The Privilege of a Passport

It’s a small, blue book. A sign of American citizenship and an interest in the foreign. Its blank pages embody possibilities for adventures and the opportunity to experience another language, another culture, another cuisine. Every stamp is a memory taken away from trips, all recorded in this small, blue book. From Argentina to Singapore, Canada to Sweden, Kenya to the Dominican Republic, a passport is the gatekeeper to the world outside our borders.

The American passport specifically is one of the strongest passports on the globe. It ranks third out of 190 country passports allowing for its owner to travel visa-free to 118 countries as reported in the Passport Index. An American passport holder would need to request a visa prior to their trip for only 27 countries. Why is it then that 64 percent of Americans do not own a passport?

According to several surveys, approximately 76 percent of Americans are interested in traveling more than they do so currently. A lack of finances or feelings of inadequacy are common detractors in the pursuit of international travel for many Americans. Furthermore, living in one of the world’s largest countries with substantial geographic and cultural diversity would beg the question– why leave U.S. soil? 

The appeal of exploring sea to shining sea, although exciting and thrilling in its own right, it still remains familiar to home. Even if there is a preference to travel domestically, the lessons learned and feelings experienced on an international trip often make this country a greater one once back home.

In a polarized sociopolitical climate, the international world as portrayed in the media drives the fear of the outside. The messaging of living in a post-9/11 world has only heightened concern for what could happen in the unknown. At the traveler’s return, there is a newfound appreciation of home as the feelings of an exciting international adventure remains an enriching facet of their memories. For Americans who have traveled abroad, it’s difficult to imagine a life without the charm of international wanderlust. 

The world is bigger than the United States– the problems that shape national conversations cease to maintain its saliency on the other side of the border. Motivations behind foreign cultural norms begin to become clear in the context of another’s world. There’s no better or faster way to understand the commonalities between ourselves and those we other than in the sphere of discomfort while roving in a foreign land. Once this understanding is achieved, it’s difficult to revert to ignorance about the world outside.

This is not to say that the travelers of countries of a weaker passport are not worthy of the privileges received by the American small, blue book. Everyone is born into a particular political system with its macro-level complexities, unrelated to the possible desire an individual has to go beyond their borders.

No matter the access granted by the strength of a passport, the love of international travel is universal– it’s up to each aspiring traveler to use their access to wanderlust at their discretion. 

To be born or naturalized in the United States grants an aspiring traveler 118 possibilities for global exploration. If one has the financial resources and interest, it’s 118 adventures lost to fear of the unknown. 

The access and possibilities granted by the small, blue book is a privilege not many in our world will ever attain. It’s time to book that flight to a foreign country, exercising these liberties to learn about another person’s customs. Too many adventures are to be had and memories to be made and evidently, these memories of international adventures become more valuable than the fear of leaving itself.

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