Reader J writes in, with the excellent subject line “Sidestepping government buffoonery”:
So I was wondering if you know if it’s possible to get a temporary PO box or a similar thing in order to mail your shampoo, cologne and other liquids to yourself at your destination city ahead of time to make sure you know it’s there before you even step on the plane. Are there such services?
You’ve got a few options, actually, and as long as you’re packing well and not mailing things that violate postal service regulations, then this could be a great way to avoid checked luggage, avoid the theatrics of the TSA war on moisture, and avoid having to buy stuff at your destination, all in one swoop!
There are essentially three options:
- Your hotel
Where you stayin’? Call the hotel, ask if they hold mail for guests, and what the restrictions are. In all likelihood, this will be the most convenient and most reliable way for you to receive packages. Tip: Be sure you include “hotel guest” after your name when you address the package.
- Post office
The magic words: “Poste restante,” or “general delivery.” Poste restante is an old fashioned mail-pickup service that most countries’ postal services still provide. Mail is addressed to a person, but in lieu of an address for delivery, the mail is sent to a post office branch, where you pick it up. You’ll usually address mail to Name, Poste Restante, the specific name of the post office (usually the main, central office), that branch’s street location, city, postal code, and country. Of course, you need to KNOW the location you’ll be picking it up from beforehand. Check the website of your destination’s postal service before you ship things off. FYI: The USPS’s sparse info page for general delivery is here.
- American Express
American Express cardmembers and travelers’ check holders can have mail sent to an American Express Travel Services office anywhere in the world. I took advantage of this once, and it worked great, but it’s been a while (1994). See here to find an office. Call them before sending them mail, and ask if they receive and hold Amex client mail. Not every office will do it.
In all of these cases, underline the addressee’s last name for good measure, or write it in all caps. It can’t hurt to put a statement like “Hold until (date)” on the front of the envelope or package, too.
There may be some restrictions, such as weight. Take New Zealand’s poste restante rules, for example: Packages under 2kg are stored at no charge. Over that weight, and you’ll pay a fee to pick up the goods. Be sure to check with your destination’s post office rules before you ship stuff off poste restante.
Locations holding your mail won’t hold it forever, either. 30 days in the norm, but it’s not universal. (In Mexico, for example, it might only be 10 days.) When in doubt, call ahead.
And even if you mail things to yourself at your destination, be sure you’re not mailing something you’d be upset to lose. Mail can be slow, or can disappear. If you care about the contents, insure.
So the bottom line: Yes, you CAN mail things ahead of time. But at the end of the day, which is the bigger hassle? Dealing with the TSA, or dealing with the post office?
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