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Atlas Quest

Help: Postals

  1. What is a postal?
  2. How can I make a postal?
  3. What do I do with my postal once I finish making it?
  4. Should I be cautious giving my postal address to people over the Internet?
  5. How can I sign up for a postal?
  6. How do I find postals that are open for signups?!
  7. How can I prevent postals from going missing?
  8. What is a random/surprise postal and how do you receive one?
  9. How should I package PLBs for mailing?
  10. What should NOT go into a postal?
  11. What may I do with PLBs that have returned home?
  12. Are there any general postal guidelines for anyone new to postals?
  13. How do I list a postal bonus box?
  14. What do the icons on a postal represent?
  15. When my postal returns from a ring, how do I list it as a single?
  16. What do the attributes on a postal represent?

What is a postal?

A postal, often referred to as a PLB (short for Postal LetterBox) is a stamp and logbook mailed from person to person. A postal should contain a stamp (usually handmade) and a logbook (often handmade). Sometimes, the creators of a postal include extra goodies—either for the recipient to use while they have the box or to keep such as key chains, certificates, small toys, stickers or pictures, but putting extra items in the box is by no means required.

The box itself is usually not a plastic container, as in the case of traditional letterboxes. Some people use padded envelopes, some people use cardboard boxes, and some people use tubular containers. A postal is limited by only your imagination.

How can I make a postal?

Once you decide on a theme for your postal, carve or purchase your stamp and prepare your logbook. Because this box won't need to withstand the same elements as a traditional letterbox in the wild, you can experiment with unusual logbook construction techniques, papers, sizes and more. When creating a stamp and logbook for your postal, size is not as important as it would be with a traditional letterbox that must be hidden in public places.

Do keep in mind, however, the more weight you add to the box, the more expensive it becomes to ship. Many postal participants strive to keep the weight reasonable so that shipping is affordable to all recipients. Generally, if a box is heavier and more expensive to mail, it's a good idea to let potential recipients know that information before they sign up and to mark the heavy attribute when listing the postal.

What do I do with my postal once I finish making it?

First, decide how many people you want to mail your box to. Be aware that the more people you mail your postal to, the longer it will take for the box to come back home to you. Shipping can take up to 2 weeks between recipients. In addition, a postal that has a long list of recipients has a better chance of getting lost in the mail, accidentally misplaced or forgotten about by a recipient, or sent to the wrong address (perhaps because a recipient moved and forgot to notify you of their new address). Because these types of accidents can happen, the creator of a postal often asks the recipients to use USPS delivery confirmation or check-in with them via e-mail upon receiving a postal. If the creator of the postal knows the last location of the box and where it is headed next, then they have a better chance of making corrections to addresses or other modifications to the recipient list.

Next, you list your box on Atlas Quest as a postal, just like you would a traditional letterbox. You can use the section for clues to leave instructions for recipients to e-mail you their postal address and trail name. Once you have listed your postal, go to the Postals message board and post a message about your box. Your post can include any information about the postal that you want to list. You can also list it on the Yahoo Groups postal talk list.

Once your sign up list is full and you have everyone's postal addresses, create a list with the order that recipients should receive your postal. Some people go from east to west across the United States, and other people make a list in the order that recipients signed up. Print the list and include it in the box so people will know who to send it to after them, or else ask recipients to e-mail you as they receive the box to get the next person's address. By asking the recipients to e-mail you, it is easier to track the box and you won't be passing around everyone's address among recipients. Be sure to include delivery instructions such as delivery confirmation, first class mail, or priority mail in the postal box so that the recipients will know what method of shipping to use to mail the box. Then seal the box well and mail it to the first recipient.

Should I be cautious giving my postal address to people over the Internet?

Yes! Always! All of the usual precautions about providing personal information to people whom you have met online should apply to postal letterboxing. If the thought of your address being circulated to dozens of people that you do not know leaves you feeling worried or uneasy, consider opening up a Post Office Box or not participating in the postal part of letterboxing. Parents and guardians should monitor their child's participation! By allowing your child to participate, you essentially let everyone know you have children and what their address is. That said, many postal letterboxing participants are active and well-known participants in the letterboxing community and they seek only to expand the hobby in fun and interesting ways. When signing up for a letterbox, be sure to send your address only to the person organizing the box. Do not post your postal address on any message boards. If you decide to participate in postal letterboxing, you do so at your own risk.

How can I sign up for a postal?

Usually, the owner of a postal will create a [/aboutlb/wiki/browse.html?gCatId=41 tracker] for it indicating if it's part of a ring or just a single and any rules or restrictions associated with the postal. Sometimes they may post a message on the Postals message board or on the Yahoo Groups Postal Letterboxing talk list asking for participants. When you see one of these messages, read it thoroughly to make sure you want to participate, then follow the creator's instructions to sign up for the box. The creator will then typically send you a confirmation e-mail with additional instructions for the postal and what to do next.

