Happy Passporting to my Fellow Americans!

Another special day I recently learned about is Passport Day in the USA which is March 10, 2012.  This is the day when passport agencies across the U.S. open up shop on Saturday to allow citizens to stop in and apply for passports without the necessity of an appointment.  For those of you who still dreaming about lands beyond our borders but have yet to acquire a passport, I hope you take this opportunity to set those dreams in motion in what is hopefully a painless process.  But in case you need some motivational reading material while standing in line, here are some of my fond passport stories from the past…

You Always Remember Your First

Exploring the world was definitely my first love and I think back very fondly to the day I opened up my first “passport”.  I was a Brownie, which is one of the first levels of the fabulous Thin-Mint cookie selling organization known as Girl Scouts.  To this day, I still forget the words to “Kum-Ba-Ya” and I refuse to wear anything in Kelly green, but I clearly remember all of the excitement an 8 year old can muster as I opened up my first passport at some World exhibition event they held for us.

The idea was that each Girl Scout Troop was given a country for which we had to make and present a traditional dish.  I was delighted with our selected country of Korea (though to this day I still question why there was no distinction between North and South) because we got to eat with the “pretty sticks”.  Mine were glazed in black and red in a rather blasé design but at that time in my life, anything shiny grabbed my attention.  I wasn’t able to actually use them successfully, but luckily for me, the organizers provided a fork and knife for the dexterously challenged.  After our traditional meal, we paraded around the auditorium with our passports and eagerly collected stamps from all of the countries.  I didn’t have a particular favorite at this time, but this was the beginning of my love affair with travel and after which, I was constantly thinking about which countries I would visit when I was a big girl.

My First Real Passport

I made my first voyage across the Atlantic to Madrid for a week during spring break in my senior year of high school.  After my early childhood discovery of the world outside of the U.S., you would think that this would be a pivotal moment in my life and I would have some fascinating story about how I cried when I received my very first big girl passport.  But no, I was a teenager with yet a lot to learn and the privilege of obtaining a passport was completely lost on me.  I went to Spain, got my stamp, did my cultural thing and returned without further reflection.  Perhaps, it was because of watching Lucy in “While You Were Sleeping” that led me to believe that every adult in the U.S. had a passport at the ready in case Bill Pullman should cross your path and jet you off to Florence.  Coincidentally, Florence was my next trip abroad, and for this summer abroad program, I was much more appreciative of the traveling experience, one which would be the rebirth of my enthusiasm for the coveted passport stamp.

My First Expired Passport

The life of a passport, which I think is usually ten years for adults, can certainly fly by under normal circumstances and more so when you didn’t even realize the clock was ticking.  As I was returning to Amsterdam from a trip back to the U.S., I was looking at my passport, and aside from rolling my eyes at the ridiculous picture of me from high school where I actually did look like I was rolling my eyes, I stopped and noticed that the expiration date was only six months away, the standard allotment that most countries allow you to have before denying entry.  I realized it was about time for me to make a trip to the U.S. Consulate and get a new passport.

Before I went though, I had figured that they wouldn’t let me keep my old passport as a souvenir of my delightful experiences with the U.S. State Department, so I opened a bottle of wine an perused through the old passport kind of like how I imagine a parent looks through her first-born’s baby book.  I laughed and sighed over all of the incredible memories I was able to pack in to ten short years.  The most notable were my 21st birthday in Costa Rica, the one-way ticket to Amsterdam, New Years in Turkey, New Years in Australia, Diana’s wedding in Bulgaria, the swanky resort in Croatia and the last was my first foray into Middle Eastern delights in Morocco.  It was such a wonderful little memory book and I couldn’t bear to part ways with it.  I think I even made a semi-serious pouting face as I handed it over to the clerk at the Consulate’s office.

You can then imagine my excitement at the Consulate’s office when the clerk handed me both my new passport and my expired passport.  Perhaps, that was standard procedure, but I like to think he understood the sentimental value of my expired passport and made an exception for me.  I think I opened another bottle of wine that night to celebrate the past and the future.

Nowadays, my passport goals consist of finding the countries that give out the coolest looking stickers while minimizing the cost of visas and of course, not having it get stolen.

If you really were reading this while waiting in line at the passport agency, I hope you’re at least able to fill the time now conjuring up all the travel destinations that intrigue you and soon you’ll be off and running about the world.  Happy trails to all!

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