Hackpacking: Using Poste Restante or General Delivery

| March 23, 2011 | 10 Comments
great idea lightbulb Hackpacking: Using Poste Restante or General Delivery
We share some of our favourite hacks for backpackers and vagabonds…

Occasionally, Kathryn and I come across some great travel ‘hacks’—tips and shortcuts that help backpackers, vagabonds and long-term travellers get things done smarter, cheaper and more efficiently. So, with no further ado, here’s an inexpensive solution that might be deserving of a place in (or on) your backpack.

Over on BootsnAll—a web-based travel publisher, online travel community and provider of services and information for travellers need—we discovered a post by fellow Bootie Mr Tree. He writes:

I had a clever idea, but need some specifics. What I’d like to do is store a four-season sleeping bag during the warmer months at a post office—and swap it with my two-season for the winter. I figured, this way I could also mail the bag to a different location, so that I could make a swap at any post office. Is this possible?

We suggested that Mr Tree go the route of Poste Restante. Poste Restante (dubbed ‘General Delivery in the US’ and ‘Lista de Correos’ in South America) is a service whereby the post office holds mail until the recipient picks it up. Before the advent of email, it was commonly used by backpackers who were visiting a particular location and had no need, or no way, of having mail delivered directly to them.

Services vary

Poste Restante in most countries will hold mail for a few months before returning it to sender (or throwing it away). Some countries, like China, send it back in just a month.  Be advised, however, that other countries, especially those in Europe, have stopped accepting Poste Restante for security reasons. Check on your destination in advance to see if this is an option. In Canada, for example, General Delivery is  offered to the travelling public for a period of up to four months.

Avoid lugging around books

While we didn’t use it to swap out our sleeping bags, we’ve used Poste Restante in the past to deliver a package of travel books to ourselves—from Hong Kong to Bangkok. These were books to be used in our next leg of travel (Inida), and it saved us the trouble of either lugging them around South East Asia or searching for hard-to-find titles in Bangkok or Hanoi (which would likely be very time consuming and costly).

We’ve also asked our parents to send us additional books later on our trip (since most post offices will only hold poste restante mail for a maximum of thirty days). We’ve also used poste restante to ship packages within a country—when we purchased a large souvenir early in our trip through Mainland China, we sent it onward to Hong Kong’s post office so that we could pick it up on our way out.


Be warned that Poste Restante services vary wildly. Sometimes they are even better in developing countries than they are in developed countries. The only sure way to ensure that your stuff will be safe is to confirm directly with the Post Office that you are considering. Services are generally good, but email or call in advance to confirm size and weight restrictions.

Have your own creative backpacking hacks to share—tips which may help someone to overcome a problem or limitation quickly and cheaply? Leave ‘em here. Or sound off in the comments below! Check out our collection of travel hacks by clicking here.

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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. His latest book, The Physics of Flocking, gathers his favourite writing featured over the past two years on Two Go Round-The-World in columns like 'Looking Back' and 'The Whole Picture'—along with new reflections.