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.