10 Jan. 2011
America, great melting pot that it is, has only kept hold of a random set of cultural offerings from our immigrant founders. (Native founders, too. I mean, I love popcorn, but it's hardly a worthy tribute to the First Nations people, y'know?) Most of it is food-based. We Americans feel really connected to family from The Old Country when we have homemade lasagna, Irish stew, kielbasa, chorizo with eggs, borscht, sushi, injera, and Gefilte fish. We know everything there is to know about another country because we have ingested the essence of the culture. You are what you eat, right?
Traveling and living overseas has, as promised, provided completely new perspectives on a huge variety of subjects, including food. They range from politics to how to cook a chicken, from driving styles to personal space, and from how to bag your groceries to bathroom fixtures (have I mentioned how much I love bidets? Yes, I believe I have. Oh, the freshness!).
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Another thing, previously whispered between those of us with genuine travel aspirations, or even more amazing, actual travel experience, is how few Americans seem to have passports. This became blazingly clear to me as I prepared to move to Italy in late 2007. Many of my friends and family said, "We'll come visit you!" Yay! I thought I would have a stream of visitors in the pizza and pasta capital of the world. They would come for the food, if nothing else. (Well, they are Americans.) I couldn't wait!
"Do you have a passport?" I would ask. More often than not, the answer would be, "Uhh…" followed by a desperate darting of the eyes, seeking the emergency exit. " 'cause you know," I pursued relentlessly, "that's really important. For visiting me. In a foreign country. Y'know, just sayin'." Charming smile to put them at ease. No luck. "Uh…"
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Really, out of all the friends and family polled, only 3 had passports. One was a friend and former coworker from the film business who can: solve any problem, create any effect, save lives, put out fires, and pull a Leatherman out of his ear, all while entertaining you with stories about growing up on Long Island with a Catholic mother who bought Ouija boards at garage sales to prevent them from falling into The Wrong Hands — and while coming in under budget and on time. He actually had his passport in his pocket when I asked. I don't know why I was surprised.
The other 2 were my friend, Charlotte, who has been to Italy several times and LOVES it (gave me all kinds of anti-theft, purse safety advice for visiting Rome), and my mother. I expected Mom to have hers (would have been shocked if she didn't), since I'm pretty sure it was she who put the wanderlust in me in the first place. She was a flight attendant back in the days when they were still called "stewardesses."
I'm generally a fairly positive person, but this and one other subject (my miserably placed birthday, squeezed in between 2 major holidays) really chaps my hide. Indeed, the passport thing has been the one consistently whiney topic during all my time overseas. So when I saw Christine, from C'est Christine, tweet about the fact that only 1 in 5 Americans have passports, I tweeted my sympathies, understanding, and parallel gripe (not bad for 140 characters or less). She replied with:
@tourabsurd I've had coffee w/ 3 girlfriends last week–none have passports! I spent a ridiculous amt of time w/ each trying to convince!
Rather than curse the darkness, as it were, I tweeted back:
@camorose I think we should brainstorm with other travel bloggers and come up with some ideas, then do some cross-posting. Really!
She agreed. So I created a Facebook page titled (are you ready for this?), "Get Your Passport." There would have been an exclamation point, smileys, and possibly unicorns, in the name if Facebook allowed that sort of thing. (It's probably good that they don't.) The description for the page is, "This page was created by travel bloggers who want to give their friends, family, and neighbors the tools to go out and explore the world. Nevermind the guidebooks and plane tickets — the first step is getting your passport!"
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
For a brand new, non-political fan page, it's been doing surprisingly well. Besides me and Christine, we already have 'likes' from Avril of @GotPassport (most fitting!), Sally from UnbraveGirl, Ayngelina from Bacon Is Magic, April from AbsoluteADT, Lorna from the roamantics, David from David's Been Here, Raquel from AiresLibre Personal Travel, Annie at Wayward Traveller, Cathy from Traveling with Sweeney, Monica from A Pair of Panties & Boxers, Christine from Christine in Spain (not to be confused with C'est Christine, who was in France but is soon heading for Australia!), Gareth from Indefinite Backpacking, Amy and Kieron from Don't Ever Look Back, and Ryan and Liz from Pause The Moment. The list keeps getting longer and longer! Love it!
As Sally said, "Encouraging people to get their passports is so much more awesome than belittling people for not having one." I agree!
On the page, there are tabs for Resources, Benefits, and Encouragement. Here's what's on the Benefits tab right now:
Why get your passport if you don't plan to travel, don't have enough money, have a job to worry about, etc. etc.?
