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How to Write a Postcard: Guide to Writing & Sending Cards

Writing and sending postcards is one of my favorite travel activities. Writing postcards can be a shortcut to making a travel journal, a way to stay connected with people back home, and can even nurture friendships with other travelers. However, I’m often surprised by how many travelers do not know how to send postcards! In this post, I show step-by-step how to write a postcard and send it. You’ll learn:

How I Got Started Writing Postcards

Growing up, it was my grandmother who cultivated within me an appreciation for sending and receiving letters and postcards. She taught me how to write a postcard and also instilled in me a love of travel. My grandmother, the wife of an airplane mechanic in the 1960s, flew almost constantly during the heyday of air travel. Using his airline benefits, they’d zip off to exotic and not-so-exotic destinations every time my grandfather had time off.

In those days, when long-distance phone calls were expensive, postcards sent from vacation were a popular way to keep in touch with friends and family back home. It was probably those memories of 1950s air travel that prompted her to teach me, while babysitting me during the 1980s, how to write postcards.

Using old-fashioned lick-and-stick postage stamps, we would look up addresses in the phone book (yes, an actual book!) and write postcards to friends and neighbors. This fun activity for six or seven-year-old me became a learning opportunity. From my grandmother, I learned how to write brief postcard messages, where to write on a postcard, how to address one, and most importantly, I learned how postcards have a powerful impact in connecting people across distances.

It’s no longer the 1980s, and it’s easy to drop a text or tap a contact to initiate a video call. However, postcards have never lost their power. Mostly forgotten in my 20s, my personal passion for travel postcards revived in 2017 when I took my first solo international trip to Bosnia.

Precisely because postcards require a bit of time, thought, and planning, writing a postcard in 2023 is an impactful way to show someone they matter to you.

A hand drawn illustration of a stack of postcards, demonstrating a example of how to write, address, and add postage to a postcard.

 

Ideas for Fun, Interesting, and Novel Postcards:

1. Write postcards as mini travel journals.

Some travelers even send postcards to themselves! For folks who like to travel light or who don’t enjoy traditional journaling, postcards sent to a home address make a great substitute.

Buying postcards, jotting down a few bits of information about your trip, and sending them to your home address can be a pretty cool way to create a travel souvenir and record your travel memories. (Want more interesting ideas for saving your travel memories? Check out my article on how to record travel memories.)

2. Use a travel printer to include personal photos.

The following section may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

While postcards must be a simple, plain square of cardstock, stickers are can make plain postcards more interesting. You can use regular stickers (I’m sure my grandma let me loose with a sticker pad on our postcards once or twice) or print your own with a travel printer.

Travel printers are pretty impressive! They print mini, 2″ x 3″ photographs from a card deck sized device that’s easily packable. Each photo has a peel-and-stick back that’s perfect for adding to postcards. If you use the front and back of a standard postcard, you can include three photos and still have room for postage and the address. Personally, I like to include just one photo and leave room for a short note.

Product recommendations:

Or grab a travel themed sticker pack– perfect for postcard wiritng with kids.

💡 Hint: Include photos of your face to make postcards more meaningful! It’s a way to add a bit more of yourself to the postcards you send.

3. Try travel drawing with postcards as your paper

Writing a postcard doesn’t require a lengthy message. Your postcards can be filled with drawings, doodles, or even watercolors of your location. I’ve found that some of my simple doodles of ordinary things during my trip have become my favorite travel memories.

Your postcard-art can be detailed or simple! I’ve sent postcards with detailed watercolors of Italian monuments and two-second doodles of vampire-bears from Romania. The point is to show up as yourself and record something special about your trip.

 

Keeping in Touch: Fostering Relationships During Travel

Whether your vacation is just a week long or you plan to be out of the country for months, writing postcards can help ease some of the difficulty of being away from people we care about.

Even if they won’t get your postcard until after you’ve returned, that little piece of cardboard shares a message far more powerful than whatever words you’ve written on the back. Sending someone a postcard during our trip tells them that they were important enough to us for us to take time out of our vacation to choose a postcard, write a message, and send it. Most importantly, it’s tangible proof that they were on our minds – and reminders like that can be a powerful way to boost connection.

