Why everyone should send postcards while travelling
Updated: Aug 27, 2020
One of the hardest parts of extended backpacking adventures and long term travel is the absence of the people you love and care about in your life. As I discovered on my four-month travel reporting experience with SPAR International, Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook and all the other kinds of digital connections all seemed to miss the mark. Sure, everyone knows what I'm doing if they scroll down my Facebook feed, but I craved more of a connection... and less of an information-overload. So I started writing postcards.
Skype versus postcards: a battle of modernity
It's 2013. Travelling today is a lot different to travelling even just 5 years ago. When I embarked on my first backpacking trip in Thailand in 2009, it would not have been the norm to start following people on their social media accounts. Email? Sure. Number, yes. But everything else... no. Today, social media platforms are the easiest way to not only keep in touch with new travel buddies along the way, but to stay in touch with family and friends. They're also a great way to continuously update people on your adventures, making them feel as though they're travelling the world with you.
And that is great. Truly, it is. But as I discovered when travelling for longer than I ever had, there was something that this instantaneous, all-encompassing communication was lacking. Depth. I craved to really tell the story of the crazy people I saw while riding the trans-Siberian rail, I want to share moments that reminded me of someone, and tell them, describe it. I wanted to paint a picture of what I was doing so that the people I cared about could share it with me. But I wanted to do that in person. So I determined to write short postcards, snippets of stories I wanted to share upon my return. A way to sit down and really connect with the idea of someone, write something just for them, and send it on its way to rest in their hands. Yes, it was more time-consuming. But it did way more to curb my bouts of homesickness than scrolling through Facebook ever did.
Currently, the idea of sitting down with a pen, a piece of paper and actually writing a message to someone you wish to correspond with is met with some pretty valid questions. Why would you waste time, effort and money writing and sending an international letter to someone when you can ten times as easily and effectively text them, tweet them, Facebook them, WhatsApp them etc etc etc…? The postcards glory days are long over and is now left on the proverbial shelf, counting its final days in the overwhelming shadow of social media.
Is this a positive or a negative thing? In an increasingly digital world, the pros of technology can’t really be argued with. The ease of Skype, for example, means that even when sitting thousands of miles away from home, I can chat to my friends as if they’re in the same room. I can even read through my Facebook news feed and constantly be in the loop with what’s going on in everybody else’s life. It's like I never left...
But as the older generation seem to relish in pointing out, this is a little bit sad, right?
When I returned home after four months of travelling and four months of constantly updating my social media, everyone seemed like they knew exactly, everything that I’d been up to… I didn’t have any big news to tell. Everything had already been covered. That’s not to say that my friends didn’t enjoy hearing the story face to face, in an inevitably more dramatic and personal way, but that surprise element had been eliminated.
That’s where the poor, forgotten postcard comes into its own: a snippet of information to spare the whole story. A quick "wish you were here”, I’ve done some cool shit, and I'm thinking about you. Aside from the fact you get to tell better stories when you finally return home, it shows people that you’re actually thinking about them. You’ve not just stumbled across a comment from a friend of a friend on the internet that you feel obliged to add to, you’ve taken time out of your day and show that you care.
Everybody loves getting mail that isn’t bills/trash/boring. A postcard may be more hassle than a two-minute afterthought on the internet, but it’s worth it. Getting a postcard whilst away from home is the perfect way to make sure you don't lose the connections at home that you care about. A nonobligatory message just for you. You can’t beat it.