Every time I am about to take an extended trip, I stop to consider what to do about our mail while away from home. With email and paperless (electronic) billing so common, I certainly receive less snail mail of a critical basis than in years past. However with charity requests, catalogs, sale circulars, and other bulk (junk) mail received almost daily, my mailbox tended to fill up in a matter of days. So do I...
As someone who prefers not to inconvenience others, in the past I have usually put our mail on hold with the post office. It seemed like the most secure and convenient option and costs nothing. Unfortunately my success rate while living in at several addresses in Pennsylvania (house and townhouse) and California (apartment and condo) has been mixed. Therefore I have gone back and forth among these three options to ensure that our mail does not overflow the box. The last thing I want to return home from vacation to is missing or lost mail.
I take lots of vacations and for the majority of situations, holding my mail worked. Twice my mail was never held as requested, but somehow it all fit (was shoved) in our mailbox while on a 10-day trip. Once our accumulated mail was not delivered to our home as of the return date (the date I picked for the mail service to resume). Therefore I had to make a special trip to the post office during business hours which was not fun.
So if you have decided to put your mail on hold for your next vacation, now comes the easy part. Do you want to go to the post office in person, use the website, or call them? Here is a summary of your three options.
You can visit your local post office branch in person if you prefer the experience of filling out the paper form. My advice is to avoid the lunch hour unless you want to wait in a long line to hand the paper form to a postal employee. With this option you can have the satisfaction of making sure your hold mail form is completed without any mistakes.
Look up your local U.S. Post Office branch location, available services, and opening hours on the USPS website.
Putting your mail on vacation hold using the USPS.com website is my favorite way. Since I develop websites I prefer the tech way of getting things done, so the online form is how I have put my own mail on hold.
Keep reading to learn how to submit your mail hold request online since the process has a few gotchas. The complete online USPS mail hold how-to guide is below.
Would you believe the U.S. Post Office has a toll-free 800 customer service number? They handle mail issues, questions, and requests nationwide and can put you in touch with you local branch carrier if necessary. You can give them a call to ask questions about putting your mail on hold while away and submit your hold mail request in just a few minutes.
The phone number to call the U.S. Postal Service is 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777).
Telephone customer service hours are Monday - Friday from 8am until 8:30pm ET and Saturday from 8am until 6pm ET. Not bad hours!
Since the online option is the fastest, most convenient, and perhaps most reliable way to put your mail on hold, I'll take you through the quick and easy steps.
No you are not looking at the USPS website now, but thanks for visiting my VacationCounts blog and supporting my effort to help people take the best time off work and life. Here is the link to the USPS Hold Mail page which opens in a new browser window. You'll be following the step-by-step instructions which I'll help you with, so keep both browser tabs open so you can refer back.
You will need to accurately enter your home mailing address so the postal database can look you up and verify that it can put in a request to your local post office to hold your mail. Enter your name and official home address in the "What's your address" box. Your phone number and email address are also required fields and of course your zip code is critical.
When your are done click the "Check Availability" button to submit the information to the server. If your address is correct the form will let you move onto the next step. Otherwise you'll be prompted to verify your entry is valid to fix any mistakes and try again.
Don't worry if the address does not check the first time. Simple typos, versions, or abbreviations of your mailing address may not match up with the official record. As long as you have a post office in the United States of America that delivers your mail, your mail can be held for up to 30 days.
After you pass the address check, the fields in the "When will we hold your mail?" will become enabled. Here is where you will enter the start date and the end date for your when you'll be away from home. Remember that you can only hold mail for a minimum of 3 days to a maximum of 30 days.
Next second part is to select an option from the delivery option drop down list. You can choose either "Carrier delivers accumulated mail" or "I will pick up accumulated mail." The first option is to have all your held mail be delivered to your home mailbox on the end date. The second option is to tell the post office that you'll come in person as of the end date to pick up the mail in person. Regardless of which option you choose, your normal mail delivery will result as of the end date.
Before you click the "Submit" button double check to make sure your entries are correct. You wouldn't want your mail held for the wrong dates or enter the wrong apartment number by mistake for example. There is an "Additional Instructions" button if you have anything to add, but I honestly have no idea what this field is meant to handle. When you are ready and have read the important legal disclaimer at the bottom, click the submit button and await the success response.
After your mail hold request is processed electronically, you'll receive a confirmation email and also a letter in the mail detailing your hold request. I think the letter is meant as a security precaution in case someone else tries to put your mail on hold on purpose or by mistake. If you see any mistakes after the fact, you can either cancel a mail hold or use the phone or in-person options to talk to a real person who can make it right.
Based on my own past experience I recommend that you put in a mail hold order at least 1 week in advance. You can schedule the service up to 30 days in advance according to the USPS.com FAQ page when you enter the "hold mail" search term. This seems to allow enough time for the electronic request to be routed and handled manually by the hard-working people at your local branch.
If you forgot and have to submit this request at the last-minute, I suggest that instead you visit the post office in person. Preferably go to the physical branch that delivers mail to your home and not necessarily the one closest to work or co-located in a supermarket for example. That way you can complete and hand in the paper version (usually yellow or white in color) of this form and talk to someone to make sure it is processed in time for your travels.
You don't need travel insurance for most road trips and weekend getaways. However for a vacation involving a flight or to a foreign country or expensive/luxury destination, travel insurance is worth buying. My advice is to shop around for the best price. Resist automatically buying trip protection from your travel agent or cruise booking agency as they have often have a profit motive when selling it.
My research suggests that you it will be cheaper and you'll have greater coverage options if you buy travel cancellation, interruption, lost luggage, or medical evacuation coverage directly with a reputable insurance company. Personally I recommend purchasing an annual individual or family policy if you take several trips a year. That type of plan will save you time and money while covering all your vacations.
