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Exchanging postcards - an unusual hobby?

Updated on October 6, 2016
SheilaMilne profile image

I have been collecting postcards all my life like my father before me. I now have many thousands of them, both vintage and modern.

A postcard hand made from stamps
A postcard hand made from stamps

An Interview on the Subject

A few weeks ago an email arrived from a local journalist, out of the blue, asking if I'd agree to be interviewed about my unusual hobby, Postcrossing. Although I don't think there's anything remotely unusual about exchanging postcards, which is what Postcrossing is all about, I was very happy for an excuse to talk about postcard collecting, storing them, choosing them and writing messages on the back.

The interview was necessarily rather short because I had to share the final article with three other unusual hobbyists so I felt I left all sorts of things unsaid. Now that I'm on my hobby-horse so to speak, I can write more fully here.

The picture shows part of a handmade card I made out of used stamps cut into the shape of a pillar box and stuck on to a page from an old atlas. Both were then stuck to some cardstock. It was made for someone who had particularly asked for handmade cards. Most people prefer shop bought.

Please note: All the pictures here are my own apart from the one screenshot of Postcrossing. That will take you to the Postcrossing website if you click on the caption.

Quick Links

Postcrossing
Other Exchange Sites
"Unofficial" Postcrossing
Writing the message
What I've learnt from Postcrossing
A Postcrossing Video

Screen shot of the Postcrossing website
Screen shot of the Postcrossing website | Source

Postcrossing

Postcards connecting the world

The most basic definition of Postcrossing is that it is a random postcard exchange - you never know who you will be sending a card to nor where one will arrive from.

It works like this: you request an address, you choose and write a card, send it off and wait for it to arrive. When it arrives at its destination, the person at the other end of the journey registers it , and at that point your address is given out in its turn to someone else.

You don't have to send out only one at a time. Even as a new member you can request up to five addresses and so have five cards travelling at one time. As your numbers of successful sends rises so too does the limit on how many cards you can send. I am allowed to have 43 cards travelling but that is FAR more than enough and I have never reached that limit.

Sending postcards

People may consider Postcrossing to be a way of collecting postcards, and often it is, but sending is obviously an equal part of the process and one that takes the most time and effort. Personally I find choosing what I hope will be exactly the right card is the best part of my hobby. I can spend a long time trying to decide on one card over another.

Of course choosing the right card depends on having plenty of choice. I buy cards wherever I see them both in local shops for the tourist type of card, and also online. Sometimes I think I go too far so I have avoided counting how many I have in my stash. It's in a big box, now that it's grown out of the drawer I used to use.

The range is almost endless and with these you have a fair chance of being able to fulfil most people's wish-lists.

A small selection of my map postcards
A small selection of my map postcards

Wishlists

Every member of Postcrossing can write a profile (although not everyone does) and that profile can list personal preferences. There is no obligation at all to fulfil these wishes - the only obligation is to send a postcard - but for me it's a challenge I enjoy. I love to feel I have made a good choice for that particular person.

There are a number of themes that are very popular. Maps, as pictured above are often on a list, as are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, various animals especially cats, children, books. By far the most common request, I would say, is for a card showing the town/area/country where you live. That might sound simple but there are parts of the world where they struggle to find a basic view-card.

Other Exchange Sites

Postcrossing is not the only way to exchange postcards, far from it. People have set up Facebook pages and YouTube channels dedicated to postcard exchange. Search and you shall find!

    • Sendsomething.net

      You could also try Sendsomething.net. It has been in beta version for as long as I remember, but don't let that put you off. It seems to work quite well and has a dedicated core of people who regularly exchange with each other. It is, however, very random.
    • Swap-bot

      Swap-bot is definitely more reliable and there you can swap almost anything under the sun. It's a little slow at first because many of the swaps are open only to established members but it doesn't take too long. Watch out for country-specific swaps too - they aren't all open to everyone.
    • Facebook

      There are a number of Facebook groups dedicated to exchanging postcards. You will need to make sure they are active! Search for "postcard exchange" or postcard swap".
    • Goodreads

      If you are a reader, and a member of Goodreads, they have a public group called The Postcard Exchange. I haven't joined but they appear to have an organised exchange each month. There are no rules about the type of cards exchanged.

