Everyone has to start somewhere. A runner starts at a jog. An artist starts with some sketches. A magician starts with a small performance in the living room. But where does an aspiring traveler begin?
I am no expert on the subject. I have only been to a small share of places within my own territory: Florida (of course), California, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, and soon Illinois (I will be visiting a friend in the Windy City come July). Internationally, I have been to the Philippines (Mabuhay Cebu!) and several Caribbean locations on different cruise lines.
Although I say “only have been” to these places, as if it were not a big deal, that does not mean I don’t cherish my experiences. The [ ] I feel is the same as anyone else backpacking through Europe in the same instance. My wanderlust is real. There is no hiding that I yearn for more…
Do you want to know where I started? Unfortunately, it wasn’t with an impromptu trip to Japan (the top of my destination bucket list). That would break the bank really quick. But…does WRITING to someone from Japan follow in close second for some of you?
That’s right. I picked up a pen and paper (along with washi tape, glue, stickers – any outlet to make my envelope look prettier) and did it the old fashioned way. And by “it”, I mean got to know a stranger long distance. The funny thing is that the unfamiliarity of “snail mail” has given my life a bit of mystery. I like to visit my P.O. box on my lunch breaks every now and then. It wasn’t until the 4th or 5th time I came back into work with a goofy, satisfied smile on my face and a couple envelopes tucked underneath my arm that people started asking questions. They are always shocked to know that “penpal-ing still exists”! Now, to start conversation, my coworkers always ask how my penpal-ing is going. They seem genuinely intrigued by my endeavors.
As they very well should be. Writing letters is COOL! Opening up your PO box to find a collection of envelopes is COOL! Peeing your pants is COOL!
I got a little overzealous when I first got started and collected a bit more pen pals than I could handle (15+). That doesn’t mean to say I open my PO box to find 8 envelopes every time though. Because that never happens. Sometimes it takes people about two months to even write me back. But before you get “twenty-first-century-instant-gratification-y” on me, I have to say that I am okay with it. The waiting is the POINT. Because, you know when that letter finally arrives, this person in a totally different lifestyle and location from you has put their heart into it. It takes TIME to write down things. It takes TALENT to make a themed letter. It takes HEART to truly care about someone else’s life. I’m willing to wait for that.
What have I gained from doing this? It has been almost a year now and, amongst the 15+ pen pals I have, I have to say that I really have made true connections with only 5 of them. The rest is just an outlet for my creativity, the joy of getting something in the mail, and to satisfy my true curiosities about their location. When I say “connection”, I mean that I feel like I have really made a friend. The correspondence for most of them isn’t even about making the envelope pretty, it’s just about pages and pages of stories between the two of us. I’m not an avid reader, I was in high school, but now I don’t have the time. So instead of picking up some chic-lit novel, I read about true stories from a friend across the world from me.
I started out knowing people in only a few states. But I’ve outreached to Canada, Japan, Germany, Sweden, Turkey … and I hope to meet more from other places. It’s like traveling to these places, knowing these people, without ever having to leave home.
I hope I never lose that feeling.
Do you have a pen pal? Do you see value in writing people the “old fashioned way”? Let me know in the comments.
Also visit my pen pal Instagram: