The Lost Art of the Travel Postcard

It seems that for many travel has become about getting the best Instagram shot. Most of us are guilty of this, including myself. I often find myself reaching for my phone to get the perfect gram rather than just slow down and appreciate the moment. It took me a long time to get a smartphone. I got my first smartphone in 2011 when my friends chipped in and bought me one as a gift when I finished my PhD. It then took me another 3 years till I got on Instagram when I had to use it for work when I got sent to India for a few months. As I did a spot of spring cleaning in my bedroom, I found all the postcards I collected on my pre-Instagram travels and remembered the joy I had in picking and writing postcards.

Sending a postcard wasn’t about boasting about my travels to friends and acquaintances, but rather about sharing the trip with my family; it was to let them know I hadn’t forgot them. I used to find pleasure in finding a quirky little shop or stand in the town center and pick the postcard that captured the receiver’s personality and my vision of the country. I would spend a good 20 minutes picking

postcards tailored to the receiver. Sometimes those postcards showcased the snowy peaks of Mount Ararat as seen from Armenia (it was cloudy when I went to Khor Virap), black and white artsy pictures of Venice at dawn, or close up of Portuguese tiles picked out after a few too many glasses of Port, to send home. I always had the same list: my mother, father, and my grandmothers. Sometimes a few lucky friends made my postcard list, but I rarely sent postcards to friends; this was an intimate family experience. I also collected postcards for myself. I would stick them up on the walls with Blu Tack as trophies from my trips, or stick them in a memory box to look at when a sense of wonderlust crept up.

Although taking your own photo and sharing it captured the way you see a place there and then, I loved how each postcard came with its own style. Out of so many to choose from on the stand, there was something in that choice that felt like being involved in the process. Do you go for something tacky, artsy, funny? My father loved the jokey ones, whereas my mother wanted something featuring ruins or pots. My grandmothers just liked getting postcards and would stick them on the mantelpiece for a while before the next one arrived in the post and then it would get relegated to a drawer. I doubt anyone read what was on the back. I would scrawl a more in depth “Wish You Were Here” outlining the gist of the day however most just would glance at the platitudes before sticking the postcard up in the kitchen. In this particular case it was the picture that was worth more than those 100 words.

I still see shops selling postcards in museums and tourist hot spots. In India, kids would come with packs of postcards for sale with vintage shots of Hyderabad you could buy in a bulk. No one sends me postcards these days, and I haven’t sent any myself in my recent travels. Next year I want to bring back sending postcards. I want to slowdown and look at the city through someone else’s lens.


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