How to Hold Mail While On Vacation (USPS Delivery Options and Advice)

It's easy to submit a vacation mail hold with the USPS (United States Postal Service). Every time I have a vacation coming up soon, I decide what to do about our postal mail while away from home. With email and paperless (electronic) billing so common, I receive much less critical snail mail than in years past. However with random bills, credit card offers, charity requests, catalogs, sale circulars, and other bulk (junk) mail received almost daily, my home mailbox tended to fill up in a matter of days. So do I...

  1. Put the mail on hold at the local branch of the US Post Office?
  2. Let the junk mail pile up in the (never quite large enough) mailbox?
  3. Ask a family member or trusted neighbor to pick up my mail regularly?

Why I've Put My Mail on Vacation Hold

Mailbox photo - Vacation Hold?

As someone who prefers not to inconvenience others, in the past I have usually put our family mail on hold with the post office. It seemed like the most secure and convenient option and costs nothing. It usually works without fail so I recommend it to people who travel. Unfortunately there have been a few times while living at addresses in New Jersey (house), Pennsylvania (townhouse) and California (apartment) when something went wrong. 

My wife and I take lots of vacations and for the vast majority of situations, holding all our mail for the duration worked. Twice our 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. This is is the date wrote down on the form 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. I was looking forward to catching up on my missed mail as soon as I returned from vacation.

Therefore I have gone back and forth among these three options (hold mail, do nothing, ask neighbor) to ensure that our ridiculous amount of important and (mostly) junk mail does not overflow the box. The last thing I want to return home from vacation to is missing or lost letters. 

3 Ways to Submit Hold Mail to USPS

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 presented on the USPS website. 

In Person

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. 

USPS Authorization to Hold Mail - For Example Purposes Only

Look up your local U.S. Post Office branch location, available services, and opening hours on the USPS website.


Online

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.

USPS.com Website Hold Mail Menu

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.


By Phone

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. 

Ask USPS Contact Information

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!


Hold Mail Step by Step Guide

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.

Step 1 - Visit the Official U.S. Postal Service Website

No you are not looking at the USPS website now, but thanks for visiting VacationCounts.com and supporting our effort to help people take more time off work for family and travel. 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.


Step 2 - Name and Address Entry Check

You will need to accurately enter your home mailing address. The postal database will try to look you up and verify that you can put in a request to your local post office to hold your mail for up to 30 days. 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.

Vacation Mail Hold Name Address Form

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.

Vacation Mail Hold - Address Verify Available

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.

Vacation Mail Hold Address Verification Failed

Check Your Postal Address Entry and Try Again if Failed to Find a Match


Step 3 - Hold Dates and Delivery Options

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. It is also worth noting that the post office can't process mail hold requests on Sundays and holidays. 

Vacation Mail Hold Dates and Delivery

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. 

According to the USPS website, if your mail is not picked up within 10 days it will be returned to sender. That's harsh! So make sure to put a BIG reminder at home to pick up your mail right away. If you use an online calendar like Google Calendar or your Apple iPhone Calendar, set an automated reminder for the date you return back from vacation. It can remind you to do things like pick up your accumulated mail from the local post office as well as restart your newspaper subscription, turn on the hot water, or get in touch with landscaping company for example. 

USPS Hold Mail Pickup Accumulated 10 Days or Return to Sender

Step 4 - Submit Hold Mail Request - You're Done!

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 online or use the phone or in-person options to talk to a real person who can make it right.  

USPS Mail Hold Feeling of Success

Do you get this excited when putting your mail on vacation hold? 😉

Scott's Advice on Vacation Mail

Mail Hold Timing

Based on my own past experience I recommend that you put in a mail hold order at least 1 week in advance. Of course that may vary based on where you live, so it's best to ask your postal carrier for their advice in your area. You can schedule the service up to 30 days in advance according to the USPS.com® FAQ page when you enter "hold mail" as the 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. Again call 1-800-ASK-USPS® (1-800-275-8777) if you have any urgent questions for them. 


Buy Travel Insurance

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 or resort, travel insurance is worth buying to protect you and your family. My advice is to shop around for the best price.