These days, I take time out during every trip to drop a few postcards in the mail. For many years- as my grandmother reached her late 90s- I would address postcards from around the world to her room in a long-term care facility. Today, my grandmother is gone, but her legacy of teaching me how to write postcards remains. When I travel, I always take time to pick up a few postcards and address them to my nieces and nephews (six and eight-year-olds for whom, at this age, getting mail is extra exciting).

Because sending postcards is cheap and easy (especially if you’re already going to the trouble of sending one!), I usually drop a few postcards in the mail to my friends, adult family members, or even professional contacts.

Section 2. Writing A Postcard: Layout, Postage, Addresses, and Sample Messages:

How to Write a Postcard Step by Step

An illustration of the back of a postcard showing where to write the address, where to place the stamp, and where to write a personal message to the recipient.

How to Write a Postcard

Turn your postcard over, so the blank side is up

Ilustration of the back of a postcard when it's blank right after purchase.

This is the side you’ll write on. The opposing side- usually printed with a photo or design – is left unchanged.

Add a postage stamp to the upper right corner.

Ilustration of the back of a postcard after a postage stamp has been added.

Begin by adding postage to your card- it’s the most important part! By adding it first, you won’t have to worry about not having room for the stamp after the card is filled out.

Write the recipient’s address in the lower left quarter

Ilustration of the back of a postcard after it has been addressed and postage added.

Add the name and address of the recipient in blank space in the lower half of the right hand side. (Many postcards have a line dividing the column which can be a helpful guide.)

Add a personal note, drawing, or other message

An illustration of a ready to mail postcard showing where to write the address, where to place the stamp, and where to write a personal message to the recipient.

In the remaining space, write your message in the left-hand column on the back of the postcard. (If your postcard is blank front and back, you can also write on the front of the card.)

Estimated Cost: 3 USD

Supply:

  • Preprinted postcard or 4×6 cardstock
  • Postcard postage stamp
  • Pen or fine tip marker

Don’t forget to include your name! Postcards generally do not have return addresses (although you can include one.) If you’re sending a postcard with no return address, be sure to include your name so that the recipient knows who has sent them a card!

Where to Buy Postcard Stamps Around the World

I find that the most difficult part of sending postcards, whether within the USA or in other countries, is acquiring stamps. On a few trips, I’ve even come home with postcards I purchased, addressed, and wrote but never found a stamp for!

With practice and experience mailing postcards in over 20 countries, here’s my advice for how to buy postcard stamps internationally:

Ask around.

Keeping your eyes peeled and asking hosts or guides where you can buy stamps is the best strategy. As described below, more than just post offices carry stamps in many countries.

Check souvenir and gift shops.

It’s common for shops that sell postcards to also sell stamps. Look for a small sign near the register, a decal on the postcard stand, or just ask the shopkeeper.

One way to make the process of writing a postcard simple and easy is to purchase a postcard and stamp at the same time, write your postcard in the shop, and mail it immediately.

📮💌  Private carriers: Recently, tourist-focused souvenir shops – especially in southern Europe – have begun offering postage stamps through a private carrier. These postcards are often even trackable using a QR code! In my experience, the private carriers are reliable and eventually deliver to the USA through USPS.

Go to mega-retailers and convenience stores.

Whether you are picking a few things up at Walmart for your hotel room or popping into a small corner shop to supply your Airbnb Kitchen, you’d be surprised at the number of shops that keep stamps for sale behind the counter.

Even gas stations often have stamps! The challenge for travelers, however, is that local shops often don’t have international postcard stamps. (Although, if in doubt, you can slap a couple of standard postage stamps on to a postcard. If sufficient postage is paid, your postcard should make it to its international destination.)

Find a post office.

Depending on your destination and travel style, hitting up a post office may be a quick side trip or an unreasonably difficult errand.

If your trip has you exploring a city-center on a weekday, a post office might just be a quick detour. (Occasionally, a city’s central post office features architecture worthy of a visit even if you don’t need stamps! Old city buildings are one of the few things that are free to do in every city.) However, if your plans have you in remote areas outside of the city, obviously, getting to a post office gets more complicated. Google Maps is a great way to gauge how realistic it is to visit a post office during your trip.

