How to Stay in Touch
Mail, Telephone, Banking, Internet, & TV
As soon as you decide to move into your new vehicle home you will be faced with the question of what to do about getting mail, maintaining a phone number, and going on-line. If you are going to be a traveling vandweller, where will you maintain your residency and how will you do your banking? Fortunately, there are fairly easy solutions for all these questions.
When I moved into my van for the first time, I already had an established resident mailing address. So I went and got a mail box at the UPS Store and had all my mail sent there and filled out a change of address form. The reason I went with them instead of the U.S. Postal Service is that I like to order from the internet and the USPS does not receive packages from Fed EX, UPS, or other freight companies. Since many companies only ship through those carriers, the USPS was not a good choice for me. That solved the problem of how to get mail, but I still had the problem of what to do for a resident address since sometimes you have to a physical address and not just a PO Box. I like to keep things as simple as possible, so I just kept using my last physical address. Who would know that I no longer lived there? If mail accidentally was sent there, it would be forwarded to my new address. I kept using that address for the next six years that I lived in that van, and never once had a problem with it.
If you are going to be a traveling vandweller, you have an additional problem of how to establish residency in a state, and how to receive mail on the road. It is actually quite easy. The first thing you have to decide is which state you want to be a resident of. Some states have a heavier tax burden than others, so that will be a top priority to anyone with an income to report. Another consideration is the cost of vehicle insurance since the rates vary a lot from state-to-state. A final major consideration is vehicle inspections. If a state requires a vehicle inspection before they will renew your registration for another year, that is a major drawback. I don’t want to be required to make a long trip back to my home state just to renew my vehicle registration, when another state will let me renew it online without driving back to the state. Based on these considerations, the following states are generally considered the best choices: Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, and Florida. None of them have a income tax and it is fairly easy to become a resident. Of these four, South Dakota probably has the lowest insurance rates.
Okay, so how will we get a resident address and receive mail once we decide on a state? One great solution is to have a member of your family or a friend receive your mail, and use their address as you own. But if you don’t have someone to do it for you, then you can use a mail-forwarder. This is a company that lets us setup a mailbox with them, and as mail comes in for us, they hold it and then box it up and mail it to us at an address we give to them. For example, I established residency in Nevada and I have a mail forwarder in Pahrump. It is a woman who operates the company out of her home. She lets me use her home address as my physical address, and my mail goes to a PO Box she set up. She goes to the PO Box and gets my mail and holds it, waiting on instructions from me on where to send it. She then calls me and tells me I have mail, and if I ask her to, she will open it and read it to me. Click here to go to her website http://www.jbmailroom.com/. For example, if I am in Colorado Springs, Colorado and I decide that I am ready to receive my mail, I have several choices of how to get that box from the mail forwarder. First, I can have it sent to Bob Wells, General Delivery, Colorado Springs, CO. Nearly every town has a Post Office branch that will receive mail for you to General Delivery. If there are multiple branches in that town, only a few will receive General Delivery mail, so go to a branch and ask where you can get General Delivery. Second, there are many mail box stores such as UPS Stores all over the country, and they will receive and hold mail and packages for you for a $5 charge. So I go online and find the UPS Store in Colorado Springs and call them and alert them I will be receiving a package at their store. I will have my mail forwarder address the box as “The UPS Store–Hold for Bob Wells.” Third, a final choice is to go to a RV Campground and check-in. They will receive mail for me. Once I have decided on where to receive my mail from my forwarder in Pahrump, I call or email her and give her the address of General Delivery, the UPS Store, or RV park I’m at, and tell her to send it to me there. She takes the box of mail to the Post Office and mails it to me. The cost of this service for me as of 2009 is $100 a year, and she requires a $25 deposit to cover the cost of the postage of the boxes she sends me.
Mail forwarding services like this exist all over the country in most mid-sized towns. Each of the best four states for full-time RVers have many forwarders in them. The main one in Florida is Good Sams Club. You have to join their club and then you can use their mail service (click here: http://www.goodsammail.com/). In Texas, the Escapees RV club is famous for it’s mail forwarding service (click here: http://www.escapees.com/MailForwardingService.asp). South Dakota actively encourages out of state RVers to make SD their resident home. They make it very easy to become a resident so it has many mail forwarding services:
I made my decision on the basis of price and location. Both the Good Sams Club and Escapees require you to join first, and then pay for the mail forwarding service. Because of that, they end up being the most expensive. If you want the services those clubs offer, it may be worth it to you to join them, it wasn’t to me so I ruled them out. That left South Dakota and Nevada as my other choices. I love the Southwest and plan to spend my winters there for the rest of my life for these reasons:
- It’s warm in the winter, but not too hot!!
