This always seems tricky to first timers. I know, I was there once. How do you just start writing letters to random strangers? How do you even find random strangers willing to participate in this seemingly random exchange? The task of just finding one person to write to seems daunting in the beginning. Where do you go? How do you start?
I asked myself those questions when I first started out. I was on Tumblr when I stumbled across The Love Parcel. If you are unaware, it’s this mail art project created by a lovely lady named Miranda. Essentially, you curate her a lovely parcel and send it her way. Then, once she receives your parcel, she’ll curate and send you one back. It’s mail art on a grand scale of sorts. The parcel itself is the art. You include various bits of ephemera to create this really cool keepsake, then you send it on. It’s almost like scrapbooking–and really, snail mail is a lot like scrapbooking–that you send to someone else through the mail.
Well, let’s just say I was completely in awe with the concept that I found myself wanting to do it too. It took me a while, but I eventually sent Miranda something. Now I just have to wait to receive my response. But the whole idea of sending mail to people just stuck. I needed to find a way to start a correspondence. I just didn’t know how.
After a lot of late night Googling, I eventually settled on Swap-bot. I was initially introduced to Swap-bot in an online art class I took last year, where I participated in a few mail art swaps with a few of my fellow classmates. I hadn’t used the site since until I wanted to actually start snail mailing. Swap-bot is wonderful for first timers. After joining the site, you are able to participate in various swaps with other people. You can swap just about whatever you want as long as there are others wanting to swap as well. I joined a Pen Pal swap, which partnered me up with two people: one person to send to and one person to send to me. After the swap we were encouraged to continue our correspondence with each of our two new pen pals. And that’s how I gained my first two pen pals.
There are other sites that are similar to Swap-bot. Postcrossing is one of those sites. I haven’t used the site yet, but I have a few pen pals who have used it. You’re basically sending postcards to random people. You sign up and get assigned an address to send a simple postcard. Then someone else receives your address and sends you a card. The process continues as such whenever you want. I think this is another great way to gain a few correspondences or to just get a feel of what it would be like to have a pen pal.
Swap-bot, Postcrossing and The Love Parcel are essentially one time swaps (unless otherwise stated or if you manage to connect with someone and continue swapping). If you want a long term pen pal, you’ll have to figure out what you want out of it. Are you really going to commit to one, two, five pen pals? Think about it. Set your limits, then post a pen pals wanted ad.
Things to Mention in Your Wanted Ad
- What you’re looking for? Include age, gender, location and other various qualities you want in your pen pal.
- How often you want to write to each other? Is it weekly, bi-weekly, monthly?
- A little about yourself! Include your age, gender, location, some of your interest, etc. Generally you want to find a pen pal with some similar interests to make the first letter a bit easier to write before you get to know each other.
- I would suggest including a descriptive list of your likes and dislikes. It gives prospective pen pals an idea of you and what they can possible send you, etc. The more you have in common, the easier it is to connect.
There’s a really big community of snail mailers on Tumblr and Instagram. Utilize these platforms and join in on the discussions there. From experience, everyone is very nice and extremely supportive, and it makes it easier to ask people if they want be your pen pal. I would suggest writing up a Pen Pals Wanted Ad and posting it on Tumblr using the tags “snail mail,” “snail mail revolution,” “pen pals,” “pen pals wanted,” “letters,” etc. Then it’s just a matter of waiting to see if anyone is interested.