General Delivery

How you can get mail delivered to you anywhere in the country without having your own mailing address there.

I’ve been living for more than a week or month at a stretch in temporary homes at various times for about twenty years now, mostly for work but increasingly for vacation. Sometimes it’s a hotel or motel, sometimes its at a short term rented space, and, sometimes it’s at a location that simply does have a mailing address — like the backwater campsite where I spent nearly two weeks at the beginning of the month. Often, I’ll need to get something shipped to me while I’m away — perhaps a package of mail being forwarded or an item I ordered from Amazon. That’s easy enough when I’m staying someplace with a regular mailing address, but what if I’m not?

Last week was a good example. Tired of transporting my kayaks inside the Mobile Mansion on this year’s snowbirding trip, I decided to order a roof rack with kayak supports for the roof of my new used truck. I did some research online, found a good solution at a reasonable price on Amazon, and ordered it. I didn’t want it shipped to my home, since neither the kayaks or the truck were likely to be back there for a few months. And I didn’t want it shipped to my friends in Wickenburg, where I’d be staying much later in the month. I wanted it shipped to where I was then: Ehrenberg, AZ.

Amazon Shipping Label
Here’s the FedEx Home delivery label on my package from Amazon. Because I included the post office’s street address, it was delivered to the post office and held for me. (Please do not ship anything to me at this address; it is temporary and I won’t get it.)

So I used the post office’s General Delivery service.

General Delivery is a service that makes it possible to ship something to someone who doesn’t have a mailing address or even a post office box in a specific town. You address the package with the recipients’ name, the words General Delivery (very important), and at least the city, state, and zip code of the post office you want it to go to. The USPS has a format example on their website. Add postage and mail it. When the package arrives at the destination post office, it is held for the recipient, who normally has to provide identification to claim it.

On Rural Post Offices

I just need to say a few things about rural mail and package delivery. It’s not like you might experience in the big city.

The biggest difference is that the postmaster and mail carrier, as well as the UPS and FedEx drivers, really get to know the people they serve. The post office will call when you receive a delivery of something unusual — for example, live chicks — so you can come pick it up as soon as possible. UPS and FedEx know where it’s safe or not safe to leave a package on a doorstep. When my gravel road is difficult to traverse because of snow or my UPS driver has a lot of deliveries, she’ll text me to meet her somewhere on her route or make arrangements to leave my package with someone else or at the Post Office. She’ll also let me take packages she might have for my neighbors to save them the bother of retrieving them at the UPS office when snow keeps her off our road.

In some rural locations, the post office is a center of the community, with publicly accessible bulletin boards for posting For Sale items, access to local news, and people who gather outside to chat with neighbors.

And there’s almost never any sort of line in the post office.

There is one big drawback as far as my local post office is concerned: they close for about an hour every day at lunchtime (so the clerk can get lunch) and are only open for two hours on Saturday. And you thought “bankers’ hours” were bad.

This works extremely smoothly for anything sent via US Mail. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up General Delivery packages sent to me in places I’ve visited throughout my travels.

There are a few caveats:

  • Some post offices that receive a lot of General Delivery mail for seasonal residents may request that you get on a General Delivery list in advance. Ehrenberg, which gets a lot of Quartzsite snowbirders, is an example. To my knowledge, this is not required, but if you expect to get a lot of mail you really should talk to the postmaster or clerk to see what they prefer.
  • The post office has no way to notify you if it receives a package for you. If you don’t know something is coming, you probably won’t pick it up. So if you give the address to a friend or family member, remind them to let you know if they’ve sent you something.
  • The post office receiving the item won’t hold it forever, so you want to pick it up within a reasonable amount of time. Each post office varies on how long it will hold an item.
  • You normally have to wait on line with other customers to ask for the package at the counter. So if you have several post offices near where you want the item sent, pick the one that’s the least busiest to save time at pickup. (I chose the Malaga post office over the Wenatchee post office for my summer mail forwarding from my old Arizona home because there was never a line in Malaga. Oddly, not only did I meet one of my best friends there — who happens to be the postmaster — but I wound up moving to Malaga when I relocated in 2013.)
  • Some cities have multiple post offices. Make sure you use the zip code that applies to the post office you want an item delivered to.
  • This is pretty much guaranteed to work with any item shipped via USPS. Items shipped by other means — FedEx or UPS — might not be delivered. It depends on the post office and how the item is addressed. If you include the street address for the post office, which you can find in Google maps, the carrier may deliver to that post office. What the post office does with it is likely up to the postmaster there. In Ehrenberg (and Malaga, for that matter), they will hold the item like any other General Delivery shipment. Other larger post offices might not. When in doubt, ask in advance or use USPS for shipping.

Unfortunately, Amazon shipped the two components of my kayak rack system separately. One arrived via FedEx at the post office on Friday. I called ahead to make sure it was accepted before I drove over. (You can do that with small post offices; try that in Manhattan or Phoenix.) The other is scheduled to arrive on Monday — Martin Luther King Day, when the post office is closed! I can only assume that the rural FedEx driver knows not to attempt delivery on Monday. With luck, I’ll be able to pick it up Tuesday.

So the next time you spend an extended amount of time away from home and need something shipped to you, consider the local post office. It’s easy and safe.

6 thoughts on “General Delivery

    • It’s available, but not sure how much it’s used outside seasonal visitor places like this. They estimate about 100,000 people living out in the desert during the 10-day period of the annual RV show here in Quartzsite. None of us have a real mailing address while we’re here.

  1. I use this also but what I’ve found is that if the city has more than one post office,the main post office is the only one that will do generay delivery.If you have it sent to a different post office they will send it to the main branch.Hope tis helps

    • I thought it would work based on the zip code. With multiple post offices, there are usually multiple post offices. But I’ve never tested this. If I have a choice between a large town/small city and a nearby small town, I’ll always use the small town. Shorter lines, friendlier staff — in general, anyway.

What do you think?