Other sites appear now and then but they tend to come and go. One I discovered by accident recently was www.postcardunited.com but so far I've received nothing. To be fair, I've risked only one card so maybe I should try harder.

if you speak/read Russian, there is also postcross.me which seems to work on the same basis as Postcrossing.

"Unofficial" Postcrossing

Over the years, all sorts of other ways to exchange (mainly but not exclusively) postcards have developed from the original "official" Postcrossing exchange. They remain, though, under the overall Postcrossing banner.

Some postcards on the theme of reading and books
Some postcards on the theme of reading and books

Direct swaps

Beyond the basic functioning of Postcrossing, there are all sorts of possibilities to exchange postcards. On the main site, known as the "official" site, you can state in your profile that you are open to direct swaps. That means anyone can message you offering a swap.

The forum

Alternatively you can join the forum where the possibilities are almost endless. Here there are swaps organised within groups of countries or themes, swaps of handmade cards, of non-postcards such as candies or teabags. Or you can even just chat about postcards.

Blogs

Many people have created blogs - including myself. :) My own blog is not merely about Postcrossing though, but any cards received or bought anywhere, vintage and modern. I try to make it as diverse as possible so that there is always something of interest and I was delighted when Google listed it as a Blog of Note (quite some time ago now). That was totally overwhelming but great fun while the interest lasted.

Online postcard sites

Particularly in countries where it's not so easy to find the variety of postcards people may like, several online sites have been developed to sell them. Even some pre-existing sites mention Postcrossing, pointing out ranges that are suitable.

Postage stamps

One of the most exciting developments was the postage stamp issue in the Netherlands in 2011, promoting Postcrossing! Later this year Finland will be issuing four Postcrossing stamps and there is a campaign for Germany to issue some in 2015 to mark the 10th anniversary.

Some cards from the USA
Some cards from the USA

Writing the message

Many people consider the message to be as important as, if not more than, the picture on the front, because it's a connection, a way of communication between two people. Sometimes people write as small as possible and fill every available space on the back of the card. Others are creative and draw diagrams, little pictures, add stickers. I even had one where the message was written in a spiral starting at the centre. It looked amazing even if it was quite hard to read.

It can be a challenge sometimes to find something to say, especially if you are sending multiple cards, but in these circumstances I fall back on topics such as what I can see from my window, the weather, hobbies, a book I've read recently. But usually I can find some connection with the profile which will lead to an inspiration of something to say. It's for that reason blank profiles are not very easy for the sender.

Someone once picked up one of my Postcrossing cards and remarked that it's like a snapshot of communication. That small piece of paper represents not only a picture the sender thinks will please me, but the thoughts that went behind writing a message (maybe struggling with another language), the address (possibly very unlike their own country addresses), taking it to the mail.

Two albums of postcards from France
Two albums of postcards from France

What I've learnt from Postcrossing

Postcrossing at its best gives you a glimpse or even some insight into another culture and its traditions. When I started off I was interested in the normal tourist views but now I find myself fascinated in anything that gives me an idea of what it's like to live in another country formed by its history and traditions.

It can be educational in so many ways: geographical, historical, cultural.

You come across so many languages you hardly knew existed and will be amazed at how multilingual some people are. This coming winter I have decided to enrol in classes to learn some very basic Russian because Russia is one of the countries with a very active presence on Postcrossing and I am embarrassed that I can't even read the alphabet.

It's only as expensive as you make it. You have complete control over how many cards you send and how often so you don't need to spend any more than you want to. One card at a time is perfectly fine.

All in all I think the biggest and most important thing I've learnt is that the differences between people are just not as great as you might have thought before you started Postcrossing.

