The Challenges of Long Term Travel: Not Having a Permanent Address

One of the simple conveniences that digital nomads miss out on is having a permanent address. 

Having an address is one of those things we take for granted, until we don’t have one. Not knowing what to fill in on that blank on a form can be pretty frustrating and being nomadic can make it very difficult do certain things. 

If you’re struggling with this, you’re not alone. According to new estimates, 4.8 million Americans are either part-time or full-time digital nomads – and that’s just Americans. 

Not having a way to receive mail can affect you in a lot of ways. It’s more than just missing handwritten letters from your grandmother. It means you can’t take advantage of the wonderful world of online shopping. 

Plus, it also makes it difficult to complete application processes and receive bills, bank and credit card statements, packages, legal documents and more. 

So, is there anything you can do when you are on the road for long periods of time without a mailbox? 

Solutions For Receiving Mail While You Travel

Here are a few of the possible solutions you can use instead of not having a permanent address when you are nomadic.  

Have A Trusted Person Receive Your Mail

For many years, I still received mail to the address of my parents back in Canada. They would let me know if I received a letter and, with my permission, open it and let me know the contents. 

If you have someone you trust who is willing to do this for you – it can be a good way to deal with your mail when you are traveling. 

Pros

  • You don’t have to pay for a virtual post box service, which saves you money. 
  • It is a simple solution to set up – you simply need to make sure you’re using their address instead of yours. 

Cons

  • You won’t have any privacy. You’ll need to be comfortable with the fact that this person will read all of your mail. 
  • The person receiving your mail might move while you are abroad, which means you’ll have to find a new solution. 
  • If you are going to be traveling abroad for many years, this is not a great solution. Someone might be happy to handle your mail for a while, but after a while it can become a burden.

Use a Virtual Post Box

Another option is to use a virtual mailbox service. There are many examples of this type of service, such as Earth Class Mail, Virtual Post Mail, Traveling Mailbox and more.

The way it works is pretty simple. You use their processing facility as your mailing address and they send you a notification when new mail arrives. You’ll receive a picture of the outside of the envelope, so you can tell them whether to shred, recycle, open or forward it. 

If you click to open the letter, the service will scan the pages inside and host the PDF online for you to view, via a secure SSL encryption. Once you have downloaded the PDF on your end, you can have it recycled or shredded. You can even choose to have it forwarded to another address. Some services will also deposit cheques you receive in the mail into your bank account for you. 

These services come at a cost, but if it fits your budget it can be a great way to travel for long periods of time and still receive mail while you are on the road.  

Here’s a fantastic guide to virtual mail forwarding by travel blogger Expert Vagabond. 

Pros

  • It is private and secure. The letters are scanned and encrypted and then they can be shredded. 
  • You can keep a digital record of your mail in case you need to reference it later. 
  • You don’t need to ask a friend or family member for a favor that might be inconvenient for them. 
  • You don’t need to put your mail on hold when you are traveling long term. 

Cons

  • This type of service will cost money, which increases your travel budget. You’ll usually need to pay a price per-piece, which can add up quickly. 
  • It can be annoying to pay to have an important-looking letter opened and scanned, only to realize it is simply junk mail. 

Use a Parcel Locker

Depending on where you are traveling, a parcel locker might be a good solution for receiving your mail. 

This is a container that will allow shipping and receiving packages at any hour of the day. You may know you are staying in a city for a while, but anticipate moving around to different accommodations during your stay. Or, you may have a city you return to often on your travels, where your packages can be safely waiting for you. 

A parcel locker is usually very safe and sturdy and these facilities are often open 24/7, so you can pick up your package at your own convenience. 

Pros

  • You’ll be able to simply pick up the package at the same location, no matter where you are. It works really well if you have a “base” where you keep returning to again and again. 
  • You won’t have to pay any extra fees when you pick up your parcel. 

Cons

  • You have to return to the location of the parcel locker. So, this doesn’t really fit if you are constantly roaming and not going back to the same location often. 
  • Sometimes there is a time limit of how long the parcel locker will hold onto your package, so you’ll need to get there in time to pick it up. If you don’t pick it up in the allotted amount of time, the package may be returned to the sender. 

Go Paperless

Once great solution for dealing with your mail when you travel abroad is to go “paperless” in any way you can. 

Contact your bank and ask them to send you your monthly statement via email instead. Sign up for online bill payment for any subscriptions. Whenever a service asks you whether you’d like to be sent your confirmation by email instead, choose that option. 

These days, most commercial services will offer you the option to receive electronic notifications. (After all, it’s cheaper and easier for them too, and better for the environment!)

Pros

  • You’ll be able to receive all your important info online, with no need for physical mail. 
  • The environment will benefit from the reduction of paper usage. 

Cons

  • There are some cases where you’ll still need to receive mail. For example, you may need to have an address for voter registration, or for your driver’s license. 

Research A Local Solution

After years of being wandering vagabonds and never being in one country for long enough to receive mail, Lee and I have finally settled down for a while in Tbilisi, Georgia. (The country, not the US State.)

Georgia is one of those countries that doesn’t really have much of a functioning postal system. I’ve never seen mailboxes in any apartment building and many of the apartments don’t even have numbers on the door. From what I’ve heard, you need to visit the post office with your passport to even send and receive letters. 

But I’ve never done that. Instead, Lee and I use a service called USA2GEORGIA. This is a shipping service that allows us to receive mail and packages to an address in the USA. Then, for a fee of $8 per kilogram, our packages are shipped here to Tbilisi.

Once the package arrives at the pickup station here (Which is only a short walk from our apartment) we simply go there, scan a barcode and pick it up. 

It doesn’t make sense to order anything heavy, as the shipping fees can really add up. However, when it comes to lightweight items like small electronics, clothes and other items that are difficult to find in Tbilisi – it’s perfect. 

Pros

  • If there is a service like this in the area where you are living, it can be an incredibly practical solution. 
  • If you move to a different address there’s no need to change anything, as you receive your items at a pickup station instead. 

Cons

  • You might need to pay extra fees for the shipping costs.
  • There might not be a shipping service like this in the destination where you are living. 

It’s Challenging to Live Without An Address, But Not Impossible

Not having a permanent address is one of the challenges of traveling long term. It can be annoying and frustrating sometimes – but there are solutions and ways around it. It’s the kind of logistical obstacle that is worth figuring out in order to live a digital nomad lifestyle. 

This post is part of a series about the challenging aspects of a long term travel lifestyle. You can see the other posts here: 

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