Expat Sat: Americans & Passports

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.

Did you hear?

An article published this week in the U.K.’s Daily Mail revealed that there are more Americans on Facebook than Americans who have passports. The stats look like this:

Facebook: 155,000,000 Americans

Passports: 115,000,000 Americans

I could ask the obvious question: “How is this *#%)#(#! possible in 2011?”

But I know the obvious answers to the obvious question:

  • The United States is ginormous. There’s so much to see right here at home.
  • It’s too expensive to even dream about traveling outside our borders.
  • It’s so awesome here…why go anywhere else?

What intrigues me are the less obvious answers, like:

  • Lots of people are scared of what’s different (& other countries are, indeed, different).
  • The actual process of getting a passport can be intimidating (special photos, government forms, etc.) & time consuming.
  • There is no one–no Friendly Passport Liaison–to walk you through the process. (If you’ve ever tried to ask about it at the post office, you know what I mean.)
  • A passport is not a familiar object to most folks. It’s not something we carry on our person–like a driver’s license–and therefore it feels like it’s something beyond our reach…something only other people have.

It seems that lots of people (me included) believe this should change…that the majority of Americans should have passports.

So what if…

  • There were “Get Your Passport Here” booths at malls (right next to the cell phone kiosks) where you could accomplish all steps in one place.
  • At the “Get Your Passport here” booths, there were Friendly Passport Liaisons to walk you through the process. (No, not old, frumpy liaisons with bellies hanging over too-tight belts who launch into speeches about traveling to Japan during the “War,” but cool, hip, smart, well-traveled liaisons who have been around–you know, taught English in South Korea, backpacked through Thailand, did a year of study in Beijing, fell in love in Germany, and so on. No offense to the old, frumpy liaisons…you’re cool, too.)
  • Getting a passport was a celebrated milestone, like getting a driver’s license.
  • U.S. high schools (or even middle schools) had passport programs in which students could get their passports, while learning about travel lingo (visas, residency visas, etc.), maps, travel web sites, cool study programs around the world, etc. (I know, I know…budgets.)

Why even suggest all this?

Because there’s a feeling that comes with a passport that anything is possible. That ANYWHERE is possible. And it’s a feeling that all people deserve to have.

And as our world continues to shrink, we all need to be crossing borders and getting to know what’s on the other side.


Q4U Expats / Repats / Travelers / Nomads: What does your passport mean to you? When did you get it? What prompted you to get it?



Image: Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net