How A Full-Time Nomad Gets Mail

How a full-time nomad, van dweller or RVer gets his mail on the road using a Mail Forwarder.

How a full-time nomad, van dweller or RVer gets his mail on the road using a Mail Forwarder.

This is the second in a series on 1) How to choose a State of Residence, 2) How to get mail on the road, 3) What it takes to get a Drivers License and specifically how to get a physical address, and 4) How to get Obamacare health insurance. In my last post I told you how to choose a State of Residence and in this one I’m going to tell you how to get your mail on the road and explain what a Mail Forwarder is and how to find one. In my next post I’ll tell you all about how to get a physical address.

In today’s America you absolutely must have a mailing address to receive your mail. There are a large number of things that require it, for example, it’s impossible to become a resident of any state or get insurance without a mailing address in that state. But if you live on wheels and have no permanent home whatsoever, how can you do that?

For many people the answer is easy, they just ask their family or friends to get their mail and hold it for them and then forward it to them as they travel. Their family or friends address becomes their address. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have family and friends willing to do that and it’s been my experience that many people will start out doing it for you–but it soon becomes a burden to them and they decide to stop.

So for the majority of us who need to take care of it ourselves, today I’m going to tell you how.

Mail Forwarding Service

The next step after you chose a State of Residence is to get a Driver’s License, but before you can do that, you need to get auto insurance, but first you must have a mailing address. Fortunately, there are services that offer to receive your mail for you for a reasonable fee. Logically, they are called Mail Forwarders because they receive your mail, process it for you, and then forward it onto you wherever you are. The USPS allows them to become an agent that handles and even opens your mail, but first you must fill out and sign a form giving them permission. Once you do, from then on you use the address they give you as your mailing address and all your mail goes to them.

When they get your mail they offer several options of what they’ll do with it:

  • Package it all together and mail it to a pre-arranged address at pre-arranged times. For example, if you are spending the summer in an RV Park in Alaska, they will receive and hold all your mail, put it into a box and ship it to you every Monday (or whatever time-frame you give them).
  • Another option is they will get it in and hold it until you send them an address to ship it to. So if you are moving a lot they just hold it and when you finally get to a place where you can receive it, you phone or email them and give them an address and then they send it to you. You do that as often or as seldom as works for you.
  • You can ask them to contact you whenever you get new mail and either open the mail and read it to you over the phone, or scan it and email it to you. There is usually a small additional fee for those services since they take extra time.
  • One service that I know of scans every piece of mail that comes in and puts it online in an account you can open and look at. After you look at it you click on a box to tell them what to do with it such as throw it away, scan it, hold it or forward it. It looks like a very good service, but they are in Florida so it won’t work for me. Find them here https://www.sbimailservice.com/mail_scan_pro.htm
  • Ask them to process the mail for you in some way. For example my mail forwarder will take a check to a local bank and deposit it for me. In South Dakota some mail forwarders will even process some of your DMV paper-work for you.
  • Unlike the Post Office, they will receive packages from shipping companies like UPS, Fedex or DHL and then ship it on to you wherever you are.

As you can see, you get a pretty broad variety of services from a mail forwarder and they are essential for Nomads. They take what would otherwise be an insurmountable problem and make it easy. Best of all, unlike friends and family they won’t get tired of helping you or lose or mishandle your mail.

Pricing:

There is a broad range of price for the services, about the cheapest I’ve heard of is $60 a year for the basic services and up to $150 on the high end. $100-$120 a year is pretty typical of what you should expect to pay and sometimes additional small fees for smaller, time-consuming extra services like scanning and emailing your mail.

Mail Deposit:

When they ship you a package, they have to pay something to the USPS or some other company to ship that package. Usually it’s not much, but over a year it adds up. What most mail forwarders do is require a deposit, usually either $25 or $50 and they take the postage out of that deposit. Before that money runs out, they contact you and ask for a new deposit. How long it lasts depends on how much, and what kind, of mail you get.  It also depends on how fast you want it. If you get a package in and ask your mail forwarder to over-night it to you via FedEx, that might be the whole $50 right there. But if she can send it media-rate it might be just a couple dollars.

