Sunday, 27 November 2016


Writing letters can seem like something that is redundant in today's world of instant messages and the internet. Recently however, I have been really into 'pen palling' or writing letters to people with similar interests who live across the world.
I used to have pen pals when I was younger. they were mainly the children of family friends, and while I enjoyed writing to them, it was obvious that all our letters were written with the help of parents or grandparents, and to be honest, having to write them seemed a little like homework. The letters fizzled out, and I didn't really think about it again until earlier this year. I think I was browsing Pinterest when I came across lots of pictures of beautifully written letters in beautiful stationary, with interesting stamps and little bits of ephemera sent by each person. I started to wish that I too could send letters like that, and from there my journey into pen palling began. In this post I'm going to outline how to start pen palling if you're interested, and hopefully give you a few tips along the way.

1. How to find a pen pal.
So, if you want to start writing letters, you're going to need someone to write letters to. The easiest way to do this is to contact family or friends you have living in other countries, or in a different part of your country and see if they, or anyone they know may be interested. If you can't find anyone through this, or you want to start writing to someone completely new like me, the internet is going to be your best friend. It's worth saying here that as you go about finding someone to write to, you need to be careful. Never give your address out straight away, and follow your instincts with regards to who you contact. A tip i used when finding my pen pals was to ask if they had something like Instagram or Twitter. from someones social media accounts you can usually tell if a) they are real and are who they say they are and b) whether or not they are the sort of person who would be genuinely interested in writing letters. When I was looking for pen pals, no one strange ever contacted me, and no one who I contacted turned out to be dodgy. most people looking for pen pals online are genuinely interested in writing, but as in all situations where you're contacting people you don't know, it's worth being careful. To find a pen pal, Tumblr is your best friend. I used to be OBSESSED with it when I was about 14, but it was only when I was researching the best places to find pen pals that I started using it again. There are quite a few blogs on Tumblr that are dedicated to matching up pen pals (I think I used this one, this one and this one), and the basic premise for all of them is to upload a picture of yourself if you want to, and write a little bit about your interests and the sort of person you are looking for and give a way for people to contact you. If, like me, you're not keen on putting your picture all over the internet, you can look at the people who have already uploaded a bit about themselves, and contact them if they look like the sort of person you'd like to write to. Not everyone you contact will reply or will want to write, but don't get too disheartened- the right person will come along eventually. 

2. So you have a pen pal, what next?
Once you've found someone who wants to write to you, it's important to get to know each other a little bit before giving out your address. As I mentioned earlier, social media is a really good way to do this, but good old fashioned email also does the trick. The amount of time you take getting to know someone is really up to you, but they'll usually be a point when you're comfortable giving your address to that person. If you're worried about giving out your home address, I have heard of people who set up a PO Box or something similar to pen pal, but to be honest I highly doubt that you'll come across anyone whos' creepy enough to come to your house, or do something similarly weird with your address. Between you and your pen pal, decide who's going to write the first letter, and then off you go!

3. Writing letters
All you need to start writing- paper, envelopes, a pen and stamps!

Obviously, you're going to want to write letters to your pen pal, and you really don't need that much to get started- just a pen, paper and envelope. Postage costs do come into it, but if you're only sending a letter in a small envelope it should come to less than £3 per letter no matter where you're sending it in the world. If you're worried about the costs, try to get a pen pal either in the same country as you (so the UK for me) or a country close by (like somewhere in Europe), so your postage costs should be much cheaper. The larger the letter/parcel, and the further it's going the more expensive it will be. It's useful to stay in contact with your pen pals over social media so you can check in case letters have gone missing, or to let them know if you're going to be late sending something. 

A few bits and pieces you can include in letters!
If you decide to get a bit more creative with your letters, you can buy fancy stationary from places like Paperchase or WH Smith or decorate your letters with drawings, stickers, washi tape or anything else that takes your fancy. It can also be nice to sent little bits and pieces to your pen pal. I like sending and receiving things like tea, postcards or something that you'd come across everyday in your own country, but not somewhere else, like tickets you used on a particular journey, or coins for example. You definitely don't have to decorate your letters, or send your pen pals things and shouldn't feel pressured to do so, but I think it can make letters more personal, and more enjoyable to write and read. 

I hope that helped if you are thinking about getting a pen pal, or perhaps inspired you to start writing! If you have any questions you can email or tweet me @leaningbooks and I'd be really happy to answer them!

E x

P.S, My wonderful penpal Leyla has an amazing blog about her gap year at leylalava, so if you're interested, please take a look!



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