The Lost Art of Travel Letter Writing

When I traveled for 3 months in Australia, I felt a little guilty. Not about the trip. I was happy to be there. I was in between jobs and paying my own way. I was in my 20s and without any responsibilities. But I knew I should be writing letters home. Descriptive and detailed letters like my mother had written to her mother when she traveled to Europe in 1954.

But it took so much time, and I just didn’t have the patience. It was all I could do to keep a journal and write a postcard now and then, and that was in the days before email and texting.

When my mother traveled throughout Europe in 1954, she wrote 35 letters home in just 3 months. Plus postcards.

Postcards

Her writing was so detailed and descriptive that her hometown newspaper published excerpts of her letters (after her mother edited them, of course).

Fort Pierre Times

I still keep a written journal when I travel, though I usually start out strong and by the end of the trip, I’ve slowed down or even stopped; the details of the last few days left only to memory.

Journals

 

Though I blog about my travels, and document the details with photographs, letter writing is a more intimate mode of expression. There’s a difference in the process as well as the outcome when typing and using a mouse to record travels vs. the hand to pen to paper approach.

When was the last time you wrote a letter to share your travels? Or even kept a journal?

 

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When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).

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Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.

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Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.

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Where Is the Man on the Moon?

At the end of a quiet road in Hobart, Tazmania, I waited outside the phone booth while my friend called home thousands of miles away. The night was dark except for the moon and as I gazed up, I wondered what was missing. The moon was full and round and bright, but it looked different. There was no face. The man on the moon was gone.

“You don’t have a man on the moon!” my friend and I exclaimed, breathless and incredulous. “Oh yes, we do!” the hostel’s caretaker replied, laughing. Though we tried to describe the different moon we see in the Northern Hemisphere, his tone was placating, like those of the other Aussie guests in the hostel.

Since that trip to Australia, I’ve wondered if my friend and I imagined the different moon we described. Now many years later in South Africa, the moon was full, and it was time to find out.

My family and I scanned the sky, straining our eyes while searching for constellations and shooting stars. While others oohed and awed at meteors moving across the Milky Way, I focused on the moon.

From the deck of the lodge, I watched as the moon rose above the savannah, a yellow orange orb twinkling in the dark sky. Just as I remembered, there was no face; no eyes, no nose and no open mouth. I pointed to the moon. “There is no man on the moon,” I said to the Australians and South Africans around me. They laughed, but I knew what they didn’t. Just south of the equator, where Orion and the Southern Cross punctuate the sky, but the Big Dipper and the Northern Star are nowhere to be found, the moon looks different. In South Africa, the moon has no face. There is no man on the moon.

Unfortunately, none of us took any photos of the full moon. The photo below was taken by Tommy Taft 2 weeks before on the Wild Coast of South Africa.