On getting my third passport.
PRAGUE, Czech Republic- My big fat, beat up, bent up, grotty, grime-embedded passport now has four holes punched into is cover. These are like gunshot wounds; the thing is dead.
I get a little proud of my passports once they get to a point of use that immigration officers start picking on me about them:
I’ve recently been the ass of jokes cracked by immigration inspectors in multiple countries. Apparently, they feel that my passport is a little more beat up than that of the average traveler.
I pulled the thing out in Sydney and the lady goes, “Whoah! What body part is that in the shape of?”
My butt …
Yeah, the thing is a little bent.
In Auckland the immigration inspector queried accusingly, “What have you been doing with this?” while dangling it between two pinched fingers as if it were something foul and disgusting.
“Traveling with it,” I responded pragmatically.
However, I believe my second passport fared better than my first:
My passport has now croaked.
I used it, and used it well, for 10 years. Now it is dead. Though I must say that it lived a good, full life. I drove it into the ground: its pages grew furrowed, blood stained, and one unscrupulous Indian passport inspector returned it to me with a finger print smudge across one of its back pages that looked a little too much like human feces.
My first passport.
Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — it came to be time to give up that butt bent passport and get a new one. My daughter Petra’s passport expires in June; mine was set to expire at the end of 2019. It’s a good idea to renew a passport when they get down to a year of validity — many countries won’t let you in if it isn’t valid for at least six months and getting the job done before this is just prudent travel. Anyway, my kid needed her’s replaced and I can’t say I wanted to have to haul myself into another US Consulate again a few months later. And as the Australian pointed out, it was just time to put put the thing out of its misery.
I have to admit that the passport was getting a little challenging to travel with anyway. The chip in it stopped functioning long ago, and in less technologically advanced countries even the swiping of it had to be done multiple times to get it to work.
However, a big, thick grotty passport full of stamps was kind of a sign to airlines and immigration officials that I know what I’m doing. Countless check-in clerks for airlines have commented on how much I travel because of it, and often don’t bother looking for visas — which they know would be a chore, as the thing had two sets of extra pages.
The one thing that I will miss are those extra pages — you can’t get them any more for US passports. Both my first and second passport had two sets of additional pages — they were far thicker than those of the average traveler, which made me feel overtly hung when in hostels or standing in the immigration or check-in lines. Now I have a little weeny passport like everybody else.
The end of an era.
A passport represents an era of travel. They are valid for ten years, usable for around nine. A lot can happen to a traveler in nine years.
This is what I wrote when I was renewing my passport for the first time:
A new passport means a new phase to my traveling life. When I received my first passport I was a fresh faced, highly impressionable 19 year old punk out for adventure. I found adventure — enough to fill up a crate, perhaps. But I was always running. 10 years of running. Chasing.
I am now married, I have a baby, a family. I have just embarked on the second phase of my traveling life. I will now find out if the lifestyle that I have been living for the passed decade really is sustainable: if the jewels of the wanderer can be passed through the generations, if I can form a solid, wholesome life of learning, discovery, and wonder together with my family on the Open Road.
I was transitioning from being a single, independent backpacking kid traveler to being a man traveling with a family. I had no idea what was going to happen.
Phase two of travel saw me cultivating the traveling family life, moving for a couple of years through Latin America then basing myself in China for a few years. It was in China where I transitioned from being an independent blogger to being and author and journalist. The change happened fast. Suddenly, I had the clout of major publications behind me and people virtually lining up to talk to me and show me things. The travel experience intensified — suddenly I had access to pretty much whatever I wanted, and I was able to sit back and let curiosity lead the way. I found what I was looking for in travel, and it paid well too.
I ran with this, spending two and a half years traveling between China and Europe on the New Silk Road, covering stories from the ground that I found interesting. For a while it was exactly what I was looking for in a profession — I was building something that I could call My Work.
But this different style of travel meant that I had to travel without my family often. They couldn’t keep up with that pace, didn’t want to go to the kinds of places that I was going to, and I wasn’t able to fend for them and maintain focus on my objectives at the same time.
In the beginning, this was alright: my wife was working in China anyway. Then we added on a second kid and my wife wanted to stay with her for the first year. I did my travels away from them. One year turned into two. My wife said she had enough. We traveled together for a year in Asia — I took on way to much and had difficulty keeping it all together. Then my wife decided to go to school for her Montessori certification, so we came to Prague. I’m still having difficulty keeping it all together — I watch the kids all day and then work full time on top of that — but at this point I’ve been wallowing on this for so long that I’ve grown bored thinking about it. A new arrangement will emerge out of this.
I again have no idea what is going to happen. When I renewed my passport for the first time it was right on the cusp of a major change in my travels and I’m feeling as if another major change is about to come again.
On to phase three … demarcated by a clean, crisp, brand new passport.
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