One Year's Postcrossing Collection (not mine)

Do you think my Postcrossing is unusual? Do you have a more unusual hobby? Please let me know what you think, or just stop long enough to say hello.

An unusual hobby or not?

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    • Dusty2 LM profile image

      Dusty2 LM 4 years ago

      Hi SheilaMilne! Just finished reading your most interesting lens and wanted to let you know I learned a few things about "Postcrossing". I don't think your hobby is unusual. When I was younger I have heard of "Postcard Exchanging" which was something similar to this. Then when I had a CB radio we used to exchange what was called "Skip" cards that we sent. I think you and I have touched on the subject of "Postcards" and know how I feel. I am happy to see that you are keeping Postcards alive through your collection and Postcrossing. BTW; it sounds like fun and very educational as you had mentioned. Well done lens and Congratulations for making the Squidoo Front Page! Hope all is going well for you now and there is nothing but blue skies ahead for you. Take Care & Have a Great day!

    • profile image

      DebW07 4 years ago

      Sending postcards seems to be a fading art. I remember sending quite a few when my husband and I were on our honeymoon (over 20 years ago). But with social networks like Facebook and others, I don't think too many people send them any longer. Your particular hobby is unusual because you don't know the people sending the postcards, and I really like the fact that you get them from all over the world.

    • maryseena profile image

      maryseena 4 years ago

      I think it's a wonderful hobby. In the days of letter-writing we used to have pen pals from around the world, and they used to be our windows to distant lands and cultures!

    • Rhonda Lytle profile image

      Rhonda Lytle 4 years ago from Deep in the heart of Dixie

      It sounds kind of like a modern day abbreviated version of a round robin pen pal, short version. Very cool.

    • kristalulabelle profile image

      Kristen 4 years ago from Wisconsin

      This sounds like so much fun! Thanks for sharing your hobby; I am definitely intrigued and tempted to give it a try! It would be so nice to look forward to getting the mail, instead of dreading it since there are usually only bills arriving. :)

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 4 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      Looks like a Very nice hobby. I don't know how hight the poststamps are everywhere, I only know that they're rather high where I live: 50 euro cents per card/letter. Sending 20 cards will add up to 10 euros ($13)

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 4 years ago from Europe

      I'm an occasional Postcrosser and I love hearing from people around the world. I get quite a few postcards/requests from parent/child accounts who use the hobby as a fun homeschooling project to learn more about the world.

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 4 years ago from Somewhere in England

      Now I understand why you use the letterbox image. Duhhhh. I'm not usually quite that slow.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 4 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      This sounds right up my alley. I love postcards (sending and receiving) them. I might have to look into this!

    • hazeltos profile image

      Susan Hazelton 4 years ago from Summerfield, Florida

      When traveling I always pick up a postcard or two of each place I visited. I love postcards.

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      Not at all. I think it's a common practice raised to a higher level.

    • LynetteBell profile image

      LynetteBell 4 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      I hadn't heard of postcard crossing. I do have a lot of postcards though. I'll have to look into this hobby!

    • Mary Stephenson profile image

      Mary Stephenson 4 years ago from California

      I got 2 postcard books from my parents. Many were sent or given to them as far back as 1901 and I think the last in their books are 1965.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 3 years ago from USA

      Unusual, but great idea. I'd love to be getting postcards from all over the world of place I only dream of. Congrats for making the front page.

    • profile image

      LUMOSE 3 years ago

      My husband is collecting old postcards.

    • Flowerchild1946 profile image

      Carol Brooks 3 years ago from Florida

      I think it's a great hobby. I plan on checking out the Postcrossing website to learn more. Great lens!

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 3 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      What a wonderful and inexpensive hobby. Sound great for people of all ages.

