The number one question of every person who is starting their van life is how they’re going to receive their mails and packages. This is one reason why some people are hesitant to start their life on the road because they will feel disconnected, skip a bill payment, or miss the Christmas cards that families send. Well, the good news is there are a couple of ways that you can do to receive your mail and/or packages.
PO Box, USPS General Delivery Services, Amazon boxes, Virtual Mailbox, campground, and your family and friends’ addresses are some of the choices you have to receive your mail and/or packages. There are many choices that fit every situation!
With every choice comes some things that you need to take note of. In this article, you will know the difference between your mailing address and physical address as well as how to minimize your mail and/or packages. You will also know the process, dos, and don’ts when it comes to PO Boxes, USPS, Amazon boxes, Virtual mailboxes, campground mailing, and using the address of your family and friends.
Van Life Address: Some Things to Remember
There are many things that you need to consider before starting your life on the road. Being educated and having adequate knowledge is the best way to make your van life easier. Here are a few things that you need to remember about your van life address.
Minimize Your Mail and Packages: Know What You Can Reduce
Before heading off on your adventure, minimizing your mail and packages is the best way to lessen the hassle while you are on the road. Check what you can do to reduce the number of mail that you receive. When it comes to your paper billing, make sure to sign up for paperless billing instead.
If you like receiving magazines and newspapers, you can register for a digital version of the books. You can also minimize ordering online to lessen the package that you receive daily or monthly. Avoid giving your address to anyone who doesn’t necessarily need it. An example would be, providing your address on raffles and drawings.
Consider moving any business transactions online and utilize paperless billing options, as mentioned above.
Physical vs. Mailing Address: Know the Difference
It is very important to know the difference between a physical and mailing address because this will help you decide on what option you want to receive your mail and packages. A physical address is a place where you live. In this case, this is the place where your car is parked and where you sleep. A good example is a campground where you are staying.
On the other hand, a mailing address is an address that can be a PO box, a friend’s or family’s house. You don’t live or sleep at this address, but you regularly park your car at this address. With this said, this is not your home. Use this address for your important documents, such as car registration, receiving IDs, vote registration, jury duty letters, official tax information, and other official documents that you need.
PO Boxes: The Popular Choice of Address
PO boxes or post office boxes are secure, lockable mailbox that is located inside the post office. You can either rent the boxes for free and use them to receive all of your mail. Some people use PO boxes to protect their privacy since they might not want other companies or organizations to know their home addresses.
However, this is the perfect option for van lifers because it provides you a stable address to which you can have your mail sent while on the road. It is also the best way to go if you don’t want to burden your friends and families with your postal mail.
There are a lot of advantages that you can get when it comes to using PO boxes. As mentioned above, it can protect your privacy, and you can receive your mail efficiently. It also reduces the risk of identity theft because if your mail consists of sensitive information, it won’t accidentally get sent to an old address.
A downside to using PO boxes is your important mails are usually dumped with your junk mails that you don’t want to receive. With this said, by the time you visit the PO box, it will be full, and you would need to upgrade to a larger box. A larger box can lead to a more expensive fee than a smaller one.
You can apply for a PO Box in person at a Post Office or online. The application process is not completely approved until your identity, and current physical address or conduct business is verified.
The Cost of PO Boxes: Know the Prices!
The cost of an extra small box ranges from $12 to $75. An extra small PO box can hold up to 15 letters and five rolled magazines, measuring five by 5.5 inches. A medium box, on the other hand, would cost $16 to $150. The medium-sized box is perfect for large envelopes and magazines to be stacked flat and measures 5.5 by 11 inches. Extra-large boxes are suitable for packages, which would cost you a flat rate of $513.
At some post offices, renting a small PO box for six months would cost as little as $19. However, in some locations, the cost would be around $75. If you want a full breakdown of the costs in each region, you can check the U.S. Postal Service website.
They also offer PO Box services that can be paid in three months with an automatic recurring payment by credit card, six months (semi-annual), or 12 months (annual) increment payments.
Business and Lobby Hours of PO Boxes
There are two types of hours that you need to take note of, and they are lobby hours and business hours. Lobby hours are the hours where you can access your PO Box, and many post offices are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Make sure to check the lobby hours when selecting your PO Box online.
