The strategy for managing your mail while you are traveling depends on how long you will be gone.
Managing your mail for trips of 30 days or less
Placing a hold on your mail is the best option for trips of 30 days or less. First check to see if the US Postal Service offers this service in your area by entering your zip code on the USPS site. You can schedule Hold Mail Service online up to 30 days in advance or as early as the next scheduled delivery day. Request your start date by 3 AM ET (2 AM CT or 12 AM PT) on your requested day, Monday through Saturday. Please note the Post Ofice will hold all mail for your address, rather than for a specific individual. An address can have only one Hold Mail Service scheduled at a time.
Managing your mail for trips of greater than 30 days
For trips of greater than 30 days the post office will not hold your mail and you will need to sign up for a USPS Forward Mail Service.
This service will allow you to have mail forwarded for up to six months with an option to extend past that time. The process is different than the mail hold. Mail forwarding is specified by family name and/or individual name (if that is different than family name) and not by address. For instance, you can request a forward for a single individual at your address while others at the address can continue to receive mail. You can sign up online and if you do this you have to use a credit card in your name to verify. That credit card must show your name and have same billing address as address your mail goes to. There is a $1 charge on this card for signing up. Alternatively you can get a form at the post office (#3575), fill it out and either mail it or drop off at a post office and they will take care of the rest. There is no charge for this option.
What mail gets forwarded?
Although post office will hold all mail for you they will only forward first class mail. However, this leaves the problem of junk mail being delivered to your mailbox. I was told by post office that they are legally obligated to delivery junk mail because businesses pay the USPS for this service. You can sign up to not get junk mail and contact all the companies you get catalogs from but there are still the weekly ads to contend with and other junk mail that slips through the cracks. If you have a locked mailbox you can have somebody check every few weeks and discard the junk mail accumulation. If your mailbox is not locked my carrier told me the mail carrier will remove all the junk mail once mailbox is overflowing. I don’t think many people would choose this option as junk mail accumulating shows you are away.
You would think that mail gets redirected at the post office sorting room, but it doesn’t. The mail carrier carries it on his route and redirects it later. Each carrier needs to know the situation. Be sure to start forwarding a bit early so you can verify it’s working. Our mail carriers are very helpful but when they left a note to themselves (and thieves) in our mailbox advising of our absence we had to ask them to remove the note.