- Higher country where the summers are cool are only a days’ drive away.
- There is an abundance of sun for free solar electricity and solar cooking.
- There is a huge amount of free land to camp on for as long as you want. You can be with others in communities like Quartszite or the Slabs, or you can camp alone without anyone within miles.
- High quality and very cheap dental services are available across the border in Mexico in towns like Algodones along with cheap prescriptions and eyeglasses.
- After awhile you start to find the beauty of the desert.
Because South Dakota, Texas and Florida were a long ways out of my way, I rejected them. I often pass through or near Nevada, so it was a logical decision as my state of residence. My only regret is that the insurance rate on my truck went up but I think the cost of the gas to any of those other states would have cost more. So when you are deciding where to become a resident the top priority is location. If you are on the East coast then Florida would be your best choice, if you are in the Midwest then Texas or South Dakota are close. In the West, Nevada or South Dakota are close.
It’s obvious that a cell phone is a great choice for vandwellers. Which service is best is not so clear. If you use a phone very little. then a pay-as-you-go plan like Tracphone or Net10 may be best for you. Ask five people which one is best and you will probably hear five different answers. These plans change so fast that it really isn’t possible for me to give details about which is best. I can say that the one I have heard the most good reviews for is Net10, but it is really up to you to do the legwork and learn the details and true costs of each plan. For people who use a phone frequently, a contract plan with the big cell phone companies like Verizon, ATT, Sprint, and others is probably a good choice. They offer many plans and each has it’s pros and cons. Again, you need to determine what your needs are and do the research as to which plan is best for you. For the traveling vandweller, my opinion is that Verizon has the best nationwide coverage, Sprint is a very close second, and ATT lags far behind both. But that is just my biased opinion and it can be just the opposite in certain locations. They are all very good and you can’t go wrong with any of them.
There are four main methods of getting internet access:
- Free WIFI: There are many places across the country where youcan get free wifi. The most obvious is libraries, they nearly alwayshave free wifi. There are several sites that list free wifi hot-spotssuch as http://www.wififreespot.com/, http://www.jiwire.com/search-hotspot-locations.htm, http://gwifi.net/. The problem with this is that you may have to drive around looking for wifi and waste time and gas. In some rural areas, there just may not be any available.
- Internet on your cell phone. You can use your cell phone as a browser with most contract cell plans for a small fee ($25-$35 per month as of 2009).The Apple iPhone is a famous example of this. Of course the obvious drawback is the small size of the screen.
- Broadband using a data air-card on your laptop. This is what Ichose. I am with Verizon and I am extremely pleased with it. I get broadband speed in nearly every town regardless of size. There isa 5 gigabyte limit of use and then the fees become very high for extra use. With normal use most people find 5 gigabytes to be plenty. However, if you try to stream video, then you will probably go over the 5 gig limit. The obvious disadvantage is the cost. As of 2009 it costs $60 a month with a two year contract.
- Internet by Satellite. This requires you carry a satellite dish and pay a monthly fee. To be honest, I couldn’t afford the cost or the space it required so I never even looked into it. You will have to do your own research here.
Banking has become very easy over the internet and by using debit cards. ATM machines make getting cash easy, and electronic payments and bill pay make getting paid and paying others very easy. You can go online to view your account, transfer money, and pay bills. While I write only one or two checks a year and rarely ever go into a bank branch, I sometimes do want a stick-and-brick store, so I choose Bank of America as my bank because they have branches all over the country.
I like TV and wanted to be able to watch it even after I moved into my camper. Fortunately, it isn’t that hard. I bought an LCD with a HD digital tuner built in. It has a terrific picture, it’s small, light and doesn’t use much energy. I mounted it on a wall on a swing-away mount. I needed an antenna so I bought a Winegard Roadstar, which is a round omni-directional antenna with a amplifier for better reception. I put it on a metal mast that I can raise for better reception and lower for travel.