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The Snailr Project

Update This post has been edited to take out the email address and make the project sound like something that IS happening rather than COULD happen in theory – now that I’ve got more than enough people to send postcards to. Thank you, to everyone who emailed. And also to all who will hopefully follow the project as it happens now, here and/or on the miniblog about it

As I may have mentioned, I’m going on a train trip in the middle of September. It’s half way between writing break and holiday – using the time to get a lot of work done while watching 7000 miles of America slide past the window, and getting to see some of the country I’ve wanted to see while I have the chance.

But me being me, I can’t just leave it there. I have to have a project to give a structure to my trip. And this one? This project I happen to be VERY excited about.

Let me tell you more.

The premise

While being very much a person of the web, I’ve been obsessed with classic travel writing for quite some time. Guidebooks and professional newspaper travel writing and maps are part of it, but mainly it’s the art of the travelogue that I love – a single person perspective on new sights and smells, characters met along the way and experiences particular to that person, in that place, at that precise time.

The thing about these documents is that they were actually very often letters to a family member or a trusted friend – a person who would receive the evocative, descriptive chapter of travelogue days or weeks after it was written, and days or weeks after the person had left that place.

What has been bugging me is how to blend that idea with the way that we are increasingly choosing to convey our sense of place and presence today – through status messages on Facebook, or check-ins on Foursquare or 140-character messages on Twitter, all fired off to a set of people that are often a wildly disparate mixture of family, friends, acquaintances, and random strangers.

I have no problem with this way of communicating. It isn’t a complaint, just a difference I find interesting. I’ve been using Twitter since late 2006, Facebook on and off for as long, and it intrigues me that someone I’ve never met can elect to get a little update about how annoyed I am by someone eating a stinky bag of chips on the train seat next to mine.

So what’s the plan?

I proposed that while I’m actually on my journey (September 7-21) a bunch of people could elect to receive an update on how annoying the person eating smelly chips on the train next to me it.

No, wait, don’t go. It’s better than it sounds (or I think so anyway).

They’ll get it on a postcard.

I’ll be travelling almost 7,000 miles, dipping in and out of mobile coverage, basically without internet, and with only so much battery to keep my electronic devices going. OMG, you’re saying, how will you Twitter?

I know, right? I won’t, very much. So here’s what I am planning to do. I’m going to put the little observations, vignettes, word-snapshots of my trip, and instead of firing them off to Twitter or Facebook or whatever, I’m going to write them. On postcards. That was the short-form travelogue before social media, right?

And I’ll be sending these updates, these postcards to people who have signed up and elected to receive them.

I’ve committed to sending between and 10 and 20 postcards a day*, depending on the amount of updates there are that I would usually make online or otherwise put in a dusty notebook and stuff on a shelf, to an arbitrary 150 people (that’s the amount of postcards I had printed), who emailed me over these last few days, and will now get a little sliver of travelogue in response.


The idea is that, when pieced together, the messages will form an overall picture of the journey, and have some kind of travel narrative. In actuality, they’ll just be spread across the globe. They are short pieces of a longer journey – updates and glimpses that you would get from Twitter, but more personal and more tangible: an individually just a snatched moment out of context.

I’m not saying I’m more interesting than anyone else, or that the postcards will be ground breaking literature – just that this is part of our lives now, and part of the way we travel and communicate: just thrown together in a blender with the older, more traditional way.

They won’t be super-personalised messages either, of course: I’m not writing ‘weather is lovely, wish you were here’ 200 times. These are very much going to be just little slices over a travelogue which put together might form a complete narrative, but which I take great pleasure in thinking of carved up and scattered all over the world in their initial state.


I’ll take pictures of the postcards before I send them, but I’m also asking people to scan it and send it back to me via email. If they want to do some other artistic depiction on it before they scan it, or take a picture of themselves in their corner of the world WITH it, that will also be fun. Or reply on a different postcard and send me a picture on that. Hopefully, some of them will send me back whatever they want, and/or a copy of what I wrote there.

I’ll be writing longer sections of travelogue as I go, which I hope to slot between the postcards, threading them together and making the short status messages into a more comprehensive whole – but I’ll decide what to do with all that later on. Some will go up here, the rest will be edited and rewritten into something, I think. I’m open to suggestions.