Business hours are when the Post Office employees are available to answer any questions that you may have and conduct transactions such as PO Boxes, mailing, shipping, purchasing stamps, etc. This is also the time when you need to present your IDs and pick up your keys. In this case, visit the Post Office website to know the PO Box’s business hours that you have chosen.
USPS General Delivery Service: Great Option for Van Lifers
The USPS General Delivery Service is an amazing option for van lifers. This is the best way for you to receive packages and mail at any post office for free. All you need to do is find a post office that accepts general delivery. Make sure that the package or mail gets sent via USPS. Also, take note that FedEx and UPS are third-party services and will not deliver to post offices.
This option is perfect if you have a family member or a friend who is sending you something. When it is time to pick up your item, you would need to present an ID.
How It Works: Be Familiar With the Process
First, you would need to find a post office that accepts general delivery. You can use the post office locator tool that can be found on the post office website or download the postal service app on your phone. When you have found the post office that you are close to or prefer, make sure that ‘General Delivery’ is listed under the services offered.
If you are ordering online, you need to make sure that the retailer can ship via USPS. As mentioned above, third-party services will not be delivered via USPS General Delivery Services. You might not want to use this option if you are ordering through Amazon since it can be difficult, but it’s not impossible.
Next, you need to make sure that you address your package properly. Here is the proper formatting you need to use for your General Delivery:
- Your Name
- General Delivery
- Town, State Zip Code-9999
There’s no need to put the address of the Post Office. Simply put, ‘General Delivery’ and the town, state, and zip code. The -9999 is an indication that it is a general delivery mail.
Lastly, all you need to do is pick up the items at the Post Office once it has been delivered.
Amazon Orders Through USPS: What to Know
Now, when you order through Amazon, you do not have the capability of choosing the shipping method. Even if you call them to arrange a General Delivery address, there’s still no assurance that it will be shipped that way. However, there is a trick to Amazon shipping algorithms, and you can be forced to send them to any USPS General Delivery address.
Just add ‘PO Box’ without a number to the address forces Amazon to ship your package via USPS. Here is the format that you should follow:
- Your Name
- General Delivery
- PO Box
- Town, State Zip Code-9999
- Take Note!
When there’s more than one Post Office in the area, you need to make sure that you are going to the right one. Remember that General Delivery mail is always sent to the area’s main post office. Also, call the Post Office and ask them how long they hold mail or packages for General Delivery. Most Post Offices will hold the mail for 30 days, but they will only hold it for 5 to 14 days in some locations.
You can also track your package by going to the USPS website, where they have a tracking tool. It can provide you with preview images of your mail, which show the front of the outside of letter-sized envelopes and mail pieces. All you need to do is enter your tracking number, which looks like this: 9400 1000 0000 0000 0000 00.
Amazon Lockers: When Shopping Through Amazon
Amazon lockers are great for those who always order items through Amazon. They are perfect for picking up packages and even making returns. Amazon will deliver the package to your locker, and then you will receive an email notification that your package has been delivered.
How It Works
First, you would need to search for an Amazon locker that’s near your location. You can do this by using the Amazon Locker tool on the Amazon website. The Amazon Locker tool is also available during the checkout process. Once you’ve found the locker for you, select the Amazon Locker as your shipping address when you place your order.
Second, go to the Amazon Locker location, which is usually located inside or near a store. The Amazon app will have a pickup code for your packages. Enter the said code on the keypad, and your package will pop out. Easy peasy!
You have to make sure to pick up your packages within three days of delivery. If you have missed your package, it will be sent back to Amazon, and then you will get a refund. Also, Amazon lockers are usually concentrated in the coastal and major metropolitan areas. If you are not near one, it is best to use USPS General Delivery instead.
You don’t need Prime to use the Amazon Lockers. However, when registered, you can take advantage of the perks such as two-day shipping. Also, not everything is eligible for delivery when it comes to Amazon Lockers because of the locker size. Amazon Lockers tend to be very small. Only parcels are allowed on the lockers because of their size.
How to Track Your Orders
You can track your package on the Amazon website. There are different statuses that you may see on your tracker. If the lockers are full at the scheduled time of the delivery, you will see ‘Delivery to Locker was unsuccessful. The carrier will make another attempt the next business day.
