By definition, a pen pal is a person who frequently exchanges letters. Pen pals correspond by postal mail across the US and the World. Pen palling has lost popularity in the age of e-mail and the inevitable creation of e-palling, but the traditional postal palling hobby still has a strong and varied following. Pen pals are often also swappers.
Finding pen pals is easy thanks to tons of online databases, clubs and communities. A large list of such sites can be found with a Yahoo! search for “pen pal”. If you have access to any paper swaps there are tons of possible pal addresses on them. You are free to write to any signer of a paper swap as long as they do not write SNNP(Sorry, No New Pals) or something similar next to their name and address. It is a good idea to write a potential pen pal by email first to confirm their postal address and make sure that they still want new pals to avoid wasting a stamp on a letter they won’t read.
A standard mailing to a penpal contains a letter that can be hand written or typed on decorative stationery or plain paper. Most pen pals choose to hand write letters and use stationery, letter sets, or cards for a more personalized look and feel. Letters contain responses to topics in previous letters, personal news, chit chat, and anything else that is relevant to the writer. Along with the letter, pen pals often include small items like sheets of stickers, personal photos, and trade items for swappers.
Although looking for pen pals online is fine, you may not want to put your own address in just any database. If you choose to do so, you may get some annoying letters. Prisoners will often write to people on these lists for legal assistance, and letters that come from Ghana are inevitably from people who will ask for monetary help. If you do put your address out online, you may want to specify the type of pal you are looking for, and specifically state: “No letters from prisoners or Ghana!”
Pen pals are fun for people who enjoy receiving something other than junk mail in their mailbox. The appeal is the feeling that someone cared enough to send you a letter. If you are consistent in writing to a pen pal, that person can become a very close friend and confidant. No matter how good you are about replying to letters, some pen pals will simply stop writing for one reason or another. This is usually due to their own time constraints or simple absentmindedness and not because they no longer have interest in writing you. If this person is worth the effort, you might write them a short note to check in.
As a pen pal who corresponds with many different people, it is good to have certain supplies that are commonly used in the hobby. At all times I make sure to have these on hand: stamps, return address labels, envelopes, stationery or notebook paper, an address book, stickers, small gifts, note cards, greeting cards, and photos. If you are a swapper too, you’ll want to have postcards, paper swaps, stationery and stamps available for trade. It can take months to find even one reliable pal, so don’t give up hope!