Read This First Disclaimer: I've written what I personally did, and my opinions. Don't assume what I did was safe, and don't assume it will work for you. Do more research, and make your own choices. I'm not responsible for your outcomes! :-)
I'll start with the more simple answer about getting mail and packages, then cover the more complicated issues. If you want to go straight to the complicated issues click here.
Just tell me how to get my bank statements, Sports Illustrated, Trailer Life, etc.
There are two parts to this question.
Where will your mail be received first -- that is, who will take delivery?
Option one, have a family member or friend receive your mail and forward to you.
Pros: Free, or cheap service, only pay for postage.
Cons: Friends and family will quickly tire of this. Could strain relationships. Packaging may not be done professionally. Friend or family member may move. Not a permanent address. Not recommended for long term, but occasional use is OK
Rent a box at a Retail Postal Service Center and have them forward the mail. Most UPS Stores (formerly Mailboxes Etc.) and similar businesses will do this for a fee.
Pros: Easy to set up. Usually a local business, so you'll get to know the owner and likely receive personal service. Bundle of mail and packages will usually be packed well to protect your shipment.
Cons: Total fees, including annual fee and re-mailing charges, may be quite high. Their address may not be accepted as a legal address for drivers license, bank accounts, etc. This is especially true now in the post-911 era.
Use a professional mail forwarding service.
Pros: Business is designed for mobile customers. Special services available (usually at extra cost) such as sorting mail and disposing of bulk "occupant" mail, or being "on the lookout" for a specific package and calling you when it arrives. Address usually satisfies requirements for residence address. Several services in competition, so prices are reasonable and you can shop around.
Cons: Some require that you belong to a specific RV club (e.g. Good Sam, FMCA, etc.).
What did we do?
In our case, option 3 is best overall, and it's the one I generally recommend for others. Mail forwarding services are in business for one purpose, to receive and forward your mail and packages. They cater to RV travelers, so they understand your lifestyle and your needs. Often, the people who own them and work at them are RVers themselves. Maybe more important than anything, they are regulated by the postal service, and the address they provide you is valid for legal purposes (drivers license, bank account, auto registration, etc.).
How will your mail be delivered to YOU and where will you pick it up?
Lots of variables here. How fast do you need the mail? How often do you need it? Do you want to be frugal? Do you have a fixed travel schedule, or are you wandering all over?
Related to "where" you'll receive it is "by what service?" Sometimes you'll only be receiving a bundle of letters, so priority mail is the most economical and quickest way to receive it. Other times you'll have magazines, small packages, etc. and you may save time and money by having it sent to you via United Parcel Service or Fed Ex.
Receive the mail at the RV park.
If you're at an RV park for several weeks and/or months some of them will provide you a mail box. This can range from an orderly system where you have a locked box and a key, to a haphazard system where all the mail is in a big box and the office person sorts through and finds yours when you drop in. Be sure you know how secure the operation is ahead of time before you make your decision.
Pros: Convenient, you don't have to drive across town. Can receive mail and packages from any service, USPS, FedEx, etc.
Cons: Many parks do not provide this service. At those that do, sometimes security and privacy are issues.
In every city and county in the USA you can receive mail addressed to you at "General Delivery" and pick it up at the post office. There are no additional charges for this service.
Pros: Mail remains safe and secure (as much as you expect) within the postal service. Mail is held for you up to 30 days. Available everywhere nation wide.
Cons: Not every post office accepts general delivery mail, so you'll need to check ahead. If there are several post offices in a city, usually only the main post office has general delivery. You are limited to receiving Postal Service shipments. They don't take UPS, FedEx, etc. This can effect your costs.
Have mail delivered to a Retail Postal Service Center, such as a UPS Store (formerly Mailboxes Etc.).
Pros: Personal service, secure location, convenient hours. Can usually receive packages from all the various carriers (USPS, UPS, FedEx, etc.)
Cons: Usually a fee for receiving each package. May not be a convenient location near you. Must coordinate ahead of time and give them your name or sometimes they'll refuse shipment.
Similar to "General Delivery" you can have a package of mail sent "Hold For Pickup" to the local UPS (United Parcel Service) customer service center. This isn't the "UPS Store" which is a franchised retail outlet. The customer service center is a corporate location usually one in each major metro area. FedEx/Kinko's also provides this service. You can ship Express to either UPS or FedEx/Kinko's in this way; however, FedEx charges an extra fee for ground, UPS does not.
Pros: No additional fee for this service (except as noted above). The locations are sometimes convenient (sometimes not). No previous coordination needed, just show up and pick it up. You always have a tracking number with UPS or FedEx. They hold package a minimum of 5 business days.
Cons: Location is sometimes very inconvenient and you have to go there vs. having the package delivered.
How do we get our mail?
We have a mail forwarding service through the Good Sam club. They are also known by the name American Home Base. American Home Base is located in Pensacola, FL.
When we're stationary for a month or more, we usually schedule a regular weekly shipment. When we're at MacDill AFB FamCamp near Tampa, we'll have the mail bundled every Tuesday, and sent to us UPS Ground. It arrives in 2 days (on Thursday) and we have a mailbox with a key at the RV park.
When we're traveling we usually get mail once every 10 days to two weeks. We'll plan ahead for where we expect to be in a few days, then call our mail service to request the shipment. If we're over 2 days away by ground, we'll usually have it sent 2nd day Air, unless it's very heavy. Typically, we'll have it sent UPS "Hold for Pickup" and pick it up at the UPS Service Center, or to an RV park or a relative's address. In some cases we've arranged to receive at a UPS retail store, but they usually charge a fee.
Does your home state charge personal income tax?
Can you still have a legal address in the state after you sell your house?
How much does insurance cost in your state?
How much is motor home registration? Auto registration?
Do you have to pay personal property tax every year on your motorhome and car?
These, and more questions, are important to consider before you sell your house and hit the road. I caution you to check out every possible aspect of this decision, because it effects people differently. What's best for us may not be best for you!
If you're going to travel full time, you must decide where you'll call "home" for legal purposes. It makes sense to establish residency in a state that gives you the most advantages, and the least hassles.
Many RVers choose Florida, Texas, or South Dakota. Lots of reasons for this. The primary ones are, none of them have personal income tax, and all three states make it simple for you to establish residence there. I won't go into all the details here, but I will give you some links at the end to help you research each of these options.
When we started RVing we were already Florida residents. Florida has no state income tax, and that's a big concern for us because we're still working, and making taxable income. Florida also has liberal rules on maintaining a residence. So we decided to obtain a mailing address in Florida and remain Floridians.
There are several good services based in Florida, but we chose Good Sam Mail Service (American Home Base) because they cater to RVers and are affiliated with Good Sam. Also their location in the panhandle area is convenient for us to drop in from time to time, and it saves us postage on packages, and a day on shipping to the West, vs. having a service based in South Florida.
I hope I've answered some of your questions. In many cases I realize I've given you more questions than you had to start with! Here are some links to find out more about residency and mail service in Florida, South Dakota, and Texas:
Mail Forwarding Services
American Home Base is the service that we use through Good Sam. click here for information. You can use their service directly, or through the Good Sam club.
Alternative Resources is the leading mail forwarding service in South Dakota. Click here for more information.