During a recent rally I was approached by an Airstreamer who was unhappy because he wasn’t getting his Airstream Life magazine regularly. It turned out that when he and his wife were traveling, they filled out a temporary mail forwarding order with the US Postal Service, and expected that it would work for up to six months as the USPS website claims.
Unfortunately for this Airstreamer, USPS mail forwarding has significant limitations, among which is that they won’t forward periodicals after 60 days. Since Airstream Life is mailed quarterly, he never got his magazines. The Post Office just tossed them, without even notifying him.
If you’re a frequent traveler, or planning a multi-month trip, you need to find a professional mail forwarding service and use it all the time. This can be a little weird at first, because you’ll need to permanently change your mailing address for everything, to the address of the mail forwarding service. That means you won’t get mail delivered directly to your home anymore (except junk mail).
It can take a few months to get everyone updated on your new address, but the rewards are worth it. Once you’ve got all your bills, correspondence, and other paper mail coming to the new mail forwarding address, life becomes very convenient. Wherever you are, you can simply call, email, or log into the website of your mail service and have them bundle up all your current mail to be sent to you as a single package. In other words, you can deal with the mail on your schedule.
Moreover, a good service will allow you to set up a recurring schedule for delivery. When I’m at home, my mail is automatically shipped to me in a single Priority Mail Flat Rate Envelope (about $5) every week. It arrives in two days and it’s trackable. If I want, I can request UPS delivery with overnight, two day, and three day delivery options. Postage is charged to my credit card on file, and the service costs $12/month.
When I’m on the road, the mail service waits for me to get in touch. I look ahead a few days and pick a convenient location to receive the mail, then place an order for shipment on a particular date. It can be shipped to a campground, a Post Office (using General Delivery), a friend or family’s home, or a business address. When I get there, my mail is always waiting.
If you’re ready to make the switch, keep a few tips in mind:
Choose the right mail forwarding service.
When we were looking for a new mail forwarding service, people advised us to “just use any UPS Store.” Bad idea. What if that little shop in the strip mall closes? It has happened to friends and fellow fulltimers, and they’ve had the hassle of moving everything to another address.
Instead, look for an established mail forwarding specialist that has a succession plan in place in case the owners retire or the business has to move. Also, look for a service that will give you excellent personal attention via phone and email.
Keep it professional.
While it can be tempting to ask a friend to collect your mail at home and forward it to you, be wary. I’ve heard too many stories in which the friend ends up “too busy” and crucial mail is delayed.
Check the fine print.
As with USPS Mail Forwarding, some services have limitations on what they will forward. At Airstream Life we get occasional complaints from subscribers who paid for the cheapest mail forwarding service they could get and found out later that their magazines were getting tossed.
Know your options.
Make sure the service you use will forward your magazines and give you the option to have them discard junk mail (mail which is addressed to “Occupant” or similar). Make sure also that if you receive an unexpected 10-lb paperweight in the mail, they’ll notify you before shipping it at your expense. That way you are getting everything you want, and not paying to forward stuff you don’t want.
Get a permanent solution.
Yes, you can file temporary forwarding orders, but once you experience the convenience of professional and permanent mail forwarding, you will probably become addicted. You’ll never fail to get a bill, statement, check, renewal, or other important mail again, whereas it’s all too easy for things to fall through the cracks with on-again, off-again solutions.
Reduce your volume of mail.
Some full-time friends of mine used to get a giant pack of mail once a month from their mail forwarding service. It would typically run about four inches thick. Then they’d spend a full day sitting in their Airstream, sorting through all the paper, paying bills by check, licking envelopes, and shredding sensitive information. I can’t imagine many worse ways to spend a day in my Airstream! So…
Get every credit card, utility, bank, and other recurring relationship to send you an e-bill, or get rid of that vendor. Have all your small recurring bills (cell phone, etc) billed automatically to your credit or debit card, to reduce the number of bills you get. Save copies of the e-bills on your computer as PDFs so you can refer to them if you need to. Use online banking to simplify your bill paying. It’s generally free and easy to use.
Some people still feel more comfortable receiving paper bills, but you’ll find that if you don’t use online e-billing you might get hit with late charges. That adds up fast, and can affect your credit rating.
In short, try to eliminate as much paper correspondence as you can. Very few things really need to be in paper form these days, so if you are getting a thick stack of mail every week, take a hard look at what you are getting and see about cutting it back.
Just say no.
Cutting the volume of mail includes simple techniques like asking to be removed from mailing lists and closing unnecessary accounts. Ideally you should just get a few crucial pieces of mail each week, so you can spend most of your time enjoying the travel experience.
Consider state of residence.
You don’t have to choose a mail forwarding service in your home state. I am an Arizona resident, but my mailing address is in Florida. It’s perfectly legal to have your mailing address wherever you like.
However, if you are going out full time, this is a chance to review your state of residency. Fulltimers can sometimes choose where to legally domicile, taking into account factors like state income taxes, vehicle registration fees, voting registration, health care costs, and many other factors.
This is a much more complicated decision, so do your research and choose wisely. You may be considered a resident of some states simply by remaining there for a period of time, or because you own real estate, have a child in school, or operate a business, so in some cases the decision is made for you.
Get a physical street address, not a PO Box.
If not, you may have trouble with banks and drivers licenses later, thanks to certain remaining provisions of the Patriot Act. An address like 411 Walnut St #4468 is fine.
In some cases (as with state Driver’s Licenses and banking accounts) you may be required to provide a “real” physical address as well. In Arizona, the Motor Vehicle Registrar has my home address on file but my driver’s license shows my mailing address. This surprises people regularly—they assume it’s “not legal” but of course it is, and it prevents businesses from capturing my home address and adding it to their databases for junk mail.
There’s one last perk as well: certain Florida entertainment venues have given us the “resident” rate for admission based on our mailing address, even though it’s on an Arizona driver’s license! It’s a small world, after all…
-By Rich Luhr