A Love Letter to My Expired Passport: Reflections on Ten Years of Travel

My new passport arrived in the mail. Those crispy pages between the shiny cover just BEG to be worn down by stamps. I picked up my old passport, cover fraying in a corner, pages a little soft from turning, and lovingly looked through the stamps and visas again, one last time. Each page, stirring memories and rousing nostalgia. Officially expired, I retired it to the filing cabinet, now to take permanent refuge among other paperwork deemed important.

My first passport. My formal invitation to the world.

It felt anti-climactic, retiring it to the old filing cabinet. Pushed aside. Like that emotional scene in Toy Story 2 when the girl leaves her box of toys on the side of the road. And you suddenly want to hug your childhood blankie. Cue when she loved me.

So I suppose – out of respect or to pay homage or to honor it, I’ve written a letter to my dearly beloved expired passport, reflecting on a decade of travel and adventure, change and growth.

A Love Letter to My Expired Passport

Dear Passport, I remember the day you entered my life.

I was only a teenager when we first met. How different life was.

I waited anxiously in line at a busy Post Office in Detroit, visions of countries and cultures and adventures playing in my head. All of the childhood wishes, leafing through the latest National Geographic magazine. All those afternoons unwinding from high school with a solid episode of Samantha Brown’s “Passport To” series. For most of my life, international travel seemed far away, unattainable, limited to a dream. But standing in the Post Office line suddenly shifted my mindset that maybe I could be somebody who traveled the world and didn’t just dream about it.

A potential business trip to Mexico to shadow my dad prompted your purchase.

This opportunity never came to fruition, and my dear passport, you sat dormant for a solid year.

You entered my life at a time where the world seemed big and the opportunities endless. Life was a mystery and it was at my fingertips to determine how I would begin molding my future. I was getting to know me at this time. The real me. The freshman in college unsure of what to major in. Developing friendships. Developing my mind. Developing myself. You were patient, waiting for me as I tried to figure it out.

Dear Passport, You Encouraged me to Learn Mandarin Chinese

Study abroad. That was the #1 goal for my university career. And China became my study abroad destination. You encouraged me, dear Passport, not simply to travel to China, but to prepare for the adventure by enrolling in Mandarin language classes. When the tonal language grew too frustrating to master, I’d stare at the characters of the Chinese Visa on within you to reinvigorate the motivation to practice. Nǐ hǎo. Wǒ jiào Amanda. Wǒ shì měiguó rén. Wǒ shì xuéshēng. Wǒ xǐhuān lǚxíng. Wǒ xǐhuān tiàowǔ.

And thus began my official relationship with the world. The opportunity to study abroad, and leave the country for the FIRST time with you, my FIRST passport.

We flew into Beijing and traveled by train to Wuhan and road tripped to Wuxue. We taught English classes during the day and ate boiled peanuts and drank Tsingtao beer in plastic chairs on dirty sidewalks adjacent to the Yangtze. And to supplement the deep cultural immersion we experienced, we even managed to climb a remote part of the Great Wall of China and walk around Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden Palace. We learned that culture shock inspired culture curiosity as more questions inspired more answers inspired more questions.

The access you gave me to China encouraged me to fall in love with Chinese culture and Chinese food and Chinese history and Chinese language. And because love is limitless, the love grew beyond China and the love spread to a desire to love more of the world.

Dear Passport, You Sent me through Europe with a Budget and a Backpack

And so, my beloved Passport, you sat dormant again. Patient as I figured out who I wanted to be and how to navigate to my future. Marketing, I proclaimed as my major, but under your influence, Passport, I added international studies as a co-major and Spanish as a minor.

The day after I donned my cap and gown, acquiring my diploma to the sound of Pomp and Circumstance, we boarded a plane, hand-in-hand, to backpack Europe. My five-foot frame weighted from the massive backpack, but you, tucked safe against my body in a money belt.

Wow, we certainly crossed off that bucket list together. Pub crawling in Dublin. Saying hello to the Mona Lisa and Statue of David and Venus de Milo. Meeting Salvador Dali’s surrealist art. Crying at the sight of The Creation in the Sistine Chapel. Museums, museums, museums. Enjoying caprese salad at Capri. Walking through Pompeii. Biking through Amsterdam. Eating crepes outside the sparkling Eiffel Tower. Sleeping in hostels. Wondering at Stonehenge. Topless sunbathing in Barcelona. Eating tapas and jamon in Madrid. Roadtripping the Welsh countryside. Pulling pints in an English pub. Chasing the royal family during the Diamond Jubilee festivities. Cartwheeling atop the Cliffs of Moher. Drinking Guinness for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Making friends. Making memories.

I couldn’t have been prouder of the amount of stamps you collected. Finally, you were decorated with more than an adhesive visa. You had ink, tattooed to your pages. You’re so beautiful.