As a way of tying this into the blog, I’ll probably post a maximum of one of the day’s postcards per day of the trip to the Snailr Project website (cross-posted here) along with an extract of the other stuff I’ve written on that leg of the journey. The rest will be saved to be read as a continuous narrative, collated all together and printed up – however that comes about.

So WHY is it called The Snailr Project, exactly?

I’m not the only person by any means thinking of this process of making the dashed-off nature of things slower and more conscious. All round nice bloke Russell Davies and his Dawdlr project, for example, (to whom I will, incidentally, be sending one of my postcards). But though my Beloved keeps telling me repeatedly he despises this word ‘snailr‘, it makes perfect sense to me in a lot of ways.

Why? Because the captured moments and little status message postcards will be rail mails, but sent by snail mail. And because we’re going in a big circular arc around the country. And because I like snails, and the feeling of being a mobile working person inside the shell of the train. And most of all (and this is reflected in some of the other things I’ve talked about recently) I like the idea of leaving a physical trail of where I’ve been, as widely distributed across the globe as that trail might be.

Oh, and it’s got an r at the end because, well, without some kind of kerrrr-AZY spelling, it’s just not Of The Web, is it?

How this progresses:

Well, there’s a site dedicated to the project over here, where I’ll hopefully be able to send things even when I don’t have enough internet access to update this here blog. There’s a brief description and other collected bits about the whys and wherefores over there.

But really, how it progresses NOW is that:

1) People who wanted to be sent a postcard, a status update, a very short piece of travelogue, a tangible twitter or however you want to think of it, sent their postal addresses to me. But no more now, please Because I have more than enough addresses. Any more would be ridiculous.

2) I will go on a train trip.

3) I will send people a card. I think everyone who emailed will get sent a card, though whether they receive them is out of my hands. I’ve only had printed enough postcards for about 10-15 a day. But I think that is good enough, as an amount for this length of project.

) Stuff will happen and be relayed back to this blog and snailrproject.com, and it will be ace.

That’s it.

I’m really really excited about this project. I really hope people are too. Or at least understand why I am. I’m going to shut up now.

*Probably not more 10 to 20 a day also because, well, frankly it’s an expensive enough wheeze as it is. I may put a small donation button back on the site for postage costs and postcard printing and things.

  1. *hand, like that of a seven yr old, shoots up in the air*
    Me me me! Ooh ooh, me!

    Comment by Lucy — 26 August, 2010 10:44 pm

  2. Lucy: Of courseiest course my darling girl: postal address to the email address noted, please.

    Comment by anna — 26 August, 2010 10:52 pm

  3. This is so delightful bonkers (bit like your good self) that I can’t resist.

    Comment by Gordon — 26 August, 2010 11:31 pm

  4. I seem to remember already requesting said postcardage. awesome :)

    Comment by Kelly — 26 August, 2010 11:52 pm

  5. I don’t comment often but this is genius, utter genius. Signing up, right now..

    Comment by Nic Dempsey — 27 August, 2010 12:28 am

  6. Yeah, sounds like a good idea.

    I presume, if you’re writing a travelogue on limited battery you’ll be resorting to lots and lots of shiny notebooks and a fountain pen with lots of ink for refills. Oh please say you’re writing in fountain pen in shiny notebooks. Otherwise it isn’t for real

    Comment by Gert — 27 August, 2010 1:21 am

  7. Ooh, lovely! Have emailed you. :)

    Comment by Pigwotflies — 27 August, 2010 1:32 am

  8. ooh ooh! I’m sending you an email. I think this is a BRILLIANT project!!!!!!!!! Yes, worthy of all those exclamation points.

    Comment by teri — 27 August, 2010 4:46 am

  9. Me me me! I shall email as instructed.

    Ooh! Yes. This is lovely. And would make, I reckon, a rather lovely coffee-table book when it’s all done. Or scrap book. One individual scrap book, chained to a nail in a bus stop in San Francisco, and the only way people get to see it is by travelling there.

    Comment by Beleaguered Squirrel — 27 August, 2010 5:04 am

  10. One of those links above takes me to an email address of yourname+snailr and the other one says yourname+tumblr. Which is correct? Meanwhile I had no idea you could have a plus sign in an email address. How cool.

