Personal – The Freedom of the Passport

Argentina 2013
Argentina 2013

I am a lucky girl.  For many reasons – I have a wonderful family, a good job, a loving boyfriend, a house that I own, and a cat who only bites me occasionally.  But one of the things I’ve always had (or at least since I could remember) was a passport.  Because of my father’s job, we lived overseas when I was a kid, so I’ve had one since before then, and since it’s not too expensive to renew…we’ve just kept going.  I can’t think of a time when I needed a passport or wanted one when I didn’t have a valid one available to me.  But in 2015, there were 321.77 MILLION people in the United states.  125.91 Million of them had valid passports.  Which means that 61% of our country either couldn’t afford to get a passport, or didn’t value international travel enough to bother.

And this makes me so sad.  Yes – our country is pretty terrific, has some wonderful natural and historic sites, and there are few people who see all of it in the course of their lives.  But we are only a small part of the world, and so much history and what happens on a daily basis happens not here, but outside our borders, despite how America-centric our news-reporting can be.  A passport gives you the freedom to go to the places where history happened, where books and movies were set.  To let you know first hand what it’s like to be in a minority – even if that minority is “Americans”.  It gives you the opportunity to feel uncomfortable in your surroundings, if it’s because it’s unfamiliar, or the language is different, or because you don’t look like anyone else there, it’s important to feel that.  And once you push past being so uncomfortable, it’s freeing.  You can do the things you want to do, go where you want to go, be the person you want to be.

Australia 2014
Australia 2014

Do you feel uncomfortable taking pictures because you’re afraid it will make you look like a tourist?  Who cares – you’re never going to see these people again.  Go ahead and take that once in a life time photo and DO NOT apologize for it.  And yet at the same time, it’s important to live those experiences that you’re capturing – and I’m going to do something awful that I never thought I would do, but it’s quote a John Mayer song called 3 x 5, “Didn’t have a camera by my side this time Hoping I would see the world with both my eyes…Today I finally overcame
tryin’ to fit the world inside a picture frame”

So yes – go out and see the world.  And get your passport so that you can see more than just our amazing country – you can be part of the global community.

Paris 2012
Paris 2012

Common excuses for not traveling:

It’s too expensive: Yes, it can be, but if you use a credit card wisely, it’s possible to acquire points that can be redeemed for hotels and/or flights.  I have paid money for very few of my recent international flights, and only those for which there was no other option.  You can also rent a room or an entire apartment on AirBnB – I’ve had great experiences there (and may write about it in the future…?), and paid a lot less than I would for a hotel room.  If you’re going to be out and about exploring, the hotel is mostly for sleeping, then it doesn’t matter that much.

ALSO – there are expensive countries, and there are cheap countries.  Maybe you can’t afford to spend two weeks in Paris, but you could easily do that two weeks in Costa Rica for a lot cheaper.

I don’t speak the language: Yes, this can be a problem.  BUT, there are quite a few places especially in major tourist destinations where this isn’t a problem.  If you’re in a major city, chances are that there are a few people around who speak English.  Also – having a travel guide with common phrases is useful – it’s amazing how much you can get by with and how helpful people will be if you just TRY to reach out in their language, even if it’s only “hello” “please” and “thank you”.  And never underestimate the utility of signage in cities.  It may be harder if you’re going out in the countryside somewhere remote and non-English speaking, but cities are usually fairly straightforward to navigate.

No one will go with me: Yes, this is also a problem.  I had this problem too, but if travel is really something you want to do, you shouldn’t wait for anyone else.  You should just go out there and do it on your own.  When my regular travel partner (my sister) settled down to being a married lady with kids, I went out on my own instead.  I had some friends in Australia and just said, “I’m doing it”, and planned a two week trip to the Land Down Under all by myself.  It was scary at times (being grossly ill the day I traveled from Sydney to Melbourne is a story no one needs to hear), but I got over it, and people were generally wonderful.  There are websites out there that talk about how to travel alone as a woman if that’s part of what scares you.  But even so, you meet people on your travel, and if you are really afraid to go to a place by yourself, join a tour.  Maybe that’s a few hours long walking tour, or maybe it’s a week long bus tour with a guide.  There are ways to not feel so lonely.

Iceland 2015
Iceland 2015

I don’t have the time to spend hours in a plane: Canada and Mexico aren’t that far off, and both are beautiful countries with wonderful historical and cultural sites.  As Americans, we can now go to Cuba which isn’t too far off.  Many countries in Central America and the Caribbean are not such a long plane ride, and neither is Iceland, and I promise you’ll feel like you’re in a different world.

But what about diseases/violence/pickpockets, etc.: Get your shots, stay in public places/sometimes people exaggerate, don’t take anything you’re not willing to lose.  And all those things could happen if you stayed in the US as well.  But the beauty is that when you go somewhere else, you’re exploring.

I don’t like museums: Nobody said anything about museums.  Get out there – do the things that interest you, just in another country.  You won’t regret it for a moment.

Ok.  That’s all I’ve got – anyone out there with excuses for me to try and refute?  Got any awesome stamps in your passport that you’re hoping to collect?  I just renewed mine in January, so it’s all blank…or is it?

2 Comment

  1. Nicole says: Reply

    I 100% back what you said about the value of travel, and I wish everyone could experience it. But I still think this oversimplifies the barrier that cost presents for the majority of Americans. MANY many people can’t even afford to go on a day trip to the next state, and no amount of wise credit card use is going to open those doors for them. International travel, for Americans, will generally always be a mark of extreme privilege (and I definitely include myself in that).

    1. maggie says: Reply

      Well, I don’t necessarily think that everyone needs to travel internationally every year, or even every other year. If it is going to be expensive, then yeah – saving up, smart credit card use, all those things together can make it possible, even if you only get to leave the US once or twice in a lifetime. There are also so many “cheaper” places that are wonderful that so many look down their noses at because they don’t want to travel to say…the Dominican Republic without spending all their time on a resort beach, which is much more expensive than getting a little hotel room in Santo Domingo. Or who won’t go to Mexico because they think they’ll be kidnapped.

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