What does your passport mean to you?

 

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By Caitlin Kelly

As Covid has slammed shut many borders, especially to Americans — boldly accustomed to ready, sometimes grateful access to other countries — it’s an interesting time to look at one’s passport, and national identity with fresh eyes.

From an EU website:

UNWTO estimated that US tourists spent €119 billion ($139,712,545,000) on international travel (excluding international transport) in 2017, showing an increase of €8 billion on 2016.

 

Over half of US citizens’ outbound travel is to neighboring countries, making up the top two destinations.
The entire top ten of outbound travel from the US is comprised of

  1. Canada

  2. Mexico Followed by

  3. United Kingdom

  4. Dominican Republic

  5. France

  6. Italy

  7. Germany

  8. Jamaica

  9. China

  10. Spain

 

But a passport isn’t just an essential for international travel. It’s a portable symbol of your country and its values, from the images printed on its pages, to the cultural baggage we carry with us as well.

 

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Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market — and a red-coated Mountie

 

Here’s an essay from The Atlantic about what it’s like now to hold an American one, my husband’s.

An excerpt, written by a man with an Indian passport:

 

An American passport, until recently, could bring you anywhere with minimal need to worry about visas and border checks. But this is the world of immigration that Americans must now familiarize themselves with. Before the pandemic, more than 100 countries were willing to admit Americans; now, by one count, fewer than three dozen countries want you. What you have done matters little; instead, your movements are limited by factors outside of your control, and your passport locks doors rather than opening them.

I spent my university days in London envious of friends with “good passports” who could hop on a train to France or cross the Irish Sea to Dublin without any notice. My vacations, by contrast, had to be meticulously laid out. I visited consulates with flights booked, hotels reserved, itineraries planned, and travel insurance paid for, worried that I would nevertheless be rejected. On one occasion, my girlfriend and I flew from Jordan to Beirut, where colleagues had airily assured me I could get a visa on arrival. When we landed, however, immigration officials told me my colleagues were mistaken, and those rules did not apply to Indians. I was put on a flight back to Amman while my girlfriend, with her British passport, collected our bags.

Even these stories are ones of privilege: holidays undone by byzantine, hazily interpreted visa rules; reporting assignments turned down because travel could not be arranged as quickly as it could be for colleagues with British or American passports. Others have, of course, suffered far more difficult and painful experiences—an array of migrants must endure complicated refugee and asylum processes, and even those who travel for tourism or study must dig deeper into their savings than I must to pay steep application fees.

 

 

And here’s one about holding a Canadian passport, from The Literary Review of Canada,  as I do.

 

An excerpt:

The document is elegant. No one can dispute that. The deep navy blue of its slightly pebbled cover, the understated gilt imprint of the royal arms of Canada, which somehow looks faded even when new — the passport is a classic. Its cover may be harder, more durable, the pages inside more decorated than when I was a boy, but, in the hand, its familiarity is heavy, anchoring. A passport is a little book printed for a single situation, the condition of being between countries. To hold it is to be going from home to elsewhere or from elsewhere to home. Over time, the booklet assumes the association of distance and belonging, of leaving and returning. This year that association, often subtle, like a half-remembered smell from childhood, clarified itself in the atmosphere of trauma that overtook the world. This was the year when we remembered what it means to hold a Canadian passport…The passport gave me the sensation of homecoming, familiarity, the knowledge of my physical safety, an assumption of care that has become less and less easy to take for granted in a sickening world. To have a passport, to have papers is a blessing we could ignore before COVID-19 but not after. I would be lying if I did not acknowledge a positive presence, too, a connection with a people. I was grateful to be among Canadians…I was grateful for strong institutions. I was glad to return to a country where the administrative state is maintained and supported, not just by politicians but by ordinary people.

 

It’s an odd experience to live in one country, as I do, while still using the passport of another. This sometimes prompts surprise or a question from an American customs/border official.

But that slim blue object carries more weight for me than its physical size. If nothing else, it’s a comforting bit of my first home and, depending how the U.S. elections go this year, still offers me an escape some Americans now deeply envy.

An exercise in optimism

By Caitlin Kelly

I have my new passport in hand now — and it’s good for ten years.

I hope I am!

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Lake Massawippi, Eastern Townships, Quebec, Canada

Acquiring a new passport really is an exercise in optimism, as international travel, (all travel, really) always requires three key elements:

Good health

Jose and I are now at an age we read the obituaries and keep finding people our age, and younger, who have lost their lives prematurely, most often to cancer and heart attacks. We pray for continued good health, without which travel — let alone anything else — is out of the question.

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Co. Donegal, Ireland, June 2015

Leisure

This is such a privilege!

So many people work in jobs, sometimes multiple jobs, that allow them little to no paid time off, or are too scared to actually take their paid vacation or — worst — insist in answering work-related demands even while they are supposed to be resting and recharging.

Jose and I both work full-time freelance and are only paid when we work; i.e. no paid vacation days, ever. Every day we take off without pay means we have to make it up somehow, since our overhead costs are fixed.

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A cup of tea at the Ritz in London, January 2015

Disposable income

Another mark of privilege.

Many people just can’t afford to go anywhere a passport is needed, i.e. to leave the United States (or their home country) — poorly paid or unemployed or beggared by debt service.

We don’t have children or dependent relatives, so we have more options in this regard.

Of course, travel and adventure can also be found and enjoyed close(r) to hand, exploring your own neighborhood, town/city/state/province. Both my native Canada and adopted U.S. are enormous, tremendously varied and filled with alluring places to visit.

The places in Canada I still want to see include Newfoundland, P.E.I. and some more of the Far North.

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Paris

In the U.S., I hope to visit Colorado, Utah, Montana, Wyoming and several more national parks. I really want to do a driving trip the length of California. I’d like to visit Portland, Oregon, where we have several good friends.