    • SheilaMilne profile image
      Author

      SheilaMilne 3 years ago from Kent, UK

      @Zodiacimmortal: I know it's not unusual, that's why I was surprised at the interviewer asking me about it., but it's the Postcrossing part that's unusual especially as I've been exchanging like this for over 8 years and collected literally thousands of cards via Postcrossing. Some people ... lapse after 20 or 30 exchanges. :) :)

      PS I was on Bookcrossing too but there I have lapsed. :)

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 3 years ago from Kansas

      This looks like something I would totally enjoy if I had more time. Maybe after my girls are grown and gone. Thanks for introducing me to a great creative hobby.

    • profile image

      Ruthi 3 years ago

      I don't think your Postcrossing hobby is unusual at all! While I prefer a more direct exchange within a community of people I know online, I like just about any postcards for any reason. I have published a few postcard articles, too,

    • GregoryMoore profile image

      Gregory Moore 3 years ago from Louisville, KY

      I think it is a great hobby. Who doesn't love getting a postcard from some far off place?

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 3 years ago

      I don't think your hobby is unusual - but like Ruthi I am a postcard nut. Pinned to my letters and postcard board. PS - Look into joining Ruthi's group - the water is fine!

    • linfcor profile image

      Linda F Correa 3 years ago from Spring Hill Florida

      Wow, I think this is an interesting hobby and am seriously going to look into this !

    • razelle09 profile image

      razelle09 3 years ago

      it's cool, and your hobby is really unique.

    • profile image

      SalinaV 3 years ago

      Great lens! Your hobby is so cool. I'm seriously going to look into it. Thanks for all the information you shared and the postcrossing website. I'm going there now.

    • Carol Houle profile image

      Carol Houle 3 years ago from Montreal

      I've collected postcards from different cities, countries, for a long while. I don't do it much anymore. It's an interesting lens. I might consider playing those cards for fun.

    • Julia Morais profile image

      Julia Morais 3 years ago

      This is so interesting. I know about such hobby, but the last I've heard of anyone exchanging postcards was years ago. With the technology we have, where everyone depends on social websites to communicate with each other, we're slowly losing our ability to write simple messages or letters on paper and snail mail them to each other.

      I'm inspired to start sending postcards. Thank you for the introduction.

    • profile image

      JaspinderKaur 3 years ago

      unique hobby.interesting thoughts

    • CrazyHomemaker profile image

      CrazyHomemaker 3 years ago

      Really great lens! This is so cool! I used to have a pen pal when I was younger. I just may look into this for myself. I LOVE getting interesting mail. This is a fun adult way of having a pen pal.

    • CrazyHomemaker profile image

      CrazyHomemaker 3 years ago

      @CrazyHomemaker: Just to let you know...I signed up last night. I'm so excited! I even passed the information on to a co-worker. I'll be sending my first postcards out this weekend.Thanks again!

    • LeslieMirror profile image

      LeslieMirror 3 years ago

      I doubt this, as postcrossing is now extremely popular with all my friends. sometimes, it seems to me that they are crazy about all this.

    • Aibrean82 profile image

      Aibrean82 3 years ago

      I do Postcrossing, too! I have been a member for three years soon, and still get so excited when I find a new postcard in the mailbox. I need to find better storage for them all since they are currently in boxes all over my bedroom. On the cards I send, I usually include date, the name of the village I live in, outside temperature at the moment and a tiny drawing of what the weather is like. And then add a note. And always a sticker, since I used to collect them and have loads. Loved this lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      Sorry I'm out of like for today but I like this lens and may have to find a postcrossing club to join. Thank you first I've heard of this. :)

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 3 years ago

      I used to collect postcards, carrying on from my grandad's collection, and have always loved the little taste of armchair travel that a postcard brings. I especially love old ones, and handmade ones - but this is the first I've heard of Postcrossing. It sounds a wonderful hobby for the whole family to get into!

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 3 years ago

      I like any types of deltiology; I use to collect vintage Halloween.

    • profile image

      angelatvs 3 years ago

      Such an interesting hobby. Your lens makes me want to start collecting postcards.