In addition, you can also request to be added to the Newbie Pool for new Postals by emailing Littlemonkey. The Newbie Pool is a pool of postals used for the express purpose of introducing people to postals. Signing up for the pool requires only that you provide your trail name, real name, mailing address, and an e-mail to contact you. You will NOT be required to make a PLB for the pool- it is not a 'ring' in that sense. Two or three other 'newbies' will be in the pool with you, as well as an experienced mentor, and you will each receive a few postals that you will pass amongst yourselves to 'experience' what postals are all about. After you 'graduate' from the Newbie Pool, you should be more than ready to fully participate in postals!

How do I find postals that are open for signups?!

Besides watching the Postals message board closely for new announcements, the Advanced Search page for trackers will get you everywhere. A tracker is Atlas Quest's way of keeping track of postals (among other options) sent among a group of people. Narrow down your search so only open and limited postal trackers that are still available show up. Currently available postal trackers

The results page will display the status of the tracker. Those marked as open are available for anyone to sign themselves up, and those listed as limited means that spots are open, but you must contact the owner of the tracker to be included. Closed trackers are still active but no longer accepting new participants, and retired trackers are already over.

How can I prevent postals from going missing?

Sad but true, some postals go missing. A postal with many signups can take up to a year or more to reach all of those signed up for it. In that time, people move, leave the hobby altogether, become overwhelmed, or suffer a change in their personal circumstances that inhibits continued participation. An address that accumulates many postals, that do not get sent on, becomes known as a "black hole." Just like with placing a box in the wild, loss is one of the risks of the hobby.

There are some techniques for decreasing missing postals. You can limit the number of initial signups to decrease the time period, then send it out again for more. Some postal creators will only send special postals to people they already know. One of the best methods is to ask each person write to you, after they receive the box, for the next destination's address. You then write the next recipient to confirm both the correct address at the time of the mailing, and that the recipient is ready and still interested. This is much better than sending out a long list of addresses, one of which may go stale by the time their turn comes up. But it does take more work on your part. If you track via AQ it is easier. You get a note when the recipient logs the find, which reminds you to send a confirmation note to the next signup on the Postal Tracker list.

In a postal ring, the ring organizer should keep track of the postals' progress around the ring and be alert for pile ups. Ring participants should pay attention to the status of the person they send to. Both can monitor the progress via postal trackers with the receipt grid. If boxes accumulate at one address, and are not moving on, you should politely bypass that address until it is resolved. You can always catch up later. However, make sure that you communicate with the ring leader about how you're handling a situation.

If postals do get held up, and the recipient is not responding, sometimes the best approach is to be very polite and encouraging, assume that something has happened beyond their control, and politely ask if you can help. Life happens to all of us. Some postals have been recovered after sending prepaid, easily returned envelopes or boxes to the problem address.

Unfortunately, postals also do sometimes become lost in the mail. It is a very good idea to write your address on the logbook with the words Return Postage Guaranteed. Some ring leaders and box owners will require delivery confirmation so that boxes can be traced if they are lost.

What is a random/surprise postal and how do you receive one?

NOTE: The surprise postal program has been suspended until further notice as all of the postals have gone missing.

A surprise (or "random") postal is a postal letterbox that does not have an official sign-up list. The creator sends it to a fellow postal letterboxer who is not expecting it. That person then stamps in just like a normal postal, and sends the box onto someone else at who is not expecting it. The surprise postals are NOT a part of any postal ring (although they may have started their lives as part of a ring).

To increase your odds of receiving a surprise postal, your name and address should be on the surprise postal list. In October 2006, Trekkie Gal took over the maintenance of the 'official' list. The reason the list exists is that not everyone wants to receive a surprise postal. Some people just don't have the time to deal with any extra postals that they didn't sign up for. Some people have a set amount that they are willing or able to spend on postage in a given month, and any extra postals would put a strain on that budget. To be on the safe side, you should send surprise postals only to the people on the list.

How should I package PLBs for mailing?

Once you have created your PLB, you will want to package it in a way that will help ensure that its components stay together and that it eventually returns safely to you. Expectations and requirements will vary, but here are some general guidelines:

Internal Packaging: The stamp should be contained within something that will absorb residue ink from rubbing onto your logbook. This is often a piece of felt or cloth simply wrapped around the stamp or tied with a ribbon or string. Others make or use prepurchased decorative pouches for their stamps, while others incorporate the stamp holder into the logbook itself. The logbook and stamp (with its container) may then be put into a plastic zipper bag. Write the name of the letterbox onto the plastic bag, and this will help keep the contents together.