Internationally?

It’s a very long list of places I’ve yet to see, including Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Mongolia, Tibet, Nepal, South Africa, Namibia, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, islands of the South Pacific, Antarctica, Lebanon, Greece, Croatia, Finland, Iceland and Morocco.

Where do you want to travel to next and why?

Why travel?

By Caitlin Kelly

Travel Guides
Travel Guides (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

It’s fascinating, and sad, to me that so many people are reluctant, even fearful of leaving their home — whether their familiar surroundings of city/town/farm or the greater adventure of exploring their county/state/province, country or continent.

One of the most popular posts I’ve written, which gets views almost daily, is this one, with 12 tips for women traveling alone.

And this one, with ten things you’ll learn by traveling by yourself.

Why is the notion of “travel” so unappealing to some people?

I think because it really includes a raft of expectations, fears and assumptions, like:

Travel is dangerous

It can be. So can staying at home, never trying or experiencing anything new!

There are multiple forms of danger to consider, mitigate or avoid.

These include physical (is that boat safe?); emotional (what if someone shouts at me on the street?); political (is there an advisory against travel to that place right now?); criminal (if an object is that financially valuable, leave it at home or insure it.)

The worst crimes I’ve suffered — break-in and assault (Toronto); break-in and burglary (Montreal); fraud (New York) and auto theft (New York) all happened at home. Too ironic. (Well, we did lose everything from the trunk of our rental car at the Pont du Gard in France. That was nasty.)

Yet I’ve been alone, young and female in places like Istanbul and Bangkok, with no incident.

Travel is lonely

Only if you want it to be! The single best way to meet fun, cool fellow adventurers — even within your own state or province — is to take a tour (walking, bus, boat, bike, horseback) or stay at a hostel.

Travel poster for rail service from Paris to R...
Travel poster for rail service from Paris to Rome via Lyon, 1920. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Travel is too difficult

That depends on you, really. If you have multiple, tiny, exhausted children and/or are ill or in pain, travel can really be a nightmare. But even the stupidest annoyances can sometimes be re-framed as an adventure when they happen to you in Sicily or Singapore.

Travel means speaking to strangers

Of course it does! What that really means is making an effort — to be kind, to look people in the eye and hold their gaze, (when culturally appropriate) and greet them. If you have ever visited France, you learn within days that every time you enter and leave a shop, you say “Bonjour, monsieur/dame!, Au revoir, Monsieur/dame!”

People are often delighted, if you try to speak their language and show pleasure in their world, to help. But you won’t know until you try.

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Isl...
Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Liberty Island, Manhattan, in New York County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Travel means trusting in the unfamiliar

That can be frightening if you’ve so far had little experience beyond your own culture.

American “news” of foreign countries is usually only that of political unrest, war, fires, floods, crashes, famines, tornadoes, hurricanes or lurid crimes involving Americans.

It’s crazy, inaccurate and bigoted. If all non-Americans ever heard about the U.S. was as grim and depressing, I doubt that millions would flock to New York or Miami or L.A. or the Grand Canyon, as they do every year.

If you’re hoping to visit a place totally unfamiliar to you, do some homework! Read the local press and/or listen to local radio (on the web.)

Visit a tourist bureau, consulate or embassy to find out more. Find some people who are from that place and ask them for their advice, insights and recommendations. Read travel blogs and magazines for insight.

Morocco and Spain (NASA, International Space S...
Morocco and Spain (NASA, International Space Station, 12/31/11) (Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center)

Travel means relying on systems and organizations you don’t know to be safe or reliable

Given the recent tragedy of the train crash and derailment in Spain, this is a biggie.

I will admit to a few white-knuckled moments when on planes in Venezuela and Peru, for example. Do as much homework as you can so you are making the wisest choices possible.

Ironically, cruise ships, which people choose for being predictably fun, are proving to be fairly dangerous environments; many passengers are unaware of the crime rate aboard these ships and how very difficult it is to get redress or action if you or someone you know is a victim.

English: Travel Air 3000
English: Travel Air 3000 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Travel for any length of time is too expensive

That depends on you, your taste, your family’s tastes and where you go. As anyone who’s been to Asia or India knows, you can live on $50 a day or less.

In New York or L.A. or Paris or Montreal, you can spend that on a few cocktails or lunch.

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Travel means if I get sick I will not find a doctor or (safe, effective) treatment

Not necessarily.

I’ve been ill in France, Holland, Turkey and Canada, and had excellent care in all of those places. It’s pretty clear that any rural or isolated area is going to make this more difficult, although I was able to find a terrific, well-staffed clinic at the Grand Canyon for an exam and a tetanus shot.

If you’re heading into an area known for certain illnesses (malaria, cholera, plague), be sure to get the necessary inoculations and pack a small medical kit for emergencies.

Travel away from my work means I will never find another job

That depends on a range of factors. What sort of work do you do? How well-developed or in-demand are your skills? How strong is your network of contacts?

Travel means I will lose all my freelance clients

Not if you use social media, the Internet and are willing to do enough to keep your hand in.

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My magic carpet!

Travel will alienate me from my friends, family, sweetie and pet(s)

This is actually a real fear and one that I’ve lived. People who choose to venture out, repeatedly and further each time, into the wider world — during college, for vacation, for months or years, doing NGO or non-profit or volunteer work — are a different breed from those whose pulse races at the latest TV line-up, not a fresh new passport or plane ticket.

Thanks to social media, you can stay in touch. Those who get it will really appreciate your decision.

Besides, check out these 20 amazing words and phrases that have no equivalent in English, from Buzzfeed — like voorpret, fernweh and depaysement,

Why do you travel?

What fears have you found groundless — and which are worth paying attention to?