Postcards – the original social travel network

Before Twitter, before FourSquare and even before email – people used postcards to “check in to” their location. The postcard lived in easier times – in an era when we’d arrive at our destination and spend a week actually visiting things and relaxing instead of scrambling to find a Wi-Fi signal to get our email.

It has been 18 years since I last sent anyone a postcard, and I clearly remember buying a stack of cards and stamps from a souvenir shop in Blackpool, UK and copying down the addresses from my PDA. Yes – even 18 years ago, I relied on technology to keep track of my life.

The fun thing about postcards is that they lack everything current technology gives us. In most cases, the postcard wouldn’t show up till weeks after you arrived back from your destination, and they all had one thing in common – cheesy photos of cheesy tourist destinations.

Still – there was something comforting about letting your closest friends know that you were “having a great time”, even though “wish you were here” was usually a lie. In those days, your social circle was limited to ten or twenty people – not the 500 we add to Facebook nowadays.

For those that were on the road a lot (and had more to report), there was the aerogramme. Check out Don George on his aerogramme memories.

We asked some of the Gadling team members whether they still enjoy writing postcards:

Annie Scott:

This will sound shallow, but it’s fun: my friend Debbie and I always find one with a horrible-looking dude on it and send it with something to the effect of “I’m in Holland and I found your boyfriend” on the back. It cracks us up.

I once sent five postcards to the same person because I couldn’t *quite* remember her address and wasn’t sure I got it right any of the five times. She didn’t get one. Oops.

I totally write on the edges. I always worry about where they’re going to put those tracking stickers and cover up my words.

Chris Owen:

I remember going to the post office with my mother as a little boy to get the special post card stamps it took. No one dared put a “regular” stamp on a postcard. She bought them for my father who was a traveling salesman and would send home cards “from the road”. If my parents would go out of town and I stayed behind, my mother would “kiss” one (blot her ruby red lipstick) for me and send it along. When my brother flew off to conquer the world he would send cards from all over the planet. I don’t know that I have ever sent one. I have horrible handwriting, how many “I’m on the ship” cards can you send anyway and no way I would stand in line at the post office.

I did think once think of starting a company that made post card machines. The plan was to position them by icon shots of places around the world, somebody stands in front of them with the mountain, ocean, cool thing in the background, then the machine prints it and spits it out, postage stamped for the buyer to write on and mail. Cell phones screwed up that idea.

Darren Murph:

The last postcards we sent were last year — snagged a few from a hotel in Northern California, and wrote on them as we traveled up the 101.

Stopped off in a tiny, tiny town with a post office around the size of a shoebox and sent ’em in hopes of getting a pretty random town stamp when they passed through processing. Particularly to grandmothers, sending postcards with gorgeous scenes on them are real treats to receive.

Don George

Postcards! I always used to send postcards — to friends and family but also to myself. In some really out of the way places, it would take so long to reach me that months later I would be happily surprised to receive a postcard that would immediately transport me to the sea-scented, palm-shaded table where I’d had written it.

I’d cover every square milli-inch of the surface.

I especially remember the iconic ones like Notre Dame, the Acropolis and the quintessential palm-leaning-over-sunny-beach shot….

The last postcard I remember writing and mailing was in 2002 at the wonderful “post barrel” on Floreana Island in the Galapagos….

Elizabeth Seward:

I send them frequently.

My nephew and I have had a postcard routine going strong for a few years now: I send him postcards, he tacks them onto his bedroom wall. He’s 12. It’s adorable. And I always find myself writing quite a bit, around the edges, telling him cool things about the place I’m visiting.

Heather Poole:

Post cards remind me of Camp, which reminds me of Possum Kingdom Lake, which reminds me of a week’s worth of begging – Dear Mom, Come get me NOW!

When I take a long trip I use postcards as a way to divide the scrapbook into different city sections.

Laurel Miller:

My friends and I do the same “here’s your boyfriend” cards. I used to religiously send detailed cards to friends and family but then I discovered email. But I still collect weird/cool/beautiful cards as souvenirs.

Melanie Nayer:

My Grama gets a postcard from me from any destination. Her favorite was from The Vatican (which I find somewhat odd since we’re Jewish). She still talks about it, because the stamp says “The Vatican.”

Mike Barish:

I still send them and decide who the recipients will be based on what I see and who I’m reminded of. Always try to find silly postcards and include inside jokes with friends. Yes, grandmas love postcards from far away lands. I do that too.

Sean McLachlan:

My son and I collect postcards together. He likes having a bunch of them on his walls and keeps the rest in Mom’s old lunchbox.

Yesterday, on my first day in Ethiopia I wrote three–one to my wife and son, and the other two to friends. I also like buying old postcards (50 to 100 years old) of places I’ve been. It’s cool tosee how a place like Damascus or Delhi has changed.

Gadling Twitter reader @kirsten_al responded to our question with some great memories:

I still send postcards, I still love receiving postcards. In this era of digital-everything (including digital postcards) it’s comforting to receive a piece of handwritten mail from Peru or Japan. I collect my postcards on a pin board above my workstation & even the NYC postcard I have from a friend in Brooklyn is a vivid reminder of the place I hope to call home one day.

When I lived with my best friend for a few months last year I marveled at the collection of postcards on her fridge. Though I don’t always get to send a postcard to everyone I know on every trip I take, I never fail to send her one. We’ve been friends for 30 years and she keeps all I’ve sent her displayed in the kitchen so every morning she’s reminded of me and smiles knowing I am pursuing my great passion all around the world. I didn’t even realize how many I’d sent her until I stood there drinking my morning coffee … her fridge is like a diary of my travels. Now, I’ll never stop sending postcards!

Here are some other great Twitter replies:

@Gadling obsessively! postcards are my souvenirs for friends/fam. #thrifty #thoughtfulless than a minute ago via web

@Gadling There are few things I love more than postcards! I’m constantly on a mission to gather them for @atlasobscuraless than a minute ago via TweetDeck

@Gadling I still use postcards but just to my 3 year old nephew.less than a minute ago via Twitterrific

@jettingaround @Gadling I write around 400 a year.less than a minute ago via ÜberSocial

What about you?


[Photos: Postcard rack: Flickr/tts, Burger Chef: Flickr/bayswater97, Sea Point Pavilion: Flickr/Mallix]