Lessons I’ve Learned From My Passport

I sent my beloved passport off last week, stuffing it into a nice bubble envelope together with my passport renewal application and a check for $110.  Not only was it set to expire this June (which technically already bars me from traveling to some countries that require you to have a passport good for more than 6 months), but it was nearly full (which would’ve prevented me from visiting any countries with very large visas).

I didn’t initially realize that I would get my passport back after receiving my new shiny one, so I spent some quality time flipping through it and reminiscing, although unfortunately not in chronological order. In doing so, I was able to reflect back on some good lessons I’ve learned from my travels over the last 10 years.

On the top left of the first page I found my arrival stamp for Australia, dated January 24, 2005.  Australia was my first solo trip abroad and my arrival was full of drama.  I was supposed to depart Chicago around 5:00 p.m. on Saturday with a layover in San Francisco en route to Sydney.  A massive snowstorm started bearing down on Chicago the day before and I was able to move my flight up to 8:00 a.m.  This meant cutting short a friend’s birthday celebration Friday night so I could go home and pack.

Not that it mattered because shortly after I arrived at O’Hare, all of the runways closed due to the snow. After many hours and many tears, we finally took off.  My connecting flight was then delayed as well, causing me to have less than an hour once I landed in Sydney to make an internal flight to Melbourne.  I sprinted through the Sydney airport, dragging a broken suitcase behind me (yes, United broke my suitcase!), finally arriving at the gate for my Melbourne flight, only to have a bubbly girl behind the counter try to calm me with “no worries, no worries.”  And she was right – the flight had been delayed for 2 hours, so I was rushing (and crying!) for nothing.

Lesson learned: Getting upset about things that are beyond your control when traveling (or really, any time) is nothing more than a waste of energy.  Better to just tell yourself “no worries.”

On the top right of that first page of my passport  was my arrival stamp at London Heathrow on September 4, 2001, the beginning of a three and a half week tour of Europe, my first time ever traveling abroad.  Yes, that’s right – September 4, 2001. A week later, terrorists hijacked several airplanes and brought down the World Trade Center.  I watched it on a small TV perched in a corner at a highway rest stop on the way from Florence to Rome.  I bawled when I finally reached my mom from my hotel in Rome that night, still not really understanding what had happened.  Much of the rest of my time in Europe was a blur and when I finally returned home on September 26, it was like I had returned to a different country.  I still get teary thinking about it.

Lesson learned: It’s unfortunate but true that bad stuff can happen at any time and any place.  We can’t let the fear of a terrorist attack or other violence deter us from traveling because it could just as well happen in our own backyard.

On the top of the sixth page I found both my arrival and departure stamps from passport control at the Frankfurt airport in October 2007 and on the bottom of the seventh page, I found both my arrival and departure stamps from the Munich airport from January 27 and February 6, 2007.

Lesson learned: The Germans apparently play by the rules.  Germany was the only country where my arrival and departure stamps were next to each other in the correct columns in my entire passport.

On page ten I gazed fondly at two of my hardest earned stamps – the entrance stamp for the Inca Trail sitting just above the stamp for Machu Picchu.  I hiked the Inca Trail over 4 days in November 2009 with a girl I knew in high school, very likely one of the most challenging things I have ever done, right up there with running a marathon.  We also explored Cusco and the Sacred Valley, checked out Arequipa, hiked for 3 days in the Colca Canyon and made a pit stop in Lima.  And unfortunately, it turned out we weren’t the most ideally suited pair of travel companions.

Lesson learned: Choose your travel partners wisely!  Even though we talked a few times before the trip and I thought we were on the same page, my friend and I had not seen each other in over a decade.  All in all, it made for a sometimes unpleasant trip with many uncomfortable silences. I had to constantly remind myself of a second good lesson here – if you find yourself traveling with a difficult companion, keep in mind that it is your trip too!  Sometimes you need to be a little selfish.

On the next page, I found the only actual visa in my entire passport – my visa to Egypt in January 2008.  I still remember how excited I was to pick up my passport from the Egyptian consulate on Michigan Avenue and see the visa glued into it.  Egypt was the first “non-Western” country I visited and by far the one with the greatest culture shock.  I was blurry-eyed and dazed when I stepped off the plane and I wasn’t completely at ease after arriving until I met up with my tour guide the next day.  My two and a half weeks in Egypt were enlightening, disturbing, challenging and simply amazing.

Lesson learned: Keep an open mind when traveling, especially when visiting less developed countries.  Even though you may not agree with the cultural norms of your destination, it’s important to respect them by dressing and acting appropriately.

