The Passport: How a Tiny Document Can Change Your World


The PassportPassport. Say it once, out loud. Passsssss….port. Doesn’t it roll right off the tongue? There’s romance in that one little word. My U.S. passport is a diminutive blue book that can transport me from the velvet green hills of Ireland to the ice palaces of Scandinavia, from a weaving, jostling train ride across the vast wastelands of central Russia, to the glorious cacophony of a night in Brazil.

Want to feel powerful? Take your passport and a credit card, and go to the airport. Forget about the traffic and the lousy parking, and look at the planes. Air Ghana, Zimbabwe Air, Uzbekistani Air, Quantas. Realize that you could, at any moment, flash that little book, sweep your pen like a scimitar across that credit card receipt, and change your life. The airport is the gateway to another world; your passport is the key.

Think of the coveted hall pass in school—that slip of paper with a teacher’s scrawl, allowing you to be out of class. With a hall pass you could come late, leave early and roam the deserted school searching for the furthest possible bathroom. The wandering teacher or hall monitor glares at you—but you flash your pass. It is a license to travel, a sanctioned break from a dreary class.

A passport is a hall pass to the world. Look at it. Mine has a golden eagle on a rich navy cover, like a constellation in the night sky. Open it. The number—your international identity. Touch it. The texture, just rough enough for substance. The pattern of pink and blue hexagons drifting like snowflakes down the page, a fairyland backdrop to the customs regulations. The picture—skip the picture. (How do they get those air bubbles around your nose?)

Those state seals on each page—those pink circles that melt into lavender, then a deep blue as they descend, like the sunset over the ocean. The introduction, written in English and French—already makes you feel more cosmopolitan.

Place of issue? This one says Hong Kong. But don’t forget the visas. Some may say the visa limits, controls, excludes, but for me it’s an honors distinction. Visas to China, Russia, Uganda—where the cultural differences are so great that they come with a government advisory label—can you handle it?

If you’re up to the challenge, you get permission to enter, and maybe, maybe even permission to stay. You’re not a sheep trotting after a tour guide, posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. You work. You live. You breathe foreign air. You do not live a small life; you are a citizen of the world.

Look at the green, red, blue and black entry stamps overlapping each other in a colorful, playful heap, like a pile of leaves on an autumn day. Just as a reformed Don Juan may page nostalgically through his little black book of women, passport stamps may remind you of sights and sounds and smells like so many distant lovers.

A travel document? Hardly. A passport is a license to explore, to experience, to experiment, and it is proof of having lived. Hang on to that testament to independence and mobility, and revel in your freedom.