Now that I’m an adult, long gone are the days of childhood family vacations and summer camp, and – I dare say – the times of penpals are seemingly passé. Nowadays, we are more likely to trade emails, send texts or follow each other on social media to stay in touch. But finding a friend with similar hobbies and interests can be the connectivity we all need during this time of social distancing.

The hands of an elderly man open an envelope and handwritten letter
The idea of sending letters might seem passé, but during a time of social distancing, getting a penpal can help ease the isolation © Arman Zhenikeyev / The Image Bank / Getty

When I hear the word “penpal,” my mind immediately runs back to one summer in New England, where I swam the days away in the lake with my new friend, Heidi...or was it Holly? It was so long ago that I don’t quite remember her name or how long we corresponded, but what I do recall is making a connection with another only child who also needed a friend.

Of course, with self-quarantine and shelter-in-place restrictions, the likelihood of having a chance encounter with someone is implausible – and dangerous. Let alone the fact that they will want to send you snail mail now and again. For those looking for a penpal, communicating via the world wide web proves to be helpful in finding someone who gets your stamp of approval.

If you are wondering about safety, anyone can refuse communication from those that seem a bit unpalatable, and there are precautions in place for younger users so that they can restrict adult interactions. Penpal services are also explicit with directives about not using their platform for sales or as a dating service. Think about how in-person relationships work. Friends share interests and talk about their lives, and it’s best to consider a penpal in the same light.

So, before you end up going postal by being cooped up at home, here are a few reasons to fill that PO Box up with something other than bills for change.

A man types on a laptop on a balcony
Although the concept of a penpal might be old fashioned, technology makes it easier than ever before to find a writing buddy © SamuelBrownNG / Getty Images

Find a penpal with similar interests

Sites like PenPal World, Global Penfriends and International Pen Friends allow users to create a profile and select options for their writing buddy, such as age, gender and country of choice. From there, users narrow down preferences so that they can pick a friend with similar interests.

Another way to connect with others around the globe is through a penpal Facebook group, such as Worldwide Snail Mail Pen Pals or Penpals From All Over the World. Members post photos of themselves and state their interests and a few facts about themselves, and then other users can choose to connect...or not.

Discover a new part of the world

Of course, besides making connections, learning about a new part of the world is intriguing. Curious about Romania? There’s a penpal for that! Again, connection sites allow you to request a pen friend from a specific region. If you utilize a Facebook group, be sure to note a country in your request.

young girl learning spanish.jpg
A penpal is a great way to learn and practice a foreign language © Ian Nolan / Cultura / Getty

Practice a foreign language

Need to brush up on your German or are in the process of perfecting Spanish? Sites like InterPals and My Language Exchange are designed for connecting those who want to learn each other’s language. It’s a fabulous way to communicate with a native language speaker to get a grasp of a tongue and all its nuances.

Encourage others

Isolation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. After a few days of binge-watching, reading and working from home, things tend to get a bit mundane. For those that are away from friends and family, a remote circumstance is their life, and handwritten letters can serve as encouragement.

Soldiers’ Angels connects civilians with US service people, Write a Prisoner functions so that inmates can commune with non-incarcerated folks and Reach Out America has its Adopt a Senior penpal program so that lonely senior citizens can receive communication. No matter what type of pen friend you want, sometimes focusing on others is all it takes to get us through.

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