    • girlfriendfactory profile image

      girlfriendfactory 3 years ago

      Wow I didn't know this was actually a "thing" but I do get requests from my Couchsurfing (travel website with groups) occasionally asking if people can send postcards for their child's birthday, etc. Kind of a neat thing for travelers. :-)

    • HughSmulders LM profile image

      HughSmulders LM 3 years ago

      I guess that post cards is exchange is something which is able of bounding the world. As people from different countries can share cards.

    • profile image

      creativecreditcooperativesociety 3 years ago

      its smile all the way to my face after reading this.

    • KateFeredayEshete profile image

      Kate Fereday Eshete 3 years ago from Ethiopia

      I'm very glad to have found this lens. I didn't know such a thing as Postcrossing existed. Yet I love postcards and never throw away postcards I receive. Every month I send one postcard to my parents and each of my siblings, as a way to stay in touch (I live in the remote Ethiopian Highlands and often there's no Internet connection and no wireless telephone). But rarely do they reciprocate. So I'm a frustrated Postcrosser who can now sign up on the Postcrossing website and get busy. Thank you so much for such a clear and informative lens!

    • KateFeredayEshete profile image

      Kate Fereday Eshete 3 years ago from Ethiopia

      @KateFeredayEshete: Just to add that I've joined up on the Postcrossing website and have four postcards ready to go (to Russia, Taiwan, Germany and the USA). I'm only the twelfth person to join from Ethiopia. Ethiopian postcards and stamps are very attractive, so the recipients will have a pleasant surprise when my postcards reach their destinations.

    • KateFeredayEshete profile image

      Kate Fereday Eshete 3 years ago from Ethiopia

      @KateFeredayEshete: Thanks for your message via Postcrossing, but I can't reply there yet because I first have to have a postcard that I've sent registered. You'll find a link to my website on my lens. It's under the name of my school (Empress Mentewab School), above the photograph of me with the Grade 1s. Anyway, my lens has just been published, so the URL should appear on my Profile now. I'm very impressed that you've sent 1,751 postcards. My goodness! You've made a lot of people very happy. I'll be in touch again through Postcrossing when I'm able to use the messaging service there.

    • SamiPearl profile image

      SamiPearl 3 years ago

      This is one of those things that I've never thought of, but now that I hear about it, I can't believe I never got into this before! I'm so glad I found this lens! I will definitely be joining (as soon as I buy some postcards)!

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      How do people come up with these ideas? Truly wonderful idea and your lens is packed full of great information on this topic

    • profile image

      SamanthaHaupt 3 years ago

      Thanks for sharing, this is a really cool hobby!

    • constantinamuston profile image

      constantinamuston 3 years ago

      Postcards are very unusual. I come from a country, Greece, where cards are not exchanged. Or at least they are not often exchanged. The fascination with cards of any kind is for me odd.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 2 years ago from Southampton, UK

      I always collected postcards as a boy and I had all the family ones dating back to the 1940s and beyond, plus ones that people had sent from all over the world. Sadly when we moved house in about 1990 the box that they were in went missing, and I lost them all, along with my tea cards, cigarette cards and more.

    • SheilaMilne profile image
      Author

      SheilaMilne 2 years ago from Kent, UK

      What a shame! All those memories. I always love the cards from the 40s and 50s because it seems such a different way of life.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i have some malaysia old postcards, anyone want to exchange?

    • SheilaMilne profile image
      Author

      SheilaMilne 2 years ago from Kent, UK

      Sounds great!

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Sheila, this sounds like a unique and interesting idea. I never heard of postcrossing. I might do it sometime. My mother collected postcards for years and kept them in a box---some of them were blank collectibles, like others were friends and families throughout the years. I had to throw it out last summer before I moved, a couple of months after my mother had died. Thanks for sharing. Voted up!

    • SheilaMilne profile image
      Author

      SheilaMilne 2 years ago from Kent, UK

      Hello Kristen! If you do try postcrossing, do let me know how you get on. :)

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