Before you can set off on your cross-country journey, there are some bureaucratic paperwork issues you will need to deal with.
Since you will be living on the road with no fixed address, your first hurdle is what to do about receiving mail, and what address you will use for your drivers license, vehicle registration, and insurance.
The simplest solution is to keep your house or apartment, live there part of the year, and live on the road for the rest of the year. That is what most “snowbirds” (people who live up north in the summer and then move south to Florida or Arizona for the winter) do. With this option, you can register all the paperwork for the van at your home, and forward your mail during the months you aren’t there.
If, however, like me, you will be living on the road permanently, without any apartment or house anywhere, you will need a mail drop. This is simply a place that will receive all your mail and then forward it to you wherever you happen to be. Most UPS and Fedex stores, and the US Post Office, offer rented mailboxes with an associated street address. These are often used by small businesses that don’t have a building of their own. A few commercial mail services, most of them in Florida, offer mail drop services, and in Florida it is possible to use this mail drop address as your legal street address for registering a vehicle, getting a drivers license, even voting. But, as I found out, there is a catch with this, revolving around the vehicle’s insurance.
Since insurance companies want to know in what sort of area your vehicle will be in, they require an actual physical residence where the vehicle will be kept, and won’t insure a vehicle that is registered to a mail drop. There is one exception to this, however—a few particular insurance companies offer coverage specifically for people who live fulltime in their RVs all year round and who have no fixed abode. These specific policies cost very much more than a regular vehicle insurance policy, but they do not require a physical address and can be registered to a mail drop.
My original plan, therefore, was to transfer all the paperwork for my van from my apartment in St Petersburg FL to a mail service address in Crestview FL. That would allow me to keep the van street-legal while living in it year-round, without having to maintain a physical residence anywhere. I was able to transfer my registration and drivers license to the mail service address without incident. But I ran into a big problem with the insurance.
There is no legal definition for an “RV”, so it’s up to the insurance company to decide whether or not one’s converted van is an “RV”. When I first approached an insurance agent about setting this up, he told me he thought the company’s criterion was that a van that had an electricity outlet (and I do) can be covered as an “RV”. But alas, when we contacted the insurance company itself, they told me that their criterion for an “RV” was the presence of an external hookup and storage tanks for water and waste. Since I did not have those, this meant that in their eyes my van is not technically an “RV”, and I couldn’t get RV insurance. That meant I had to get regular auto insurance on the van–and that meant I had to have a physical street address.
So the way I solved the problem was to transfer all the van’s paperwork to my sister’s address in Pennsylvania. That required jumping through a lot of bureaucratic paperwork hoops to transfer everything. But in the end everything got straightened out, and although I live fulltime in the van (and still consider myself a Floridian in exile), I am now legally a resident of Pennsylvania, and my drivers license, vehicle registration, and insurance are all set at my sister’s address.
I was really hoping to avoid that, since Pennsylvania, unlike Florida, requires annual safety inspections and emissions testing for all vehicles. That requirement means that I must schedule my travels to allow me to be in Pennsylvania at some point during the summer each year to get my necessary inspections done. (It also means I pay more in taxes every year, since Pennsylvania has an individual state income tax, which Florida does not.)
So if you will be living and traveling in a Class B camper van or a small Class C truck camper with a full water hookup, you can register everything to a mail drop and avoid the need for any physical address. But if, like me, your converted camper van does not have tanks or a hookup, you will need to use a friend or family member’s address.
Whether you use a mail drop as your legal address or a friend’s home address, you will need some way to receive your mail at whatever location you happen to be in. The mail service (or the friend who receives your mail for you) has to have an address to send it to so you can pick it up where you are.
One option for this is to temporarily rent a mailbox at either a commercial place like the UPS or Fedex store, or a PO Box at the local US Post Office. The price for these will vary from place to place. One potential problem here, though, is that the US Post Office only rents out boxes for either six months or a year, so if you only need to get mail for a few weeks at each place, you won’t be able to do it. At Fedex and UPS stores, it is up to each store to set the terms of rental, so you likely will not be able to rent a box weekly or monthly there either.
The solution I use is to set up a short-term “General Delivery” account with the US Post Office in each city I stay in. With a General Delivery account, anyone can send you a package or envelope as often as necessary, and it is completely free to set up. The big disadvantage is that each city will have only one local Post Office branch (the main office) that can set up a General Delivery for you, and that is where you will need to go to get your mail.
To receive your mail through General Delivery, you will have to contact the city’s Post Office, either by phone or by visiting the nearest branch, to find out where the main office is located that handles General Deliveries. When you get to that particular office, you will have to show a photo ID and fill out a card giving your legal address (you must use the address that appears on your ID) and stating the reason why you are requesting General Delivery pickup (I simply say “I live in an RV”). To send mail packages to you, your mail service (or whoever it is that receives and forwards your mail to you) must send it to you at: Your Name, General Delivery, Hold for Pickup, City, State, ZIP Code-9999. The “-9999” is the postal code for a General Delivery and it must be included with the ZIP Code. And the ZIP Code must be the one for that specific Post Office branch.
In my experience, mail sent by General Delivery seems to take at least twice as long to get there as regular mail. Once you think your mail has arrived, you will need to go to the Post Office where you registered, show your ID again, and ask if there are any General Deliveries for you. The Post Office will hold a General Delivery for you for 30 days; if you don’t pick it up within that time, they will send it back.