Even before Pocket Letters, I was delving into the world of “penpalling”. I stumbled across Madison (@lettersfrommadison) who was sending letters all around the world and showcasing her snailmail creations on Instagram. I was HOOKED! I jumped in headfirst and went to Michael’s the day after I found her account and bought heaps and heaps of stationery supplies to start my penpal letters. (Watch this video for more on my Snailmail Story or watch below). In retrospect I wish I’d given it a little more thought because I was soon overwhelmed by a few different things in the penpal world. I want to share a little bit about what I learned along the way so you don’t encounter the same misunderstandings and problems.
1. There are different kinds of penpals and swaps.
I had this idea in my head that all penpals swapped the same things, letters and goodies. This is far from the truth. Some people like to exchange letters, others like to exchange parcels, and others exchange a mix of both. Some only exchange postcards. When you start out make sure you know what it is you are exchanging. I was under the impression everyone exchanged parcels/packages, so I spent a lot of money buying journals, candy, stickers, and other trinkets to send my first penpals. When some people didn’t reciprocate, I was a little taken aback, but then realized that some of my penpals didn’t want packages of goodies, they wanted letters. Actual, handwritten letters. There were other penpals who only sent goodies to me without letters. Not gonna lie. That was fun too. But I enjoyed the letter part too much… I soon found a happy medium and started arranging swaps that involved a letter and a few goodies. It’s important to find out what kind of penpal you want to be to avoid misunderstandings, which brings me to my next point.
2. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
Since there are different kinds of exchanges and swaps, make sure you communicate with your penpal about what it is you’re going to send and how and when are you going to send it. Will you send first? Will you have a “send by” date or deadline? Will you only exchange letters? How often will you write? Will all your letters be handwritten? Will you email the person when you receive their package or letter? Once these questions are addressed, your swaps will be a lot easier to manage.
3. "Penpaling" is pricey!
The cost of postage is constantly increasing. Sending a letter costs almost $.50! I remember when postage was $.28. Sending a parcel can get very expensive too, especially if it’s going international. I remember the first time I sent two packages to my first UK penpals, it cost me about $36! I couldn’t believe how expensive it was! I say all this to remind you to take into account the cost of postage. Yes, the things you send will be one expense, but don’t forget to consider the cost of postage. Having a penpal can be very costly.
4. You will have a bad experience at least once.
Whether your mail gets destroyed in transit, lost, or a penpal fails to respond…you will have at least some sort of negative experience with penpalling. It’s a given. The important thing is how you handle it. Will you let a few bad experiences spoil the good ones? I hope not. Take it with a stride and focus on the positive. I’ve had many failed swaps, and I’ve been outright scammed too. lol But that’s okay. You can’t let the negative experiences put a damper on the whole thing.
5. It’s OK to say no.
Since sharing my creations on Instagram, a lot of people would message me asking to be my penpal. I agreed to about 80% of the requests I would get, especially one-time swaps because I honestly felt like a bad person if I said “no” to someone. In fact, it got to the point where I got really overwhelmed with my penpals (toward the end of 2014) and I even ended some of my “parcel penpalships” (swaps that involved parcel exchanges only). Of course I parted ways by sending some awesome “last parcels” that didn’t require reciprocation. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed, so learn that saying “No” is okay. You are not a bad person for not wanting to take on more penpals.
There are more things to be said about "penpalships" and swapping letters, but I will save those for future posts! I hope you found these tips helpful! If you’d like to share things you’ve learned about penpaling , please share your wise words and experiences in the comments below! Thanks for reading!