I have discovered the perfect way to stay in touch while travelling. I write a postcard or letter by hand, take a picture of it, and then e-mail or text it to friends and family.
I call it the digital postcard.
After reading an article about a bookseller in Jordan who replies to text messages with photographs of handwritten responses, I decided to give the practice a try on my next trip. I’d already been thinking of sending postcards and letters back home, but I could see the appeal of adding technology into the mix.
Where I’d ordinarily have to wait weeks to hear if someone had received my postcard from Bhutan, or if the Indian postal system had let me down yet again, sending photos of my letters and cards guaranteed my peace of mind. Loved ones I was missing knew I cared enough to put pen to paper. And, best of all, the practice allowed me to slow down and reflect on my travels. In doing so, I’ve remembered moments from my trips in lively, vivid detail.
A digital postcard, you see, is not just a method of communication, an alternative to text or e-mail, Facebook or Instagram. It’s a way to be engaged.
What struck me most about how successful this idea was, is the fact it balanced being a mindful, slow traveller, with the clichéd millennial who appreciates the instant gratification that comes with technology. Sending digital postcards gives me the best of both worlds.
Before I began writing down my thoughts while dangling my legs over a wall of ruins, or sitting at a café and people watching, I was obsessed with doing “everything” when I was in a new place. I whizzed through tourist attractions like there was a prize for visiting all of them and could barely recall one day from the next.
And I’d fallen into that social media trap of making my travels look a certain way. We’re so obsessed with well-curated feeds nowadays that we forget that the digital world isn’t a substitute for the real deal. The moment I realized that I’d spent more time cleaning up an aerial shot of local fare and squinting over the caption more than enjoying the food itself, I knew I’d gone the full millennial.
Making time to capture my experiences through words instead of filters took the pressure off and made my travel feel so much richer. Because I wasn’t sharing my adventures with everyone, I wasn’t constantly looking for Instagram-worthy photos to post later. I could walk around and take photos of things just because and attach them to photos of letters that I’d send by e-mail after reviewing them at the end of the night.
And that gets to the heart of another reason I love digital postcards: They force you to be selective about whom you share your travels with.
On social media, it’s easy to share a string of posts with “friends” – you do it once and the “likes” and comments come flooding in. With e-mail, it’s easy to copy/paste a generic travel summary to send to all your contacts. But with digital postcards, I choose the people I want to share my travels with and make the letters and postcards I sent unique to them. That takes time and effort – and I’ve realized that not everyone is deserving.
As a result, the people I write to became a part of my memories of a place.
Sitting down and penning a letter to a close friend about the book scene in Delhi – with its books-by-weight shops and hole-in-the-wall stores that let you buy one book and exchange it for another when you’re done – is a concrete memory for me. Not just because I wrote my observations down, but because things that reminded me of someone stood out when I was recalling them in the letter.
Keeping in touch with someone while reaping the benefits yourself? It’s a win-win.
So, the next time you’re in a souvenir shop looking for mementos of your trip, buy yourself a glass of wine instead and sit down with a pen and paper and write to someone back home. You’ll both be glad you did.
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