Each of the big three states have several mail forwarders to choose from with South Dakota having the most. But I think every state has them. To find them just do a google search on some combination of the four words, “mail-forwarding-services-state”  without dashes, just spaces and the name of the state you’re interested in. Let’s look at some well-known ones from each of the big three states.

Texas:

Texas is famous for the Escapees RV Club and their mail forwarding services. They have an outstanding reputation for their service and for helping you to become a resident of Texas. By the time you’ve joined the Club and pay for your fees they are more expensive than most but if you were going to join anyway then they aren’t too bad. The Escapees now offer Mail Forwarding services in South Dakota and Florida as well as Texas so they offer a good variety of choices. But there are other mail forwarders in Texas, here are two:

South Dakota:

South Dakota offers many very good mail forwarders, here are a few of them:

Florida:

Florida has many mail forwarders aimed at both boat dwellers and RVers. Here are a few:

Nevada

My Choice of JBmailroom.com in Pahrump, NV as my Home Base

Like I said in my post about choosing a state for residency I became a Nevada resident eight years ago because it had everything I needed in a state, but mostly because it was in such a great location. It’s right along my yearly travels and it’s very close to where I spend my winters

Establishing a home base is as important as choosing a state of residence because many nomads and full-timers pass through it every year so they establish long-term connections and relationships like:

  • A primary care doctor.
  • A veterinarian for their pets.
  • A mechanic they trust for their rig.
  • They can vote while they are there.
  • I also leave my cargo trailer in storage there (for only $17 a month).
  • My Mail Forwarder is there so I can get things shipped to me to work on projects.
  • Many people return to the same place year-after-year so they form friendships they look forward to seeing again every year.

If you’re going to spend that much time there every year, it’s important that it provide you with everything you need. I specifically chose Pahrump, NV as my Home Base because it’s perfect in most ways:

  • It’s a large enough town to offer all the services I need, including medical doctors and a hospital in the Network of my HMO Health Insurance provider. But it’s not a big town like Las Vegas or Reno where I would be very uncomfortable spending any time.
  • It has very good free dispersed camping very near to town, I usually camp four miles from the front door of the Walmart.
  • Because it has a Super Walmart, Smith’s grocery store (which is owned by Kroeger) and a Home Depot, my cost of living there is very low.
  • It has excellent Verizon internet service.
  • I really like the town for intangible reasons such as beauty and “feel.”
  • The only thing I don’t like about it is the weather. Because it is at higher elevation in the Mojave Desert it’s unusually cold and windy, even for the desert. I get around that by going there earlier in the Fall when it’s still warm and later in the Spring when it’s warming up.

Once I had decided on Nevada as a state and Pahrump as my Home Base, I chose jbmailroom as my mail forwarder because it was located there.

http://jbmailroom.com/

Choosing it has been one of the best things I’ve done as a nomad, because it’s service has been outstanding! I’ve come to know the owner, Marianne more as a friend than a business partner. Everything I’ve wanted and needed from a mail forwarder she has done and often gone above and beyond the call of duty and taken excellent care of me! For example, she has deposited checks for me at the local Bank of America branch and when I was getting unemployment checks from California she opened each one and looked to see if a certain box was checked that meant I had to take a certain action. I’ve never once been disappointed with her service!

I’m sure there are many others who are just as good as she is, but I am equally sure that there are none better! Her prices are very good (she charges $120 a year) especially when considering the high quality work she does. I really liked that she operates out of her home in town which meant that her residential address would become my residential address (more about that in my next post).

In any larger town you will probably find a UPS Store to receive your mail for you. They also do forwarding, but they are so expensive I recommend finding someone else for either service if you possibly can.

In any larger town you will probably find a UPS Store to receive your mail for you. They also do forwarding, but they are so expensive I recommend finding someone else for either service if you possibly can.

How Do You Get Your Mail from the Forwarder While You are on the Road?

