An Introduction to Penpals and Snail Mail



Quite often do I get asked for some pointers on getting into snail mail, so I decided that a blog post might help clear up some confusion and act as a framework for starting with this wonderful hobby. We’ll start with the basics and work our way up. If you have any additional questions you’d like added, feel free to IM me!

What is “snailmail” or “happymail” and why do people do it?

Snailmail and happymail are just fanciful, endearing words that people use to describe any parcels sent via the post and not electronically. In this digital age, a lot of people rely on snailmail to physically connect with friends and family. You can send all sorts of wee tokens and souvenirs from found feathers and magazine clippings to postcards and even small gifts like pens and notebooks. For people who have medical problems of all kinds, it can be a great way to relax. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to meet new people from around the world and work on their culture and language skills.


What do I need to participate?

You can be as creative or a simple as you want: some people prefer to keep the item exchange to a minimum in the early stages of a penpal friendship in case things don’t work out—and sometimes they don’t. The important thing to remember is that the primary purpose of exchanging mail is to get to know someone and build a friendship so including little extras and goodies is completely optional. That said, create your heart out! All you really need is a pen and some paper.

For a list of tidbits I often include in my mail, check out my answer here. Below is a tutorial on making handmade stationery with or without specialized tools. <3

There are other ways to include cute little notes too: tags tied together with string, sewn papers. The video below shows how to create a wee booklet form a single page of paper with only a stapler and some scissors.

Where can I find penpals? 

While sites like Tumblr, Twitter and WordPress can be useful for finding mail friends, my favorite place to search through penpals (and get inspiration galore) is Instagram. You can find a list of my favorite Instagram accounts here, and I’m still discovering new ones every day. Searching hashtags like “#penpalswanted” and “#snailmail” yields tons of results from around the world! There are also niche sites and services designed to match people with penpals such as The Postal Society.

What if I start writing to someone and don’t want to continue? How do I let them down? What if someone asks to be my penpal and I don’t want to accept?

Some people prefer to be told directly and others are more sensitive and prefer a gentle fading away. Use your best judgement and remember that it’s okay if you make a mistake! Trying your best and being sincere, that’s all you can do. Snailmail is supposed to be an enjoyable hobby, so I try not to make it stressful for myself.

How do I introduce myself? What should I write about? What is “mail tag”?

As many bloggers have said before me, writing an introductory letter can become a monotonous, boring monologue quickly even for the seasoned writer. It helps to reveal information about yourself gradually over the course of your friendship, just as you would with a friend you’ve met outside of the internet. Asking questions can turn a one-sided letter into a much more two-sided conversation. Mail tag can help you get to know your penpal better and gives you the opportunity to play a sort of “truth or dare” via the mail. You can ask questions such as what their next vacation will be or request little bits of their life such as a shopping receipt, a map of their neighborhood or a flower from their yard. It’s best to keep requests simple so that they can be fulfilled easily, but feel free to get creative! Below are some wee books I made to hold mail tag questions and answers. 


What does it cost to send mail? Where can I find stamps?

I’m unfamiliar with the postal services in other countries, so I will only be able to provide information about the United States Postal Service. That said, you can find the rate for any item of postage sent from the US to any country here using its size, shape and weight. Of course, the lighter and thinner your letters the less postage will cost. It really depends on what you want to send and what you want to spend. I send most letters out for less than 3 USD each, and I often go a bit overboard on stamps to ensure that things like the non-machinable fee are met–that’s 0.21 USD if you’re curious. As of this writing, the domestic postcard rate is 0.35 USD, and the standard one ounce rate for domestic letters is 0.49 USD with each additional ounce adding 0.22 USD; for international mail the rate is 1.20 USD. These rates occasionally change, so make sure you check with the USPS website.

Stamps are one of the niche joys of snailmail that every letter writer eventually discovers. These tiny paper beauties can be obtained directly from the USPS’s website, but an eBay search for unused stamps can provide all kinds of historical and modern stamps from planes to birds to artwork and beyond. 

I hope this post as been helpful and have a wonderful time writing letters!

This is a wonderful guide by @kogoeruyoru.

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