A reader recently wrote in asking about the best way to get mail while traveling. She’d been eyeing a travel product online, but was hesitating because she wasn’t sure how to go about getting it delivered while she was on the move.
It’s a problem that many long-term travelers will face at some point, and there are a number of ways you can go about solving it. I’ve come up with six different options for getting things delivered – but if anyone has other ideas please share them in the comments.
Note that the suggestions below revolve around the needs of the average traveler – that is, being able to receive the odd package or letter. Most of these people would have their regular mail collected by a neighbor or redirected to a family member, and are simply looking to pick up a purchase they made online or a care package from someone back home.
If you need to get access to all your mail while you’re traveling, there are services that can make that happen too. Mail Boxes Etc. is one such mail forwarding service that will receive all your letters and packages and either hold them until you’re ready to pick them up or forward you the specific pieces that you want right away. Of course, there’s still the problem of where to forward that mail to… so read on for my suggestions.
1. Ship to friends and family. If you know you’ll be visiting friends or family at some point along your trip, have your products shipped directly to their address. For example, I wanted to get some new hiking boots partway through a long trip, so I ordered several pairs online (in order to test out different sizes), had them delivered to family abroad, tried them on and then shipped the remaining pairs back. This is by far the simplest way of receiving packages.
2. Have packages delivered to your hotel. If you have an advance booking with a reputable hotel, it’s worth enquiring if they’ll accept packages on your behalf. Some hostels may also provide this service, but your goods are at the mercy of the staff at reception, so weigh up the risk. Higher end hotels as well as family-run bed and breakfast type accommodation are probably your best bet.
3. Ship to your company’s international headquarters. If you work for a multinational corporation, you might try having packages delivered to one of their international offices. My husband and I did this when we needed to purchase some guidebooks that we could only find online. Just be sure to contact the office in advance to check whether it will be okay, as well as to notify them of the name the package will arrive under, since many companies will reject mail that is not addressed directly to one of the people working in that office.
4. Use Poste Restante. “Poste Restante” is a service offered by many regular post offices (e.g. USPS, Canada Post and so on) where your mail is held for you until you go and pick it up. The duration of the service varies widely – in some countries the post office will only hold your mail for a week, while in other countries it may be held for several months. For your mail to be put aside for you, you need to ensure that the envelope or packaging is addressed correctly – this generally follows the form of your (the recipient’s) name on the first line, the words “poste restante” on the second line, and then the address of the post office. Be aware that in some countries, this service is referred to as “general delivery”, so you might need to write that, or even “GD” as part of the address. To be safe, it’s best to check the guidelines of the specific post office you’ll be dealing with.
5. Have shipping companies hold your goods. Many private shipping companies such as FedEx provide a delivery option where you can have your packages shipped to one of their branches and held securely until you pick them up. FedEx calls this option “hold at location”, UPS dubs it “alternate delivery location” and at DHL it’s known as “hold for collection”.
6. Deliver to Amex. You can have your mail sent to an American Express office for pick-up through the company’s Client Letter program. It’s a service that’s available to all Amex cardholders (no special status necessary) and items are held for 30 days. The service is intended for letters, but word on the street is that smaller packages are often accepted. You’ll need to call ahead to check which branches offer this service.
A final tip: Whichever method you choose to receive your packages, just be sure to place your order several weeks ahead of your scheduled arrival to ensure your goods will arrive by the time you do. If you can get a tracking number to follow your package’s journey via the internet, even better.
What do you think? Do you know of any other ways of receiving packages or mail while traveling? Have you had good/bad experiences with any of the above techniques?