How to: Write a Postcard

Last week I taught you how to travel vicariously, including receiving postcards from your friends on the road. But what about when you are that friend on the road? I imagine that some of you readers are young, so first off: a postcard is sort of like a DM on Twitter, except you write it with an ink pen on a cardboard rectangle, and instead of using the handle of the person you’re writing to, you use the actual physical address where they live, and then you pay a small amount of money in the form of something called a stamp, which is like a sticker from the government, and then the government takes the cardboard, and with any luck, your friend will receive your message in a week or so.

I know! Isn’t it great?

Step 1: Choose the right postcard.

Pick a postcard of a place you’ve actually been. So, for example, when I was in Portland, I sent postcards with pictures of Haystack Rock on them, which I’d visited, and did not send postcards of the Goonies house, where I did not go, because I seriously don’t understand you people’s obsession with that movie, it’s just plain weird. You have the opportunity, with the picture on your postcard, to give your friend a little peek into the trip you’re taking, not the trip nearby the trip you’re taking.

It’s either that or one of those joke cards with a picture of a jackalope on it or a cranky old man with a shotgun. Those never fail to please.

Step 2: Channel Hemingway.

Postcards are small. No wasted words. If you dive right in with “Hello Grampa, how are you?” you’ve already taken up so much precious space. I wasn’t far off when I alluded to Twitter. Every character counts. Think about what you want to say before you put irreversible ink on paper.

Step 3: Know your audience.

Some people will be more interested in certain aspects of your trip than others. When I write to my grandmother, for example, I’ll often tell her about a beautiful garden that I visited, because she’s a gardener and loves flowery nature things. If I write to my oldest and dearest friend, I’ll usually write about some completely freakish hairstyle or other strange arty thing that I saw, because she’s a puppeteer, and seriously, have you ever met one of them? They’re such weirdos. Adapt this technique to your friends accordingly.

Step 4: Don’t write “wish you were here.”

Super cliche. Of course you wish they were there. You like them enough to write to them, and that takes a lot of effort, and you only take that kind of effort for people you like. “Wish you were here” goes unsaid.

Caveat: you can write something like “wish you were here” if and only if a) you’re trying to get them to fall in love with you and b) you phrase it in a more original way, for example, “Hiked Montserrat this morning. The only thing that could have improved the view is you looking out at it next to me.” That’s some serious corniness; however, on the right person would probably work. (Not that I’ve ever tried this or anything. Of course not. C’mon. What? Look, a jackalope!)

Step 5: Send the postcard.

As with care packages, this is important. Know the address. Write the address correctly. Add “USA” as necessary. Find the right postage. Put the thing in a post box. Cross your fingers and hope that it reaches its destination before you come home.


I’m sure I wrote postcards to friends from family vacations, pre-Internet. But when I really started traveling as an adult, when I ran away to Europe for a couple of months at twenty-one, my friend Bill, bartender, writer, and regular at the coffee shop I worked at, gave me (I think) 50 euros and told me the only catch was that I needed to write him regular postcards. That got me on the kick, and for many years after that, whenever I went on trips, I also sent a postcard to Bill, and he to me as well. It’s been a while since we’ve done that. Perhaps I should restart the tradition on my next trip. And perhaps you should start a postcard exchange tradition with someone on your next trip, don’t you think?