Suddenly, traveling the world seemed achievable. Not a distant dream from childhood’s past. We did it. We went places.

Dear Passport, You Made Dreams Come True in the Land Down Under

And yet, as the cycle of our relationship goes, you sat dormant again as life continued to change for me. I moved out of Detroit, launched my career as a marketing professional, and fell into the slow rhythm of a cubicle life that silently erodes the soul. You showed no envy when a new love entered my dating life, and actually welcomed him on our next adventure: Australia.

Miraculously, we won the trip to Australia. Our first vacation as productive, working members of society. Another bucket list trip. Befriended wallabies and koalas and crocodiles and cassowaries. Listened to didgeridoos. Scuba dived the Great Barrier Reef. Walked among the Opera House and Sydney Bridge. Learned Australian slang. Met aboriginal men and learned about aboriginal culture.

And that new love that joined us on our trip? You cried happy passport tears when he got down on one knee and proposed on Whitehaven Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. You gave him one of your stamps, the stamp of approval, because you could see how solid our partnership grew during that first international trip together.

Two solid weeks of adventure in Australia. For the first time since starting my career, you convinced me that perhaps it was possible to still travel the world while succeeding in a full-time job.

Dear Passport, You Showed Me to Not Fear Stereotypes

Ah, Mexico. “We are never going to Mexico” is what my fiance said. Despite being known for its resort towns of tourists nestled along the tropical coast, the news paints a violent picture of drug cartels, and lawlessness, and danger. You countered otherwise. You told us to go to Mexico for a long weekend, take a break from the stress of wedding planning to eat tacos, drink tequila, lay beachside, and SUP in the ocean. To rediscover fun in the midst of “adulting.” You proved that Mexico isn’t scary and transformed my fiance’s statement from “we’re never going to Mexico” to “when can we return to Mexico?”

Because that’s the thing, dear Passport. You’re the best teacher in showing that the world is beautiful, people are inherently good and want the same things in life, and places are better experienced firsthand, than clouded by secondary reports filled with poor judgment and negative stereotypes. Thank you, Passport.

Dear Passport, You Opened my Heart to A Place That Haunts my Dreams

You showed me to travel outside the box. That honeymoons don’t NEED to include sunkissed skin and white sand beaches and fruity cocktails dressed with umbrellas. You advised to trade in the all-inclusive warm weather paradise to the natural wonder and cozy romanticism of a road trip in Iceland. And so we traded flip flops for hiking boots and infinity pools for geothermal blue lagoons. A honeymoon in Iceland, before it became overrun with tourists, fed our awe with striking landscapes, free roaming sheep, Nordic cuisine, and empty isolation. I dream of Iceland weekly (and therefore, I promise to return with your Passport predecessor).

You were with me, Passport, as I celebrated the commitment of forever to a special human. You reminded me that “settling down” does not snuff the opportunity to travel. Quite the contrary. You proved that finding that one true love adds a special kind of fire and magic to traveling.

Dear Passport, You Showed me How Quirky The World Is

We embarked to the other side of the world again, this time to Japan, a place of contrasts and quirks and authentically rich culture. We took a sushi making class in Tokyo and learned about the art and intricacies of Japanese cooking. We soaked in a natural hot spring onsen adjacent to Mount Fuji and slept on the floor at a ryokan. We warmed to kawaii culture and the sensory overload of Harajuku and Akihabara. We wondered at the history and ancient times of the temples and shrines and gardens we wandered in Kyoto.

Japan was “the trip” before I started my new job and big promotion. This was the trip that dissipated the anxiety and worry and stress of this upcoming career move. It was the trip that helped me to live in the present moment and not worry about the impending future. Because at the end of the day, whatever the future held, whether I was successful in my new job or not, life would go on, and anyway, I’m right here in Japan right now, which is so fortunate, therefore I’m going to live every moment. And so I did. You reminded me to live in the moment, Passport.

That was your last big international adventure, dear Passport, and I’m sorry that I let this career impact our international travel before you expired. We should have done one more trip.

Dear Passport, like big shoes to fill, your predecessor has big pages to get stamped.

Teach my new passport to make fire. To get my attention. To incite passion. To remind me of this previous decade. Encourage my new passport to be my travel cheerleader and rah-rah me out of the office to depart from my desk and taste, feel, touch, smell, see, experience, explore new places. Challenge my passport to surpass your record of stamps and visas. Though hearten my new passport to find joy in trips with purpose, and not count countries for bragging rights.

Dear Passport, I will miss you, and the decade we traveled together. How we’ve learned. How we’ve grown. How we’ve changed. From student to career woman. From monolingual to (semi) multilingual. From single to married. From dorm room to lakefront homeowner. From discovering to discovered. From hoping to doing. From blank to stamped.

And the only thing that hasn’t changed, is that dream to keep traveling.

Love you, Passport. Kisses.

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