    Comment by Beleaguered Squirrel — 27 August, 2010 5:07 am

  11. You are a brave little toaster. Perhaps a drive for pen/postage/hand massage donations will be in order?

    Comment by Megan — 27 August, 2010 5:26 am

  12. I love this. I’ve sent my address as requested.

    Comment by Heather — 27 August, 2010 6:01 am

  13. What a fantastic premise. I am most definitely in.

    Comment by Stuart — 27 August, 2010 7:22 am

  14. Would you object if we wrote back to you – also on a card or letter – like responding to a tweet. I like to think of it as a way of documenting your trip as it is reflected in other people’s eyes. E.g.
    AP: No, don’t do it – man across the aisle, don’t do it… Oh no… He’s lifting it facewards… He’s bitten the apple! I’m off for a walk through the train.
    DLC: Just home from book club. Terrible book, good company. Thank God (well, thank you actually but, you know, cliche and all that) for your card because otherwise I was going to have to read a book with a dog in crinolines on the cover which is as inadvisable before bed as the strong cheese and salami I can still taste from earlier this evening.

    I’m off to sign up.

    Comment by Damian — 27 August, 2010 7:59 am

  15. “pen/postage/hand massage donations”

    The presence of the word “massage” in this sentence somehow converted it in my head into “hand job donations”… which I suspect you don’t want.

    Comment by Beleaguered Squirrel — 27 August, 2010 8:24 am

  16. I have sent an email. I do hope it arrives, as I too would very much enjoy such a postcard.

    Comment by Lynne — 27 August, 2010 8:40 am

  17. I, too, have posted an e-mail in hopes that I can be a part of your adventure!

    Comment by Vivian — 27 August, 2010 10:16 am

  18. This is lovely.

    Also: Poste restante apparently still exists in America under the regimental name “General Delivery”. So we could conceivably post cards to “Anna Pickard, General Delivery, City-State-ZIP” for the main post office of various places on the route and they’d be waiting there to be collected. That would involve going to the post office, which may or may not be convenient, but might be fun.

    Comment by nick s — 27 August, 2010 10:32 am

  19. Annr, I am, of course IN.


    Comment by JonnyB — 28 August, 2010 1:48 am

  20. Such a great idea!
    I have sent an email (I hope..) and shall be looking foward to hearing how things go.

    Comment by Toria — 28 August, 2010 11:14 am

  21. I think this is simply a way of maintaining your unhealthy addiction to short-form social media updates. by golly, i approve. snailmail address forthwith.

    Comment by Aleks — 28 August, 2010 11:16 am

  22. damian – i was trying to think of a really good way of doing this. Obviously since I’m very publicly going away for a couple of weeks and my flat will be occupied by visiting friends for only some of that time, putting my address online for all the people who should hopefully be receiving cards, and I don’t want to waste space on the cards with an address. I’ll think about it. I’ll have a think.

    Comment by anna — 28 August, 2010 5:18 pm

  23. What an utterly fantastic idea! Sign me up for one, address will follow! Er, there was a “please” in that sentence, I swear ;)

    Comment by Jezebel De Ville — 29 August, 2010 12:33 pm

  24. “I’ll take pictures of the postcards before I send them…”

    Wow! I have been concocting up a postcard feature for my travel blog too! (I just haven’t gotten around to posting a post about it yet–but it was on my to-do list for this upcoming week). I think the similarity between our respective postcard projects ends at taking pictures of the postcards before they’re sent, though. Just thought I’d let you know, should you happen to find my postcard project.

    Comment by Vanessa — 29 August, 2010 9:58 pm

  25. How is it possible not to like this project? I send you lots of good wishes for it. I wondered, briefly, if it would have been possible to construct your own postcards from your photos, but decided that getting the image resized and printed on to the right weight of card might have been a faff too far. Good luck!

    Comment by Brennig — 2 September, 2010 11:41 pm

  26. A pigeon has landed. I repeat: a pigeon has landed. Proceding to second stage. Over and out.

    Comment by Lionel d'Lion — 14 September, 2010 7:30 am

  27. I’m so annoyed I’ve just read about this a few weeks too late – sounds like a fantastic project, and a fantastic trip.

    Comment by Adrian — 29 September, 2010 10:11 am

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