post office nearest you
There are also online resources for finding pharmacies near your location – just search for “pharmacy” and the name of a city or state, or contact your insurance company to find out where you should go when you’re on the road.
How to Cut Down on the Quantity of Mail you Receive On the Road
If you get tons of mail, dealing with receiving mail on the road can be a big challenge. Here are a few tips to getting organized and making things easier on yourself:
- Go online and switch to Paperless Billing if you’re currently receiving paper statements or bills from your bank, insurance company, mortgage company or investment portfolio
- Cut back on credit card solicitations. If you get tons of letters and invites from credit card and mortgage companies, you can opt-out athttp://www.optoutprescreen.com.
- Remove you name from mailing lists using http://www.dmachoice.org
- Be very careful to who you give your address. You want to try to avoid getting on junk mail lists
- Sign up for Catalog Choice through catalogchoice.com – they will stop sending you unwanted mail and send a list of all your current subscriptions to major mailing companies so that you can cancel them
Conclusion on How to Get Mail on the Road while Living in a Van or an RV
Getting mail on the road can be tough, but it’s not impossible. You just need to know how and where to do it.
You can use a mail forwarding service or send mail to friends or family. Our favorite mail forwarding service so far is Traveling Mailbox. Another popular option is The Escapees, or location-specific mail services like ChooseSD in South Dakota which help you establish residency in a new state.
USPS General Delivery or delivery to a UPS or FedEx store are other options to get your mail and packages on the road.
We’re lucky in this day and age to have so many options and convenience when traveling full-time.
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