Issue #25 · On Passport Privilege

An appreciation post for my lifeline and most loyal adventure buddy.

On Passport Privilege

Fill out Form DS-82. Get a hideously sterile photo taken. Pay $130. Blindly drop your existing passport into the mail and hope like hell you get it back in 6 to 8 weeks.

I put off renewing my soon-to-expire passport until the very last second, as I correctly assumed it would be a bit of headache, especially with the added complexity of doing it from abroad. There was conflicting information on the archaic U.S. State Department website, the need to find a functioning printer in the year 2024, and a 45-minute wait under the blazing sun out front of the only DHL kiosk in town. There was also a full three week period where the status of my package was listed as “mailed” yet nobody at the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara nor my DHL tracking number could tell me where it actually was.

As scenes of being permanently stranded in Mexico for the rest of my life raced through my mind (which to be fair, actually seemed pretty great) my trusty sidekick finally resurfaced, alongside a flashy, higher security, brand new replacement.

I felt naked for the six weeks that I was without her — my lifeline and most loyal adventure buddy, that is. She’s usually on a tight leash, tucked away in a specific pocket of my backpack that I constantly pat down to make sure she’s safe. Besides my favorite red tank top, she’s the only one who has accompanied me on each one of my journeys around the world during the past four years. Her pages are a scrapbook of great memories (like the colorful stamp that welcomed me south of the equator for the first time) and funny stories (like the time I spent just 7 minutes inside the United Arab Emirates).

Still, I often take her for granted.

When my flight from Tunisia touched down in Barcelona a few years ago, I was whisked through immigration with a smile, a stamp and a “bienvenidos!” Meanwhile, the young mother with two adorable children that I sat next to on the plane were immediately sequestered by armed guards — their Libyan passports needing to be scrutinized with a magnifying glass before they could even leave the jet bridge.

In early September 2021, upon re-entering the U.S. after a summer spent bouncing around the Greek Islands, I turned a corner in Washington DC’s Dulles Airport to be met by hundreds of Afghan refugees that had just fled Kabul. They were sprawled out on the floor in the same tattered clothes they’d been in for days, patiently waiting their turn to begin the long, arduous process of being admitted into the U.S. — and these were the lucky few that had made it onto an evacuation flight.

A few months ago, I arrived to Paralimni Marina on the southeastern tip of Cyprus for a day of wakeboarding and fun on a friend’s boat. On one side of the marina, flashy catamarans and luxurious yachts waiting to be taken out into glittering turquoise waters. On the other, rickety wooden boats bearing Arabic lettering tossed into an impound lot. They had been abandoned off the coast by Syrian asylum seekers desperately trying to escape their war-torn home.

Just a few days later, I was sitting in terrible traffic trying to reach the taxi drop-off point at Larnaca International Airport. It was the morning of October 8, 2023 and the terminal was swarmed with search and rescue teams, medical staff and the Cypriot National Guard. I was heading off for a week of stuffing my face with sushi in Tokyo. They were heading off for the front lines of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

Sometimes these reality checks smack you right in the face. But more often than not, passport privilege sneaks into our everyday conversation and behavior. It’s way more than just breezing through immigration and border control.

“Oh, the trip to Spain fell through? Let’s just hop over to France instead!”

“I really want to visit the Philippines, but it’s difficult for me to work my U.S.-based remote job from that time zone, so I still haven’t been. Maybe next year!”

“The dollar is really strong against the Argentinian peso right now, so it’s a great time to visit!”

As a gringo living in a foreign country that has welcomed me with open arms, while I’m certainly not perfect, I try to keep this sort of chatter to a minimum — and I wish others would too. Yes, I’m specifically pointing my finger at you, my fellow Americans. It’s no secret that when we travel or live abroad, we can be an egregious and ignorant bunch.

Recognize your passport privilege the next time you mention how cheap things are. Don’t assume that since enough people speak English, you can forgo learning the local language. Keep this in mind the next time you settle into a café with your expensive laptop, earning in three hours what the person serving your coffee might make in a week. Consider the impact you have buying property where your local friends were born and raised but who are now priced out of the market (wait… do you have any local friends? Make some if not, it will help with all of the above).

I’ll step off my soapbox now, because I do believe there is a learning curve to some of this. Whenever I spend time with rookie travelers, it’s always interesting (and super cringey) to hear their unfiltered first-time-outside-the-States commentary. This is what makes travel so important — we grow, we learn and we gain a better understanding of the world around us. At the risk of treading too far into political waters here (though you can probably imagine which way I lean), it’s also why I become infuriated upon hearing xenophobic comments about those attempting to immigrate — legally or not. It’s no coincidence that close-minded remarks about people simply seeking a more stable, safer life usually come from those whose passport pages are still blank.

As I continue to publish stories of whimsical travel tales and very unserious personal struggles, I want to stop and acknowledge how fortunate I am to be able to live this life. To have a remote job. To have any job at all. To be essentially hand-picking where in the world I want to live. To have arrived at the self-actualization stage of needs. And to have won the birthplace lottery and be the owner of a sparkling new blue passport — and not just any blue passport, but one that’s a specific shade of navy and has an ugly little eagle on the front of it — even though right now, it’s from a place that I’ve chosen not to call home.

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Here’s a list of every issue if you want to keep reading!

  • Issue #24: Stacking the Happiness Odds in Your Favor [March 2024]

  • Issue #23: March Momentum [Feb 2024]

  • Issue #22: Everything in Limbo [Dec 2023]

  • Issue #21: No Hay Luz [Dec 2023]

  • Issue #20: Unclogging the Pipes [Dec 2023]

  • Issue #19: A Love Letter to Charm City [Oct 2023]

  • Issue #18: Plot Twist: I’m Going to Hong Kong [Sep 2023]

  • Issue #17: To All of the Places I Will Never Visit [Sep 2023]

  • Issue #16: Embracing the Blank Canvas [Sep 2023]

  • Issue #15: In Pursuit of an Endless Summer [Aug 2023]

  • Issue #14: Follow Me to Weird Places [Jul 2023]

  • Issue #13: Self-Inflicted Social Overload [Jul 2023]

  • Issue #12: Schlepping It [Jun 2023]

  • Issue #11: Finding My “Next Thing” [Jun 2023]

  • Issue #10: Book the Damn Flight and Just Go [May 2023]

  • Issue #9: Choosing Your Own Life Adventure [May 2023]

  • Issue #8: Eat, Sleep, Write, Repeat [May 2023]

  • Issue #7: My First Month of Indie Making: An Honest Review [Feb 2023]

  • Issue #6: Ten Years of Making Money on the Internet [Jan 2023]

  • Issue #5: The Modern-Day Mission Trip [Dec 2022]

  • Issue #4: Ready, FIRE!, Aim [Nov 2022]

  • Issue #3: A New City Every Month: An Experiment in Change [Aug 2022]

  • Issue #2: Defining My North Star as a Nomad [Dec 2021]

  • Issue #1: One Year on the Road: Looking Back [Oct 2021]