UK travellers – cheap mail home

A Penfold Hexagonal postbox. This was the standard design for UK Post Office boxes between 1866–1879.When travelling, one of the pitfalls is sending mail back to the UK. Some organisations just won’t accept an email, or even a fax. I’ve had to resort to emailing things to my parents or friends and asking them to kindly print stuff out and mail it for me. Do-able, but not ideal especially if the mail needs to be signed or something.

However, a new service has started up recently called PDQit. It’s a simple service – sign up and download a plug-in / driver for your laptop. Unfortunately there’s no way to use it without this program so it’s only really useful if you travel with your own machine or you’re residing somewhere abroad with access to a PC regularly. Worst case, you could always download the driver and install it on a machine in a cybercafé, but the security implications of that are up to you.

Anyway, what it does is effectively install a virtual printer on your machine. When you print, you select this “printer” and your printout is encrypted and passed to their servers. Back in the UK, they then print, envelope-stuff and post your missive for you. And as it’s a virtual printer, not a plug-in, it should work with any application that can send data to a printer. I just checked it and it works a treat with OpenOffice.

Including VAT it works out at 40p per single-page black and white letter (single-page includes printing duplex – the charge is per sheet of paper) plus 2.5p per additional page. This is near as dammit the same price as posting first class in the UK now, by the time you factor in the stamp, envelope, paper and ink.

Colour, obviously, costs a bit more but they very kindly default the software to over-ride colour as the print option, so that you don’t accidentally end up spending too much. Mail can also only be sent within the UK at present, though they say they’ll be adding overseas destinations soon – likely starting with the US.

As they use windowed envelopes, the first page of your mails have to be formatted in a certain way so that the address doesn’t overprint your text. Nothing too complex.

Sign-up is free and if you get in there soon you can get your first 10 sheets for nothing. After that it’s pay-as-you-go with a minimum credit of a fiver.

I can see this being useful for form-filling and so on. OK, so you might have to get things scanned in, but in places like SE Asia, South Asia and South America things like this cost a pittance in most cybercafés. The concern is usually due to overseas postage costs and worry about mail going missing. At least using this method you can skip the concern about getting the mail to the right country.

It’s just a matter of trusting the Royal Mail with the last few hundred miles.