If you include additional items (explanation pages, CDs, DVDs, "extras" in separate bags), all of these items should be placed within the larger overall bag. In these cases, it is a good idea to make a list of the contents and tape it to the plastic bag.

External Packaging: The standard size mailing envelope for PLBs is 6x9, but this will vary according to the size of the PLB. The plastic envelopes do hold up longer under repeated use, so most people recommend them. When using plastic envelopes, it is helpful to cover the areas that are likely to be used the most with clear packing tape. People who use paper envelopes because of cost often cover the entire surface of their envelopes with clear packing tape so they will be more sturdy. Do not cover the postage with tape as this will invalidate it.

The PLB's owner's return address should remain on the box throughout its travels. Do not cover the owner's address when you are mailing PLBs that you have received. If you see that the owner's address has been covered at some point, it is a nice idea to contact the owner privately and ask if they would like you to restore the proper address.

Most people write an abbreviated description of the box's title someplace on the outside of the envelope. This will help when mailing several at one time.

Sealing the Envelope: Do not use the envelope's adhesive strip to seal the envelope. This tends to damage the envelopes quite a bit, particularly with the plastic envelopes. Instead, use clear packing tape to cover the adhesive strip so that it cannot be removed and also to seal the envelope. When you are repackaging a PLB that you have received, never reuse pre-existing tape, because it is likely to pop open in transit. Always use fresh tape! If possible, peel the tape to open the package. Try to avoid cutting the tape, but at times this is unavoidable.

Security Precautions: Particularly since 9/11, the post office is much more concerned about matters relating to security. Just like you should not plant a letterbox that might be mistaken for a bomb, do not mail postals that might be mistaken for a bomb or weapon. Things that might cause a security scare can include (but are not limited to) not having enough postage, using only a person's trail name instead of their real name, well-worn packaging, and not using a proper return address label.

What should NOT go into a postal?

Do not put these items into a postal:
  • Hitchhikers intended to travel only among traditional boxes
  • Cooties
  • Anything that makes a package weigh too much unless it is cleared with the other participants
  • Anything prohibited by the USPS

What may I do with PLBs that have returned home?

There are a couple of main options:
  • Reissue as a single postal so that the log book can fill up.
  • Retire the postal letterbox (change the status to "retired").

Once a postal is retired, you may choose to do a number of things with it:
  • Plant it as a traditional or mystery box.
  • Use it as a hitchhiker (if it is small).
  • Have it become a personal traveler (particularly if it is something special to you that you don't want to risk losing).

In these three cases, you will need to create a new listing for the box. Do not simply change the box type or delete the old listing, because this can cause confusion in the online logbooks. You may consider noting in the clues that it was previously a postal letterbox so that nearby postal finders can choose whether to hunt for a stamp they already received in the mail. Some people also opt to use a new logbook for the box rather than the one that traveled as part of the PLB.

Are there any general postal guidelines for anyone new to postals?

  • Your postals should always include a logbook and hand-carved stamp unless specified otherwise.
  • You should either use a plastic mailer or put packing tape on all the appropriate places so the envelope can be used multiple times. (Over your return address, on the spot where the to: label goes, the corner where postage goes, the flap of the envelope and the section you are sealing the flap to.) Do not tape over the postage as it will invalidate the postage!
  • Always send your postals to the same person in a ring unless otherwise asked.
  • Put all of the contents back into the correct envelope when you are done stamping in. (reseal bags, etc.)
  • If more that one member of a family or group makes stamps for a ring, please include all stamps and logbooks for that ring from that family or address.
  • If something comes up (vacation, sickness, etc...), let someone know so no one panics when they haven't heard from a stamp in a week.
  • Most people are very understanding if you let them know when there's a problem.
  • Lastly, remember to log your finds. People like to keep track of their stamps.

How do I list a postal bonus box?

List it as a regular postal, adding the word Bonus to the end of the name and mark the status as unavailable. Once you join a ring, you can add the bonus box—but be sure the owner of the postal tracker approves before doing so.

What do the icons on a postal represent?

Stamp Types

The creator promises you'll find a genuine, 100% hand-carved stamp in the letterbox and not a store-bought or custom-made stamp.
The letterbox contains a unique, custom-made stamp.
The letterbox contains a store-bought stamp rather than a hand-carved or custom-made stamp.


If a postal weighs one pound or more, it gets this icon so people realize it might cost a bit more to snail mail.

When my postal returns from a ring, how do I list it as a single?

Keep in mind that there is no such thing as "single postals," but rather "single trackers."

Create a new tracker, then set the attributes for it to be a singleton. Add your postal to the tracker, and you're good to go.

What do the attributes on a postal represent?

If a postal weighs more than 13 ounces (the maximum weight for large first-class envelopes and parcels), the price of shipping goes up quite a bit—so use this option to let people knowthat it might cost a bit more to mail.