“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
In a perfect world there would be no boundaries and we would all be citizens of the world, free to roam from place to place at our heart’s desire. Until that day comes, you’re going to need a government-issued passport.
King Henry V of England, most noted for his great military mind is also credited with inventing what is considered the modern version of the passport. Earlier references to the passport have also been found in the Hebrew Bible. In medieval Europe a document was required in order to pass through the gates of a city wall or traverse a territory.
American in Paris?
The latest statistic regarding the percentage of Americans (less than 30%) who own passports is a little sobering and quite frankly, a bit suspect. I disagree with the popular assumption that Americans are fundamentally unadventurous, isolation-loving people without a global perspective. I assert that the low number of passports issued is misleading and actually a reflection of many mitigating factors including: 1) The geographical make-up of the United States. It is a vast, diverse land filled with amazing places (national parks, big cities, beautiful beaches, majestic mountains, etc.,) that keep Americans sightseeing within its borders; 2) The U.S. neighbors only two other nations, unlike Europe which has nearly a total of 50 border-crossings on its continent. For example, an Austrian boards a one-hour flight or sets out on an eight-hour car trip and reaches a myriad of foreign countries. A one-hour flight from San Francisco takes me as far as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Portland, and somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; 3) If you are a member of the working middle-class it is likely you have only two-weeks vacation a year and on top of that; 4) foreign excursions can be quite expensive.
But for those who choose to hold a passport, they hold unlimited possibilities in their hands. This tiny book has power. With it you have permission to pick-up and jet-off to strange and exotic locations at a moments notice. My son has let his passport expire and I am continually nagging him to get it renewed. “You never know when you might need to fly to Paris for lunch”, I say. He rolls his eyes. He’s right, this situation doesn’t come up too often – but it never hurts to be ready just in case. As for me, I caught the “travel bug” later in life and I caught it with a vengeance. Just recently I renewed my passport and sweated those few weeks without it. It was a relief to find it in the post safe and sound. I look forward to the next 10 years of gallivanting.
My recent passport is only the third in my lifetime. Growing up in our family meant we never ventured farther than our Ford Country Squire station wagon could take us. In college, I went to Mexico quite a few times, but back in “the day” you weren’t required to carry documents to go south or north of the border. In 1982 I took my first international flight to Sydney, Australia for a friend’s wedding and joined the prestigious group “world traveller”. Since that time I’ve been to only a handful of different countries: Mexico (twice), Costa Rica, The Bahamas, England (twice), Germany (twice) and of course, Italy (dozens of times). In two months time I will be adding France to that list. My Passport Personality: Late Bloomer.
On this ever-changing, fluid planet it is nearly impossible to maintain an accurate list of countries in the world. The Travelers’ Century Club has compiled a “Master List” of countries, territories, autonomous regions, island groups, states and provinces that theoretically make up the world. Currently there are 872 places pinpointed. No one person has visited them all, but a few have come close. My friend Marisa is in her 30s and has one of the most impressive passports I’ve ever seen. (The photo at the top is from a page in her actual passbook). She considers it among her most prized possession. She’s travelled since she was a baby and in her teens and early 20s lived many years abroad (both on land and on boats). She is now gainfully employed as a maritime attorney, so her globe-trotting has stalled a bit. But deep down inside she will always have the heart of a vagabond and wanderlust in her veins. Her Passport Personality: Marco Polo.
So, what does your passport say about you?