At first this really baffled me but the longer I’ve traveled it’s stopped being a problem at all. There are actually many places along the way that will receive your mail for you, it’s just a matter of finding them. I usually have some idea where I will be in the next week or two and I just look for a larger tourist town on my travel route that is big enough to have someone to receive and hold my mail for me. Once I find a town, I google it looking for the address and phone number of the local Post Office or any mail handlers in the area. This is what I’m looking for:

General Delivery at the Post Office: Nearly every town has a Post Office branch that will receive your General Delivery mail for you. They usually want you to let them know in advance its coming and will only let you get it for 30 days. But that varies a lot by location. In some towns they act like you are the scum of the earth and will do everything they can to discourage you from using General Delivery, and in other places they are glad to be helpful and are great. There is no way to know which you’ll find until you go in and find out. In larger towns with multiple branches, usually only one will accept General Delivery so find out before you use it. I suggest you always contact the branch before using it and find out exactly what they want written on the package.

UPS Store: I can almost always expect to find a UPS store at most medium sized towns and a quick Google search will tell me where the closest one is. I always try to call first and confirm I can have mail sent to them. Very often they will not allow you to send USPS mail to them unless you have a P.O. Box with them. Since I don’t have a box there, I contact Marianne, my mail forwarder, and have her send my mail via UPS or FedEx.

Mom-n-Pop Mail Delivery Store: One problem with the UPS store is they are fairly expensive. I’ve never seen one charge less than $5 per individual package, and I’ve seen some charge $10 or more per package. If your Amazon order comes in two or three boxes, that will add up fast! Fortunately, most small towns have local stores that compete with The UPS Store and offer better service for less money. Just do a search on “mail forwarders,” “mail handlers,” “mail services,” or “post office box” and you’ll know if there is one or not.

Charities that focus on the homeless: In larger towns there is usually an organization that specificity works with the homeless and one of the services they often provide is mail handling. They are an excellent choice to get your mail–just give them a small donation as a thank you.

RV Parks will receive your mail for you but they are expensive. If you time it right so your mail will get there when you are there, it can work out well. Say the RV Park cost $20 for the night and you get to dump your tanks and fill your water tank; that alone is easily worth $10 or more. But you can also take showers which is at least $5 each and some truck stops charge $12 for a shower. While you are there you can watch their TV and use their WIFI as well as their laundry facility. Since you are plugged into their power, you might as well fully charge your batteries or even do an equalizing charge on them. If you arrange to get two packages while you are there, that would be $10 at the UPS store so it just adds to your total savings. All-in-all, you got a lot of services for your $20 night’s stay!

Friends and Family: I have friends that live along my regular travel route and they don’t mind if I email them and tell them I’d like to order a package and have it delivered to them, would they mind holding it for me until I got there? None have ever objected, they were just glad to help a friend!

Amazon.com

I spend so much of my time in small out of the way places (that have no decent shopping within maybe hundreds of miles) that I’ve made Amazon.com my primary shopping source. The selection is astounding, their price are usually very good and the reviews really help make my best choice. Other than groceries or things Walmart carries I do most of my shopping there. But very often the nearest Walmart is a LONG ways away, but Amazon.com is literally as close as the nearest place that will receive a package for me.

One thing I love about them is that store all my addresses in my Cart. Over the years, I have built up a LOT of addresses in it and I often find myself going to the same places on a regular basis, so they are already in my cart, waiting for me. To give you an idea of how many and what kind of places I get packages sent from, here is a screen shots of my Amazon Address Book:

A screenshot of my Amazon addresses page. It shows I've gotten packages in 6 different states. The blacked out address is a friend.

A screenshot of my Amazon addresses page. It shows on this page alone I’ve gotten packages in 6 different states. It’s always best to call before you ship to be sure you have the address EXACTLY right! The blacked out address is a friend.

So there you have it, finding and using a Mail Forwarder is very easy and solves a very big problem for us Nomads. There are many great one and you won’t have a problem finding one that will fit your budget and will do a great job for you.

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