How to get mail while traveling – what you need to know

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While all cats are inherently wild at heart, we are also used to having our own territory. In fact, when planning a nomadic lifestyle with my human companion, it took months to wrap my head around the idea of not having a permanent home. My brain incessantly wandered amongst the big philosophical questions like what do I do with my cat toys, how to make new friends, maintenance of my strict diet, and so forth. However, as a middle-aged cat who manages multiple business affairs, I worried most about how to get my mail while traveling. 

Having a mailing address is an assumption made by more parts of society than I ever realized! There are several institutions (mostly financial) that even require a residential address to do business. So naturally, this was my first big question to tackle. Let’s look at some common ways that digital nomads receive the mail.

My service of choice: Traveling Mailbox

This is the method that I have been using to receive my mail for the past 1.5 years. Traveling Mailbox is an online mailbox, which is a step above an old-fashioned PO box. When you work with an online mailbox company, they will receive mail on your behalf and send you scanned images of the envelopes.

Once you receive the image in your email you can decide to open, shred or forward the piece of mail. For most of my important mail, I was able to have Traveling Mailbox scan the contents of the envelope and then shred it onsite. On the rare occasion that I needed a physical copy of my mail, I simply have it forwarded to my current host.

how to get mail while traveling - spending Fall in Montana
Fall in Montana

Traveling Mailbox is a great service because they handle everything you need for your mail. You can even have packages sent to them. The fee is small, starting at $15 per month, if you don’t care about the location of your mailbox.

If you are currently working on a W2 and paying taxes, make sure to get a mailbox in the state where you intend to pay taxes. I currently pay $25 per month to have a mailbox in California. 

In the cases where I needed to provide a “residential” address, I was still able to use Traveling Mailbox by putting “Apt #” in front of my assigned mailbox number. This is a common practice and the company will route your mail to the correct box disregarding whatever prefix you use. 

Alternatives to Traveling Mailbox

Of course, Traveling Mailbox is not your only option. I have also heard good things about iPostal1, Anytime Mailbox, Post Scan Mail, or Earth Class Mail. When evaluating paid services make sure to look at available addresses, costs, and additional features like 3rd party integration and check depositing. 

The pros of going with a paid service include reliability, quick access to your mail, and the consistency of a single address. The downside is the cost. 

Using a trusted friend’s or family member’s address

Nomading America - winter in Alaska
Winter in Alaska

I have talked to many full-time travelers that have used this approach. The upside is that you’ll be using a truly residential address, so banks and the IRS will not question your residence when it comes time to pay taxes.

The downside, however, is that you are reliant on the kindness of others for opening and forwarding your mail. Does someone owe you a favor? Maybe this is your best solution!

Changing your address every time you move

Certainly a labor-intensive solution, this approach is free and doesn’t put anyone out (except for you). You may want to use this method in combination with the one above by listing a family member’s home as your default address and updating your current address with specific companies when you expect to receive important mail. 

How to get mail while traveling: Receiving one-time packages

In addition to managing your ongoing mail (things like bank statements and bills), you may also need a solution for managing one-time orders, like your most recent online shopping spree. 

how to get mail while traveling - summer in California
Summer in California
  • If you are ordering from Amazon, you can usually ship your purchase to an Amazon locker close by. This is a quick and easy way to get your items without having to trouble your host. Just go to your account settings, then Ordering and Shopping Preferences then Addresses, then “Add New Address”. From this screen, you can search for “Amazon pick-up locations near me”. This will add the Amazon locker as an option in your address book. 
  • Both FedEx and UPS have pick-up agreements with Walgreens and CVS, respectively. I’d recommend ordering your packages to either your current address or one close by. Once you receive your tracking number you can update your order to be held at a nearby location.
  • And finally, the US Postal Service allows for something called “General Delivery”. This means that the local post office will hold your mail. In order to use this service, simply address your item to Your Name, “General Delivery”, and your current city, state, and zip. 

Conclusion on how to get mail when traveling 

When all is said and done, getting your mail while on the road is not as difficult as it seems! I personally use a combination of a paid service for ongoing mail and my legal address and Amazon lockers for my occasional online purchases. I can wholeheartedly recommend Traveling Mailbox as a paid solution, having worked with them for the past 1.5 years. 

There you have it! The answer to the most pressing question about life on the road. Learn more about slow travel on the Working Nomads Resource Page.  

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