Try to be at home on this date and not just coming home or heading back to work since the packet of held mail may not fit in your mailbox (the main point for putting it on hold in the first place). Based on whether you have a house or apartment and the general security in the area, you may decide it is smartest to always pick up the accumulated mail in person. That avoids the risk of having it left on your doorstep or overflowing from an unlocked mailbox on the curb. Also consider if it's possible that you'll return a day or two late from vacation due to unforeseen circumstances.
I also use the junk mail avoidance strategies listed further down in this article since I don't want to return from vacation to a ridiculous pile of credit card offers, catalogs, and offers for products I would NOT like to purchase.
For trips that are 2 weeks or longer when I am holding mail, I still like to tell a neighbor to keep an eye on my mailbox. In case my mail is not hold, they can (hopefully) step in and bring my mail inside. I don't want my overflowing mail to get soaked when it is raining and I don't want to attract attention to the fact that me and my family are away. Besides mail, I have in the past asked a neighbor to check my porch or doorstep to make sure no packages, flyers, or other items get left.
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I wish the post office would hold mail for more than 30 days, but clearly they don't want to take on the burden of safely storing your mail for free forever. That's where Premium Forwarding Service comes into the picture. Collected and held mail can be sent weekly to your temporary address, for a fee of course. Read the FAQ section of the USPS website or create or sign in to your USPS.com account to find out more. It is a bit more complicated than mail hold as the options and costs will vary.
Have you tried it out? I haven't so I would be very much interested in learning more. Add a comment below if you can tell VacationCounts readers about your experience with this long-term mail forwarding option.
Holding my mail is often a regular part of my vacation plans, but I've taken mail management one step further. I wish all mail was electronic so I've turned on paperless statements and e-billing for every account in my name. I can't get rid of all my paper mail, but there are ways to manage physical mail electronically.
Rent a Virtual (Online) PO Box
Earth Class Mail is one of a small number of businesses that will give you a private mailbox address in one of the 50 states and accept mail on your behalf. When a piece of mail arrives, they will scan the envelope and let you choose to forward it anywhere or have it opened and the contents scanned to be viewed online. It's all done securely and for me it has become the best way to manage my important mail when I am away from home, living abroad, or traveling the world.
Read my review of Earth Class Mail if you want to find out how it is the ultimate online postal mail scanning, forwarding, and handling solution. I have been a customer for both personal and business use for several years now and definitely recommend it.
Who doesn't hate junk mail. OK I admit I occasionally enjoy looking at Christmas shopping catalogs and offers for strange products only "seen on TV", but what a waste of time and paper. In the past I've gotten multiple catalogs from the same online shop and credit card offers for every day of the week. Not to mention the products that are definitely not for my demographic. Online shopping has everything you want in just a few clicks. I much rather spend my time planning a trip than opening, inspecting, and recycling my junk mail.
Luckily by spending a few hours dealing with this postal mess, you can get rid of most of the garbage entering your mailbox. I have written a detailed article on how to stop junk mail and credit offers. Not only will you have less junk mail to deal with when you return home from a relaxing vacation, you'll reduce the risk of fraud and identity theft.
Ready to plan your next vacation? VacationCounts recommends Expedia. Search for travel and sign up for their rewards program to earn points toward VIP travel.
Regardless of whether you travel often or not, we all want to avoid our mail getting stolen or tampered with when we are away from home. Replacing your entire mailbox with a secure one is a smart step to take. When I owned a house I was always a bit worried about my mail just sitting there or a package being left on my doorstep. Luckily today there are several mailboxes which you can install that have security in mind.
These are the top picks from Amazon for mailboxes that lock down mail and small packages. If you read the customer reviews you'll see that they are all highly rated, but none are perfect. A determined thief can probably break into one if they tried hard enough. Think of secure mailboxes as both a solid security measure for avoiding theft and also a visual deterrent like an alarm system sign on your lawn.
Looking for more information about the U.S. Post Office. Here are a few more resources to help you get your questions answered and manage your mail when planning a trip, while on vacation, and after you return home.
Remember that you are learning about your options for holding mail on the VacationCounts.com website. This is NOT the official source of information and this information is provided without guarantee or warranty. I have to include a legal disclaimer so there is no confusion. When you need to deal with your U.S. mail, you have to contact the only government agency responsible - regardless of rain or sleet or snow... 😉
Also be aware of when post offices are closed during federal holidays and other times. Here is the list of 2016 holidays when branches are closed.
As a reminder, here is the link to the official site to hold your mail while traveling, away from home, or on vacation. Click the button below to open in a new window and submit a new mail hold authorization, cancel an existing, or learn more.
Questions always come up when it comes to the dos and don'ts of vacation mail hold. The comments box below are a testament to the issues that happen when holding your mail becomes more trouble then its worth. That's yet another reason why I have used the other strategies offered in this article such as asking a neighbor, installing a mailbox designed for secure storage, or renting a virtual PO Box.
I've tried my best to answer all your questions in this VacationCounts post and show you step-by-step how to put your mail on hold before your next trip. Luckily the FAQ section of the USPS website contains a lot of additional information. Use the search box on their site to find answers to the most common (and not-so-common) situations that come up regarding holding, canceling, and delivering your mail.
* Disclaimer: This how-to guide was published by Meliovation LLC for VacationCounts.com who makes no warranty and assumes no legal liability in regards to the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the information or advice provided. This article is not sponsored by any government agency. You are advised to visit the official United States Postal Service website and to contact their agents for all mail holding inquiries. Select links in this article are to partners or affiliates which may result in a commission if you purchase a product or service. In no way does this affect the recommendations offered and it will not cost you anything to support VacationCounts.
Post Updated: August 2016