– it's a really great form of ID
– some borders are becoming more restrictive; even going from the US to Mexico or Canada is easier with a passport
– if you get it when you aren't in a hurry, you save money (no rush fees)
– it's good for your self esteem; you can hold it in your hands and chant the mantra, "I AM a world traveler, I AM a world traveler!"
– if you have it, you just might be inclined to USE it!
– surprise opportunities come up all the time — really! you'd hate to miss out on a free trip somewhere because of one silly little piece of documentation, wouldn't you?
– you can brag to your friends, "Hey! I have my passport. I could take off at any time!"
– you can take off at any time!
So, do you want to travel? Do you have a passport? If so, please come help brainstorm for ways to encourage other travelers to get theirs. And if not, GET YOUR PASSPORT! :D
Cheers and see you on the road!
[Edit: check out the Encourage tab on the page! :D ]
Links to blogs that support encouraging people to get their passports:
I absolutely agree! Everyone should have a passport. I’m on my second one so far and (like many Americans) love “collecting” stamps from other countries! :)
I have to admit that, besides the fun of collecting stamps, one of my big motivations is doing my bit to help connect people from around the world and see that we are all human. So, really, what I’m saying is: fun + good for humanity = win-win! ;)
…and thanks for the reminder. I need to add more pages to mine!
Great initiative Katrina! I just gave you guys a shout out on my latest post here: http://www.pausethemoment.com/2011/01/14/5-reasons-to-travel-now/
Ryan, I just realized I never gave you a proper reply. My apologies! Thank you so much for your post. Really appreciate it! :)
Excellent idea! Would love to be part of this campaign in any way I can. Count me in!
Fantastic! Thanks so much, Cathy. I’ve started asking everyone to help come up with ideas on the FB page. Need more material for the Resources tab, but even more importantly for the Encouragement tab: ideas to nudge people in the passport direction. Also, any stories (as they come up) of successful passport converts. ;)
Thanks again! Will add you to the post now. :D
Great post and I completely agree with you… EVERYONE should have their passport. I never leave home without it, not even to the grocery store!
Thanks, Raquel! Really appreciate it! Considering how much you travel, I am hoping to enlist your help in getting information about other passport agencies around the world so we can add it to the Resources tab on the FB page. …And of course, any evil plans you can cook up for the Encouragement tab will be fun, too! >:D
Woo hoo! Get you passports! This is something that I talk to my friends a lot about now, I couldn’t believe the number of Americans that don’t have their passports!
I have to admit though that I was guilty once too, not getting mine until I was 21 and applying for study abroad, but at least I have it now and the stamps are adding up quite nicely! :)
I know what you mean! I had one when I was young, thanks to a trip to England with my mom, but I let it idle for many years. When a friend was planning a trip to Italy back in the mid-90’s, I went with him and renewed mine, too. Then it idled some more and I almost wasn’t able to go on my trip to Italy 10 years later, d’oh!
Once I arrived in Europe, I really started breaking it in, I tells ya! I love all the pretty stamps I have. Lots of pride and awesome memories — and tons of new friends. THIS is what I hope people will realize: there are millions of friends all over the world, just waiting to meet you. :)
hi katrina! found out about you and the initiative from sally/unbrave girl! what a fantastic idea. seriously- so many of us in the travel blogging community seek to inspire others to travel, but if they don’t even have the basic tools?!… brilliant :)
i will absolutely help spread the word and hop on to facebook now. feel free to add me to the supporters above. happy to connect- cheers! :)
Done! And thanks so much! This whole thing is making me all tingly with happiness (or maybe it’s the Irish weather ;)!
ooh! i’ve got to make it there! ancestors to track and great people to meet :)
You can’t imagine how many times I have tried to reason with people that getting a passport is so worth forgoing a pair of shoes or a video game or a semi crazy night out at the bar. Just gotta keep on working on them and maybe one day they will tire of seeing our pictures and hearing us talk about our amazing journeys all over the world and join in on the fun!
I think the great pictures and fantastic stories are definitely a way to kindle the flame. I am hoping that we can come up with even more ways, pro-active ways, to encourage this. It seems obvious to me how important travel is for breaking down cultural barriers and misconceptions, and for building understanding and friendships.
If I was back in the US, I would TOTALLY offer my friends rides to the passport office, ice cream for submitting the application, and a celebratory dinner once they had their passport in-hand. Yay for passport parties! :D (Ooo, I’m going to put that on the Encouragement tab!)
Me too! That’s one party I’d be sooo happy to plan! :) If I was home haha.