If the package is too large for the locker, you will see a message saying ‘The carrier was unable to deliver to the Loker. Please contact Amazon to arrange a replacement order or refund.’
Virtual Mailbox Services
There are a lot of virtual mail services that offer a variety of services as well as prices. These companies will give you an address where they will receive your mail for you. When you receive mail, you will be notified or physically forward the mail to you or scan it and send it digitally.
Some virtual mail services can range from $10 a month and above, with plans that vary on how much mail you get and added fees for forwarding. They can send your mail through USPS General Delivery, PO boxes, and family and friends.
The common mail forwarding services are Escapees, Your Best Address, Dakota Post, America’s Mailbox, Virtual Post Mail, Anytime Mailbox, and iPostal. Traveling Mailbox is also an option where that provide scanning, shredding, and forwarding mail services. However, plans are not cheap.
Other Mailing Options
Aside from the main three mailing options above, there are other choices that you can consider.
Make Use of Friends and Family Nearby
During your life on the road, you would need a physical address where you can receive important mail such as car registration, receiving IDs, voter registration, jury duty letters, tax information, and other official documents. Having a family or friend who is willing to let you put down their address would be a great help in these conditions.
It is also a great excuse to visit and catch up with your loved ones. Using this option is best for those who would likely end up receiving mail a handful of times per year. If this is not an option for you, the virtual mailbox is the way to go.
If you choose this route for packages, make sure to write the person’s name on the package followed by your name with C/O (care of) before. This way, your family or friends can pick up the package for you if it gets sent through the post office.
Ship to Stores
When you want to buy from any online store that also has a physical presence, this is the option that is made easy for you. All you need to do is order your items online and have them delivered to the store for an in-store pickup, many major stores such as Walmart, Nordstrom, Target, Best Buy, and Macy’s offer the ship-to-stores option.
When you are shopping at a specific store, it is best to check whether they provide this option. The number one advantage you can get from shopping this way is that you don’t need to pay any delivery fees. All you need is to plan ahead, so you know which store you want your items to be sent to.
Nowadays, everything is done digitally, making it easy for van lifers to do their shopping online.
Walmart Ship to Store
This is the competitor of Amazon, and they have really stepped up their game lately. They offer free ships to store many items that you may need in their stores. If you are unable to find something locally, you can have it shipped to a nearby Walmart for pickup. Since Walmart is all over the place, this is a convenient option for you.
All you need to do is log in to your Walmart account online and search for your item. Make sure that ‘Free Pickup’ is indicated below the item that you choose. You can also filter your search to show just the items available for pickup.
Take note that only items that are shipped from Walmart are eligible for this service. This means you can’t do this with items that are from third-party sellers that are listed on the Walmart website.
There are many campgrounds that are willing to receive mail and packages for their guests, making this a viable option. If you think that you are going to be spending some time in the campground, make sure to ask them if you can ship packages or mail them there. You also need to make sure that the campground you are staying at allows you to receive mail and packages.
Not all campgrounds or RV parks accept mail for their guests. It is best to check ahead and avoid any risk of return packages or mail. Another option that you can ask for the sender to do is to write ‘Hold for Arrival’ on the mail package. This way, it will give the management a heads up in case your mail arrives before you.
Mailing Services To Avoid
There are certain mailing services that you should avoid, such as FedEx and UPS Hub. When it comes to FedEx, they usually return the packages to the sender every time. They do not have an option to hold your packages. When the package doesn’t have an address or requires some effort on the employee’s part to deliver, they likely won’t deal with it.
UPS Hub, on the other hand, doesn’t have fees but has a limited pickup window. With this said, it is not convenient for travelers to use. UPS centers do hold shipments for pick up, but they only hold it for on-location pick up for less than three days. Also, they are only open for very limited hours in a day (one to two hours), and each store has different hours.
No matter how digital the world can be, we will still receive physical mail at some point—knowing what options you have to receive your packages and mail while you are on the road is important. PO boxes are the best option and most popular choice of van lifers because it is easy to access and secures your mail. If you want to have a physical address for your important mail, it is best to ask a willing friend or relative. Knowing your mailing option is another check off of your list before beginning your life on the road!