Services when Vagabonding – Part One

When you travel forever, how do you handle these things:

  1. Phone Service that may require a US SMS and phone number
  2. Physical Mail Services

Before leaving I gave these two things a lot of thought folks. It seemed like I could do things any number of ways. For the first thing why is a SMS service tied to a US number needed? It comes down to a few security and authentication things. Many dual factor authentication approaches use a second trusted communication method like SMS and so do banks. BofA wants to send texts to a US number and many other services like social security want a US number. Although Social Security will send authentication numbers to an email address and I guess banks can be set to send to email as well, having a US phone number that can be used has been a good thing. I’ve had to call some people that use a US phone number as a gateway. How do you handle it when you are gone? I have two ways of handling the first thing. One is free and one costs a bit. The first way is with Google Voice. You can get a US based number that receives texts and voicemails for free on Google Voice. You can make calls as though you are calling from a US number and receive calls to the number. On Android devices you can now make wifi calls. IOS is coming at some point. All of this is free and it works very well.

The second way I want to point out is finding an app for your phone that will give you a second number. I used the Hushed app. The service can be used for a so-called burner number but its equally as well suited for a permanent number. The app on IOS and Android registers a real phone number for you that you can choose and you then can get and make calls, get voice mails, send and receive SMS which are all the requirements I had. Why choose a paid one you may ask. I would answer “skin in the game”. Google frightens me at times with its desire to shake loose technologies and sunset them. While Google Voice just works and the service is actually pretty good for vagabonds, who knows how long it will be. A second thing is that Google just now is releasing wifi calling direct from the voice app. Prior to this, one had to use hangouts integration which is another story in the mixed up, muddled up Google view of messaging. Hushed just cuts through all that gives you the basic things and you can get an annual service plan. BTW, Skype or WhatsApp are not solutions for this. I would not ever trust Skype and I don’t believe they do SMS to US phone numbers. WhatsApp does not call non WhatsApp numbers at all. You want something that is a true footprint of your needs for this one I think.

There are others you can find as well. Find one that suits your need. It may be that Google Voice just works and you are good! The main thing is to consider the needs you may have to get and receive calls and SMS when you vagabond. I have found that this is one thing that has been vital for me with banks and security and dual factor authentication and validating access.

Lets talk about Thing 2. Physical mail service when you are gone forever. Popular choices may be getting a mailbox at UPS, the USPS, or sending mail to a family member and letting them judge what is important. To actually see the email though you have to get a picture taken or have the mail scanned and sent. What about packages? You may think you will never need a package from Amazon but don’t count on it. I have found that at least in Vietnam and probably other Asian countries on my list in the future, I can find many things like hats, shorts, belts, and other things. I have not been able to find T shirts that fit this old retired body. So I tend to order things occasionally and have them shipped. But where does this stuff go? Many US services do not send packages to places like Vietnam directly. You need another service in-between that will do that for you. There are services that will have the package shipped to them and then send via FEDEX or UPS. But what about regular mail?

Its better to have a service that takes care of you without involving family members that will sooner or later go crazy with receiving your email. If you are going for independence, why not find a virtual mail service? If you google it, you will find many that do this. The primary idea is that there is a clearing house of services that will receive your mail to an address, arrange to scan that mail with your approval or junk it, forward parcels as you need. Some charge per piece of mail received. I’ll make a pitch right here to get services online and get out of paper submittals but some agencies like IRS and Social Security are not there. I need to receive the mail that matters and I don’t want to burden my family. So again, enter the idea of a virtual mail service. It basically takes the responsibility back to you to deal with your travel and independence. My ex-wife has some patience in dealing with sending things to me but its better to simply leave her out of it and find a service that will provide the support you need.

The one I ended up with is US Global Mail. The differentiation is in the service to me. They charge a base rate for no matter how many pieces of mail you get. You will pay for scanning services so its another pitch to go through all the people that send you real mail and do something more permanent. Opt out! Get rid of debt and things. When I had a car, Allstate sent all manner of emails wanted and not. Once the car went away, I stopped receiving mail from Allstate, the DMV, and other things relating to the car like service announcements. Goes to show that simplifying your life, removing debt and creditors, can act in your behalf a number of ways.

Two things! More to come…

I had mentioned in a post I would create a story or static page about how I dealt with things moving out and vagabonding full time. My goal was to remove others from the responsibility where possible and not leave the needs around mail especially up to family members. Even though I pay an annual service fee for the mail service, the degree of independence is liberating.

Consider just these two things and ask yourself how you intend on handling the basic things when you cut the ties that bind. If you are doing what I did, I will never go back to the states so I need long term solutions. Paying for a quality solution can be good but like I pointed out for calling Google Voice works. Leaving your physical mail to a family member is not free. You are simply shifting the responsibility to some poor ex spouse, brother, sister, son, daughter who probably have enough on their plates.

Give it some thought before you hit the road. Have you considered lessening your footprint of real mail? How will you receive calls that for whatever reason want a US phone and SMS? Its easier to deal with things head on when you are taking a big step. There are always a series of smaller steps to consider that make up the big one.

I want to add one thing here since I am updating this post a bit. If you are vagabonding forever or on an extended trip, for heaven’s sake get yourself a VPN! Do not believe that a coffee shop or airport is safe folks. I use Express VPN. Its not free but the security is bulldog like. Protect those passwords. Use a password manager that encrypts and not a text document! A VPN is also handy for things like watching Amazon Prime videos since they check where you are coming from. With a VPN you can look like you are coming from the US based on a thing called an IP address that they source. The final thing is that neither of the services are good unless you use them. Do not trust to banking anywhere on wifi without security for your connections. Just a word to the wise. There are bad people out there that will grab that information that is over public or coffee shop wifi and use it for nefarious means. Be wise! VPN and use a password manager. You can do this not only on laptops but on phones and tablets. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Use a trusted connection all devices that do sensitive transmission of details.

I’ll be posting a few more as we go of the things I found in my adventure of one to meet needs I had. Stay tuned!

Author: Michael Perry

I've been blogging for over 20 years and now am living in Southeast Asia. The blog is about my slow vagabonding wherever I want to go. My home base is in Cambodia but I'm rarely there.