Finally, and fittingly, on the last page was my entrance stamp at O’Hare on June 25, 2010 – my last trip overseas.  I was returning from a whirlwind trip to London just to go to Wimbledon for two days.  I managed to not only see the Queen of England up close, but also witness the longest match in tennis history between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut.

Lesson learned: Sometimes great things happen when you least expect it.  I had completely forgotten about entering the ballot for Wimbledon tickets when an email popped up in April telling me I had been selected. I dreamed of visiting Wimbledon for years and it was the only Grand Slam tennis tournament I had yet to attend.  Even though it wasn’t in the plans or the budget, I had to go.  And it turned out to be a couple of the best days of my entire life.  Never turn down the opportunity of a lifetime.

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24 thoughts on “Lessons I’ve Learned From My Passport”

    1. So true! I totally didn’t have the money for the Wimbledon trip but it had been on my bucket list for so long (since I was like 14!) that there was no way I could pass it up. And it worked out well – I managed to find a pretty cheap flight and stayed with a friend who lived within walking distance. It was sooooo worth it!

  1. This is a great post – taking time to reflect on your travel memories is such a good thing to do, and there is always something to be learned. You have had some extraordinary experiences and clearly gained something important from each one. Here’s to learning many more lessons from travel!

  2. This makes me want to go flip through the stamps and visas in my passport. It is amazing how meaningful those can be and what moments you associate with them.

  3. Love it! I get great satisfaction flipping through my passport, as well. I think my favorite entry is the visa from Tanzania. They include a picture they take with a webcam, so I get a shot of me sweating in the Dar es Salaam humidity and the date of the beginning of one of my favorite adventures in handy memento form!

    I posted a link to this post from the https://www.facebook.com/GetYourPassport group on Facebook. Really enjoyed reading it!

  4. This is such a great post Katie! Reminiscing about your past travel experiences can be fun and painful at the same time but it’s great that you have incorporated what you learned from these experiences into each and every passport stamp. I love it!

  5. Yep, worrying accomplishes nothing whatsoever. It’s unbelievable how difficult that lesson is to learn…and to remember! I am only now finally able to let go, more often than not, of things that are beyond my control. Particularly when traveling, I try to see obstacles as opportunities presented to me by fate – as in, “Obviously I’m not meant to be in that place at this time”, so I pay a little more attention to where I am and what happens over the next little while. Of course, since I am normally quite oblivious in general, paying any attention at all generally rewards me with something interesting.:)

  6. Thanks Suzy, Katy, Katrina & Annie! Surprisingly, this was really the first time I had taken the time to look back through my old stamps – it was really fun! And I was so relieved to find out they’ll send it back to me after I renew it – I was initially sad thinking it would be gone forever!

  7. Katie – This is my first time to your site and I am glad I’m here – what a great post! You got me thinking all nostalgically and wishing I had my own passport with me.

    It’s so easy to look at pictures and just remember and comment on the really great (or bad!) times had in each location, but how often does anyone REALLY think about lessons learned?

    I don’t think I’ll look at my passport the same way again! 🙂

  8. I love this post, Katie! It makes me want to go back through my Passport and take a stroll down memory lane. Though, mine isn’t nearly as full as yours! It expires in 2015, so I still have a few more years to get some more stamps.

  9. Love this post. I just applied for a new passport too and sadly looking through my old one made me realize that I didn’t travel enough — there were still blank pages to fill up. Hah! That’s going to be different with this new passport I got.

  10. I really enjoyed this post. I also fondly flick through my passport. I’ve also taken photos of some of the stamps in case I lose them. I’m of the school that love stamps and visas. I was a little sad to retire my old passport as it neared expiry!!

  11. Cool post-I too, developed a bond with my passport. I even tried to devise a plan to keep it, by reporting it lost or stolen. I didn’t want to let go of it and its memories! As it turns out, of course I got it back and I can look at it anytime I want 😉

  12. Does the US still have 10 year passports – I pay more than you quoted and only for a 5 year passport – its not just expensive its inconvenient its often hard to find a fellow citizen to vouch for me overseas

    1. Yep, 10 years. The price I mentioned is the renewal price. The price for a first passport is like $185 now I think. They increased all the fees last summer.

    1. Ha, yes, I saw your post shortly after I did mine! Great minds think alike. 🙂

      As an epilogue, I got my new passport in the mail last Monday and my old one returned a few days later. I was happy to see it. 🙂

  13. Your old passport is a wonderful memory of your past travels. I wonder when they started doing this. As Katie knows, I traveled internationally for business through the late 1980s and mid 1990s and I never had my old passport returned. I last renewed in April 2001 and still did not get the old one back. But you got me looking at my current passport and realized it needs renewing NOW.

  14. Ooo! I didn’t know I could get a stamp in Machu Picchu. That’s a great memory to look back on. Missed out on that one!

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