If you’ve browsed many RVing forums or discussion groups, you’ve likely seen the term “General Delivery.” Whether you use a mail-forwarding service or enlist a friend or family member to handle your mail for you while you travel, you will have to navigate the perks and downsides of USPS General Delivery at some point in your travels. We love when RV parks will accept packages on behalf of guests, or when shipping services such as UPS or FedEx will deliver them to your campsite, but we also know this is not the norm. It is best to be prepared for the conveniences and inconveniences of this General Delivery before you choose to use it.
What Is General Delivery?
General Delivery is a service offered by the United States Postal Service that allows you to receive mail in an area in which you do not have a permanent address. This can be highly convenient for RVers who enjoy traveling on a more frequent schedule, as it allows you to receive your mail almost anywhere there is a post office!
How Does General Delivery Work?
The short answer to this question is this: have the mail you wish to receive addressed to
City, State Zipcode (of the post office where you will be)
Give it a few days to arrive, then check in regularly until it’s ready for you to pick up!
In reality, there is a bit more to it that this, though. Before you know the address you should use, you want to select a post office nearest you that accepts General Delivery. You can find that information on the USPS website here. Once you’ve narrowed your options by location, you can review the list of available services to confirm that “General Delivery” is listed.
Sounds easy, right? Typically, it is a pretty smooth process. However, there are a couple of potential hurdles you should be aware of any time you’re considering using General Delivery to receive your mail.
Problems With General Delivery: Retrieving Your Mail
Even though a location states it offers General Delivery services, you will want to call their local number and ensure that is truly accurate. We specify the local number because calling the 1-800 number routes you to the national customer service line, which may not have the information you want.
A mistake made by many travelers is assuming that a location which accepts General Delivery also holds it for you to pick up. You’re probably thinking “Come again?! Why wouldn’t they?”
In more populated urban areas, most post office locations DO accept General Delivery. However, they then route General Delivery mail to a central location, often the hub of that city, where addressees can retrieve their mail. In smaller towns, this may mean just driving a mile or two, parking, and walking in. In larger cities, such as Austin, Texas, you have to drive into the heart of downtown, drive in circles looking for street parking, give up and pay for parking in a private lot, then find your way back to the post office to wait in line and pick up your mail. If you’re there during morning rush hour, lunchtime, or afternoon rush hour, make sure you allow yourself ample time and patience to navigate traffic, and maybe pack a snack for your ‘hike.’
That initial phone call is also a great time to ask if that location limits pickup to certain hours. While most post offices are open 8:00 AM to 5:00PM, they may not have staff on-hand to manage pick-up services all throughout the day. In smaller towns, where staffing is often lighter, you may only be able to pick up in a 2-3 hour window. Save yourself some time by confirming this information before you arrive.
Problems With General Delivery: Unexpected Fees and Restrictions
You’ve used the USPS website to find a location, confirmed they do actually receive and distribute General Delivery mail, AND it’s near your campsite! Perfect! Now it’s time to go pick up your mail. But wait, there may be a catch…
Some locations apply fees and/or restrictions to use of their General Delivery service. These are not consistent across all locations, so it can be alarming to find out that you cannot have your mail until you fulfill additional requirements set by that particular location.
How do you avoid this surprise? Reach out to the post office location in advance and speak with their postmaster to confirm that they do receive General Delivery. While you have their attention, ask if there are any special circumstances related to General Delivery. Restrictions may include handling fees, additional postage, registering in advance to receive mail, etc. Again, we emphasize using the local number on the USPS website, not their toll-free number. The local one will get you to the office, the toll-free one will send you to national customer service, which is not as informed on daily procedures at the local office.
Another restriction to keep in mind is size- while your local office is happy to accept your mail-forwarding package, maybe even your new InstantPot, they may not have the room to accept your solar panels, lithium batteries, pet food order, etc. In cases where they do accept packages of this size, be prepared to retrieve them ASAP to avoid causing an inconvenience or incurring a storage fee.
Along this same line, if you anticipate receiving multiple packages, confirm whether there is a limit to how many that location will accept and hold on your behalf.
Problems With General Delivery: Competitor Services
Be mindful that UPS and FedEx are competitors for USPS. As such, not all post office locations will accept packages delivered by these companies. This is another situation in which it would benefit you to reach out to the local post office in advance and confirm whether they will receive packages from competitors.
This can be a tough scenario to navigate when ordering from companies such as Amazon, where the method of shipping isn’t always disclosed at the time of purchase OR upon confirmation. This is when options such as Amazon Lockers are preferable, given that there is one available in your area. If not, talk with the office staff at your campground and see what alternatives they can suggest before you place your order. Maybe there is a UPS store in town that will accept your package for a fee!
Using USPS General Delivery To Receive Mail As an RVer
As you read through these potential problems, you may get the feeling that General Delivery is more complicated than it’s worth. Why is a service that is intended to be convenient surrounded by so many ‘maybes’ and ‘what ifs?’ The good news is that the vast majority of questions can be answered with a single phone call 1-2 weeks in advance of when you will need their service. Planning ahead allows you time to find a different location, choose to delay your mail to your next destination, or find an alternative service that suits your needs, all without the panic of ‘what do I do?’ once your mail is already en route.
For a quick reference tool, we put together these key questions into a short guide you can keep handy during your travels.
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