One of the reasons we all travel is to escape our “routine”: the same old work, the same old meals, the same old chores, etc. More often than not, travel represents a cool, refreshing drink after a long time in the desert of our day-to-day lives. Occasionally, however, “routine” can actually be a good thing.

I’m staying at the TT guest house in Bangkok, Thailand, 4 months into a year-long, round-the-world tour, when I realize I just don’t feel like schlepping my backpack to another new city in another new country. I need a break. I need some familiarity. In short, I need some routine.

For the next month, the TT is my home away from home. I eat most of my meals there. I help my host, Moong Kong, pick out the videos we watch in the common room every night. And every day, without fail, I walk down to the central post office to check for mail at the “poste restante”.

Now what is poste restante, you ask? Is it a restaurant at the post office? Not exactly. Essentially, it’s a service offered by the post office whereby mail is kept for an agreed period until you come and collect it. Admittedly, in this age of texts, emails and instant messaging, poste restante sounds pretty archaic – in the same way snail mail, today, seems like an artifact from the Middle Ages. BUT, in January of 1988, when the idea of a world-encompassing “internet” is pure science fiction, poste restante is an absolute lifeline to the world back home.

Even today, every post office has its own particular brand of poste restante. On the top end is Singapore which, even in the late 80s, inputs all the packages and letters it receives into a rudimentary database. Even the scruffiest backpacker (like me) can go up to the counter and state their name; the clerk then consults a monitor and presto change-o: here’s my correspondence. On the bottom end is Kathmandu, Nepal where, hilariously, all the letters are dumped into a giant trough, more-or-less alphabetically, and you have to laboriously sort your way through the stack, like panning for gold. I don’t know if Nepal still does it this way, but that is my experience back in 1988.

The Bangkok post office is somewhere in the middle. They don’t have a computer, per se, but they also don’t offer you have a haphazard mail trough. You just go up to the counter, ask for your mail, they go look for it, and if you’re lucky, they’ve got a nugget or two for you.

Of course, poste restante only works if you 1) you tell people where you’re likely to be at a particular time, and 2) you have people in your life who are willing to write a letter or a postcard, stick a stamp on it, and dash it off to a mailbox. This is an extraordinary, reciprocal, communication relationship! Basically, you share your itinerary, your friends and loved ones anticipate your perambulations and intercept you in the middle of your journeys. In return, you agree to send them letters and aerogrammes from exotic locations. Talk about an artifact from a slower, simpler, sweeter time!

As I sit outside the Bangkok airport, reading a long letter from my Dad in California talking about local news and family events, I can’t help getting a little misty eyed. Against all odds, someone I love has shot an arrow from afar and somehow intercepted the moving target that is me. Compared to merely splattering your activities on Meta or Instagram, poste restante is an act of precise, loving intentionality. Although poste restante feels normal at the time, I can see now that there is nothing at all routine about it.

(What actions do you take with “loving intentionality”? Do you send post cards when you travel? Do you write actual greeting cards for your friends and family on significant occasions? Do you wrap your presents with fancy ribbon and bows? Do you send videos of yourself singing happy birthday on your loved ones’ big day? As Tony Shalhoub’s character say in the movie Galaxy Quest (as a crazed rock monster destroys his enemies): “It’s the simple things in life you treasure.”)