Fulltime RVer: Tips for using General Delivery to get your mail

Fulltime RVer: Tips for using General Delivery to get your mail

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.

##RVT831

Related

6 thoughts on “Fulltime RVer: Tips for using General Delivery to get your mail

  1. Gene Bjerke

    In our early traveling days we had mail forwarded to towns we expected to be in. Then when we moved on from there, we had it forwarded again. That worked fairly well, though it seems each post office had a different procedure for doing it. A month or two after we got home, we got a shut-off notice from one of the utilities. We called them and said we never got a bill. It turns out the bill was mailed to General Delivery in the last town that we got mail in. It was way too far away to make a trip just to pick up a pack of mail (mostly uninteresting) but my cousin was a life-long resident of the (small) town and knew the postmaster, so she was able to pick it up and sent it along to us.

    We have since had other mail sent to us on the road, but our situation is simpler now, and we don’t need to forward from on the road.

    1. Terry

      Easiest way is to do a forwarding from that PO but also a stop forwarding from your home PO & a new forwarding at your home PO. That way, home bills are stopped being forwarded ( we stop it 7-8 biz days in advance of leaving) are sent to your latest address and only the already – forwarded mail must be reforwarded–limiting your risk. Also consider signing up for online access to your accounts so you can keep track of bills & due dates. We refuse to let people into our accounts so decline to sign up for auto-pay options, but never have missed a payment deadline or important notice (bc by accessing the actual site, an alert will also tell you if there is an important message, so will the online copy of an actual bill. We have a computer-calendar that we utilize for entering bill ‘close’ & due dates, and reminders as necessary. Very easy fir repetitive bills , whether monthly, annually, or irregularly, also great for remindrrs to download statements and check toll account balance when heading to toll areas.

      1. Terry

        PS– all PO /branches do not accept Gen Del, so calling a specific town/branch is critical. A good deal of the reason is that the PO gets no $ for handling the extra volume of mail or desk service!

  2. Bill & Kitty Bateman

    An easy way to get a specific post office phone # is to Google “USPS followed by a ZIP code .. then click on the site named PostOfficeFinder.org.
    EX: USPS 97347

  3. Fred

    The Post Office does not necessarily hold your general delivery mail for a full 30 days. We have had stuff sent to general delivery in some towns that have said they only hold it for 2 weeks & then return it. And we have talked to post offices that say they will not hold general delivery mail unless you have pre-registered with them. So the general delivery rules are far from universal
    There is also a big problem with packages from Amazon. You have no control how Amazon ships their packages. If you use a gen del address & Amazon ships UPS or Fedex, you will not get the package. If the package ships Fedex Suretpost or UPS Smartpost, it ends up at the post office, but UPS & Fedex may not accept “General Delivery” as a valid address. Sometimes it’s worked for me & other times it hasn’t. Amazon has no firm rules on how it ships product. “Usually” Amazon ships “non Prime” orders (2-5 day delivery) by USPS, but not always (an exception might be a large package). Prime orders are more likely to be sent UPS or Fedex, but again, not always.
    And then their’s the issue of timing. When you’re going to be in an area for 4 days & order from Amazon Prime which promises delivery in two days on a specific date, but then weather or human error “slow” the package, it makes for a frustrating interaction with Amazon regarding re-shipping or credit after you leave that area empty handed. So allow plenty of extra time when planning deliveries.
    Getting mail or packages while travelling can be a frustrating experience.

    1. Terry

      They ACCEPT Gen Del mail for max of 30 days, some less; most only hold it 7 days unless you put in a hold/pick up card. It helps to send them a hold request before they get the first mail. We use the paper requests, keeping a stock in the car so if plans change suddenly we can literally drive through the PO and stop the card before the next biz day.

Leave a Comment