By Russ and Tiña De Maris
One question many new fulltime RVers have is this: “How do I get mail when I’m on the road?” Often the suggestion is made that they establish a relationship with a mail-forwarding business, which they use to “receive” their mail. Simply pick up the phone, or in some cases, use the internet, to direct where received mail should be sent – and it catches up with you.
Trouble is, just where do you receive the mail that’s been sent by your forwarding service? For some, if you’re staying at an RV park, you may be able to have your mail delivered there. It’s easy, and just a short walk to the office to pick up the mail. But it does get a bit trickier if the park won’t accept your mail, or if you’re boondocking. The general response is “Use the post office General Delivery” option. What’s General Delivery? Instead of putting a street address on the line following your name, you simply enter, GENERAL DELIVERY, and on the next line put the city and state, followed by the five-digit Zip Code, a dash, then 9999. The last four digits specifically identify General Delivery. In our travels, General Delivery has worked – but it can be a bit tricky. Here are a few tips to work out the kinks.
First, we recommend avoiding picking up your mail in a large city. Maneuvering busy metro streets “in the bus” can be a bit of a challenge. We’ve often found that picking up the mail at a post office in a nearby small town is much, much easier. Usually there are shorter lines, the traffic is lighter, and if the RV just won’t fit in the post office parking lot, usually you can find a suitable place to park within a short walk.
But even small towns can be tricky. We once used General Delivery service in Bisbee, Ariz. Would you figure that a town with a little more than 5,000 residents would have more than one post office? At that time we went to the post office in the downtown area to get our mail, only to be told we had to go to a different facility – in the same town – to get the mail. We barely made it before closing, due to our ignorance.
How do you know which post office facility handles General Delivery mail? It’s not as easy as we’d wish. Some recommend this trick. Access the postal service website, usps.com. Click on the banner link to “Mail & Ship.” Scroll down to “Look Up a Zip Code,” and click. On the form, simply enter, GENERAL DELIVERY on the line for “Street Address,” and enter the city and state. Click “Find,” and you’ll soon have the Zip Code. Now, in most cases, armed with the Zip Code, return to the “Mail & Ship” banner link, scroll down to “Find USPS Locations,” and enter the Zip Code. That should give you the precise post office location where General Delivery goes.
Buzzer! Try it with Bisbee, Ariz., and guess what? Bisbee has two post office facilities, both with the same Zip Code!
What’s to be done? Go through the steps, and if you find more than one postal facility at the same Zip Code, you’ll need to telephone the post office and ask where General Delivery mail can be picked up. You can get that specific post office phone number by clicking on the name of the post office on the list – it will show you all the details of that post office, including its phone number. It’s really a good idea to CALL BEFORE YOU HAVE MAIL SHIPPED, because some post office staff folks are a little – well – peculiar. RVers have reported that they’ve called in for General Delivery mail, only to be told something like, “Well, you didn’t call us to let us know it was coming, so we sent your mail back.”
Yes, it might seem easier to call the Postal Service 800 number and ask about General Delivery services. Beware! Reports from RVers indicate that the folks on the other end of the 800 number don’t always get it right. One RVer said he was told by the phone representative that the Postal Service doesn’t have a database for this kind of information, so he just “Googles it.”
Remember, too, that while there is no federal ruling as to how long you can have General Delivery service at a given post office, the local postmaster is the master. For example, in Quartzsite, Ariz., snowbirds are often frustrated to learn that the limit on General Delivery mail for a specific individual is 30 days. After that, they’ll need to pay for a rented post box. Your General Delivery mail should be held for 30 days – but you can ask for a shorter hold time by having the mailer write: “Hold for ‘X’ days,” or “Hold until ‘X’ date” “then return.” Something to keep in mind if you run into trouble on the road and can’t make it to your mail.
However, you can also have your held mail sent on if you get in a bind. A few years back, we ran a test. We sent ourselves a letter to General Delivery in a given city. A few days later, we issued a mail forwarding request, using our name, and “GENERAL DELIVERY” address for that town – to the post office in that town. We directed that our mail be forwarded to GENERAL DELIVERY in another town, in a different state. We then repeated the process several times, bouncing our letter across the U.S., finally having it forwarded to us at our home base. The letter eventually reached us – a bit worse for wear.
Yes, you can have packages sent to you using the General Delivery mail system, provided your shipper will use USPS as their carrier. Again, parcels are held for up to 30 days.
In any event, you’ll need to take a photo ID to pick up your mail. And if you have any peculiarities in your name, like we do, be prepared to have the clerk tell you they don’t have your mail. For example, our last name, De Maris, often ends up being filed under M instead of D. If you’re having a batch of mail forwarded all in one envelope, have your sender ship it via Priority Mail. Get the tracking number, and look up the tracking number. When you see the mail has been “delivered,” print a copy of the notification and take it with you to the post office. Just in case they claim they don’t have it, you can show them otherwise.
Chasing after snail mail should be fast and easy. Usually it is – but knowing the ins and outs can ensure you’re faster than a speeding Zip Code.
Editor: RVtravel.com recommends Americas Mailbox for your mail forwarding service.