Do you remember what it was like before e-mail and text messaging when you were younger and rushed home to check the mailbox or when out to the mailbox for your parents to check if there was any mail? I am 23 years old and I sure remember that. Of course I never received bills at that time, but it was always a rush to receive a letter and open it with a sense of anticipation. Every time I got mail or a postcard, a few questions always raced through my head: From whom did the letter come? What was inside the letter? Why did they even send me a letter?
When I was younger (and to this day) I also get similar feelings when I am posting mail and slipping it into the mailbox (all the while hoping it either a) arrives at its intended destination or b) wondering how long it would take to arrive in the recipient’s hands.
I will also readily admit that I like the taste of the seal on envelopes and even the taste of the old-school lickable stamps. I think there is something uniquely human intrenched within each of us that wants to send a real letter (or post card) instead of a text message or e-mail, and that is why I am writing this article.
Whenever I set off on international travel or domestic travel to famous or interesting destinations far from my hometown (in the United States) or in my current base (Kobe, Japan) there are a few things that I must take with me. First of all, my camera and my phone (for GPS) absolutely must come. Secondly, my passport comes along. The third thing I bring with me is a small notebook in which I keep with the addresses of my close family, friends, and a few other people with whom I exchange travel correspondence via snail mail. Other than that, all other things (except toothpaste and deodorant) are either optional or can be acquired on-site if there truly is a need.
I am sure many people think the concept of carrying an address book or list of addresses with me on my travels is quite odd, but I will explain why it is so important and overlooked. Many times when we travel, getting caught up in the moment of snapping the perfect photograph, practicing our language skills, sampling local street food, or just hustling from point A to point B allows us to escape from our troubles with work, stress, relationships, etc. That stress relief is a great thing, but one of the most important aspects of travel (at least to me) is sharing the experience with our loved ones, our friends, and others that may have an interest in our travels or experiences. Anyone can take five seconds and fire off an e-mail saying they are in such-and-such city and they are thinking of you. Even more people can take two seconds to send a text message and let their friends know they will be out of touch for a while.
Sending a post card to convey your thoughts, feelings, and emotions about your travels takes time, energy, and thought. Not everyone is willing to expend the energy to actually make a personal connection with people when you are out on the road. I find this interaction one of the best ways to truly enjoy travel and take in everything that may have flown over your head or passed by your eyes on a high-paced trip.
I always try to send postcards from interesting places when I travel. Nothing beats the response I get from people that did not know I was traveling. Receiving a postcard from somewhere like Seoul or Busan, South Korea, Kyoto, Japan, or Quebec City, Canada, truly made their day and sparked a genuine interest in travel. Their responses always focused on how kind it was to take the time to write the card and share what was happening at that moment with them. Those on the receiving end of the card really enjoy receiving the card, but the whole act of writing the card can be rewarding in itself. This came to fruition for me for the first time on Saturday when I was writing cards to my family amidst controlled chaos in Senado Square, Macau.
My friend and I had settled down near the fountain in the middle of the tiled plaza to sample some San Miguel beer (famous Hong Kong/Macau drink) and just take in some sights and sounds when I remembered I had a few postcards to send back home. This triggered an interesting journey where I had to go to a stamp vending machine to get some stamps for my recently purchased cards due to the post office being closed on Saturday. Once we had settled back down at the Square, I finally had the chance to take in and gather all of my thoughts and transfer them to the old postcards I had purchased in one of Macau’s back alley. The most challenging thing about the whole process was figuring how much saliva to put on the stamp to make sure it would stay on the card! While the message itself would not be instantaneous, the true message and emotion of that day will certainly be evident when my family receives those cards. Everything from the cantina bar song playing in the background at the plaza to the architecture of the square to the crookedness of the lickable stamp should come alive when the recipients receive their cards in the next few days. When they read that card, see the foreign stamps, and know it was actually written where the stamp says it was, I know they will start thinking about the destination and what it is like.
I like to send handwritten letters, but the postcard will always have a special place in my heart. It helps you gather your thoughts and helps those you love truly understand what your travels meant to you at the time you wrote that card. Who knows? Maybe your card will inspire your family and friends to go somewhere, someday. I know when my parents received a card from the Turks and Caicos several years ago, my mind has been set on going there ever since.
Just remember this: The thought REALLY does count.
Mailing a card from near Senado Square, Macau. © Erik Jacobs, 2013. erikabroad.com
To make a long story short, take a few minutes out of your trip to send a postcard to your friends and family. It will mean more to them than you can ever imagine. You might even enjoy gathering your thoughts for a few minutes.
Postcards still matter.