Thursday, July 23, 2015

Should we revive the bygone travel tradition of postcards?

Postcards from pals.
I was going through some boxes, sorting through some old photographs the other day, reminders of what photography was like in the pre-digital days.

While sifting through the piles of old prints, I stumbled upon some items I'd almost forgotten I had. I found postcards sent to me from vacationing friends during my elementary school days. One was from Jamaica, with a picture of a map of the island on the front. Another showed a man dressed in a native costume in front of a tepee from Keswick, Ontario.

Digging further, I found postcards my mom sent me from Hawaii, Florida, Arizona, Colombia, and several other places from around the Western Hemisphere.

I also discovered several unused postcards purchased during my very first trip to Algonquin Park in Ontario. We used to buy them to be sure to have some really good print images to go along with the ones we shot with our Kodak Instamatics and Duaflex's because back then, the odds of getting a good shot of deer or a bear with those kinds of cameras were slim-to-none. In fact, I remember when starting out on our very first hike, my dad told me, "Now if you see a bear, don't stop to take its picture!"

So I have postcards of bears, deer, wolves, skunks, and raccoons from Algonquin.

Not only had I forgotten about those postcards, I'd almost forgotten that postcards existed, period. I mean, the last time I sent postcards from anywhere was from Africa back in the 90's.

In this age of Skype and I-M, Google Talk and Face Time, texting and email, postcards seem like a quaint reminder of yesteryear, something vacationers used to use to share their trip with their loved ones.

From what I can ascertain, the production of postcards began, at least in North America, in the mid-19th century, about the same time the science of photography took off and transportation advances made postal service more reliable.

As leisure time increased, the postcard industry took off. Pretty soon, any gift shop at any kind of tourist facility sold them. They became a regular part of any travel routine that lasted more than a few days. Some would go into photo albums, as even today deltiology - the collection of postcards - is quite a popular hobby.

Others would end up in the mail. People took address books with them when they travelled so they could send a quick note back to their friends and families via the postal service. Kind of a pre-Internet version of Twitter or Instagram.

Unlike the Internet though, and depending on how long one vacationed, the postcards often arrived to their desired destination after you'd already returned home. Rather than annoy people though, that became part of a running joke.

Postcards for a collection.
Once the Internet arrived, and I started travelling professionally, I stopped taking vacation snapshots and I certainly didn't have time to send postcards. I basically stopped being aware of them. They might be there at the counter as I was paying for pack of gum or a bottle of water, but I wouldn't even notice them.

I only know they still exist, because someone actually gave me a postcard this past June. It was kind of a cool idea: a fellow travel blogger, Fabiano Maciel, ironically enough, purchased postcards for all the participants in a travel blogging press trip in Ontario, writing little notes on the back of each card.

I thought that was a really nice gesture, and it really speaks to what postcards are all about.

Reading those written thoughts from the past from childhood friends on the back of the postcards I'd re-discovered instantly transported me back to those days. They brought back many warm memories, those short notes freezing those moments in time. They wielded a power that no email or text message could ever hope to invoke. Does anyone save emails or text messages? Very, very rarely I would wager - and then the emails have to be printed out.

On the other hand, I'd saved those postcards, those messages and images from the past because they meant something to me emotionally. The images actually didn't mean much, but the messages certainly did.

Especially the cards from my mom, since she passed away several years ago.

Saved postcards are like instant time machines that depend on no technology, whisking us back in time - something no electronic tweet or post can do a decade down the road.

So maybe the next time you go on holidays, buy a postcard or two, send it to the people you care about.

You might be giving them a time machine of their own, one they ride some day in the future and recall the warm memories of your relationship.

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