The lost art of sending postcards

You’ve seen them everywhere. Every convenience store. Every museum gift shop. Every little cafe on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. But how often have you actually sent or gotten one?

Of course I’m talking about postcards. In this modern era of literally being able to make a video call to a friend who is on a train under the San Francisco Bay while standing next to the tracks of a bullet train in Japan so they can see the train whoosh by at full speed along with you, one might ask what is even the point of a postcard?

A couple of years ago my friend Bronwen was laid up at home for a while after breaking her leg. Another friend Megan was working on a postcard project and was over at Bron’s filling them out. She put out a call on Twitter for people who wanted a postcard to send her their address so I did. A few days later I got a postcard from the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver (sorry, no pic, it’s 8000 miles away in a box), BC and a handwritten note even mentioning something about the photographer and just other fun stuff. It was fun. Ever since then I’ve enjoyed sending postcards. I don’t do it very consistently, but I generally at least pick some up from a shop with the intent of filling them out and mailing them, even if I never do! Maybe some day I’ll have a postcard frenzy like Megan’s!

Why do I like sending postcards though? I think it’s because I like receiving them! Even in this modern day of ultra connectivity and social media and such, maybe even especially in this modern day, stopping to write a postcard, figure out how much the postage is, find somewhere to buy stamps, realize you don’t have the recipient’s address so you have to text them to get it, is such a hugely intentional act that when I receive one it’s like getting a big hug from an old friend. Especially since, despite the ultra connectivity, I really don’t keep as good of contact with my friends as I’d like to. There’s that cliche “wish you were here” that I so often want to write and usually resist, but despite the cliche, honestly, I usually do wish whoever it is I’m sending the postcard to was here. I travel alone, not as an intentional thing, just because I haven’t yet found a travel buddy, so sending a postcard to a friend is kind of a way to deal with homesickness, something I definitely get. For instance, I’ve been in New Zealand now for 5 days and I miss my cats a whole lot. But on the train here yesterday I wrote up some postcards and that helped a lot!

Receiving postcards is fun because it’s cool to see what friends have to say about whatever is on the card. I tend to try to only get postcards if I’ve been to the thing on the card, and share an experience I had, especially if that experience reminded me of them! So receiving one is like getting to live vicariously through someone else’s experiences, and due to the time investment in sending the card, it’s an intensely personal and intimate connection. At least for me.

I also send postcards to myself while I’m traveling. I can’t tell you how fun it is to come home to a stack of postcards of all of the places I went on your travels, along with notes I wrote to myself. It’s like reliving the memories all over again! Even better when you make it home before the postcards do and they start showing up in the mail!

Sure, I can quickly snap my own photo and text it to a friend and they’ll have it seconds later. Or post it on $social_media for everyone to share with. And I do those things. I really did video call with a friend while next to a bullet train in Japan. I post pictures on social media. I’m working on blogging and journaling more about my travels to try to capture more than simple snippets at a time about my experiences. Those things are all valuable! But there’s just something special about a postcard that those other things don’t replicate.

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