Resist automatically buying trip protection from your travel agent (like clicking the box when booking a tour package) or cruise booking agency as they have have a profit motive when selling it. My research suggests that it can be much less expensive when you buy directly from the insurance company or a broker. Even more important, you'll have so many more options to choose only the coverage types and limits you need for a trip. 

Typical travel insurance products offer a combination of trip cancellation, interruption, lost luggage, and medical benefits. Think about the likelihood of anything going wrong during your vacation. For trips to a foreign country you have to consider whether your health insurance will cover you if you get sick or injured. Travel medical insurance often comes with emergency evacuation features to send you to a reputable hospital or fly you home to see your doctors.

For those who take several vacations a year, I recommend purchasing an annual individual or family trip insurance policy. That type of plan  will save you time and money by covering all your vacations for the year. If you only take one big international or expensive vacation per year, buy the right travel insurance policy to cover that one trip. Usually it's best to wait until you make your first payment on the tour or cruise or purchase your flights to compare plans and buy a policy to cover your vacation.

To explore all your options for travel insurance, use a travel insurance broker like InsureMyTrip. They let you search for plans based on your needs to compare features, benefits, and costs. It costs no extra to buy through a broker and it gives you peace of mind that you are not paying too much for travel insurance. 

Insure Your Trip at InsureMyTrip.com

Mail Hold Resume

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. Like if your flight gets cancelled and your mail arrives home before you do. 

For those who decide to pickup their accumulated mail in person at the post office, make sure to bring photo ID. The post office has security measures in place to make sure you are picking up your own household mail. Here is the list of acceptable primary forms of photo identification according to the USPS.com help website. 


Additional Tips and Advice

Stop Junk Mail Opt-Out icon

I also recommend using the junk mail avoidance strategies listed further down in this article. You probably also don't want to return from relaxing vacation to a ridiculous pile of credit card offers, catalogs, and advertisements for products that I would NOT like to purchase. Luckily there are ways to block junk mail at the source like your email provider blocks spam from reaching your inbox. 

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. 

Holding Mail for More Than 30 Days?

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. 

Premium Mail Forwarding Service
Click to read more about Premium Forwarding Service, from the U.S. Post Office

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. 

Sneak Preview Mail with Informed Delivery®

A new service from the U.S. Post Office has come to my attention that allows you to see scanned images of your arriving mail. Apparently they scan the front of envelopes stamped to your home address and let you view those images online. They call it a "digital preview" of your incoming letter-sized mail scheduled to arrive soon. Using this information you can see what important letters are arriving, track and schedule redelivery of missed packages, and get email and text notifications  to ensure the guaranteed delivery of your mail. 

It sounds really cool (thanks USPS!), but it is only available at eligible residential addresses. You'll need to verify your address on their website to determine if it's offered in your town, city, or apartment building. Surprisingly it is a completely free service and even comes with apps you can install from Microsoft, the App Store, and Google Play. You'll login to your dashboard to view incoming mail, even when you are traveling on vacation.

Read about Informed Delivery® by USPS® and sign up for free.   

Now you can worry less about waiting for a check like a tax refund or critical piece of mail when you are enjoying your time off. 

Alternatives to Vacation Mail Hold

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. 

Earth Class Mail Emails Scanned Envelopes

Email Notification of a Letter Received (Envelope Scan)

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 small business use for years now and definitely recommend it. 

Recommended Ways to Avoid Junk Mail

Stop Junk Mail - Overflowing Mailbox

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 store brand and credit card offers 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. Regardless, 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 put in a request to stop junk mail and credit offers. Not only will you have less junk mail to deal with when you return home from a memorable vacation, you'll reduce the risk of fraud and identity theft. Given the hacks reported in the news, it is smart to protect your mail and identity.

Secure Your Home Mailbox to Prevent Theft

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 types of 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.

Recommended Secure Mailboxes on Amazon

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. 

How to Contact the U.S. Post Office

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 federal 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.


USPS Mail Hold Frequently Asked Questions

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.

> Link to USPS.com Mail Hold FAQ (Official)


* 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 Last Updated: July 2019

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