Why You Should Bring a Set of Postcards from Home

My brother spent a year teaching English in South Korea and subsequently backpacked around Asia for a few months before coming home. I was leaving on my own trip only a few weeks after he got back, so I pressed him for any tidbits of knowledge that he’d picked up about the road that he should pass along to me. He didn’t exactly write a book about how to pack or travel, but he did provide one very important piece of advice, heavily influenced by having spend a year in Korea: bring small gifts that you can give to others that have done something kind for you.

My personal stash of postcards

My personal stash of postcards


The very nature of traveling long-term and leaving your extended web of friends and family means that you need to rely on your own wits most of the time. Yet you’re obviously unable to do this for months at a time, and there will be situations where you must rely on the generosity of strangers. Regardless of whether you need simple directions in an unfamiliar city or a place to sleep for the night, you will encounter many situations where someone else offers a helping hand. Oftentimes there’s nothing you can give in return aside from a profound thank you, and a mental note to take better care of people in need.


Therefore it’s a good idea to take something that you can give as a small token of your appreciation—not to everyone that you meet, but to people who do truly help you out. It took me forever to think of something that was meaningful and easy to carry around, until it hit me: postcards. I’m from New York so postcards are ubiquitous and let share a bit of where I’m from with others. You’d be surprised how many people have never even seen a picture of New York despite having heard all about it.


On the day I planned to climb Mt. Kinabalu, I was dutifully waiting in the parking lot of my lodge for the public bus at 7am. After a half hour of loitering about, a man approached me and asked where I wanted to go. When I told him that I wanted to climb the mountain and was waiting for the public bus to take me there, he literally burst out laughing. Walking away, still laughing, I chuckled nervously to myself…what’s one to do in that situation, where you’re really helpless? But he soon returned with his friend Oscar, who was willing to give me a ride for 70 ringgit. It was a pretty good bargain for me; the mountain was a 40-minute drive from where I was and I needed to be there ASAP, so I hopped in the car with Oscar and we were off. We got to chatting about where I was from, and he was absolutely fascinated that anyone could ACTUALLY be from New York and riding shotgun in his car. He couldn’t leave it alone, and kept asking me questions about what it was like to live there. When we finally got to the base of the mountain, I gave him a few of the postcards with images of New York, and he was absolutely elated; just couldn’t wait to bring them home and show his wife.


Did I need to give him something for a ride that I was already paying him for? No, not at all. But it felt damn good to be able to have a small gift to show my appreciation for what he did for me to give him. Whatever you might decide to bring (and you might decide not to—that’s OK!), just make sure it is all of the following:

  • Easy to carry: this is paramount. Postcards are super small and unobtrusive.

  • Cheap: don’t spend too much money on your little gifts.

  • Plentiful: be sure to carry enough where you’re not waiting for “that one special gesture” to give it away…you should be able to dish these out like candies, no problem.

  • Meaningful: if possible, make it have some connection to your home—people will really appreciate it.

Bringing postscards is something that you might want to consider if you plan on putting yourself in situations where you need to rely on the kindness of strangers. It never hurts to have something to give them in your back pocket—and postcards from your home work just fine!

Matthew KollerTravel Tips