💡 Pro tip: a post office is a one-stop shop for purchasing stamps and dropping your postcard into the mail stream. If possible, go to the post office with your postcards already purchased, written, and addressed. That way, you can purchase your stamp, apply it, and go on with your adventure!

 

Where to Mail Postcards in Other Countries

Post Offices and Mailboxes

Obviously, post offices and mailboxes are the most common way to mail a postcard from any destination in the United States or around the world. However, if you put off postcard writing util the last morning of your trip, and you’re dashing to the airport, there’s still hope!

Here are some other ways to mail a postcard:

Ask your hotel front desk to mail your postcard.

By far the easiest, many hotels are happy to offer this service at no charge.

However, I have found a surprising number of hotels are unable to accept mail drops – perhaps because of concerns about privacy or security.

Send a postcard by taking a chance on a stranger

I successfully mailed a stack of postcards from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile by leaving the postcards under a stack of bills left as a tip in my hotel room when I checked out.

While the housekeeper could certainly have dumped them, and this is a risky option, sometimes simply asking a local to mail your postcard for you works. All of my postcards from Chile eventually made it to their destination in the United States.

If you’re a part of a small group tour, your tour guide should be able to mail your postcards for you with no issue.

If all else fails, mail your postcards when you get home

Travel requires adaptability, and things don’t always work out as we hoped. This is especially true when it comes to tasks and errands that we’d like to accomplish on vacation. If push comes to shove and you end up returning home with postcards in your luggage, don’t be embarrassed to go ahead and address them and send them!

Sending postcards after you return to your home country is cheaper and will get the postcards to their destination faster than if you mailed them during your trip.

Seattle souvenirs and postcards for sale in pike place market.

How to Write An Address on A Postcard

An illustration of the back of a postcard showing where to write the address, where to place the stamp, and where to write a personal message to the recipient.

I get lots of questions about this particular aspect of mailing postcards, so let’s go over it in a little more detail. After all, addressing a postcard properly is the very most important part of how to write a postcard!

To address your postcard, begin about halfway down the column on the right hand side of the back of the postcard. On many postcards, there’s a pre-printed box for where you should place your stamp, and your address can begin just under this box.

Write: “To:”

While not strictly necessary, I like to include a “To:” label. This helps make sure that any persons or scanners looking at the postcard understand that the address given is the recipient’s address, not the return address.

Write the Recipient’s Name

Next, to write the address on your postcard, begin with a name.

💡 Fun fact, your recipient’s name doesn’t have to be their legal name! You can address your card to “Uncle Corey”, “The Majestic and Superlative Allison Johnson” or “My Jerk Brother.” As long as the address is correct, your postcard should find its way to the destination, and whoever checks the mail will be responsible for directing your card to the intended recipient at that address.

Write the Street Address

An illustration of the back of a postcard showing an example of a personal message, an address, and a postage stamp from paris.

Thankfully, the formatting of addresses is fairly standard around the globe. Unlike writing the date – where days and months can be interposed in position depending on where you are in the world – addresses always begin with a name, and then a street number and street address.

Underneath your recipient’s address, include their street address. This usually looks like a number and a street name, however it may also include a PO Box or apartment number, or floor number.

TIP: Use your best penmanship when writing an address on a postcard. It’s okay if you scrawl your personal message with terrible handwriting, but if you want your postcard to find the addressee, you’ll need to print carefully.

Write the City, State, or Province, and Postal Code or ZIP Code

Nearly all countries have standardized addresses to include the name of the village, town, or city, followed by the name of a state, province, or district.

After the city and state (or similar information) a postal code is added. In the United States, ZIP Codes function as our postal codes. If you do not have a postal code or ZIP Code, you can omit this information, but it reduces the chance of your postcard making it to its final destination.

Important: When Mailing Internationally, Include the Country Abbreviation

If you’ve ever addressed a letter within the United States, you know that there is no need to include “USA” under the address. However, if you are mailing a postcard from Spain, Thailand, London, or any other non-US address, those three little letters are critically important to ensure that the postcard you wrote reaches its intended recipient.

