On passports. And decades.

There’s something bittersweet about turning in your old passport. Of course there’s the requisite nostalgia that bubbles up as you thumb through the worn pages, suddenly recalling the Mexican restaurant with the killer salsa made tableside, or the Olympic stadium in Sarajevo turned hastily created cemetery during the war. You remember the painstaking days spent simply memorizing the Turkish word for thank you and the Pretty Woman-esque shopping orgy through Paris when the exchange rate was so good we didn’t bother to appreciate it nearly enough.

But the hardest part to me is looking at the empty pages. The ones with no stamps at all. The ones that might have been filled with ink from Thailand and Greece, Costa Rica and Japan, and a visit or two to see your best friend in Tanzania, had you only found the time/the money/the vacation days/the inclination.

And of course there’s that whole business of parting with the photo of yourself ten years younger. Ten years glow-ier.

Maybe the infuriatingly bureaucratic and inefficient system at the will-call window at the passport office is simply some evil genius plan to distract you from becoming sentimental, to keep you from throwing yourself on the carcass of your used passport like a mourning Greek widow, as they punch those two holes in the cover and stamp it CANCELLED.

Yeah, that’s it.

We’re off for a little trip tomorrow, just for a few days. A lot of fun, a little work, a whole lot of sand. And a new stamp in the new passport.

It’s a fresh start. Ten new years to fill those pages. Starting now.


28 thoughts on “On passports. And decades.”

  1. I thankfully lost my passport then many, many years later found it in a briefcase along with my soc sec card and marriage license. Oops! So while it is no longer valid, I still get to treasure the memories.

  2. Personally, I’m looking forward to getting a new passport photo. Thanks for the reminder to renew before it becomes an emergency.Safe travels!

  3. I thought you got to keep old passports. I’ll have to check whether I still have them or if I’m hallucinating.Enjoy your trip!

  4. See, I’m all jealous because I don’t even have a passport. When I went to Mexico we didn’t need one. That’s the extent of my out-of-USA travels. Now I’m all sad.

  5. Yep, you can keep your old passport. They’ll give it back after they cancel it, if you ask. You’re right – it’s fun to look at all of those stamps and visas. I’m currently working off my multiple-entry Chinese visa. And if they fix their political problems in Thailand, I’ll be getting my first Thai stamp in a couple of weeks. Can’t wait to get out of this nasty Beijing air…

  6. Before the kids my passport was my most prized possession. (Not that the kids are my possession, but you get the idea.) When asked what I would pull out of a burning house it wasn’t the cat or photo albums – it was the passport!I completely understand your melancholy and hope that you will fill many pages in your new passport. Hopefully it will include at least one FULL PAGE visa from Tanzania and two stamps that take up considerable space on a second page!Enjoy your trip!

  7. I love this post. I was so happy when I realized that they mail back my kids’ cancelled passports and that I can keep them forever. Unless I misplace them, that is. Enjoy the sand!

  8. As a fellow writer I know you can somehow find the joy in a blank sheet of paper!?Let your journey begin!

  9. Yeah, there are way too many empty pages in my passport. But the photo is cute and 8 years younger.Have a lovely trip. I can’t remember: is this trip the first passport one for the girls?

  10. i wish i had more stamps on my passport. the dinky us/canada ones are NOT exciting (no matter what backpacking dad says. hahah)

  11. I have never liked my passport photos at the time of taking, but looking back? They look great.Have a fun trip. Think about reporting back to me on the place, digs, and so on…I’d love it.

  12. Love how you look at this!!! I have only traveled one place where a passport was needed…. 🙁

  13. I had my passport stolen the day before leaving Europe and after a year of traveling. It was a pain to get it replaced so I could come home, but the worst to me was that after a year of using it as a source of memories, they were suddenly gone. My new passport photo is one of a really tired and pissed off woman. Brings back its own memories I guess.

  14. I have my old passport. It actually expired this year. I don’t think I’ll be needing a new anytime soon.Have lots of fun!

  15. I just went through this a few months ago! Had just enough time to get one new stamp in my disturbingly blank book, and then got married – now I have to get ANOTHER blank passport. I feel your pain. Have a wonderful trip!

  16. Mine had many empty pages when i traded it in for a new one. I didn’t really care about the picture this time; not like I did when I was 18 and applied for the first time.

  17. Totally. You nailed it. (Bossy originally typed “you MAILED it”, and come to think of it, maybe you did!)

  18. You guys get to keep your passports for ten years? We only get five. Which is just enough time to do pretty much nothing globe-trotty except attend conferences and check out the *other* side of Niagara Falls…

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