I get messages every week asking me how to find penpals, so I figured I would do my best to answer the question in a blog post that everyone can see.
First of all, understand that this is not an overnight process. I’ve always been interested in mail, but I didn’t really thrust myself into the snail mail community until 2008. It has taken me years to build up the list of contacts I have, and I’m extremely grateful for the people who I’ve met through the wonders of the post.
In 2008, my boyfriend sent me a link to Postcrossing. He knew immediately that it was something I would be interested in. I had no idea something like that even existed! After a while, I searched for similar sites and happened upon Swap-Bot. For almost two years, all I really did was swap postcards, letters, and supplies with people who I was “assigned to” on those sites. After a while, though, I grew tired of not being able to establish longer-lasting connections with the people I was corresponding with, and focused my efforts more on developing relationships with these like-minded people.
In 2011, I decided to do the 365 Days Of Mail Art challenge. I had way less than 300 contacts, so in an effort to not send tons of things to the same people over and over, I had to expand my resources. That was the year that I met lots of the people who I still correspond with.
At this point in my life, I just respond to the things I receive. I don’t have time to seek out new penpals, but I do my very best to keep up with the ones I already have, and any new people who find me. Whenever I meet people in person who find out I “still” send snail mail, their first question is always “How many penpals do you have?” and I find this a tough question to answer. I get mail from approximately 25 different people every week. Some of those people find me through my blog and are writing thank you/fan mail. Some of those people are friends who I’ve grown so close to that I’ve bought plane tickets to visit them. Some of those people only send postcards. And some of those people I’ve been exchanging with for years and continue to send me beautiful and elaborate pieces of mail art.
The rate at which people write back always varies. Some people have a turnaround time of one week, which is extremely impressive, and others won’t write back to me until five calendar holidays have passed. The level of intimacy I experience with my penpals varies drastically, as does the medium of mail. Know that just because you like to send long letters doesn’t mean that the people who receive them will reciprocate. If you’re looking for something specific in terms of snail mail, you should be up front with your recipients about that from the beginning.
Now, after all that hulabaloo, here are some sources for you to find people to write to!
This site will send you addresses and profiles of people all over the world. The people you receive from are different from who you send to. You have the option of sending to your own country as well, but understand that by signing up for this you are more than likely going to be sending a lot of international mail.
Pros: Getting (approximately) the same number of postcards that you send. Receiving mail from countries you’ve never been to, and learning lots about other cultures. Having the opportunity to customize what you send to others’ profiles, thus making their day when something hits the mark.
Cons: Costs can get expensive. If you’re sending from the US, each international postcard you send is $1.15. You don’t get to develop too much of a connection with the people you’re corresponding with; it’s very much a one-way street. Lots of users claim to dislike “handmade” cards, which can feel like it’s limiting your creativity.
Here, you will find themed swaps that you can sign up for. You will have a partner(s) that you send something specific to, and a deadline to send it by. You will get “rated” on the things you send. The swaps can just be postcards or letters, but they can get very intricate and specific as well. Other swaps include: whimsy jars, craft supplies, mix CDs, zines, artistamps, electronic information, ATCs, mail art, and even candy.
Pros: It’s a little easier to develop relationships with the people you meet on this site. There are many international users, and you can receive products that you don’t have access to at home. Many people put a lot of effort into their swaps, and will even send “extras”. It’s a great outlet for creativity, and there are interest-specific groups that you can become very involved in. If you have an idea for a swap, you can host it yourself.
Cons: The environment can be very catty and judgmental. You are getting rated for everything you send, and you wouldn’t believe how many people will get mad at not receiving a “heart”, which means you went “above and beyond”. And one non-perfect rating can jeopardize your chances for even being able to sign up for future swaps. I found myself doing a lot of trading of supplies without actually creating anything. It’s great to gather unique materials, but if you’re spending all your time organizing supplies and not actually making, you might not be fulfilling your potential.
The Internationl Union Of Mail Artists is a place that is specific for mail artists. Are you really into rubber stamps, artistamps, and unique art that you can send through the mail? This is the place for you. This is the place where I found many of my contacts during my 365 challenge.
Pros: It’s great for fluxus/networking: think Facebook for mail. There are interest-specific groups, and lots of very passionate and generous people. Even lots of famous mail artists have profiles on IUOMA.
Cons: I actually can’t think of one. It’s perfect for what it is.
This is a very basic site, that can be really great. All you need is to make a profile, and you will have instant access to hundreds (thousands?) of profiles. You can write as much in your profile as you’d like, and you’re able to leave comments on others’ profiles. There is a “Random Address” option, that will instantly produce the profile (and address) of someone else on the site.
Pros: Great for random acts of kindness. If you have something that you want to gift to someone else, you can find random addresses to send to. You can also search by keyword, so if you search “horses”, anyone with that word in their profile will pop up. You never know what you’re going to get.
Cons: Lots of inactive profiles. My suggestion is to only send to people with “updated on XXXX” in their profiles. I’ve had more “return to sender” mail happen as a result of this site than anywhere else. (And make sure you put “updated on” in your profile, too!) You never know what you’re going to get.
This is another networking-based site. Full profiles, pictures, and more. Finding a penpal is up to you, because you won’t be “matched” with anyone.
Pros: Easily able to search for people that meet any specifications you have for penpals. Do you want someone in your country, of the same gender, around the same age? This will make it simple.
Cons: Many people don’t use this strictly for snail mail. Lots of users have profiles for IMing, e-mailing, dating, etc.
This is simply a storage site. Make an account and send your URL to friends (or post it on social media) so they can add their information.
Pros: Easy to keep track of contacts. Only you have access to the information.
Cons: Someone has to already have access to your URL in order to add their information.
Other things to keep in mind are snail mail blogs. You can always interact with people in the comments section, and keep an eye out for swaps the authors might be hosting or linking to. Put these sites in your blog reader:
Cappucino And Art Journal
Red Letter Day
Letter Writer’s Alliance
The Missive Maven
The Suburban Penpal
Wreck This Girl
52 Letters Project
Mail Art 365 – this project is still going on, and you can join at any time
I strongly recommend attending a letter writing social, as well. Cities that have really embraced these types of socials are DC, Chicago, Indianapolis, and San Francisco. If you’re close to those areas, you’re in luck! But guess what? If there isn’t one near you, you can run it yourself. See socials I’ve been to before.
And furthermore, if you’re looking for a penpal, please make it known in the comments below! Maybe you’ll find a new penpal here today. If you know of additional sites that can help someone find a penpal, please list that as well.
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