Consider If You Have Space for A Return Address

On a postcard, adding a return address isn’t always possible – and frankly, with international mail, it’s unlikely that your card would be returned to your address if it was undeliverable.

Luckily, return addresses are best practice but not essential. Personally, I find that they clutter the face of a postcard and make the addresses harder to read. If you’d like, however, you can include your full return address or an abbreviated version.

Section 3: Postcard Examples

What to Write on A Postcard

Your handwritten message doesn’t have to be perfectly written or even particularly heartfelt. Your mindfulness in sending a postcard will say more than the words you choose!

Examples of Short Postcard Messages

Begin writing in the top left corner and make your message as short or as detailed as you want- as long as it fits on the card!

  • “Wish you were here!”
  • or, “Thinking of you!”
  • “This reminded me of you- I can’t wait to see you again soon!”

Examples of slightly longer things to write on a postcard:

  • “Today we saw the ___, I was surprised by the ___, my favorite thing that I’ve eaten here is ___, I can’t wait to see you again and do ___with you.”
  • “We/I finally made it to ___. The place we’re staying is ___. Yesterday we/I ___. So far, the most incredible thing I’ve seen is: ___.”
  • (Described the thing on the front of the card postcard) “I picked up this postcard for you because it has a picture of the ___. Thank you for helping me reach my dream of seeing this monument, it’s even better in person than I imagined. I think that you would like the ___, I thought of you when ___.”
  • This postcard reminded me of you! Remember that time we ___, when I visited this ___, it made me think of you and that time we were together in ___and did ___.

 

 

Photos of Postcards I’ve Sent: Examples

 

7 postcards laying on a table written and ready to mail.

7 Examples of Written Postcards (Backs)

7 Postcards ready to mail (fronts)

8 postcards laying on a table.

Final Thoughts

Sending postcards is a meaningful way to connect with others or simply to archive our own travel memories. Taking the time to write a postcard shows others that we were thinking about them. Even more so, it shows we were willing to be inconvenienced in order to demonstrate our care for them.

Once you have learned how to write, address, and send a postcard, you can send a postcard to anyone from anywhere in the world!

As a parting thought, let me share this gem I found while researching the history of postcard writing. This is the excerpt from the journal of a German tourist visiting Norway around 1900, proof that travel and a need for connection to people back home have always gone hand-in-hand.

This article was handwritten by me, a real human creative! Keep me creating sustainably by exploring the link below:

When I entered the hall with all the interesting Nordic wooden carvings, I found the room filled with people, who without exception sat writing. And what did they write? Picture postcards!! Oh, scourge of all scourges in this century. (…) You are capable of spoiling the most beautiful voyage, the most picturesque landscape, the most serene fjord, the highest lookout point…

And what does the tourist do, when your call wakes him up from his silent contemplation of nature?… He digs deep into his pocket, brings out his purse and buys, more or less grudgingly, 2, 4, 6, 10, or 20 postcards, according to the number of friends and family. Instead of enjoying the marvelous view of the landscape. 1

Sources

  1. (Laverrenz 1901, 60–61. in Rogan, B. (2005). An entangled object: The picture postcard as souvenir and collectible, exchange and ritual communicationCultural Analysis4(1), 1-27. []

Jill

Monday 2nd of January 2023

I love the idea of postcards acting as mini journals, and of bringing along a travel printer! It's such a nice way to share your journey with people back home, and who doesn't love getting a letter!?

Kelly

Monday 2nd of January 2023

This is a fantastic idea! What a great and fun way to documents your travels. I wish I'd thought of doing this 12 years ago when I started travelling alot, but I'll definitely be doing this in the future!

Megan

Monday 2nd of January 2023

Ah postcards are so nostalgic for me! We used to send them, and this has made me want to start again! We love when, every now-and-then, we receive one!

simplyjolayne

Monday 2nd of January 2023

Such a great post. I don't know how many times my girls have asked me "How do I address this envelope?" Kids these days just don't know.

Chelsea Heidish

Monday 2nd of January 2023

I absolutely love the idea of using postcards as a travel journal! It’s probably so fun to read them all when you return. Going to have to give that a try on my next trip!