How to Find a Modern-Day Pen Pal
Perhaps you're feeling nostalgic for your summer camp days or simply looking for a reason to revive the art of snail mail. Either way, finding a pen pal can be a great way to fulfill these cravings and get a whole slew of letter-writing perks. In fact, more research shows that in today's digitally-driven world, taking the time to hand write anything-from a journal entry to a thank-you card-can provide you with real physical and mental benefits like improved memory and lower levels of anxiety.
Finding a friend to mail letters to is also a fun way to meet people from around the world, learn about different cultures, and maybe even work on your foreign language skills. And while social media and the power of the Internet have made it easier than ever to connect with someone overseas in real time, there's nothing quite like connecting through ink on paper.
Ready to find your snail mail buddy? Here are a few ways to get started, plus a few tips to remember before starting your search.
Worldwide Snail Mail Pen Pals
Created in 2017, Worldwide Snail Mail Pen Pals is one of the largest and most active free pen pal communities on Facebook. Run by two pen pals Aisha Conolly and Stephanie Elyse (they've met up in person), this closed group requires all members to read and accept rules (such as not posting anyone's address) once they join; members not acting accordingly will risk getting blocked. Once approved, new members are encouraged to post a short bio about themselves, inviting others to connect if they wish, as well as share letter-decorating tips and inspirations. "We have over 11,000 members and growing!" says Elyse, who has been writing to pen pals for over 20 years. "It's a great hobby that helps you improve penmanship, make new friends, and travel the world while staying in one place."
Letter Writers Alliance's Pen Pal Swap
Launched in 2007 by friend duo Kathy Zadrozny and Donovan Beeson, this Chicago-based organization is devoted to promoting the art of writing letters from its shop of designer stationery, sticker sets, and vintage stamps to its local "Letter Social" events and members-only pen pal swap. Joining the Letter Writers Alliance is just $5 for a lifetime membership and will help ensure you are part of a safe and secure letter-writing community of over 12,000 folks from all around the globe; plus, Zadrozny will personally match members with their pen pals.
With over two million members from around the world, this free site has been helping connect pen pals since 1998. Created and run by pen pal enthusiast and California-based web developer Jakob Herrmann (who's also been a tech wiz for Sony and Disney), this online network is a great resource if you're seeking out more of a cultural exchange. To create your PenPal World account, all you need is your email address and your birthday, which the site disables you from changing after registration as a security measure. Once you upload a photo, and it's approved by moderators, your profile will be complete and you'll be able to start searching for and chatting with other members.
Ask Locally (or Start Your Own)
If you're looking to make a pen pal who lives in the same city as you, consider looking up existing clubs and events in your community. The LWA lists a few places to start here or you can check sites like Meetup. And if you can't find a group near you, simply start your own. "Letter writing is an art, a release, a slowing down, and typically a solo endeavor. However, gathering with fellow letter writers now and then can only encourage and inspire you in your own practice!" says Victoria Vu, the paper aficionado behind Paper & Type and other half to the L.A. Pen Pal Club, a monthly gathering of letter-writing and sharing. Vu has been co-hosting these meetings with fellow paper-loving friend and club founder, Margaret Haas of Paper Pastries, since 2010. They offer sound advice on how to start your own pen pal club.
What's the best practice for mailing letters (and with it, your personal information)? "When picking a pal service, I'd be looking for sites with longevity and good privacy policies," says LWA's Beeson. "There are a lot out there and many are specifically tailored to individual groups. It is sad that there are some bad actors out there, but in my experience, that is rare. We always say that if anyone makes you feel uncomfortable, you are under no obligation to return their letter." Beeson also recommends that people consider getting a P.O. Box if safety is a concern. This will allow you to use a separate address at your local post office instead of disclosing your personal one.
If you are first connecting with a pen pal online, Elyse also recommends chatting with them for a while before you feel comfortable enough to exchange mailing addresses. "This can help you see if the pen pal is a good fit for you and also allow you to get a feel for who they are," she explains. And that, in whole, is the point of finding a pen pal and making friends.