Postal service

Though the digital revolution has provided us with Wikivoyage and other on-line material, many travellers want to send or receive postcards, letters or packages through postal service.

In a time when we drown in e-mail, a physical postcard from far away is usually more welcome than ever.


These used to be available in nearly every bookstore, every news stand, every five-and-dime and every corner drugstore; hotel and motel operators routinely distributed free, blank postcards which contained an advertisement for their inns. They are becoming a bit harder to find now that e-mail is cheap and postal mail is expensive. An independent bookstore may still be worth a try; souvenir shops at individual attractions and tourist information bureaux may either have blank cards for sale or know who does have a few left.

In some countries, the post office may have blank postcards, but these tend to be generic; the images are of the country as a whole and not the specific town you're visiting. A few countries (such as the United States, for USPS First Class Mail) may allow postcards to be mailed at a slightly cheaper rate than other first-class correspondence. In some cases lower rates apply for postcards in domestic mail only and international postcards are sent at the same (higher) rates as international letters. The cards need to be within a specific size range (at least 3.5 x 5" and typically 4x6", printed on stock thick enough to not jam during automated sorting) to qualify. Turning one of your own 4x6" travel photographs into a postcard is possible, but the printed image will either need to be glued to cardstock or printed on heavier-than-standard cardstock so that it will go through the sorting machine undamaged.


Season's greetings in Russia

Availability of postage stamps varies between countries. One cannot usually count on finding them at every grocery store, so stocking up on stamps on arrival in a new country might be a good idea. In the worst case, post offices are the only place to buy stamps — and they're often closed on weekends. Some countries also have stamp machines. While they have the benefit of (usually) being available year round at any hour, the machine produced stamps are almost always of a rather bland, standardized design. A few countries operate "postal substation" or retail post office counters at the back of chemist's shops or other retail businesses; hours of operation vary but are usually better than those at the main station.

Many stamps are beautiful, and they make nice souvenirs at a low cost. In particular if you are visiting a small or remote country, consider buying a few extra stamps! Small territories like Montserrat, if they issue their own local postage, will often operate a philatelic bureau just to feed the appetite of foreign collectors for rare and colourful stamps. Most countries will issue a series of stamps (or sets of stamps) during limited periods of time to commemorate individual events or famous people. These are usually available from any post office.

Postmarks and seasonal greetings

A few post offices display unusual or seasonally-themed names such as "North Pole", "Bethlehem" or "Santa Claus" which are a popular novelty when sending greeting cards.

There are various schemes which generate "North Pole" or Christmas-themed mail. Not all involve travel:

Postal history

Postal Square Building, Washington DC

Due to its historic role as a primary means of intercity communication, the postal service has a rich history. Among the points where it has left its imprint are:

There are entire museums devoted to postal history or philately:

(This list is not comprehensive; see also postal museum and list of philatelic museums on Wikipedia.)

In many cities, a current or former main post office building is an architectural landmark or appears on a national historic register. One example would be the main New York City post office (8th Ave at 34th Street, postcode 10001) with the famous inscription "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." As a seasonal custom, holiday mail sent as in the closing scenes of "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947 film) is answered with the aid of volunteers.

Because postal mail readily migrated to each new form of transportation, from pony express to airmail, in search of faster time to destination, its history extensively overlaps that preserved in other museums and archives such as heritage railway museums, marine museums and transportation museums. In more modern times even high speed rail was used to deliver mail with the French TGV la Poste. While they are no longer in use, they are not found in a museum (yet).

Receiving mail

A few options exist:

For short trips, it may make more sense to have your home post office hold your mail until you return instead of forwarding it to reach you during your travels.

If you are staying longer than a couple of weeks, it might make sense to get an address you may have post sent to and give it to those you wish (or have to) receive letters from.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, January 06, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.